English Grammar Series: The Verb

Articles, Pronouns

THE VERB: Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

A Verb is a word that tells or asserts something about a person or thing. Verb comes from the Latin verbum, a word. It is so called because it is the most important word in a sentence.

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A Verb may tell us, What a person or thing does; as,

  • Hari laughs.
  • The clock strikes.
  • What is done to a person or thing ; as,
  • Hari is scolded.
  • The window is broken.

What a person or thing is; as,

  • The cat is dead.
  • Glass is brittle.
  • I feel sorry.

Definition: A Verb is a word used to tell or assert something about some person or thing. A Verb often consists of more than one word; as,

  • The girls were singing.
  • I have learnt my lesson.
  • The watch has been found.

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Read these sentences:

  1. The boy kicks the football.
  2. The boy laughs loudly.

In sentence 1, the action denoted by the verb kicks passes over from the doer or subject boy to some Object football. The verb kicks is, therefore, called a Transitive Verb.(Transitive means passing over.)

In sentence 2, the action denoted by the verb laughs stops with the doer or Subject boy and does not pass over to an Object, The verb laughs is, therefore, called an Intransitive Verb. (Intransitive means not passing over.)

Definition: A Transitive Verb is a Verb that denotes an action which passes over from the doer or Subject to an object.

Definition: An Intransitive Verb is a Verb that denotes an action which does not pass over to an object, or which expresses a state or being ; as,

  • He ran a long distance. (Action)
  • The baby sleeps. (State)
  • There is a flaw in this diamond. (Being)

Note: Intransitive Verbs expressing being take the same cases after them as

before them.

Most Transitive Verbs take a single object. But such Transitive Verbs as give, ask, offer, promise, tell, etc., take two objects after them – an Indirect Object which denotes the person to whom some thing is given or for whom something is done, and a Direct Object which is usually the name of some thing, as,

  • His father gave him (Indirect) a watch (Direct).
  • He told me (Indirect) a secret (Direct).

Most verbs can be used both as Transitive and as Intransitive verbs. It is, therefore, better to say that a verb is used Transitively or Intransitively rather than that it is Transitive or Intransitive.

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Used Transitively

  • The ants fought the wasps.
  • The shot sank the ship.
  • Ring the bell, Rama.
  • The driver stopped the train.
  • He spoke the truth.
  • The horse kicked the man.
  • I feel a severe pain in my head.

Used Intransitively

  • Some ants fight very fiercely.
  • The ship sank rapidly.
  • The bell rang loudly.
  • The train stopped suddenly
  • He spoke haughtily.
  • This horse never kicks.
  • How do you feel?

Note: Some Verbs, e.g., come, go, fall, die, sleep, lie, denote actions which

cannot be done to anything ; they can, therefore, never be used Transitively.

In such a sentence as The man killed himself ‘ where the Subject and the Object both refer to the same person, the verb is said to be used reflexively.

Sometimes, though the verb is used reflexively. the Object is not expressed. In the following examples the reflexive pronoun understood is put in brackets:

  • The bubble burst [itself].
  • The guests made [themselves] merry,
  • Please keep [yourselves] quiet.
  • With these words he turned [himself] to the door.
  • The Japanese feed [themselves] chiefly on rice.

Certain verbs can be used reflexively and also as ordinary transitive verbs; as,

  • Do not forget his name.
  • I forget his name.
  • Acquit yourself as man.
  • The magistrate acquitted him of the charge against him.
  • I enjoy myself sitting alone.
  • He enjoys good health.
  • He interested himself in his friend’s welfare.
  • His talk does not interest me.

Intransitive Verbs Used as Transitives

When an Intransitive Verb is used in a causative sense it becomes Transitive.


  • The horse walks.
  • The girl ran down the street.
  • Birds fly.


  • He walks the horse.
  • The girl ran a needle into her finger (ran a needle = caused a needle to run)
  • The boys fly their kites (i.e., cause their kites to fly)

A few verbs in common use are distinguished as Transitive or Intransitive by their spelling, the Transitive being causative forms of the corresponding Intransitive verbs.


  • Many trees fall in the monsoon.
  • Lie still.
  • Rise early with the lark.
  • Sit there.


  • Woodmen fell trees. (Fell = cause to fall)
  • Lay the basket there. (Lay = cause to lie)
  • Raise your hands. (Raise = cause to rise)
  • Set the lamp on the table. (Set = cause to sit)

Some Intransitive Verbs may become Transitive by having a Preposition added to them ; as,

  • All his friends laughted at (= derided) him.
  • He will soon run through (= consume) his fortune.
  • Please look into (= investigate) the matter carefully.
  • We talked about (= discussed) the affair several times.
  • I wish for (= desire) nothing more.
  • The Police Inspector asked for (= demanded) his name.

Sometimes the Preposition is prefixed to the Verb; as,

  • Shivaji overcame the enemy.
  • He bravely withstood the attack.
  • The river overflows its banks.
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Intransitive Verbs sometimes take after them an Object akin or similar in meaning to the Verb. Such an Object is called the Cognate Object or Cognate Accusative. (Latin Cognatus, akin.)

  • I have fought a good fight.
  • He laughed a hearty laugh.
  • I dreamt a strange dream.
  • He sleeps the sleep of the just.
  • Let me die the death of the righteous.
  • She sighed a deep sigh.
  • She sang a sweet song. He ran a race.
  • Aurangzeb lived the life of an ascetic.

The noun used as a Cognate Object is in the Accusative Case. The following are examples of partially Cognate Objects:

  • He ran a great risk (= he ran a course of great risk).
  • The children shouted applause (= the children shouted a shout of applause).

A noun used adverbially to modify a verb, an adjective, or an adverb denoting time, place, distance, weight, value etc, is called an Adverbial Object or Adverbial Accusative, and is said to be in the Accusative Case adverbially; as,

  • He held the post ten years.
  • I can’t wait a moment longer.
  • He went home.
  • He swam a mile.
  • He weighs seven stone.
  • The watch cost fifty rupees.

There are a few Transitive Verbs which are sometimes used as Intransitive Verbs.


  • He broke the glass.
  • He burnt his fingers.
  • Stop him from going.
  • Open all the windows.
  • Intransitive
  • The glass broke.
  • He burnt with shame.
  • We shall stop here a few days.
  • The show opens at six o’clock.

Verbs of Incomplete Predication:

Read the following sentences:

  1. The baby sleeps.
  2. The baby seems happy.

On the other hand if I say ‘The baby seems’ I do not make complete sense. The Intransitive Verb seems requires a word (e.g., happy) to make the sense complete. Such a verb is called a Verb of Incomplete Predication.

The word happy, which is required to make the sense complete, is called the Complement of the Verb or the Completion of the Predicate.

Verbs of Incomplete Predication usually express the idea of being, becoming, seeming, appearing. The Complement usually consists of a Noun (called a Predicative Noun) or an Adjective (called a Predicative Adjective). When the Complement describes the Subject, as in the following sentences, it is called a Subjective Complement.

  • Tabby is a cat.
  • The earth is round.
  • John became a soldier.
  • Mr. Mehta became mayor.
  • The man seems tired.
  • You look happy.
  • The sky grew dark.
  • Roses smell sweet.
  • Sugar tastes sweet.
  • She appears pleased.
  • This house is to let.

Note: When the Subjective Complement is a Noun (as in 1,3, 4) it is in the

same case as the Subject, Le., in the Nominative Case.

Certain Transitive Verbs require, besides an Object, a Complement to complete their predication ; as,

  • The boys made Rama captain.
  • His parents named him Hari.
  • This made him vain.
  • The jury found him guilty.
  • Rama called his cousin a liar.
  • Exercise has made his muscles strong.
  • I consider the man trustworthy.
  • God called the light day.
  • We thought him a rascal.
  • They chose him their leader.

Here, in each case, the Complement describes the Object, and is, therefore, called an Objective Complement.

Note: When the Objective Complement is a noun (as in 1,2, 5, 8, 9, 10) it is in

the Objective (or Accusative) Case in agreement with the object.

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