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Basic English Grammar

Transitive and intransitive verbs

Look at the following sentences.

  • John likes tennis.
  • I know John well.
  • They gave me a book.
  • The old man sat in a corner.

Now answer the following questions.

John likes … what? Tennis
I know … whom? John

Here the nouns tennis, John and a book are objects of the verbs likes, know and gave respectively.

A verb which has an object is called a transitive verb. Sometimes a transitive verb may have two objects.

Consider the sentence ‘They gave me a book.’

They gave … what? A book; to whom? Me

Here a book is the direct object of gave and me is the indirect object. Note that the answer to what or whom is the direct object and the answer to to whom or for whom is the indirect object. Usually the indirect object, if it is short, comes before the direct object.

Now consider the sentence ‘The old man sat in a corner.’

The old man sat … whom? What?

The questions are absurd and meaningless. The verb sat has no object.

A verb which has no object is called an intransitive verb.

Many verbs can be used both transitively and intransitively, i.e., with an object or without an object.

  • He boiled (verb) some water (object). (transitive)
  • The water boiled (verb). (no object - intransitive)
  • You must always speak (verb) the truth (object). (transitive)
  • He spoke (verb) fluently. (no object - intransitive)

More Basic English Grammar Lessons
Verbs of incomplete predication



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