What Is an Intransitive Verb?

Definition and Examples

In English grammar, an intransitive verb is a verb (such as laugh) that does not take a direct object. Contrast with a transitive verb.

Many verbs have both a transitive and an intransitive function, depending on how they are used. The verb ​write, for instance, sometimes takes a direct object ("Shyla writes an essay every week") and sometimes does not ("Shyla writes well").

Examples and Observations

  • "My little mother . . . saw me and fainted."
    (Maya Angelou, Mom & Me & Mom. Random House, 2013)
  • "Fern had not arrived for her usual visit."
    (E.B. White, Charlotte's Web. Harper, 1952)
  • "It rains, the leaves tremble."
    (Quoted by Rabindranath Tagore in The Religion of Man, 1930)
  • "We must have the courage to be patient. . . . If you fell down yesterday, stand up to-day."
    (H.G. Wells, The Anatomy of Frustration, 1936)
  • "Overhead the swallows of Sarlat swooped and dove around the medieval houses."
    (Fenton Johnson, Geography of the Heart. Washington Square, 1996)
  • "Sometimes imagination pounces; mostly it sleeps soundly in the corner, purring."
    (Attributed to Leslie Grimutter)
  • "My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
    My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk."
    (John Keats, "Ode to a Nightingale")
  • "I cut down trees,
    I skip and jump,
    I like to press wild flowers."
    (Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Fred Tomlinson, "The Lumberjack Song." Monty Python's Flying Circus, 1969)
  • "The woman with the short, upcurling hair slept in a twisted sideways heap."
    (Martha Gelhorn, "Miami-New York." The Atlantic Monthly, 1953)

The Difference Between Intransitive and Transitive Verbs

  • "Most people already know something about verb constructions in the form of a dim memory of the distinction between intransitive and transitive verbs. Intransitive verbs like snore appear without a direct object, as in Max snored; it sounds odd to say Max snored a racket. Transitive verbs like sprain require a direct object, as in Shirley sprained her ankle; it sounds odd to say Shirley sprained." (Stephen Pinker, The Stuff of Thought. Viking, 2007)

Intransitive Complementation

  • "Some verbs are complete in themselves and do not require any further elements to make their meaning complete: although there may be further elements in the sentence, these are not essential. This is called intransitive complementation. It involves verbs such as: appear, arrive, begin, break, come, cough, decrease, die, disappear, drown, fall, go, happen, increase, laugh, lie (tell an untruth), matter, rain, rise, sneeze, snow, stop, swim, wait, work." (Ronald Carter and Michael McCarthy, Cambridge Grammar of English. Cambridge University Press, 2006)

The Intransitive Use of Be

  • "Intransitive verbs are verbs that do not take an object or subject attribute in the sentence. Also note that the verb be, when followed by an adverbial expressing place or time, is used as an intransitive verb.(Marjolyn Verspoor and Kim Sauter, English Sentence Analysis. John Benjamins, 2000)
He is running.
He is reading.
He is turning around.
He is in London at the moment."
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "What Is an Intransitive Verb?" ThoughtCo, Jan. 29, 2020, thoughtco.com/intransitive-verb-term-1691185. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, January 29). What Is an Intransitive Verb? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/intransitive-verb-term-1691185 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is an Intransitive Verb?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/intransitive-verb-term-1691185 (accessed April 1, 2023).