Transitive and Intransitive Verbs in German

When you look at a verb entry in a German-English dictionary, you will always find either a v.t. or v.i. written after the verb. These letters stand for transitive verb and intransitive verb respectively. Don't ignore those letters! Here's why :

Transitive German Verbs

  • These types of verbs will always take the accusative case when used in a sentence. Meaning the verb needs to be complemented with an object in order to make sense.
    Du magst ihn. (The sentence would sound incomplete if you said only: Du magst.)
    Most German verbs are transitive.
  • Transitive verbs can be used in the passive voice.
    Exceptions: haben (to have), besitzen (to possess), kennen (to know), wissen (to know).
  • They are used in the perfect and past perfect tenses (as an active voice) with the verb haben. Ich habe ein Geschenk gekauft. (I bought a present.)
  • Due to the nature and meaning of some transitive verbs, these will be complemented with a double accusative in a sentence. These verbs are: abfragen (to interrogate), abhören (to listen to), kosten (to cost money/something), lehren (to teach), nennen (to name).
    Sie lehrte ihn die Grammatik. (She taught him grammar.)

Intransitive German Verbs

  • These types of verbs will always take the dative or genitive case when used in a sentence.
    Sie hilft ihm. (She is helping him.)
  • Can’t be used in the passive voice.
    Exceptions: sometimes with the pronoun es.
    Es wurde gesungen. (There was singing.)
  • Intransitive verbs that express an action or change of state will be used in the perfect and past perfect tenses, futur II with the verb sein. Among them: gehen, fallen, laufen, schwimmen, sinken, springen.
    Wir sind schnell gelaufen. (We walked fast.)
  • All other intransitive verbs will use haben. Among them: arbeiten, gehorchen, schauen, warten. Er hat mir gehorcht. (He listened to me.)

German Verbs That Can Be Both Transitive and Intransitive

Many verbs can also be both transitive and intransitive. For example the verb fahren

  • Ich habe das Auto gefahren. (Transitiv) (I drove the car.)
  • Heute morgen bin ich durch die Gegend gefahren. (Intransitiv) I drove through the neighborhood today.