What is a Transitive Verb?

Definition and Examples

In English grammar, a transitive verb is a verb that takes an object (a direct object and sometimes also an indirect object). Contrast with an intransitive verb.

Many verbs have both a transitive and an intransitive function, depending on how they are used. The verb break, for instance, sometimes takes a direct object ("Rihanna breaks my heart") and sometimes does not ("When I hear your name, my heart breaks").

Etymology

From the Latin, "to go across"

Examples and Observations

  • Our goalie missed the ball.
  • The princess kissed a frog.
  • Benjamin bought a zoo.
  • "I know the muffin man."
    (Lord Farquaad, Shrek, 2001)
  • "We lost a daughter but gained a meathead."
    (Archie Bunker in All in the Family, 1971
  • "Parents lend children their experience and a vicarious memory."
    (George Santayana, The Life of Reason
  • "I punched Mickey Mantle in the mouth."
    (Cosmo Kramer, Seinfeld
  • "A musicologist is a man who can read music but can't hear it."
    (Sir Thomas Beecham)

The Commonly Confused Verbs Lay and Lie 

  • "There have been some difficulties with grammar since I last wrote. Lay is a transitive verb (I lay down a case of claret every month; she laid the table), lie an intransitive one (he lies over there; she lay in bed until noon). Do not confuse them."
    (Simon Heffer, "Style Notes 28: February 12, 2010." The Daily Telegraph)

Transitive and Intransitive Uses of Verbs

  • "More exactly, we should talk about transitive or intransitive uses of certain verbs, as a great many verbs can be used in English both transitively and intransitively. Land is transitive in The pilot landed the plane safely, but intransitive in The plane landed. Carry is transitive in They carried backpacks, but it has an intransitive use in His voice carries well (= 'projects')."
    (Angela Downing, English Grammar: A University Course. Routledge, 2006)

    Subtypes of Transitive Verbs

    • "Among transitive verbs there are three sub-types: monotransitive verbs have only a direct object, ditransitive verbs have a direct object and an indirect or benefactive object. Complex-transitive verbs have a direct object and an object attribute. . . .
      (Marjolyn Verspoor and Kim Sauter, English Sentence Analysis. John Benjamins, 2000)​
      • monotransitive: He bought a book.
      • ditransitive: He gave her the book.
      • complex-transitive: She found the book interesting."