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Difference Between Transitive & Intransitive Verbs

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  • 0:02 Verbs: Building Blocks
  • 0:53 Transitive Verbs
  • 1:57 Intransitive Verbs
  • 3:13 Special Cases
  • 3:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Bethany Calderwood

Bethany has taught special education in grades PK-5 and has a master's degree in special education.

Every sentence needs a verb. In this lesson, you'll learn about two types of action verbs: transitive and intransitive. You'll find out how to recognize them in sentences and tell the difference between the two.

Verbs: Building Blocks

If you want to improve your writing, it helps to be familiar with the building blocks of sentences: subjects, verbs, objects, and modifiers. Every sentence needs a verb, of which there are several types: action verbs, which, as the name states, indicates a physical or mental action; and verbs of being, which are forms of the verb 'to be.' Examples of verbs of being include 'am,' 'is' and 'are,' to name a few. Finally, there are also linking verbs and helping verbs.

In this video, we're only going to be discussing action verbs, or verbs that tell what the subject of the sentence does. Only an action verb can be transitive or intransitive. If the verb in a sentence is any other type, it cannot be transitive or intransitive.

Transitive Verbs

A transitive verb is an action verb that has a direct object. A direct object is a word that receives the action of the verb. Take a look at these examples:

Louisa threw the ball. Louisa dropped her hat.


Sentences with transitive verbs.
transitive verbs


  • In the first sentence, the transitive verb is ''threw.'' The direct object or word that receives the action is ''ball.''
  • In the second sentence, the transitive verb is ''dropped.'' The direct object is ''hat.''

The '' Whom?'' or ''What?'' Test

Another way to find out if a verb has a direct object is to identify the action verb, then ask: ''Whom?'' or ''What?'' If there is an answer to the question '' whom'' or ''what,'' the action verb has a direct object and is transitive.

Action Verb + whom or what = Direct Object = Transitive Verb

In our examples:

  • The action verb in the first sentence: threw. Luisa threw whom or what? She threw the ball.
  • The action verb in the second sentence: dropped. Luisa dropped whom or what? She dropped her hat.

Intransitive Verbs

An intransitive verb is an action verb without a direct object. Here are some examples:

Marcel sang. Marcel laughed.


Sentences with intransitive verbs.
intransitive verbs


  • In the first sentence, the action verb is ''sang''. Marcel sang what? There is no answer. The verb has no direct object, so the verb is intransitive.
  • In the second sentence, the action verb is ''laughed''. Marcel laughed at whom or what? There is no direct object, so again, the verb is intransitive.

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