What Is an Intransitive Verb? | Examples, Definition & Quiz

An intransitive verb is a verb that doesn’t require a direct object (i.e., a noun, pronoun or noun phrase) to indicate the person or thing acted upon. For example, the verb ‘yawn’ is intransitive because it’s not possible to ‘yawn’ something.

The opposite is a transitive verb, which must take a direct object. For example, a sentence containing the verb ‘hold’ would be incomplete without a direct object clarifying the action of the verb (e.g., ‘Bill holds a book’). Some verbs can be classed as either transitive or intransitive, depending on the context.

Examples: Intransitive verbs in a sentence
Paul is leaving.

Dave chews loudly.

Kendra walked through the park.

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How are intransitive verbs used in sentences?

Like most other verbs, intransitive verbs must follow subject-verb agreement and be conjugated for tense and mood.

While intransitive verbs are never followed by an object, they can be followed by modifiers such as adverbs, adverbial clauses, and prepositional phrases that indicate where, when, or how something occurs.

Examples: How to use intransitive verbs
Ravi jumped.

Leonardo is sleeping soundly.

Marie exercises as often as she can.

Lisa will meditate in the garden.

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Transitive vs intransitive verbs

Unlike intransitive verbs, transitive verbs require a direct object to indicate the person or thing receiving the action. The direct object usually occurs immediately after the verb. Without a direct object, sentences containing transitive verbs don’t make sense.

Examples: How to use transitive verbs
  • I will bring.
  • I will bring the documents.
  • Cora fixed.
  • Cora fixed the broken faucet.
Tip
If you’re unsure whether a verb is transitive or intransitive, try rephrasing the sentence in the passive voice (i.e., make the object of the action the subject of the sentence). Only transitive verbs receive direct objects, so if you can rewrite the sentence in the passive voice, it definitely contains a transitive verb.

  • The firefighters extinguished the forest fire.
  • The forest fire was extinguished by the firefighters.

Ambitransitive verbs

Ambitransitive verbs are verbs that can be used transitively or intransitively, depending on the context.

Examples: Ambitransitive verbs
Robert eats (a peanut butter sandwich).

Dominique wrote (a novel) in her spare time.

Gayle studied (the painting) carefully.

Note
Some ambitransitive verbs can take a direct object without impacting the meaning of the sentence. For example, adding ‘a book’ to the statement ‘I read’ makes it more specific but doesn’t affect its original meaning. However, some verbs change meaning when they take a direct object (e.g., ‘The ship sank’ vs ‘The ship sank an enemy vessel’).

Quiz: Transitive and intransitive verbs

Frequently asked questions

What are intransitive verbs?

Intransitive verbs are verbs that don’t take a direct object (i.e., a noun or pronoun that indicates the person or thing acted upon).

For example, the sentence ‘George is complaining‘ would not make sense with a direct object.

What are some examples of intransitive verbs?

An intransitive verb is a verb that doesn’t need a direct object. Some examples of intransitive verbs are ‘live’, ‘cry’, ‘laugh’, ‘stand’, and ‘wait’.

How can I identify transitive and intransitive verbs?

Verbs can be either transitive or intransitive, depending on whether they take a direct object (i.e., a noun or pronoun) to indicate the person or thing acted upon.

  • Transitive verbs take a direct object (e.g., ‘I ordered pizza’).
  • Intransitive verbs do not take a direct object (e.g., ‘My dog is sleeping‘).

You can identify transitive and intransitive verbs by determining whether anything is receiving the action of the verb.

Sources for this article

We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.

This Scribbr article

Ryan, E. (2023, January 24). What Is an Intransitive Verb? | Examples, Definition & Quiz. Scribbr. Retrieved 11 June 2024, from https://www.scribbr.co.uk/verb/intransitive-verbs/

Sources

Aarts, B. (2011). Oxford modern English grammar. Oxford University Press.

Butterfield, J. (Ed.). (2015). Fowler’s dictionary of modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

Garner, B. A. (2016). Garner’s modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

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Eoghan Ryan

Eoghan has a lot of experience with theses and dissertations at bachelor's, MA, and PhD level. He has taught university English courses, helping students to improve their research and writing.