What Are Transitive Verbs? List And Examples

It’s time for some cat facts! Cats eat meat. Cats climb trees. Cats drink milk. Cats chase mice and birds. Cats are pretty neat, huh? Well, let’s let the cats go to sleep for now and look closer at our cat facts. In each of our catty sentences, we used verbs to say what kitties do. Verbs are words that we use to describe actions or states of being. In our sentences, we used verbs to say that cats perform actions on something. There are several different types of verbs that we use when we say or write sentences, but all of these cat sentences use the same type of verb called a transitive verb.

What is a transitive verb?

A transitive verb is “a verb accompanied by a direct object and from which a passive can be formed.” Our definition does a pretty good job of explaining what a transitive verb is, but let’s break it down a little more.

If a verb is considered a transitive verb, that means it can be used with a direct object. In English, a direct object is “a word or group of words representing the person or thing upon which the action of a verb is performed or toward which it is directed.” Take a look at the following sentence:

 

  • Jenny kicked the ball.

In this simple sentence, the ball is the direct object because it is having something done to it: it is the thing that Jenny kicked. Because the verb kicked can be used with a direct object, it is functioning as a transitive verb in this sentence.

A useful way to tell if a sentence or clause has a direct object or not, is to ask “What?” or “Who(m)?” when looking at the verb. For example,

 

  • He baked a cake. Baked what? A cake.
  • Jerry hugged his mother. Hugged whom? His mother.

Both of the above sentences are able to answer the question of “What?” or “Who(m)?” so they have direct objects. Therefore, these verbs are transitive verbs. Now, take a look at this sentence:

 

  • The kitten slept by the fireplace.

Slept what? Slept whom? You cannot answer either of these questions, so this sentence must not have a direct object. The subject of the sentence is not doing anything that is acting on or affecting anyone. So, the verb slept is not used as a transitive verb. We refer to verbs that aren’t transitive verbs as intransitive verbs. Intransitive verbs aren’t used with direct objects and are often followed by prepositional phrases, adverbs, dependent clauses, and other modifiers.

Find out more about what intransitive verbs are and how they function.

You need to be careful of a few things when looking at sentences. Firstly, sometimes we omit a direct object from a sentence. For example, the sentence I paid Matt 20 dollars might be shortened to I paid Matt. Even though the direct object 20 dollars has been omitted from the sentence and only the indirect object Matt remains, paid is still a transitive verb.

Why is that? This brings us to the second thing mentioned in our earlier definition of transitive verbs. A transitive verb can be used in the passive voice. When we write sentences or clauses in the passive voice, the subject is having an action performed to it rather than performing an action. For example, the following sentence uses a verb in the passive voice:

 

  • Matt was paid twenty dollars by me.

Although this sentence may be a little confusing, it is grammatically correct. It also solves our little mystery because you can see that you can use the verb paid in the passive voice, which means that it must be a transitive verb.

Further, intransitive verbs don’t take a passive form. Look at the following sentences that try to use intransitive verbs in the passive voice and you’ll see that none of them make any sense.

 

  • The Egyptian empire was existed for thousands of years.
  • The chick was emerged from the eggshell.
  • The bear was hibernated in the cave.

However, there are several important things to keep in mind (there’s always something with grammar): some verbs can be used as both transitive or intransitive verbs depending on meaning and context. For a full discussion of verbs that can function as both, read about them in our article on intransitive verbs.

List of transitive verbs

Many verbs can be used as either a transitive or intransitive verb. The key point to remember is that if a verb can be used with a direct object, it can be a transitive verb. The following list gives examples of verbs that can be used as transitive verbs:

 

  • arrange, break, carry, drink, eat, follow, guess, hate, imagine, jumble, kick, lift, miss, notice, open, pull, quiet, remove, stop, tackle, unlock, visit, watch, yank, zap

Transitive verb examples

The following sentences all use transitive verbs. Remember: a transitive verb can be used with a direct object and/or be used in the passive voice. As you read each example, think about what the direct object of the sentence or clause is, or if the verb is being used in the passive voice.

 

  • I ate supper.
  • Santa Claus brings presents to good children every year.
  • The clown was chased by a cute, friendly dog.
  • The smart student knew all of the right answers.
  • The movie was directed by my brother.
  • I read the name of the band that played songs at my wedding.

The following two sentences show how a verb can function as a transitive or intransitive verb depending on its meaning and how it is used in a sentence.

 

  • We relaxed on the comfortable sofas.
  • We relaxed the children by telling them funny stories.

In the first sentence, relaxed is an intransitive verb because the subject is NOT performing an action on something or someone. We didn’t relax something. In the second sentence, however, the verb relaxed is a transitive verb because the subject DID perform an action on someone: the phrase the children is the direct object of the sentence.

Transitive verb rules & best practices

Let’s review the two main points of transitive verbs:

 

  1. Transitive verbs can be used with a direct object.
  2. Transitive verbs can be used in the passive voice.

This means that different types of verbs can also be transitive verbs. Both regular and irregular verbs can be transitive verbs. Both action verbs and stative verbs can be transitive verbs. At the same time, transitive verbs can be used in any of the 12 verb tenses.

What makes a regular verb so … regular? Learn all the rules behind these by-the-book verbs here.

Now that you’ve read quite a bit about transitive verbs, let’s see if you can tell if a sentence is using a transitive or intransitive verb. Read each of the following sentences and see if you can tell why each verb is or is not a transitive verb.

 

  1. Meilin rides her bike every morning.
  2. Ken exercises at the park.
  3. The lions were fed by a zookeeper.
  4. She offered me a cup of coffee.
  5. The stinky cheese smelled really bad.
  6. We smelled the pretty flowers that were on display.
  7. Crows are bold birds that will eat anything.
  8. No one believed me, so I yelled at them.
  9. By this time tomorrow, I will have been working on this project for three months.
  10. He is working two jobs.

Perfect grammar has never been easier

Confused about verbs? Not sure if you’re using a transitive or passive verb correctly? Check your writing on Thesaurus.com’s Grammar Coach™. This writing tool uses machine learning technology uniquely designed to catch grammar and spelling errors. Its Synonym Swap will find the best nouns, adjectives, and more to help say what you really mean, guiding you toward clearer, stronger, writing.

 

Answers: 1. Transitive 2. Intransitive 3. Transitive 4. Transitive  5. Intransitive 6. Transitive 7. Transitive 8. Transitive (believed), Intransitive (yelled) 9. Intransitive 10. Transitive

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Curious about linking verbs now? Learn about them and the other types of verbs.