Grammar Tips: Direct Objects and Transitive and Intransitive Verbs
  • 4-minute read
  • 14th November 2022

Grammar Tips: Direct Objects and Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

In this article, we’ll explore direct objects and the type of verbs (transitive vs. intransitive) that they’re used with. We’ll also look at some examples of direct objects and how to identify when a verb is transitive or intransitive.

What’s a Direct Object?

In short, a direct object is the “what” or “whom” the verb is directed at. For example:

Laura wants pizza.

In this sentence, “pizza” is the direct object that Laura wants. What does Laura want? Pizza.

The direct object will always follow the verb in a sentence. It can be a noun or noun phrase.

Can you identify the direct object in the following sentences?

The man needs money.

What does the man need? Money.

The cat enjoys a warm place to sleep.

What does the cat enjoy? A warm place to sleep.

The teacher calls her friend after work to vent.

Whom does the teacher call? Her friend.

My dog prefers morning walks.

What does my dog prefer? Morning walks.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Transitive Verbs

Direct objects only follow transitive verbs. Transitive verbs, such as the verbs used in the sentences above, are verbs that need a direct object to show who or what receives the action in a sentence. Without the direct object, the sentence is incomplete. Other verbs that can be used as transitive verbs include break, carry, change, define, describe, keep, leave, quit, remove, and so many more.

Intransitive Verbs

In contrast to transitive verbs intransitive verbs do not take an object. Here are some sentences using intransitive verbs:

The children laughed.

Sharks swim in the ocean.

The family smiled in the photo.

The man ran.

Unfortunately, the woman died.

In these sentences, either the intransitive verb has no information following it because it is a complete stand-alone sentence, such as “The children laughed” and “The man ran,” or it is followed by an adverb or a prepositional or other phrase to give more information or detail about the sentence. In the example, “The family smiled in the photo,” “in the photo” is the prepositional phrase giving more information. If we remove the prepositional phrase, “The family smiled” is still a complete sentence.

Examples of verbs that are mostly used as intransitive verbs include walk, arrive, and laugh.

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The woman is walking around the neighborhood.
The woman is walking the neighborhood.
The woman is walking.


The students arrived at 7 o’clock in the morning for school.
The students arrived 7 o’clock.
The students arrived.


I laughed at my friend’s joke.
I laughed the joke.
I laughed.

Verbs That Are Both Transitive and Intransitive

Some verbs can be transitive or intransitive, depending on how they are used. Examples include eat, continue, play, return, and grow. Here are some sentences showing how they can be used transitively and intransitively:

The man eats a hamburger.

What does the man eat? A hamburger. Therefore, “eats” is a transitive verb in this sentence.

The man eats quickly.

Here, we cannot answer “what” or “whom” the man eats, so “eats” is an intransitive verb followed by an adverb, “quickly,” describing how he is eating.

My manager will continue the meeting after 1 o’clock.

What will my manager continue? The meeting. In this example, “continue” is a transitive verb.

We will continue later today.

Here, we cannot answer “what” or “whom” is being continued, so we know that “continue” is being used as an intransitive verb. We also know that “continue” is intransitive because “We will continue” is a complete sentence, and “later today” is a phrase giving more details.

My neighbor grows beautiful tomatoes.

What does my neighbor grow? Beautiful tomatoes. Therefore, “grows” is transitive in this example.

The baby birds in the tree are growing so fast.

Here, we cannot answer “what” or “whom” the baby birds are growing, so we know that “growing” is an intransitive verb in this sentence.


If you’re unsure whether or not you can follow a verb with a direct object, always ask yourself “what” or “whom” is the verb acting on. If you can’t answer this, then you can’t follow the verb with a direct object.

If you’re struggling with direct objects, verbs, or other English grammar rules in your writing, let us help you. Check out our common writing errors guide for expert guidance from our editors, or we’ll even proofread your first 500 words for free!

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