Grammar Tips: Transitive Verbs
  • 3-minute read
  • 16th March 2023

Grammar Tips: Transitive Verbs

At its most basic, a fully-functioning sentence in English will need a subject and a verb. However, not all verbs were created equal, and some will only work when an object is added. These verbs are called transitive verbs. Unfortunately, what might be a transitive verb in one language may not be in another, so here’s how to recognize and use them in English.

What Is a Transitive Verb?

As mentioned above, a transitive verb is a verb that needs an object to make sense. For example:

I like.
I like him.
I hate celery.
I hate.

So, What’s the Problem?

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? As usual, however, it isn’t just a case of learning lists: some verbs can be both ‒ sometimes operating alone (intransitive) and sometimes requiring an object (transitive). For example:

I am eating.
I am eating a pie.
I am dating.
I am dating him.

How to Fix It

The thing to ask yourself in each case is this: “Does the sentence provide all the information I need?” If it leaves you feeling as if you walked in at the end of a conversation, missing a vital piece of information and begging further questions, then this is an indication that you have used a transitive verb without an object. Consider this:

“I love.”

Don’t leave us hanging! What do you love? Is it pies, George Clooney, baseball, the Beatles? Love, therefore, can only be a transitive verb. It’s obvious that love requires an object; it can’t stand alone. You can fix the sentence by adding the object:

“I love you.”

Ahh! So much better, both grammatically and emotionally.

“I baked.”

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This may be all you need to know. All baking is good, right? You could ask a follow-up question, but you wouldn’t be left in any doubt as to what had been going on.

“I baked cookies.”

Now we have more information, from which you can see (a) that the verb here can be both transitive and intransitive, and (b) that there will be freshly baked cookies to eat.

In Summary

Being able to identify a transitive verb will help to make your writing clear. It will also help you to avoid those pesky “fragment – consider revising” warnings that pop up with a wiggly line in your essays. Remember:

●  A transitive verb always needs an object ‒ think of it needing to transfer the action or emotion to something or someone.

●  Some verbs can be both transitive and intransitive, so you need to consider whether the verb alone provides all the necessary information.

●  If you need to ask, “What? Who?” to make sense of what you’ve read or written, then the verb is transitive, and you can fix it by adding the object of the action or emotion. For more guidance, check out the section on transitive and intransitive verbs in our Common ESL Writing Errors Guide.

As is hinted at by the last of those points, it is always a good idea to proofread your writing. Get someone else to do this for you as they will spot errors that your brain will naturally overlook. Getting an expert to proofread it would be even better. We have expert proofreaders and editors available 24/7, so why not give us a go? You can upload a free 500-word sample here.

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