Transitive verb

A transitive verb is a verb that requires one or more objects. This contrasts with intransitive verbs, which do not have objects. Transitivity is traditionally thought a global property of a clause, by which activity is transferred from an agent to a patient.[1]

A verb that is followed by an object is called a transitive verb. Transitive verbs can be classified by the number of objects they require. Verbs that require only two arguments, a subject and a single direct object, are monotransitive. Verbs that require two objects, a direct object and an indirect object, are ditransitive,[2] or less commonly bitransitive.[3] An example of a ditransitive verb in English is the verb to give, which may feature a subject, an indirect object, and a direct object: John gave Mary the book. Verbs that take three objects are tritransitive.[4] In English a tritransitive verb features an indirect object, a direct object, and a prepositional phrase – as in I'll trade you this bicycle for your binoculars – or else a clause that behaves like an argument – as in I bet you a pound that he has forgotten.[5] Not all descriptive grammars recognize tritransitive verbs.[6]

A clause with a prepositional phrase that expresses a meaning similar to that usually expressed by an object may be called pseudo-transitive. For example, the Indonesian sentences Dia masuk sekolah ("He attended school") and Dia masuk ke sekolah ("He went into the school") have the same verb (masuk "enter"), but the first sentence has a direct object while the second has a prepositional phrase in its place.[7] A clause with a direct object plus a prepositional phrase may be called pseudo-ditransitive, as in the Lakhota sentence Haŋpíkčeka kiŋ lená wé-čage ("I made those moccasins for him").[8] Such constructions are sometimes called complex transitive. The category of complex transitives includes not only prepositional phrases but also dependent clauses, appositives, and other structures.[9] There is some controversy regarding complex transitives and tritransitives; linguists disagree on the nature of the structures.

In contrast to transitive verbs, some verbs take zero objects. Verbs that do not require an object are called intransitive verbs. An example in English is the verb to swim.

Verbs that can be used in an intransitive or transitive way are called ambitransitive verbs. In English, an example is the verb to eat; the sentences You eat (with an intransitive form) and You eat apples (a transitive form that has apples as the object) are both grammatical.

The concept of valency is related to transitivity. The valency of a verb considers all the arguments the verb takes, including both the subject and all of the objects. In contrast to valency, the transitivity of a verb only considers the objects. Subcategorization is roughly synonymous with valency, though they come from different theoretical traditions.

Lexical versus grammatical information

Traditionally, transitivity patterns are thought of as lexical information of the verb, but recent research in construction grammar and related theories has argued that transitivity is a grammatical rather than a lexical property, since the same verb very often appears with different transitivity in different contexts. Consider:

  • Does your dog bite? (no object)
  • The cat bit him. (one object)
  • Can you bite me off a piece of banana? (two objects)
  • The vase broke. (no object; anticausative construction)
  • She broke the toothpick. (one object)
  • Can you break me some toothpicks for my model castle? (two objects)
  • Stop me before I buy again. (no object; antipassive construction)
  • The man bought a ring. (one object)
  • The man bought his wife a ring. (two objects)

In grammatical construction theories, transitivity is considered as an element of grammatical construction, rather than an inherent part of verbs.

In English

The following sentences exemplify transitive verbs in English.

  • We are going to need a bigger boat.
  • You need to fill in this form.
  • Hang on, I'll have it ready in a minute.
  • The professor took off his spectacles.

Other languages

In some languages, morphological features separate verbs based on their transitivity, which suggests this is a salient linguistic feature. For example, in Japanese:

Jugyō ga hajimaru.
The class starts.
Sensei ga jugyō o hajimeru.
The teacher starts the class.

However, the definition of transitive verbs as those with one object is not universal, and is not used in grammars of many languages.

In Hungarian

Hungarian is sometimes misunderstood to have transitive and intransitive conjugation for all verbs. The concept of transitive, intransitive is misplaced here.

  • There is only one general conjugation.

In present and future, there is a lesser used variant – a definite, or say emphatic conjugation form. It is used only when referring to a previous sentence, or topic, where the object was already mentioned. Logically the definite article a(z) as reference is used here—and due to verb emphasis (definite), word order changes to VO.

  • If you don't want to be definite you can simply
házat látok — I see (a) house – (general)
látom a házat — I see the house – (The house we were looking for)
almát eszem — I eat (an) apple – (general)
eszem az almát — I eat the apple – (The one mom told me to)
bort iszom — I drink wine – (general)
iszom a bort — I drink the wine – (That you offered me before)

In English one would say 'I do see the house', etc., stressing the verb – in Hungarian, the object is emphasized – but both mean exactly the same thing.

In Pingelapese

In the language of Pingelap, Pingelapese, transitive verbs are used in one of four of their most common sentence structures. Transitive verbs according to this language have two main characteristics. These characteristics are action verbs and the sentence must contain a direct object. To elaborate, an action verb is a verb that has a physical action associated to its meaning. The sentence must contain a direct object meaning there must be a recipient of said verb. Two entities must be involved when using a transitive sentence. There is also a fixed word order associated with transitive sentences: subject-transitive verb-object.[10] For example:

Linda (Subject) e aesae(transitive verb) Adino (object) This sentence translates to, Linda knows Adino. [10]

In Tokelauan

In Tokelauan, the types of noun phrases used with verbs is what serves as the requirements when placing verbs in groups.[11] Verbs are divided into two major groups in this language. Tokelauan requires that every verbal sentence have a structure that contains a singular noun phrase with no preposition.[11] This particular phrase is called an unmarked noun phrase.[11] In the case that a ko-phrase precedes the predicate, an accepted violation to this rule is made.[11] This is the only accepted violation of this rule throughout the entire language.[11] The agent is what speakers of this language call the person who is performing the action of the verb. If a noun phrase that starts with the preposition e is able to express the agent, and the receiving person or thing that the agent is performing the action of the verb to is expressed by a singular noun phrase that lack a preposition, or unmarked noun phrase, given this entire situation is true, the verb is considered transitive.[11] According to the rules of Tokelauan language, if a sentence contains a verb that is used transitively, it is then a transitive sentence.[11] However, there is not a distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs (the other groups that verbs can be placed into) outside of the context of a sentence.[11] The verb alone can be either transitive or intransitive, depending on the situational context where it is used.[11]

In Wuvulu-aua

In the Oceanic Wuvulu-Aua language of Papua New Guinea, transitive verbs can come from adjectives when adding the causative marker -fa. it can be transitive marker + object noun phrase or takes object suffix / clitic.[12] They also receive their transitive verbs from intransitive verbs.[13]





‘He treated her well.’[14]





‘He destroyed it (lit. caused it to be bad).’







ʔi=na-fa-afelo-a mei pifine

3SG=REAL-CAUS-bad-TR the woman

‘He treated the woman badly.’







ʔi=na-fa-rawani-na ʔei ponoto


‘He treated the dogs well.’[15]

See also


  1. Hopper, Paul J; Thompson, Sandra A (June 1980). "Transitivity in grammar and discourse" (PDF). Language. 56 (2): 251–299. doi:10.1353/lan.1980.0017. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
  2. Kempen, Gerard; Harbusch, Karin (2004). "A corpus study into word order variation in German subordinate clauses: Animacy affects linearization independently of grammatical function assignment". In Thomas Pechmann; Christopher Habel. Multidisciplinary Approaches to Language Production. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 173–181. ISBN 978-3-11-017840-1. We distinguish two types of transitive clauses: those including only [a subject–direct object] pair are monotransitive; clauses containing [subject, direct object, and indirect object] are ditransitive.
  3. Maslova, Elena (2007). "Reciprocals in Yukaghir languages". In Vladimir P. Nedjilkov. Reciprocal Constructions, Volume 1. John Benjamins Publishing. pp. 1835–1863. ISBN 90-272-2983-X.
  4. Kittila, Seppo (2007). "A typology of tritransitives: alignment types and motivations". Linguistics. Germany: Walter de Gruyter. 45 (3): 453–508. doi:10.1515/LING.2007.015.
  5. Mita, Ryohei (2009). "On tritransitive verbs". In J. Askedal; I. Roberts; T. Matsuchita; H. Hasegawa. Germanic Languages and Linguistic Universals. John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 121–142. ISBN 978-90-272-8768-7.
  6. Narasimhan, Bhuvana; Eisenbeiß, Sonja; Brown, Penelope (2007). "'Two's company, more is a crowd': the linguistic encoding of multiple-participant events". Linguistics. 45 (3). doi:10.1515/LING.2007.013.
  7. Stevens, Alan (1970). "Pseudo-transitive verbs in Indonesian". Indonesia. 9: 67–72. doi:10.2307/3350622.
  8. Esteban, Avelino Corral (2012). "A comparative analysis of three-place predicates in Lakhota within the RRG framework". Spanish Journal of Applied Linguistics. 25: 9–26.
  9. Hampe, Beate (2011). "Discovering constructions by means of collostruction analysis: The English denominative construction". Cognitive Linguistics. 22 (2): 211–245. doi:10.1515/cogl.2011.009.
  10. 1 2 "Preverbal particles in Pingelapese: A language of Micronesia - ProQuest". Retrieved 2017-02-10.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Simona, Ropati (1986). Tokelau Dictionary. New Zealand: Office of Tokelau Affairs. p. Introduction.
  12. Hafford, James. "Wuvulu Grammar and Vocabulary". p. 86.
  13. Hafford, James. "Wuvulu Grammar and Vocabulary". p. 85.
  14. Hafford, James. "Wuvulu Grammar and Vocabulary". p. 86.
  15. Hafford, James. "Wuvulu Grammar and Vocabulary". p. 87.
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