Transitive and Intransitive Verbs – Concept and Differences

We explain what transitive and intransitive verbs are, how they differ and examples of each one in sentences.

transitive and intransitive verbs
Transitive verbs are only understood with a direct object.

What are transitive and intransitive verbs?

In grammar and syntax, a distinction is made between transitive verbs and intransitive verbs according to certain semantic and syntactic criteria, which can be summarized in the presence or absence of a direct object (OD) or direct object (CD) so that the verb can express the totality of its meaning. That is to say:

  • Transitive verbs are those that require a direct object.
  • The intransitive verbs do not require them.

This can be more easily understood if we contemplate a verb like “buy”, which in a sentence like “I buy” demonstrates the lack of a direct object: what is bought? Without it, the meaning is incomplete. On the other hand, a verb such as “to exist” does not require any direct object, and in a sentence such as “I exist” it already expresses its totality, regardless of the circumstances.

So to distinguish between a transitive verb and an intransitive one, it is enough to determine whether the verb allows a direct object, or not. This can be done, remember, with the following syntactic tests:

  • Replacing the possible direct object with an accusative pronoun: “Lo”, “los”, “la”, “las”, as appropriate, or with the pronoun “eso”. For example: “I buy paper”, “I it buy “or” I buy that”(OD =“ paper ”).
  • Transforming the sentence to the passive voice, to see if the possible direct object happens to play the role of subject of the sentence. For example: “I buy paper”, “Paper it was bought by me ”(Subject =“ The paper ”).
  • Asking the verb “What?” or “What thing?”, since the logical response is the direct object. This doesn’t always work, but it is a simple and practical method. For example: “I buy paper”, ¿what thing do I buy? (answer = “paper”).

The distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs in Spanish, however, is not absolute. There are always transitive verbs and always intransitive verbs, but some can also belong to one or another category depending on the case. For this reason, some scholars prefer to speak of transitive and intransitive uses or cases of verbs.

For example: in “My brother studies English” we have a transitive verb, since English is what is studied (“My brother studies it” or “My brother studies that”).

On the other hand, “My brother studies at night” presents an intransitive verb, since in the action of studying the subject studied does not matter, but the context in which it is done, expressed through a circumstantial complement (“at night”). The verb to studyThus, it serves both transitively and intransitively, depending on the communicative context.

Examples of transitive verbs

Here are some examples of transitive verbs in their respective possible sentences:

  • Prayer: Your mother brought a chicken for dinner.

Direct object: a chicken (“Your mother brought that for dinner”)
Verb transitive: bring

  • Prayer: Jonah hasn’t done his homework yet.

Direct object: his homework (“Jonah not yet the did”)
Transitive verb: do

  • Prayer: Tomorrow we will order a pizza.

Direct object: a pizza (“Tomorrow we will order that”)
Transitive verb: ask for

  • Prayer: Can you buy me a tissue?

Direct object: tissue paper (“¿Me it shopping?)
Transitive verb: to buy

  • Prayer: Helena was unable to collect her bags.

Direct object: her suitcases (“Helena couldn’t pick upthe”)
Transitive verb: pick up

  • Prayer: Do not touch the merchandise.

Direct object: the merchandise (“Do not touch that”)
Transitive verb: play

  • Prayer: We want to move the library to the background.

Direct object: library (“The we want to move towards the bottom ”)
Transitive verb: move

  • Prayer: Better avoid unfortunate encounters.

Direct object: unfortunate encounters (“We better avoid that”)
Transitive verb: to avoid

  • Prayer: On Thursday they will broadcast a soccer game.

Direct object: a soccer game (“On Thursday it will transmit ”)
Transitive verb: to transmit

  • Prayer: Frosts damaged celery crops.

Direct object: celery crops (“Frost the damaged ”)
Transitive verb: to damage

  • Prayer: Your father said he would be back at five.

Direct object: that he would return at five o’clock (“Your father said that”)
Transitive verb: tell

  • Prayer: Neighbors exhausted the water tank.

Direct object: the water tank (“The neighbors it they sold out ”)
Transitive verb: exhaust

  • Prayer: It was not my intention to affect your business.

Direct object: your business (“It was not my intention to affectit”)
Transitive verb: to affect

  • Prayer: Yesterday I called the cable technician.

Direct object: the cable technician (“Yesterday it I called”)
Transitive verb: to call

  • Prayer: The check has not yet been deposited into my account.

Direct object: the check (“They have not yet deposited that in my account”)
Transitive verb: to deposit

Examples of intransitive verbs

Similarly, we present below some examples of intransitive verbs along with their respective sentences:

  • Prayer: Next year we move to Jamaica.

Direct object: Does not apply
Circumstantial complement: to Jamaica
Intransitive verb: move

  • Prayer: They began to dance in the middle of the floor.

Direct object: Does not apply
Circumstantial complement: in the middle of the track
Intransitive verb: dance

  • Prayer: My parents always walk hand in hand.

Direct object: Does not apply
Circumstantial complement: always holding hands
Intransitive verb: walk

  • Prayer: We will be at Grandma’s house.

Direct object: Does not apply
Circumstantial complement: In the grandma’s house
Intransitive verb: to be

  • Prayer: It rained heavily during the early morning.

Direct object: Does not apply
Situational complements: pouring in, during the early morning
Intransitive verb: to rain

  • Prayer: Some sectors oppose the government.

Direct object: Does not apply
Indirect object: to the government
Intransitive verb: stand against

  • Prayer: We take a detour before reaching Antofagasta.

Direct object: Does not apply
Circumstantial complement: before arriving in Antofagasta
Intransitive verb: deviate

  • Prayer: My grandfather fell across the street.

Direct object: Does not apply
Circumstantial complement: across the street
Intransitive verb: fall down

  • Prayer: Don’t come back so late this time!

Direct object: Does not apply
Situational complements: so late, this time
Intransitive verb: to return

  • Prayer: We will always be loyal to our team.

Direct object: Does not apply
Indirect object: to our team
Circumstantial complement: Always
Intransitive verb: be

  • Prayer: My brother works from Monday to Friday.

Direct object: Does not apply
Circumstantial complement: Monday to Friday
Intransitive verb: to work

  • Prayer: Today we will be late.

Direct object: Does not apply
Situational complements: Today, afternoon
Intransitive verb: to get

  • Prayer: María has been crying out loud since Wednesday.

Direct object: Does not apply
Situational complements: in pots, from Wednesday.
Intransitive verb: mourn

  • Prayer: A specter appeared to the soldiers.

Direct object: Does not apply
Indirect object: To the soldiers
Intransitive verb: show up

  • Prayer: The bird flew away suddenly.

Direct object: Does not apply
Circumstantial complement: suddenly
Intransitive verb: to fly