Saturday, October 9, 2010

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs (and, naturally, direct and indirect objects)

You may have heard of transitive and intransitive verbs before. These names denote two major classes of verbs.

A transitive verb is one that requires what's called a direct object, which is the thing or person who receives the action of the verb. So, for example, what's the direct object in the following sentence?

The dog ate the bone.

You probably guessed that the answer is the bone, and you were right. At the very least, you probably identified the subject (The dog) and the verb (ate), leaving just one last thing in the sentence. But what I hope to help you understand is how to determine when something in a sentence is functioning as the recipient of a verb's action. In the above example, the bone receives the action of the verb ate.

Tthe direct object is always a noun, a noun phrase, or any structure functioning as a noun, and it immediately follows a verb, as in these examples:

Tommy swallowed mouthwash.
She wrestled the alligator.
They play video games.

Mouthwash, the alligator, and video games are all nouns or noun phrases that receive the actions of swallowed, wrestled, and play.

The way I determine a direct object in a sentence, assuming one is there, is first to locate the sentence's verb and then to ask myself, "what?" or "whom?" To use the examples above, I would ask, "swallowed what or whom?" or "wrestled what or whom?" or "play what or whom?" The answer to the question of "what?" or "whom?" is the direct object. And, simply put, if there is a direct object, that means the verb is indeed transitive.

But then there's another kind of object that needs to be introduced here too. If we call something a direct object, a reasonable inference would assert that there must also be such a thing as an indirect object. Sure enough, there is!

Essentially, an indirect object is the recipient of the direct object. While a direct object receives the verb's action, an indirect object receives the direct object. This might be a little clearer if you see an example (or three):

Dominick gave Jimmy a ride.
She sent her mother a package.
I bought you a new phone.

Yes, when two kinds of objects are present in a sentence, things get a bit more confusing. But never fear! In determining direct and indirect objects, I'd recommend first figuring out the direct object. In the first example, what did Dominick give? Two options exist: Jimmy and a ride. Naturally, you'd think, Dominick wouldn't give a person, so the direct object can't be Jimmy. Instead, Dominick gave a ride, which is the direct object. Now that you've located the direct object, you can set about finding the indirect object. The important question to ask yourself here is "to whom?" or "to what?" So, again in the first example, to whom or to what did Dominick give a ride? The answer is Jimmy, who is the indirect object because he received the direct object (a ride). Now try to apply the same analysis to the other two examples, and don't allow yourself to become confused by the placement of the objects.

See? You can do it.

This just leaves intransitive verbs, which are a bit simpler to explain. An intransitive verb is a verb that doesn't have or doesn't require a direct object. That's it! So. . .

Superman flew.
Grandpa slept.
Fluffy sneezed.

, slept, and sneezed are examples of intransitive verbs—they don't require any direct objects. After all, you can't fly something, sleep something, or sneeze something.

I hope this post has further contributed to your growing mastery of the English language! Any questions or concerns? Let me know!

1 comment:

Lisa Leinaala said...

This is a great post! Dr. Henry allows said that grammar is really the science of words. When I read these kind of posts I love being a part of the science of words.