Transitive verbs, weasels, and youNov 19th, 2008 | By John Roach | Category: Grammar
We’ve all been there: It’s 3 a.m. and you’re tossing and turning, asking yourself, “What are transitive verbs?” Sleep well, little ones, for I am about to tell you.
Transitive verbs are those that take an object. Intransitive verbs, by a cruel twist of fate, are verbs that don’t take an object. But wait! There’s more.
Objects of your affection
A quick refresher in basic grammar: Sentences are built of a few simple building blocks. In this case, we’re talking about subjects, verbs, and direct objects.
I chased the weasel.
In this case, the subject is “I,” the verb is “chased,” and the direct object is “weasel.” As you can see, the direct object receives the action. Same with “He threw the ball,” “I broke the window,” and “I saw the sign (and it opened up my mind.)”
All of the above verbs, at least in these cases, are transitive: They require an object to make sense. “I chased,” “He threw,” or “I broke” would leave your poor reader leaning on the edge of the seat shouting “Chased what?” while everyone else on the plane shushed them and called for one of those federal marshals with the special bullets that don’t exit the body and therefore puncture the hull of the airplane. Do you really want to put your reader in that kind of situation? Of course not, make sure to use verbs correctly, ok?
I’m going to gloss right over intransitive verbs, because you are a smart, capable reader and can figure out by inference what they are. I’ll give you a couple of sentences to lead you along, though:
“The cat slept.”
“The words emanated from the loudspeakers.”
“The dude abides.”
Then there’s the verbs that can’t make up their minds. They can be either transitive or intransitive, depending on their meaning, mood, or lunar cycle. Dr. Goodward calls these verbs ambitransitive. Consider the following:
“Children grow at an alarming rate.” vs. “I grow plants”
“I drink milk every day” vs. “I drink to forget.”
“The car hummed along.” vs. “He hummed ‘Stayin’ alive’ so often I had to experiment with heated screwdrivers on his ear canal.”
He gave me the business.
I’m not exactly sure that such a distinction is necessary, and quite frankly I’m surprised you’ve read this far.
But don’t trust me
For further reading, check out Daily Writing Tip’s treatment of the subject of transitive verbs, which admittedly has 100% fewer weasels. Once you’re done there, find out why the military is all wrong about “please advise.”