What Is an Intransitive Verb? (with Examples)

by Craig Shrives

Intransitive Verb

An intransitive verb is one that does not take a direct object. In other words, it is not done to someone or something. It only involves the subject.

The opposite of an intransitive verb is a transitive verb. A transitive verb can have a direct object.

intransitive verb example

What Does "Taking a Direct Object" Mean?

An intransitive verb does not take a direct object. Here's a bit more on what that means:
  • He laughed.
  • (Laughed is an intransitive verb. It has no direct object. You cannot laugh something.)
  • He told a joke.
  • (Told is a transitive verb. The direct object is a joke. You can tell something. For example, you can tell a story, a lie, a joke, etc.)
Remember that you can find the direct object of a verb by reading the verb and then asking "what?" (or "whom?"). If this question is not appropriate, then you're probably dealing with an intransitive verb. For example (verbs shaded):
  • He caught the bus after the party.
  • (Q: Caught what? A: the bus. This is a transitive verb. It has a direct object.)
  • He disappeared after the party.
  • (Q: Disappeared what? That doesn't make sense. You can't disappear something. This is an intransitive verb. It can't take a direct object.)

Examples of Intransitive Verbs

Here are some more examples of intransitive verbs. With each example, if you read the verb (shaded) aloud and ask "what?", there will be no answer. There is no answer because there is no direct object. These verbs are all intransitive.
  • Every single person voted.
  • The jackdaws roost in these trees.
  • The crowd demonstrated outside the theatre.
  • (In this example, demonstrated is an intransitive verb. However, to demonstrate can be used transitively too, e.g., He demonstrated a karate chop to the class.)

Examples of Verbs That Are Transitive and Intransitive

Some verbs can be transitive and intransitive. For example:
  • Mel walks for miles.
  • (As walks is not being done to anything, this verb is intransitive.)
However, compare it to this:
  • Mel walks the dog for miles
  • (This time, walks does have a direct object (the dog). Therefore, it is transitive. Some verbs can be both intransitive and transitive, depending on the precise meaning.)
Here is another example:
  • The apes played in the woods.
  • (intransitive)
  • The apes played hide and seek in the woods.
  • (transitive)
    (Q: played what? A: hide and seek.)

Common Intransitive Verbs

Here is a list of common intransitive verbs:

Intransitive VerbComment
to agreecan also be transitive (e.g., to agree a point)
to playcan also be transitive (e.g., to play a tune)
to runcan also be transitive (e.g., to run a mile)
to walkcan also be transitive (e.g., to walk the dog)
to eatcan also be transitive (e.g., to eat a cake)
to appear 
to arrive  
to belong  
to collapse  
to collide  
to die  
to demonstrate can also be transitive (e.g., to demonstrate a skill)
to disappear  
to emerge  
to exist  
to fall  
to go  
to happen 
to laugh  
to nest 
to occur  
to remain  
to respond  
to rise  
to roost 
to sit can also be transitive (e.g., to sit a child)
to sleep  
to stand can also be transitive (e.g., to stand a lamp)
to vanish 

Intransitive Verbs Do Not Have a Passive Form

As an intransitive verb cannot take a direct object, there is no passive form. For example:
  • She fell.
  • (The verb fell (from to fall) is intransitive.)
  • She was fallen.
  • (There is no passive version of to fall.)
Here is another example:
  • The event happened at 6 o'clock.
  • (The verb happened (from to happen) is intransitive.)
  • The event was happened at 6 o'clock.
  • (There is no passive version of to happen.)
Compare those two examples to one with a transitive verb:
  • The man baked a cake.
  • (The verb baked (from to bake) is transitive.)
  • A cake was baked by the man.
  • (You can have a passive version with a transitive verb.)

What Does "Intransitive" Mean?

The word "intransitive" means "not transitive." So, to understand what "intransitive" means, we need to know what "transitive" means. A transitive verb gets its name from the idea that the action must transition through the verb to an object in order to complete the meaning.
  • James bought. (incomplete)
  • (When the action does not transition through the verb to an object, the meaning is incomplete.)
  • James bought a carpet.
  • (In this example, the action of the verb bought has transitioned to a direct object (the carpet), and the meaning is now complete.)
With an intransitive verb, the verb's meaning is complete without the need to transition to an object.
  • James snores.
  • (Snores is intransitive. An intransitive verb only involves the subject.)

A Video Summary

Here is a short video summarizing the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs.

Why Should I Care about Intransitive Verbs?

Even if they've never heard of "transitive" or "intransitive" verbs, native speakers are great at using them correctly. Nevertheless, understanding the terms "transitive" and "intransitive" is useful when discussing verbs, direct objects, and indirect objects, which is most likely when learning or teaching a foreign language.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

What is a direct object? What are transitive verbs? What is the subject of a verb? What is the passive form (or voice)? Glossary of grammatical terms