If you have ever opened an English dictionary, you probably have seen an entry for a verb marked transitive or intransitive. A transitive verb requires a direct object, while an intransitive verb does not. "Give" is a transitive verb: "He gave her the keys to the house." Here, the keys serve as the object. Examples of intransitive verbs include "talk" and "sleep" in the following sentence: "He talked for awhile and then slept all night."
To understand the concept of an intransitive verb, you must appreciate what an intransitive verb is not -- that is, a transitive verb. A transitive verb is an action verb, which means that it is a verb expressing what something or someone can do. A transitive verb must have a direct object, or something to receive the action of the verb. For example:
The Champ pummeled Foreman again.
In the preceding sentence, the verb "pummeled" is an action verb. Someone receives the action, being "pummeled," in this sentence: Foreman. Here Foreman is a direct object.
Distinguishing Intransitive Verbs
You can easily distinguish an intransitive verb from other kinds of verbs. You can tell that a verb is not an intransitive verb if it is not an action verb. Intransitive verbs, like transitive verbs, are always action verbs -- that is, they express something that you do rather than a state of being. This means that various conjugations of "to be," such as "is," "are," "was" and "am" are never intransitive verbs. Unlike transitive verbs, however, intransitive verbs never have direct objects.
Examples of Usage
The following sentences provide examples of intransitive verbs:
Huge deposits of gold lie under these hills.
To "lie" is an action that someone or something -- in this case, gold -- can do. Thus "lie" here is an action verb. Nothing receives the action in this sentence, which is another way of saying it lacks a direct object. Therefore, "lie" is an intransitive verb.
Grandma Ruth died on a Friday afternoon.
Here "died" is another action verb lacking a direct object and thus another intransitive verb.
Transitive and Intransitive Verbs
Some action verbs, such as "sit," are always intransitive verbs. Other action verbs, however, such as "eat," may be transitive or intransitive, depending upon how you use them. Consider the following two sentences, both of which use the verb "eats."
She always eats before she leaves for work in the morning.
Sheryl says that when she eats greasy food her stomach gets upset.
In the first sentence, "eat" does not have a direct object. The subject simply "eats"; you do not know what she eats. In the second sentence, however, Sheryl "eats" does possess a direct object: "greasy food." In sentence one "eats" is an intransitive verb, while in the sentence two it is transitive.