What is an Intransitive Verb?
Transitive verbs express action by a word in the sentence. An intransitive verb expresses action not received by some other word in the sentence.
Look at this sentence: "Brian fell."
You see instantly that the action verb fell is not passed over to another word in the sentence. Since fell does not pass action over to any other word in the sentence, fell is called an intransitive verb. Intransitive means "not-passing-over."
English grammar divides action verbs as a whole into two classes:
(1) Those whose action is received by some other word in the sentence. (Transitive)
(2) Those whose action is not received by another word. (Intransitive)
This section focuses on intransitive verbs.
Transitive verbs have two ways of expressing action: 1) if the subject acts; or 2) if the subject is acted upon. You can determine the type of expression by the "voice"is it passive or active voice? Look carefully at the subject. If the subject acts, the verb is in the active voice; if the subject is acted upon, the verb is in the passive voice.
Intransitive verbs have only one way of expressing action. Since the action of this verb is never received, the subject always acts. Intransitive verbs do not have voice; however, we can say that all intransitive verbs are in the active voice by the way they express the action. The one exception is if we add a preposition to the verb, then it becomes passive voice: "He was laughed at by James."
EX. I tasted the milk. (transitive)
EX. The milk tastes sour. (intransitive)
EX. I felt my way carefully. (transitive)
EX. I feel happy. (intransitive)
EX. The flower smells sweet. (intransitive)
EX. He sounded the bell. (transitive)
EX. The music sounds. (intransitive)
EX. The rain feels cold. (intransitive)
EX. The dark clouds dropped cold rain on us. (transitive)
EX. The fire alarm rang. (intransitive)
EX. He rang the alarm. (transitive)
EX. The water feels warm. (intransitive)
EX. The picture hangs on the wall.
EX. His great-grandfather was German.
EX. Washington had been a farmer in his younger days.
Examine those words after the verbs. Warm is a predicate adjective, describing water. Picture is the object of the preposition on. German is a predicate nominative; it means the same as the subject. Farmer is a predicate nominative; it means the same thing as Washington. In these four sentences there is no object. Not one of the four subjects is acted upon. Therefore all the verbs are intransitive.
The following are the uses of the intransitive verb:
(a) The intransitive verb may assert something of the subject without any other part of speech assisting it.
EX. "He is writing."
EX. "The sun shines."
(b) The intransitive verb may assert something of the subject, with the assistance of an adjective.
EX. "I am happy."
(c) Some intransitive verbs may assert identity between the subject and some person or thing.
EX. "He is a writer."
EX. "Brian is an author."
(d) Intransitive verbs may express action, and be modified by an adverb.
EX. He walks quickly. (quickly is an adverb of manner).
NOTE We require an adjective after an intransitive verb, when it references the subject; the adverb, when it references the verb.
(e) In the following examples the reference is to the subject, hence, the adjective is used: "The girl is beautiful" (beautiful girl). "The child seems happy" (happy child). "The sea looks rough" (rough sea).
In the following sentence, we make a reference to the verb, therefore we use the adverb: "The boy walks slowly" (walks in a slow manner).
NOTE In such constructions as, "He looked at her wearily," the intransitive verb expresses action; therefore we need an adverb. In the foregoing sentences, the intransitive verbs do not express action; therefore we need an adjective.
NOTE We can use most verbs as either transitive or intransitive. Some verbs, however, can be only intransitive, such as with these verbs: lie, fall, etc. Thus: "He is lying down;" "He has fallen down."
NOTE In some cases, the intransitive verb apparently takes a direct object, as in this sentence: "He ran a mile." Here mile is not the object of ran, but the object of a preposition; thus, "He ran for a mile."
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