The grammatical term “transitive verb” occurs in numerous posts on this site, usually with a reminder of what it means, but perhaps a dedicated post will be useful to readers who remain shaky on the concept.
Note: To keep this post focused on the concept of transitive verbs and their direct objects, I am not going to mention terms that apply to other kinds of objects or verbs.
The prefix trans occurs in many English words. It’s from Latin transire, a combination of the Latin preposition trans, “across” and the infinitive ire, “to go.” English words beginning with trans usually have something to do with moving something “across” to something or someone else. For example:
transatlantic: passing or extending across the Atlantic Ocean.
transcribe: to make a copy of something in writing; to copy out from an original, i.e., move the original writing “across” to another place.
transfuse: to pour a liquid from one vessel or receptacle into another. In the case of blood, cause to flow from the donor or bag “across” to the recipient.
The trans in “transitive verb” indicates that the action of an action verb carries across to a receiver of the action. The receiver that receives the action of a transitive verb is called its “direct object.”
The dog bit the intruder. (Bit is an action verb. Intruder receives the action.)
The batter hit the ball out of the park. (Hit is an action verb. Ball receives the action.)
A flock of sheep halted traffic from here to the highway. (Halted is an action verb. Traffic receives the action.)
Here’s how to decide if an action verb is transitive:
First, identify the main action verb in the sentence. For example, in the first sentence, the main verb is bit.
Then, ask the question, “Bit what?” The answer to “what?” will be the direct object: intruder.
Not all action verbs are transitive. For example, the action verb kick may or may not have a receiver. For example, compare these sentences:
1. The girl kicked the football over the goal.
2. The baby kicked furiously in the bath.
In the first sentence, when you ask “kicked what?” you find the answer “football.” In this sentence, kicked is a transitive verb because the action of kicking is received by the football. Football is the direct object of kicked.
In the second sentence, when you ask “kicked what?” you do not find an answer to the question. The action does not travel across to any receiver. There is no direct object. In the second sentence, kicked is not transitive.
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