How to Remember Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

The Free Cozy Grammar Newsletter with Marie Rackham and Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma

This month we wanted to share a favorite excerpt from Lesson 11 of The Basic Cozy Grammar Course in which Marie gives a handy trick for remembering the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs.

This tip also doubles as a quick and easy introduction to the topic, so it's helpful even to people who aren't sure what transitive and intransitive verbs are in the first place. It unlocks the concept in a memorable way.

Take a peek by clicking below.

What I love about this excerpt is the simple and straightforward way Marie gives to distinguish between transitive and intransitive verbs.

If we can ask WHAT, then the verb is transitive.

If we can ask WHERE, WHEN, WHY, and HOW, then the verb is intransitive.

Transitive? Intransitive?

Like subjects and predicates—the topic of last month's newsletter—the terms "transitive" and "intransitive" can seem intimidating and confusing. Why would we need them, or need to remember them?

The answer has to do with what I call the architecture of phrases and sentences.

The life of a sentence—its energy and vitality—comes from its verbs.

The more clearly we understand the different ways that verbs work, the more energy and life we can give to our sentences.

Transitive Verbs and Transit Systems

As Marie points out in Lesson 11, transitive verbs are like transit systems such as buses, trains, and ferry boats.

How? Because every transitive verb carries the action of that verb from the doer of the action to the receiver (or object) of that action—just as a bus carries a passenger from point A to point B.

Or, to put it another way, a transitive verb is about an action that is done to something else.

In the example in the video clip, "The waves lap the beach," the waves bring the action of lapping to the beach. They do the lapping to the beach.

Knowing when we're using a transitive verb can help us be clear about who is doing the action to what.

If I say something like, "Marie is teaching me," then I'm saying that Marie is the one doing the teaching and thereby giving it to me.

The Hidden Power of Intransitive Verbs

Intransitive verbs, by contrast, don't have an object or receiver of the action. Instead, they do the action on their own.

For instance, in Marie's example from the video, "The waves lap playfully," the waves aren't lapping anything else. They're lapping by themselves, playfully.

(As you can see, it's possible for the same verb to be transitive or intransitive depending on the sentence.)

This distinction is more interesting than it may at first appear. An intransitive verb means that the subject of the sentence—the person or thing doing the action—has the power to do it by themselves.

An intransitive verb reveals the hidden capacities of its subject.

Learn, Live, and Thrive

This is why Marie would always say, "No one fails if they have the tools."

Instead of thinking of herself as teaching her students, she saw herself as giving them what they needed to be able to learn, to live, and to thrive on their own.

"No one fails if they have the tools." Marie Rackham

To live, to thrive, and to succeed are intransitive verbs. No one can do these actions for you.

Others can, however, help you to learn how, by giving you the tools you need.

That's what Marie tried to do every day, and it's the legacy we try to honor and uphold at Cozy Grammar.

In search of the tools you need?

We’d love to help you open new doors.


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