Unit 51 Verbs and objects

Main points

* Intransitive verbs do not have an object.

* Transitive verbs have an object.

* Some verbs can be used with or without an object, depending on the situation or their meaning.

1 Many verbs do not normally have an object. They are called `intransitive’ verbs. They often refer to:

existence:appear die disappear happen live remain
the human body:ache bleed blush faint shiver smile
human noises:cough cry laugh scream snore speak yawn
light, smell, vibration:glow shine sparkle stink throb vibrate
position, movement:arrive come depart fall flow go kneel run sit sleep stand swim wait walk work

An awful thing has happened.
The girl screamed.
I waited.

Note that intransitive verbs cannot be used in the passive.

2 Many verbs normally have an object. These verbs are called `transitive’ verbs. They are often connected with:

physical objects:build buy carry catch cover cut destroy hit own remove sell use waste wear
senses:feel hear see smell taste touch
feelings:admire enjoy fear frighten hate like love need prefer surprise trust want
facts, ideas:accept believe correct discuss expect express forget include know mean remember report
people:address blame comfort contact convince defy kill persuade please tease thank warn

He hit the ball really hard.
Did you see the rainbow?
They both enjoyed the film.
She reported the accident to the police.
Don’t blame me.

Note that transitive verbs can be used in the passive.
They were blamed for everything.

WARNING: `Have’ is a transitive verb, but cannot be used in the passive. You can say `I have a car’ but not `A car is had by me’.

3 Often, the people you are talking to know what the object is because of the situation, or because it has already been mentioned. In this case you can omit the object, even though the verb is transitive.

accept, answer, change, choose, clean, cook, draw, drive, eat, explain, forget, help, iron, know, learn, leave, paint, park, phone, read, remember, ride, sing, steal, study, type, understand, wash, watch, write

I don’t own a car. I can’t drive.
You don’t smoke, do you?
I asked a question and George answered.
Both dresses are beautiful. It’s difficult to choose.

4 Many verbs have more than one meaning, and are transitive in one meaning and intransitive in another meaning. For example, the verb `run’ is intransitive when you use it to mean `move quickly’ but transitive when you use it to mean `manage or operate’.

call, fit, lose, manage, miss, move, play, run, show, spread

The hare runs at enormous speed.
She runs a hotel.
She moved gracefully.
The whole incident had moved her profoundly.

5 A few verbs are normally intransitive, but can be used with an object that is closely related to the verb.

dance (a dance), die (a death), dream (a dream), , laugh (a laugh), live (a life), sigh (a sigh), smile (a smile)

Steve smiled his thin, cruel smile.
He appears to have lived the life of any other rich gentleman.
I once dreamed a very nice dream.

Note that you normally add more information about the object, for example by using adjectives in front of the noun.