Transitive, Intransitive and Ditransitive Verbs

The difference between a transitive verb and an intransitive verb is that transitive verb has an object in the sentence while an intransitive verb does not. A transitive verb is an action verb and it requires a direct object to ensure the sentence makes more sense. The action of the verb is therefore transferred directly to the object.

In order to determine whether a verb is transitive, you need to ask whether the action of the subject is done to someone or something. If someone or something is receiving the action of the verb, then this sentence contains a transitive verb. The person or thing that is receiving the action is the object.


The number of arguments that a verb takes is called its valency or valence. Verbs can be classified according to their valency:

  • Intransitive (valency = 1): the verb only has a subject.
  • Transitive (valency = 2): the verb has a subject and a direct object.
  • Ditransitive (valency = 3): the verb has a subject, a direct object and an indirect or secondary object.

It is possible to have verbs with zero valency. Impersonal verbs like the weather take neither subject nor object (eg. It rains, it snows). English verbs are often flexible with regard to valency. A transitive verb can often drop its object and become intransitive; or an intransitive verb can be added an object and become transitive. For example:-

  • He provides. (intransitive)
  • He provides food. (transitive)
  • He provides food to the homeless. (ditransitive)
  • First example: the verb “provides”, in an abstract way describes the idea of providing; the verb “provides” only has a subject “he”.
  • Second example: shows that food is being provided; the verb “provides” here has a subject “he” and a direct object “food”.
  • In the third: both the gift and the recipient are mentioned; the verb “provides” has a subject “he”, a direct object “food” and an indirect (secondary) object “homeless”.