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English Verbs: Copular, Intransitive, Transitive, Ditransitive, and Ambitransitive

Verbs are traditionally defined as “action or state of being words.” In the English language, main or principal verbs may be classified into five categories:

  1. Copular
  2. Intransitive
  3. Transitive
  4. Ditransitive
  5. Ambitransitive

Copular Verbs

The first type of verb in English is the copular verb. Copular verbs are English verbs that link the subject complement in the predicate to the grammatical subject. Some common copular verbs in English include:

  • be
  • become
  • feel
  • seem
  • smell
  • taste

For example:

  • His father is a locksmith.
  • Your brother appears ill today.
  • The result of the test remains unknown.
  • That pumpkin pie smells delicious.
  • I felt sad yesterday.
  • Her soup tastes like burnt socks.

Some grammars refer to the copular verbs as a copula verb, copula, or linking verb.

Intransitive Verbs

The second type of verb in English is the intransitive verb. Intransitive verbs are English verbs that cannot or do not take objects. Some common intransitive verbs in English include:

  • cough
  • die
  • dream
  • go
  • sit
  • sneeze

For example:

  • The baby coughed.
  • The old woman died.
  • My dog dreams about chasing rabbits.
  • We went to the fair.
  • Sit down!
  • The sick child sneezed in my face.

Many intransitive verbs in English are also prepositional verbs, which are verbs that required a verb phrase complement in the form of a prepositional phrase. For example:

  • The patron argued about the fine on his account.
  • The citizens must cope with the tragedy.
  • I am listening to my favorite band.
  • My daughter insisted on wearing the striped pants with the polka dot shirt.
  • We should laugh about the situation.
  • Some people yearn for a time that never existed.

Transitive Verbs

The third type of verb in English is the transitive verb. Transitive verbs are English verbs that take direct objects. Another name for verbs that take only a direct object is monotransitive verb. Monotransitive verbs take only one object. Some common transitive verbs in English include:

  • borrow
  • clean
  • eat
  • kick
  • swallow
  • write

For example:

  • The man tore the paper.
  • A burglar stole my necklace.
  • Rabbits destroy my garden every year.
  • My cat kills rabbits.
  • We enjoyed the performance
  • He closed the door.

Many phrasal verbs in English are transitive verbs.

Ditransitive Verbs

The fourth type of verb in English is the ditransitive verb. Ditransitive verbs are English verbs that take both direct objects and indirect objects. Some common ditransitive verbs in English include:

  • bring
  • buy
  • catch
  • give
  • pass
  • trade

For example:

  • Maureen gave Dan the pencil.
  • My husband bought me some flowers.
  • The police caught themselves a criminal.
  • Please pass me the rice.
  • She showed the doctor her rash.
  • I lent him some money.

Another type of ditransitive verb is the attributive ditransitive verb. Attributive ditransitive verbs also take two objects: a direct object and an object complement. For example:

  • The committee named me the new president.
  • The clown got the children too excited.
  • We all consider her unworthy.
  • The guards painted the roses red.
  • The judge ruled her out of order.
  • My coworkers call Rachelle the boss.

Ambitransitive Verbs

The fifth type of verb in English is the ambitransitive verb. Ambitransitive verbs are English verbs that may be either transitive/ditransitive or intransitive depending on the context. Some common ambitransitive verbs in English include:

  • break
  • drink
  • open
  • pay
  • read
  • sink

For example:

  • The little boy broke the lamp. (transitive)
  • My oven broke yesterday. (intransitive)
  • Some man opened the window. (transitive)
  • The store opens early today. (intransitive)
  • My husband paid the mechanic. (transitive)
  • We already paid. (intransitive)

The majority of verbs in English are ambitransitive rather than purely intransitive, transitive, or ditransitive.

References

Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kilby, David. 1984. Descriptive syntax and the English verb. Dover, New Hampshire: Croom Helm.
Leech, Geoffrey N. 2004. Meaning and the English verb. Harlow, English: Pearson Longman.

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