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Intransitive English Verbs

Notional grammars define verbs as “action or state of being words.” Main verbs, or principal verbs, fall into five categories in English grammar. Intransitive verbs are English verbs that cannot or do not take objects. Intransitive verbs cannot occur within passive constructions.

Some common intransitive English verbs include the following:

  • collapse
  • cough
  • cry
  • die
  • disappear
  • dream
  • emerge
  • exist
  • go
  • happen
  • hiccup
  • last
  • occur
  • revolt
  • rise
  • sit
  • sleep
  • smile
  • sneeze
  • stand
  • stay
  • swim
  • vanish
  • vomit
  • wake

For example:

  • The baby coughed all last night.
  • I can dream, can’t I?
  • The villagers are revolting!
  • That little boy sits well.
  • Hercules Jones swam in many pools all over the world.
  • The vanishing cabinet has vanished.

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 little girl apologized for her outburst.
  • The old man emerged from his slumber.
  • She still is grieving for her loss.
  • I am listening for the upcoming arrivals.
  • We object to your insinuation.
  • Can you think about the offer a little more?

Copular verbs, verbs that link the subject complement in the predicate to the grammatical subject, are also intransitive. Some common intransitive copular verbs in English include the following:

  • act
  • appear
  • be
  • become
  • come
  • get
  • go
  • grow
  • fall
  • feel
  • keep
  • look
  • prove
  • remain
  • seem
  • smell
  • sound
  • stay
  • taste
  • turn

For example:

  • The man in the yellow hat acted angry.
  • I am a mother.
  • The children grew restless.
  • The task has proven difficult.
  • The cake you are baking smells delicious.
  • The eggs will turn rotten in a few days.

Intransitive verbs cannot occur within passive constructions. Grammatical voice is loosely defined as the grammaticalized expression of relationships between predicate and nominal functions such as subject and object. The English language has two grammatical voices: active and passive. The active voice allows speakers to form sentences in which the grammatical subject performs the action of or acts upon the verb functioning as the predicate. The passive voice allows speakers to form sentences in which a direct or indirect object moves into the subject position. Because intransitive verbs cannot or do not take objects, intransitive verbs in active constructions cannot shift into the passive voice. For example:

  • The dog chased the cat. (transitive verb, active voice)
  • The cat was chased by the dog. (transitive verb, passive voice)
  • The child slept. (intransitive verb, active voice)
  • *Was slept by the child.

Intransitive English verbs are verbs that cannot or do not take objects. Copular and prepositional verbs are both intransitive in the English language.

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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