digplanet beta 1: Athena
Share digplanet:


Applied sciences






















In linguistics, transitivity is a property of verbs that relates to whether a verb can take direct objects and how many such objects a verb can take. It is closely related to valency, which considers other verb arguments in addition to direct objects. The obligatory noun phrases and prepositional phrases determine how many arguments a predicate has. Obligatory elements are considered arguments while optional ones are never counted in the list of arguments.[1]

Traditional grammar makes a binary distinction between intransitive verbs that cannot take a direct object (such as fall or sit in English) and transitive verbs that take one direct object (such as throw, injure, kiss in English). In practice, many languages (including English) interpret the category more flexibly, allowing: ditransitive verbs, verbs that have two objects; or even ambitransitive verbs, verbs that can be used as both a transitive verb and an intransitive verb. Further, some verbs may be idiomatically transitive, while, technically, intransitive.[citation needed] This may be observed in the verb walk in the idiomatic expression To walk the dog.

In functional grammar, transitivity is considered to be a continuum rather than a binary category as in traditional grammar. The "continuum" view takes a more semantic approach. One way it does this is by taking into account the degree to which an action affects its object (so that the verb see is described as having "lower transitivity" than the verb kill).

Formal analysis[edit]

Many languages, such as Hungarian, mark transitivity through morphology; transitive verbs and intransitive verbs behave in distinctive ways. In languages with polypersonal agreement, an intransitive verb will agree with its subject only, while a transitive verb will agree with both subject and direct object.

In other languages the distinction is based on syntax. It is possible to identify an intransitive verb in English, for example, by attempting to supply it with an appropriate direct object:

  • He kissed her hand — transitive verb.
  • She injured him — transitive verb.
  • What did you throw? — transitive verb.

By contrast, an intransitive verb coupled with a direct object will result in an ungrammatical utterance:

  • *What did you fall?
  • *I sat a chair.

Conversely (at least in a traditional analysis), using a transitive verb in English without a direct object will result in an incomplete sentence:

  • I kissed (. . .)
  • You injured (. . .)
  • Where is she now? *She's injuring.

English is unusually lax by Indo-European standards in its rules on transitivity; what may appear to be a transitive verb can be used as an intransitive verb, and vice versa. Eat and read and many other verbs can be used either transitively or intransitively. Often there is a semantic difference between the intransitive and transitive forms of a verb: the water is boiling versus I boiled the water; the grapes grew versus I grew the grapes. In these examples, known as ergative verbs, the role of the subject differs between intransitive and transitive verbs.

Even though an intransitive verb may not take a direct object, it often may take an appropriate indirect object:

  • I laughed at him.

What are considered to be intransitive verbs can also take cognate objects, where the object is considered integral to the action, for example I slept an hour.

Languages that express transitivity through morphology[edit]

The following languages of the below language families (or hypothetical language families) have this feature:[2]

In the Uralic language family:

In the Paleosiberian hypothetical language family:

Form–function mappings[edit]

Formal transitivity is associated with a variety of semantic functions across languages. Crosslinguistically, Hopper and Thompson (1980) have proposed to decompose the notion of transitivity into 10 formal and semantic features (some binary, some scalar); the features argued to be associated with high transitivity are summarized in the following well-known table:

1. Participants: 2 or more
2. Kinesis: action involved
3. Aspect: telic
4. Punctuality: punctual
5. Volitionality: action is volitional
6. Affirmation: utterance expressing action is affirmative
7. Mode: realis
8. Agency: A argument is high in potency
9. Affectedness of O argument: O totally affected
10. Individuation of O: O is highly individuated

Næss (2007) has argued at length for the following two points:

  1. Though formally a broad category of phenomena, transitivity boils down to a way to maximally distinguish the two participants involved (pp. 22–25);
  2. Major participants are describable in terms of the semantic features [±Volitional] [±Instigating] [±Affected] which makes them distinctive from each other. Different combinations of these binary values will yield different types of participants (pg. 89), which are then compatible or incompatible with different verbs. Individual languages may, of course, make more fine-grained distinctions (chapter 5).

Types of participants discussed include:

  • Volitional Undergoers (some Experiencer, Recipients, Beneficiaries): [+Vol], [-Inst], [+Aff]
ex. me in Spanish Me gusta. ['I like it.']
  • Force: [-Vol], [+Inst], [-Aff]
ex. the tornado in The tornado broke my windows.
  • Instrument: [-Vol], [+Inst], [+Aff]
ex. the hammer in The hammer broke the cup.


  1. ^ Carnie, Andrew. "Subcategories of Verbs." Syntax: A Generative Introduction. Blackwell Publishing, Ltd. 2013. Print. 03 Oct. 2013.
  2. ^ Pusztay 1990: 86–92

See also[edit]


  • Hopper, Paul J.; Sandra A. Thompson (June 1980). "Transitivity in Grammar and Discourse". Language 56 (2): 251–299. doi:10.2307/413757. 
  • Naess, Ashild (2007). Prototypical Transitivity. Typological Studies in Language 72. John Benjamins Pub Co. ISBN 9027229848. 
  • Pusztay, János (1990). Nyelvek bölcsőjénél. Kérdőjel (in Hungarian). Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó. ISBN 963-05-5510-7.  Translation of the title: At the cradle of languages.

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transitivity_(grammar) — Please support Wikipedia.
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia.
65 videos foundNext > 

The verb & its arguments: valency & transitivity (Lesson 2 of 4)

How do verbs and nouns interact in grammar? In this second lesson, you will learn about transitive verbs, intransitive verbs and ditransitive verbs, as well ...

Transitivity - Systemic Functional Grammar

In this video, Chris English talks about the different kinds of processes that exist in English, and how they are treated and analysed in Systemic Functional...

English Grammar - intransitive transitive Verb - 7

Easiest and fastest way to STUDY ... Because it is so clear, just watching without listening will be clearly understood even for the deaf or anyone who doesn...

English Grammar - Learn about Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Find 1500+ education videos available at https://www.youtube.com/user/IkenEdu English Grammar learning is important for better understanding of English langu...

English Grammar Lesson - Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

SuccessCDs Education ( https://www.youtube.com/successcds1 ) is an online channel focused on providing education through Videos as per CBSE, ICSE and NCERT s...

6. English Grammar Lesson. Transitive Verbs and Direct Objects

Yossarian the Grammarian gives you the skinny on transitive verbs. Ignore his botched attempt to quote Yoda, whom he should have quoted as saying, "The board...

Basic Grammar: Transitive Verbs

http://www.mindbites.com/lesson/2868-basic-grammar-11-transitive-intransitive-copula Intransitive verbs answer the questions 'how', 'where', 'when', and 'why...

The Grammar Dude Part One: Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Frank explains how to tell the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs.

The Strategy of Voting: Transitivity of Preferences

For individual preferences to make sense, if you prefer x to y and y to z, then you must prefer x to z as well. This is the crux of the transitivity axiom. T...

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Transitive and Intransitive verbs presented by Mr. JB. Learn English at home with Language Zone!!

65 videos foundNext > 

We're sorry, but there's no news about "Transitivity (grammar)" right now.


Oops, we seem to be having trouble contacting Twitter

Talk About Transitivity (grammar)

You can talk about Transitivity (grammar) with people all over the world in our discussions.

Support Wikipedia

A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia. Please add your support for Wikipedia!