Linking, Intransitive and Transitive Verbs

linking, intransitive and transitive verbs

To understand sentence construction, it helps if you know a little about three types of verb:

  • linking verbs
  • intransitive verbs
  • transitive verbs

All verbs have a subject (the person or thing that "does" the action). The real difference between linking, intransitive and transitive verbs is whether or not they have an object (the person or thing that "gets" the action).

S = subject
V = verb
SC = subject complement
DO = direct object
IO = indirect object
linking verbs
take a subject complement
intransitive verbs
take NO object
transitive verbs
take an object
mono-transitive verbs
take ONE object: a direct object
di-transitive verbs
take TWO objects: an indirect object + direct object
cannot be passive can be passive

break down
turn down
many verbs are ambitransitive—they can be intransitive OR transitive depending on context

Linking Verbs

Mary is a nurse.Linking verbs have NO object.

Linking verbs link two parts of a sentence. They link the subject to a noun or adjective. In this sense, linking verbs are like a mathematical equals sign (=).

subject verb subject complement
Mary is a nurse.
Mary = a nurse

Mary is a nurse. linking verb

Linking verbs do not make sense if used alone: they need a "subject complement" to complete their meaning.

  • They are (???)
    They are teachers
  • I feel (???)
    I feel unwell

In the above examples, teachers and unwell are subject complements.

Linking verbs work in two different ways:

  1. the two parts of the sentence are the same thing (Mary is my mother)
  2. the first part has the quality described by the second part (Mary is English)

The most obvious linking verb is the verb:

  • be

Other linking verbs include:

  • appear, become, feel, get, grow, look, remain, seem, smell, sound, taste, turn

Linking verbs cannot be passive.

Look at these example sentences with linking verbs:

  • Is that your car?
  • I am feeling thirsty.
  • John is my boyfriend.
  • My father became an engineer.
  • The milk will turn sour if you leave it.
  • Her explanation did not appear plausible.
  • Hillary remained under suspicion for the rest of her life.

(Note that linking verbs are sometimes called "copula verbs".)

Although we talk about "linking, intransitive and transitive verbs" (just as most grammar books and websites do), it is really more accurate to talk about "linking, intransitive and transitive usage". This is because many verbs can be linking OR transitive OR intransitive depending on the exact meaning and context.

example verb (grow) usage
The sky grew dark. linking
Roses grow slowly. intransitive
I grow coconuts. transitive

Intransitive Verbs

She coughed.Intransitive verbs have NO object. Their action is not transferred from the subject to something else.

subject verb
She cried.

She cried. intransitive verb

Many intransitive verbs can make sense if used alone:

  • He fainted.
  • She cried.
  • Our car broke down.

Of course, we often do follow intransitive verbs with other words telling us how, where or when—but NEVER with an object:

  • He fainted after lunch.
  • She coughed bitterly.
  • Our car broke down in Bangkok.

Intransitive verbs cannot be passive.

Examples of intransitive verbs are:

  • bark, boast, change, cough, die, go, live, run, sit, sleep, wave

Look at these example sentences with intransitive verbs:

  • They live in London.
  • Tell your dog to sit now.
  • Were the dogs barking?
  • The news hasn't changed.
  • He died after a long illness.
  • When I saw him he was running.
  • The president waved to the crowds.

Transitive Verbs

Transitive verbs have an object. Their action is TRANSferred from the subject to something else (the object).

Transitive verbs can be active OR passive.

Some transitive verbs have one object, some have two objects—as shown below.

Monotransitive verbs

He kicked the ball.

Monotransitive verbs have ONE object: a direct object

subject verb direct object
He kicked the ball.

He kicked the ball. monotransitive verb

Examples of monotransitive verbs are:

  • bomb, clean, break, destroy, eat, kill, like, put off, trigger, turn down, want

Look at these example sentences with monotransitive verbs:

  • Do you love me?
  • The Allies bombed Dresden.
  • Pick it up and throw it away.
  • Tara doesn't want a new car.
  • Bond killed the snake and ate it.
  • Can fracking trigger earthquakes?
  • Do you think they'll turn down my offer / turn my offer down?

Ditransitive verbs

Sue passed Ann the ball.

Ditransitive verbs have TWO objects: a direct object and an indirect object

subject verb indirect object direct object
Sue passed Ann the ball.
Sue passed Ann the ball. ditransitive verb

Examples of ditransitive verbs are:

  • buy, give, grant, lend, make, pass, send, serve, show, teach, tell

Look at these example sentences with ditransitive verbs:

  • Make me an offer.
  • Who teaches him French?
  • The bank won't lend them any money.
  • They will serve the guests lunch at 12:30pm.
  • Kid refused to show the teacher her homework.
  • Anthony bought his new girlfriend some roses on her birthday.
  • The local council have granted us permission to open a shop.

Note that many verbs can be used intransitively OR transitively (mono- and di-) depending on the context and the verb's exact meaning. Such verbs are called "ambitransitive verbs".

  • He reads at night. (intransitive)
  • He is reading a book. (monotransitive)
  • He read Mary the letter. (ditransitive)
Josef Essberger, founder Contributor: Josef Essberger, founder of Originally from London, England, Josef is the author of several books for learners of English including English Prepositions List and Learn English in 7.