Transitive/Intransitive Verbs - Podcast Episode 28

Welcome to episode 28 of The English Sessions. Transitive/intransitive verbs. I am your host and English teacher, Mike Butler. These podcasts can help you improve your English! Together, we will talk about grammar… pronunciation… structure... and have some fun too. Remember to visit my website, to contact me for private lessons, and for more content.

You can also read the transcript of this audio on the website, as you listen to this episode.

Listen for this word today:
Vice versa - “vice versa” is perhaps similar in your language. It is from Latin, for literally ‘in-turned position’. Or, in other words, the other way around, the opposite, in reverse. For example, “Dancers can teach actors a lot, and vice versa” (OXFORD). Or, “Actors can teach dancers a lot, and vice versa”.

Picture of two arrows. One arrow pointing left; one arrow pointing right.
One way and vice versa

My students sometimes ask me, “Mike, how do you decide what you are going to talk about on the podcast?”. I have been teaching English for a long time, and I know what my students need to learn. I know what they need to focus on, or, in other words, pay attention to. Today’s topic, transitive and intransitive verbs, is the perfect example of a topic that many students don’t often think about, but should think about. I want to talk more about prepositions… Many learners have problems with prepositions, BUT, did you know that your problem with prepositions may be related to transitive and intransitive verb use?

I want you, yes you, to pause this episode, and go listen to episode 18 of English Sessions. Episode 18 will help you to better understand this episode today. Yes, listen to episode 18 of the English Sessions, right now. I will wait. ( ). Are you back? Okay, now I’m going to give you a little test.

Which is correct in English?
    1. I listen podcasts
    2. I listen to podcasts

Are you not sure? Well, let’s talk about it together. We will figure it out, together. First, we need to talk about transitive and intransitive verbs.

TRANSITIVE: Transitive verbs are verbs that take a direct object. Remember, very basic English sentence structure: subject + verb + object. I bake cakes. I eat food. I wear clothing. You need that object to complete the sentence, and the object is right after that verb.

INTRANSITIVE: Intransitive verbs don’t need an object. You can have a complete sentence with an intransitive verb, and no object. For example: He looked. Past tense. He looked. Did he look? Yes, he looked. He looked. I looked. You looked. These are complete sentences. You don’t need an object because ‘look’ is intransitive. Do you know the object? Yes? Okay, then you must introduce it with a preposition. Ahh, now here is the preposition connection. “He looked”. He looked at the sky. He looked at the dog. “At” is a preposition. So, with an intransitive verb, we have: subject + verb + preposition + object. But, remember, grammar has decided that we don’t need to know the object with this intransitive verb. “He looked” is a complete sentence.

Now let’s talk about why this is so important to know…

First, it is important to know that a verb is intransitive, like the verb ‘look’, because in English the meaning of the sentence can change with different prepositions. Look at. Look for. Look to. Look after. Look over. Look on. Look into. Look through. Look up. These all have different meanings! If you don’t realize that the verb ‘look’ needs a preposition before the object, then you are missing something very important. I will have an entire episode specifically about ‘look’ in the future. First, I needed to have an episode about intransitive verbs and the importance of this information.

Second, many verbs can be both! Many verbs are sometimes transitive and then other times intransitive. For example, ‘cook’. You can say, “they cooked yesterday”. That is correct. Or, just “They cooked”. We don’t need an object. We don’t need to know what they cooked. BUT, you can also say, “They cooked food”. They cooked food. They prepared food, with heat. Cook food. So, some verbs can be transitive sometimes and intransitive other times. Why is this important? BECAUSE, with some verbs the meaning can change when it is used as a transitive verb compared to when it is used as an intransitive verb.

I have something else to say that is important about the verbs that can be both. Remember, this often means that these verbs have several different meanings, different definitions. The transitive use can have a very different meaning compared to the intransitive use. Sometimes this is the case, sometimes it’s not. Just remember this.

The perfect example to give is the verb ‘stop’. The meaning of your sentence can change a LOT if you use ‘stop’ as a transitive verb compared to ‘stop’ as an intransitive verb. Again, I will have an entire episode about ‘stop’ as well in the future. BUT, today, your homework is to send me examples using ‘stop’ as a transitive verb and ‘stop’ as an intransitive verb. Send them to or leave a message on the podcast.

So, remember, some verbs always need an object (transitive); and some verbs don’t need an object (intransitive). Email me with any questions. This is important to know.

There is a good chance that your native language has transitive and intransitive verbs, too. We don’t think about it, however, with our native language. We don’t think about which verbs are transitive and which verbs are intransitive in our native language. We just know it’s right, it feels right, it feels comfortable.

IMPORTANT: Here is the problem though: ***some verbs that are transitive in your native language may be intransitive in English, and vice versa*** (important to remember!). This can definitely cause confusion.

After the break, I will give you the answer to the test, and talk about the important of today’s lesson a little bit more.

— Break —

Which is correct in English?
    1. I listen podcasts
    2. I listen to podcasts
Did you say #1? INCORRECT!I Did you say #2? CORRECT!! You listen to podcasts. The verb ‘listen’ is always INTRANSITIVE in English. This may be different in your native language. For example, in Spanish, this is “Yo escucho podcasts”. It is transitive in Spanish, but intransitive in English.

It is easy to forget this problem in translation. And then, you form a bad habit; the wrong sentence becomes comfortable to you as a learner, unfortunately.

After all this, I know what you’re thinking. Mike, well, how do I know which verbs are transitive in English and which verbs are intransitive?!?!?!?!?!?! Go to the website. . The page for this episode will have a list of common transitive verbs, a list of common intransitive verbs, and a list of verbs that are both. Are you surprised by the list? Perhaps there are verbs that you have been using incorrectly.

Any questions? Write to me at . Leave a message for me on the website, and I will play it on the podcast. Make sure to subscribe to this podcast so you won’t miss an episode. Visit for more content. Please rate and review The English Sessions on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Find us on social media. Twitter @theEsessions; Instagram @englishsessionswithmike; Search for The English Sessions on Facebook. Until next time, this is Mike signing off.  

***Note: it is rare to have a verb that is ALWAYS transitive or ALWAYS intransitive, especially if you consider informal uses. It is important to learn, however, when to use it as a transitive verb and when to use it as an intransitive verb. Email me if you need help:***

Always transitive:
    ▪    Discuss
    ▪    Praise
    ▪    Bury
    ▪    Love (with informal exceptions)
    ▪    Cost
    ▪    Enjoy (with informal exceptions)

Always intransitive:
    ▪    Listen
    ▪    Look (with one ‘dated/old-fashioned’ exception)
    ▪    Arrive
    ▪    Belong
    ▪    Fall

Verbs that can be both:
    ▪    Cook
    ▪    Eat
    ▪    Stop
    ▪    Relax
    ▪    Hug
    ▪    Grab
    ▪    Teach
    ▪    Worship
    ▪    Melt
    ▪    Feed
    ▪    Lead
    ▪    Touch
    ▪    Bake
    ▪    Wear
    ▪    Pull
    ▪    Hold
    ▪    Talk
    ▪    Change
    ▪    Push
    ▪    Agree
    ▪    Cry
    ▪    Fly
    ▪    Grow
    ▪    Sleep
    ▪    Walk
    ▪    Sit
    ▪    Start
    ▪    Change
    ▪    Move
    ▪    Set
    ▪    Send
    ▪    Respond (often intransitive)

***I will keep updating this list as time goes on. Do you think any of these verbs should be under the ‘both’ category? Email me:***


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