tran·​si·​tive ˈtran(t)-sə-tiv How to pronounce transitive (audio)
: characterized by having or containing a direct object
a transitive verb
: being or relating to a relation with the property that if the relation holds between a first element and a second and between the second element and a third, it holds between the first and third elements
equality is a transitive relation
: of, relating to, or characterized by transition
transitively adverb
transitiveness noun
transitivity noun

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What is the difference between a transitive verb and an intransitive verb?

A transitive verb is a verb that requires a direct object, which is a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase that follows the verb and completes the sentence's meaning by indicating the person or thing that receives the action of the verb. The direct object typically answers the question what? or whom?:

The kids like pickles.

That really annoys me.

Have they sold their house yet?

An intransitive verb is not used with a direct object. If something comes after an intransitive verb, that is, in the position usually inhabited by the direct object, it doesn't answer what? or whom?; instead it answers a question like where?, when?, how?, or how long?:

Her car died suddenly last week.

Someone was coughing loudly.

A single verb can have both transitive and intransitive uses:

They are playing soccer.

They've been playing all afternoon.

A transitive verb can also have an indirect object, which is a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase that comes before a direct object and indicates the person or thing that receives what is being given or done. Many common verbs can be used with both direct and indirect objects. In the following examples the indirect object is in italics:

Find her a chair.

Can you read me the letter?

Who gave her lawyers the information?

He's saving Caitlin a piece.

Examples of transitive in a Sentence

In “I like pie” and “She makes hats,” the verbs “like” and “makes” are transitive.
Recent Examples on the Web For three dice, transitive and intransitive dice are equally common. Jack Murtagh, Scientific American, 19 Sep. 2023 Mathematicians have never found an example of a transitive graph whose growth falls in this range. Quanta Magazine, 18 Dec. 2023 The transitive property doesn’t always translate in football: the Colts defeated Kansas City in Week 3 of the NFL season last year. Corey Smith, Dallas News, 15 Sep. 2023 After all, Google has become a transitive verb thanks to its search dominance. Tom Warren, The Verge, 5 June 2023 See all Example Sentences for transitive 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'transitive.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Late Latin transitivus, from Latin transitus, past participle of transire

First Known Use

circa 1525, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of transitive was circa 1525

Dictionary Entries Near transitive

Cite this Entry

“Transitive.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


tran·​si·​tive ˈtran(t)s-ət-iv How to pronounce transitive (audio)
: having or containing a direct object
a transitive verb
: of, relating to, or characterized by transition
transitively adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on transitive

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