tran·​si·​tive | \ ˈtran(t)-sə-tiv How to pronounce transitive (audio) , ˈtran-zə-; ˈtran(t)s-tiv \

Definition of transitive

1 : characterized by having or containing a direct object a transitive verb
2 : 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
3 : of, relating to, or characterized by transition

Other Words from transitive

transitively adverb
transitiveness noun
transitivity \ ˌtran(t)-​sə-​ˈti-​və-​tē How to pronounce transitive (audio) , ˌtran-​zə-​ \ noun

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 Máximo, who by transitive property receives her mother’s negative image but not the good part, could be looking to succeed Aunt Alicia Kirchner in the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz. Agustino Fontevecchia, Forbes, 6 June 2022 In one paper, Choi’s team used an algorithm to sift through more than seven hundred movie scripts and count the transitive verbs connoting power and agency. Matthew Hutson, The New Yorker, 5 Apr. 2022 Bakhtin shows us what fires the world’s admiration of Zelensky: that dignity is available to those who smile at degradation, and that courage and comedy have a transitive relationship. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, 13 Mar. 2022 Even those bigwigs paid obeisance to someone and, eventually, by the transitive property of Saudi deference, to the king himself. Graeme Wood, The Atlantic, 3 Mar. 2022 If a teacher’s intellectual, subjective role in educating her students is belittled, this has a transitive effect. Jessica Winter, The New Yorker, 20 Dec. 2021 By the transitive property of wins, that means the Raiders have a shot at keeping Atlantic’s offense at bay. Adam Lichtenstein,, 8 Sep. 2021 All of this begs the question: how can a defense stop Bernhardt and — by transitive property — the Terps offense? Edward Lee,, 27 May 2021 Zach Morrison: Remember the transitive property in middle school math class? Paul Talbot, Forbes, 15 Apr. 2021 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'transitive.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of transitive

circa 1525, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for transitive

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

Buying Guide

Check out the 11 best games for word lovers from our Reviews team.

Learn More About transitive

Time Traveler for transitive

Time Traveler

The first known use of transitive was circa 1525

See more words from the same year

Dictionary Entries Near transitive

transition temperature



See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for transitive

Cite this Entry

“Transitive.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Oct. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More Definitions for transitive


tran·​si·​tive | \ ˈtran-sə-tiv How to pronounce transitive (audio) , -zə- \

Kids Definition of transitive

: having or containing a direct object transitive verbs

More from Merriam-Webster on transitive

Nglish: Translation of transitive for Spanish Speakers


Test Your Vocabulary

Commonly Confused Words Quiz

  • vector image of a face with thought expression
  • I went to the ______ store to buy a birthday card.
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!