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

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Other Words from transitive

transitively adverb
transitiveness noun
transitivity \ ˌtran(t)-​sə-​ˈti-​və-​tē How to pronounce transitivity (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 By the transitive property, the winner of this last election must be the best candidate ... Laura Feiveson, Popular Mechanics, "Can You Solve Our Riddle of the Week?," 17 July 2020 The female hustle rapper has been dishing out her own style of transitive female rap since 2016. Kayla Cockrel, Detroit Free Press, "Detroit rapper Kash Doll earns first Billboard spot debuting at No. 76," 29 Oct. 2019 Arguments based in transitive nature can get down in the weeds. Fletcher Page,, "Cincinnati football's case for the Cotton Bowl begins with AAC title win at Memphis," 5 Dec. 2019 Because of the transitive nature of open source, volunteer developers—who host code on the site to share with others—may have unwittingly contributed to the code GitHub furnished for ICE, the agency responsible for enforcing immigration policy. Sidney Fussell, The Atlantic, "The Schism at the Heart of the Open-Source Movement," 3 Jan. 2020 Lorenzo von Fersen and Juan Delius, then both at Bochum, demonstrated that pigeons can memorize 725 abstract patterns and use transitive inference logic. Onur Güntürkün, Scientific American, "“Birdbrain” Turns from Insult to Praise," 1 Jan. 2020 But if the Texans take it to the Patriots, then get whupped in that same yard by Denver ... then the Broncos are championship-caliber by virtue of the transitive property, right? Nate Davis, USA TODAY, "32 things we learned from Week 14 of the 2019 NFL season," 9 Dec. 2019 Flattery by transitive property has been a staple of the SEC for so long, though, that the schadenfreude from Big Ten and Big 12 fans will be strong if Texas A&M and LSU flop in their big non-conference games this weekend. Dan Wolken, USA TODAY, "Opinion: The SEC might be bad this year, but for Georgia and Alabama, that won't matter," 6 Sep. 2019 The verb fight is transitive here and does have an object. Quanta Magazine, "Solution: ‘The Bulldogs That Bulldogs Fight’," 16 May 2019

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.

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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

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The first known use of transitive was circa 1525

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Cite this Entry

“Transitive.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 31 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for transitive


How to pronounce transitive (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of transitive

grammar, of a verb : having or taking a direct object


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

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