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.

Example Sentences

In “I like pie” and “She makes hats,” the verbs “like” and “makes” are transitive.
Recent Examples on the Web In fact, the above argument involving the triangle, the rectangle and the square shows that scissors congruence is also transitive. Patrick Honner, Quanta Magazine, 21 Nov. 2022 But there’s a transitive property to approval and confidence. Gal Beckerman, The Atlantic, 15 Nov. 2022 Per the transitive property, the 2023 M2 also undergoes a growth spurt, with its wheelbase stretching from 106.0 to 108.1 inches and its overall length stretching from 176.2 to 180.3 inches. Eric Stafford, Car and Driver, 11 Oct. 2022 The transitive property in sports is an inexact science for many reasons, so don't read too much into the Utes blowing away Oregon State by 26 points one week after the Beavers almost beat Southern California. Erick Smith, USA TODAY, 3 Oct. 2022 By the transitive property, Detroit should be favored over Minnesota. Tyler J. Davis, Detroit Free Press, 25 Sep. 2022 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 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.

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 7 Dec. 2022.

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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