Active Verbs

Icon of figure doing flying kickActive verbs are the simplest type of verb: they simply express some sort of action. Watch this video introduction to verbs:

Let’s look at the example verbs from the video one more time:

  • contain
  • roars
  • runs
  • sleeps

All of these verbs are active verbs: they all express an action.


Identify the active verbs in the following sentences:

  1. Dominic paints the best pictures of meerkats.
  2. Sean’s hair curled really well today.
  3. Elephants roam the savanna.
  4. Billy ate an entire loaf of bread in one sitting.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Active verbs can be divided into two categories: transitive and intransitive verbs. A transitive verb is a verb that requires one or more objects. This contrasts with intransitive verbs, which do not have objects.

It might be helpful to think of it this way: transitive verbs have to be done to something or someone in the sentence. Intransitive verbs only have to be done by someone.

Let’s look at a few examples of transitive verbs:

  • We are going to need a bigger boat.
    • The object in this sentence is the phrase “a bigger boat.” Consider how incomplete the thought would be if the sentence only said “We are going to need.” Despite having a subject and a verb, the sentence is meaningless without the object phrase.
  • She hates filling out forms.
    • Again, leaving out the object would cripple the meaning of the sentence. We have to know that forms is what she hates filling out.
    • Hates is also a transitive verb. Without the phrase “filling out forms,” the phrase “She hates” doesn’t make any sense.
  • Sean hugged his brother David.
    • You can see the pattern. . . . Hugged in this sentence is only useful if we know who Sean squeezed. David is the object of the transitive verb.

Intransitive verbs, on the other do not take an object.

  • John sneezed loudly.
    • Even though there’s another word after sneezed, the full meaning of the sentence is available with just the subject John and the verb sneezed: “John sneezed.” Therefore, sneezed is an intransitive verb. It doesn’t have to be done to something or someone.
  • My computer completely died.
    • Again, died here is enough for the sentence to make sense. We know that the computer (the subject) is what died.

This video provides a more in-depth explanation of transitive and intransitive verbs and how they work:

Note: there are some verbs that can act as both transitive and intransitive verbs (the video defined these as bitransitive verbs):

Intransitive Transitive
The fire has burned for hundreds of years. Miranda burned all of her old school papers.
Don’t let the engine stop running! Karl ran the best horse track this side of the river.
The vase broke. She broke the toothpick.
Does your dog bite? The cat bit him.
Water evaporates when it’s hot. Heat evaporates water.


Read the following sentences. Are the verbs in each transitive or intransitive?

  1. Liv fell out of the car.
  2. Ian has written over four hundred articles on the subject.
  3. Christopher sings really well.
  4. Marton wondered about a lot of things.
  5. Cate gave great gifts.

Multi-Word Verbs

Multi-word verbs a subclass of active verbs. They are made up of multiple words, as you might have guessed. They include things like stirfrykickstart, and turn in. Multi-word verbs often have a slightly different meaning than their base parts. Take a look at the difference between the next two sentences:

  • Ben carried the boxes out of the house.
  • Ben carried out the task well.

The first sentence uses a single word verb (carried) and the preposition out. If you remove the preposition (and its object), you get “Ben carried the boxes,” which makes perfect sense. In the second sentence, carried out acts as a single entity. If you remove out, the sentence has no meaning: “Ben carried the task well” doesn’t make sense.

Let’s look at another example:

  • She’s been shut up in there for years.
  • Dude, shut up.

Can you see how the same principles apply here? Other multi-word verbs include find outmake off with, turn in, and put up with.