Types of Verb in English

Seminar Paper, 2006

16 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Transitive Verb

3. The Intransitive Verb

4. The Ditransitive Verb

5. The Copula (Linking Verb)
5.1 Sensory Copulas
5.2 Stative Copulas
5.3 Change of State Copulas
5.4 Restricted Copulas

6. The Complex Transitive Verb

7. Consideration of results

Table of abbreviations


1. Introduction

There are many English sentences in which the subject is omitted (most of all imperative sentences like ‘Sit down’) – but it is impossible to leave out the predicate in an English sentence. This predicate can contain several complement stuctures, a direct and an indirect object and adverbs – but it must contain a verb. The category verb can be sperated into the following types:

-Transitive Verbs
-Intransitive Verbs
-Ditransitive Verbs
-Copulas (Linking Verbs) and
-Complex Transitive Verbs

According to these types some verbs require a direct object, others may allow one; some verbs require two objects – a direct and an indirect one; other verbs can be followed by adjectives and some have to be connected to adverbs.

It is very important to distinguish between these different categories. The type of verb of course has implications for the rest of the verb but also for the subject. In active sentences patient subjects, which are subjects that are acted upon, always take Intransitive Verbs; agent subjects can have both verb types and instrument subjects, which are acting on something else, need to co-occur with Transitive Verbs in order to show what they are acting on.[1]

2. The Transitive Verb

This type of verb is called transitive, because mostly an action taken by the subject is transmitted to the object (the verb can be followed by a direct object which is to be found directly after the verb and often is affected by the action of a verb). The prefix ‘ trans-‘ is Latin and means ‘across’[2]. Sentences of this type might be regarded as the prototypical English sentence.[3]

Here are some examples: “Simon caught his ball”, “Anna fixed the bike”, “Tim likes those cars.”

You can see that a dO follows the verb and that it can contain of a noun + different articles (of course the article can be omitted as in “Tim likes cars” as well). Therefore one can say that the dO always is a noun phrase, a finite clause or a non-finite clause.[4] Its most typical function is that of the affected participant. It can be animate or inanimate and “does not cause the happening denoted by the verb, but is directly involved in some other way.”[5]

A quite interesting thing to mention is the fact that the dO of the active sentence always becomes the subject of the corresponding passive sentence as in “The ball was caught by Simon”, “The bike was fixed by Anna” or “Those cars are liked by Tim.”

One part of those Transitive Verbs are the so called ‘Light’ Transitive Verbs, which depend on the rest of the predicate to give us the real meaning (they do not carry those information in them themselves). Nevertheless they appear in quite a lot of constructions. The most common verb of this type is ‘to do’. It has no meaning without being used in the context of a dO. ‘ Doing someones nails’ means filing and painting them, ‘ doing the dishes’ means something completely different that is to say washing and drying them and ‘ doing the tango’ again means something else that is dancing. In a sentence like ‘ My sister does her homework’ it includes a lot of different activities which, for example, depend on the subject or the material.

Other verbs which need to have a dO are ‘to have’ and ‘ to take’.

Constructions of a verb plus a dO can be replaced by a single verb, e.g.

-“Asher is taking a walk” = “Asher is walking”;
-“The baby took a nap” = “The baby napped”;
-“They had a fight” = “They were fighting”.[6]

But you have to realize that these single-verb paraphrases – although they seem to be more common and easier to use – “lack a sematic dimension shared by the transitive sentences”[7]. If you compare the sentences ‘Justin and Andrew are having a chat’ to the single-verb paraphrased sentence ‘Justin and Andrew are chatting’ you easily see that the first version is a single action while the second one goes on over a period of time. Adding the prepositional phrase ‘for hours’ this distinction becomes even clearer: ‘Justin is chatting for hours’ is a perfectly English sentence while ‘Justin and Andrew had a chat for hours’ sounds weird. Time-bounded and single events can be recognized by the article ‘a’ in most of these constructions with a dO.[8]

Therefore the basic pattern in transitive use is ‘subject + verb + direct object’.

Note that Transitive Verbs can contain of a phrasal verb as well (“They turned on the light”[9]).[10]

3. The Intransitive Verb

The Intransitive Verb is not necessarily followed by any complements. It might only consist of subject + verb as in ‘My friend has arrived’ but various adverbs expressing time, manner, place, process or intensifier can be added easily.

Here are some examples: “He worked until he was exhausted,” “She went to sleep long before midnight.”

(but: ‘He worked’ and ‘She went to sleep’ would be grammatically correct sentences as well.)

Nevertheless a sentence containing an Intransitive Verb can take a dO if this restates the verb. Those direct objects are called ‘Cognate Direct Objects’, for example in “She dreamed a wonderful dream[11] and “He slept the sleep of the dead.”[12]

Some Intransitive Verbs can take a dO, “if that object is very narrowly construed.”[13] So you can ‘run a race’. Therefore ‘race’ can be replaced by any other NP that can be connected with ‘race’. That means you can also ‘ run a marathon’ for example.

However these verbs can be called ‘intransitive’, because such constructions are quite unusual.[14]


[1] Cf. Berk, 1999, p. 33.

[2] Or Monotransitive Verb as Quirk et al. call it. Cf. Quirk et al., 1973, p. 830.

[3] Cf. Berk, 1999, p. 26.

[4] Cf. Quirk, Greenbaum, 1975, p. 358.

[5] Ibd., p. 171.

[6] All the six quotations by Berk, 1999, p. 31.

[7] Ibd., p. 31

[8] Cf. ibd., p. 31.

[9] Quirk, Greenbaum, 1975, p. 348.

[10] For further information look at Quirk, Greenbaum, 1975, p. 348.

[11] Berk, 1999, p. 33.

[12] Ibd., p. 33.

[13] Ibd., p. 33.

[14] Cf. ibd., p. 33.

Excerpt out of 16 pages


Types of Verb in English
University of Cologne  (Institut für Englische Sprache und ihre Didaktik)
Introduction to Syntax - Proseminar Linguistics
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ISBN (Book)
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Englisch Verben können in die Kategorien Transitive Verb, Intransitive Verb, Ditransitive Verb, Coplua/Linking Verb and Complex Transitive Verb unterteilt werden. Je nach Kategorie benötigen sie unterschiedliche Begleiter: Subject complement, object complement, direct object, indirect object und adverb. Die Arbeit nennt zahlreiche Beispiele. The Englih predicate can contain several complement stuctures, object and adverbs - but it is impossible to leave out the verb in it.
Types, Verb, English, Introduction, Syntax, Proseminar, Linguistics
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Anika Peschel (Author), 2006, Types of Verb in English, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/52146


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