First and foremost, a transitive verb is an action verb.
Second, it requires a direct object to complete its meaning in the sentence. In other words, the action of the verb is transferred to the object directly.
To determine whether a verb is transitive, ask whether the action is done to someone or something. Does the subject act upon someone or something? Or put another way, does someone or something receive the action of the verb. If it does, then the verb is transitive and the person or thing that receives its action is the direct object.
[In the following examples, the transitive verb is bold and the direct object is underlined. ]
- The judge sentences the manto five years in prison.
- The subject (the judge) applies an action (sentences) to a direct object (the man).
- The attorney has revealed the bad news.
- The subject (the attorney) has transferred an action (revealed) to a direct object (news).
- The defendant could not provide an alibi.
- The subject (the defendant) will transmit an action (could provide) to a direct object (an alibi).
The direct object can be found by asking a question about the action:
The subject does/did something to WHOM?
- Prosecutors charge people.
- The knife’s sharp edge cut the chef.
- Law enforcement had previously convicted the man.
- Prosecutors charged him under a habitual offender statute.
- Authorities are incarcerating repeat offenders.
The subject does/did something to WHAT?
- The jury deliberated the case for 48 minutes.
- The technician made a joke.
- A local woman is seeking a seat on the city council.
Passive voice can hide a transitive verb because the subject is not in the sentence.
Learning to identify the subject and object can help you avoid passive voice construction and help you identify a “hidden” transitive verb.
- A man was given a sentenceof 25 years to life under California’s “three strikes and you’re out” law for stealing a cell phone.
- Presumably a judge sentenced the man; therefore, THE JUDGE is the subject, GAVE is the verb and the MAN is the object. It can be better written as:
- A judge sentenced a man to 25 years to life under California’s “three strikes and you’re out” law for stealing a cell phone.
- A substantial amount of the nation’s street crime is committed by a small number of bad actors.
- Here the subject is actually in the sentence and the power of the verb is weakened by passive voice construction.