To understand sentence construction, it helps if you know a little about three types of verb:
- linking verbs
- intransitive verbs
- transitive verbs
All verbs have a subject (the person or thing that “does” the action). The real difference between linking, intransitive and transitive verbs is whether or not they have an object (the person or thing that “gets” the action).
S = subject
V = verb
SC = subject complement
DO = direct object
IO = indirect object
take a subject complement
take NO object
take an object
take ONE object: a direct object
take TWO objects: an indirect object + direct object
|cannot be passive||can be passive|
|many verbs are ambitransitive—they can be intransitive OR transitive depending on context|
Linking verbs have NO object.
Linking verbs link two parts of a sentence. They link the subject to a noun or adjective. In this sense, linking verbs are like a mathematical equals sign (=).
Linking verbs do not make sense if used alone: they need a “subject complement” to complete their meaning.
- They are (???)
They are teachers
- I feel (???)
I feel unwell
In the above examples, teachers and unwell are subject complements.
Linking verbs work in two different ways:
- the two parts of the sentence are the same thing (Mary is my mother)
- the first part has the quality described by the second part (Mary is English)
The most obvious linking verb is the verb:
Other linking verbs include:
- appear, become, feel, get, grow, look, remain, seem, smell, sound, taste, turn
Linking verbs cannot be passive.
Look at these example sentences with linking verbs:
- Is that your car?
- I am feeling thirsty.
- John is my boyfriend.
- My father became an engineer.
- The milk will turn sour if you leave it.
- Her explanation did not appear plausible.
- Hillary remained under suspicion for the rest of her life.
(Note that linking verbs are sometimes called “copula verbs”.)
Although we talk about “linking, intransitive and transitive verbs” (just as most grammar books and websites do), it is really more accurate to talk about “linking, intransitive and transitive usage“. This is because many verbs can be linking OR transitive OR intransitive depending on the exact meaning and context.
|example verb (grow)||usage|
|The sky grew dark.||linking|
|Roses grow slowly.||intransitive|
|I grow coconuts.||transitive|
Intransitive verbs have NO object. Their action is not transferred from the subject to something else.
Many intransitive verbs can make sense if used alone:
- He fainted.
- She cried.
- Our car broke down.
Of course, we often do follow intransitive verbs with other words telling us how, where or when—but NEVER with an object:
- He fainted after lunch.
- She coughed bitterly.
- Our car broke down in Bangkok.
Intransitive verbs cannot be passive.
Examples of intransitive verbs are:
- bark, boast, change, cough, die, go, live, run, sit, sleep, wave
Look at these example sentences with intransitive verbs:
- They live in London.
- Tell your dog to sit now.
- Were the dogs barking?
- The news hasn’t changed.
- He died after a long illness.
- When I saw him he was running.
- The president waved to the crowds.
Transitive verbs have an object. Their action is TRANSferred from the subject to something else (the object).
Transitive verbs can be active OR passive.
Some transitive verbs have one object, some have two objects—as shown below.
Monotransitive verbs have ONE object: a direct object
Examples of monotransitive verbs are:
- bomb, clean, break, destroy, eat, kill, like, put off, trigger, turn down, want
Look at these example sentences with monotransitive verbs:
- Do you love me?
- The Allies bombed Dresden.
- Pick it up and throw it away.
- Tara doesn’t want a new car.
- Bond killed the snake and ate it.
- Can fracking trigger earthquakes?
- Do you think they’ll turn down my offer / turn my offer down?
Ditransitive verbs have TWO objects: a direct object and an indirect object
|subject||verb||indirect object||direct object|
Examples of ditransitive verbs are:
- buy, give, grant, lend, make, pass, send, serve, show, teach, tell
Look at these example sentences with ditransitive verbs:
- Make me an offer.
- Who teaches him French?
- The bank won’t lend them any money.
- They will serve the guests lunch at 12:30pm.
- Kid refused to show the teacher her homework.
- Anthony bought his new girlfriend some roses on her birthday.
- The local council have granted us permission to open a shop.
Note that many verbs can be used intransitively OR transitively (mono- and di-) depending on the context and the verb’s exact meaning. Such verbs are called “ambitransitive verbs”.
- He reads at night. (intransitive)
- He is reading a book. (monotransitive)
- He read Mary the letter. (ditransitive)