Some verbs always need an object. These are called transitive verbs. Some verbs never have an object. These are called intransitive verbs. Some verbs can be used with or without an object. These are called transitive (with an object) and intransitive (without an object) uses of the verbs.
Verbs with an object (transitive)
These verbs are mostly used transitively:
Did you enjoythe film?
I can’t findher name on the list.
Suzanne tookmy car keys.
These objects (underlined above) are called direct objects.
We don’t need a preposition after these verbs:
The book emphasises the role of the arts in society.
Not: The book emphasises on the role of the arts in society.
Verbs which are most commonly used intransitively:
Suddenly Joss appeared in the doorway.
Rita looked upset – do you know what happened?
Did it rain last night?
Transitive or intransitive
Some verbs can be used with an object (transitively) or without an object (intransitively). Sometimes the meaning is the same. (Objects are underlined.)
I just can’t eathot food.
What time do you want to eat?
She enteredthe room looking nervous.
Do not enter.
He drivesa van for a delivery firm.
I learnt to drive when I was twenty.
My father leftschool when he was fourteen.
We should leave now.
She wona competition and got a free trip to Copenhagen.
How was the match? Did you win?
In these examples, although one use has an object and the other does not, the meaning is more or less the same.
Relationship between verb and subject
Some verbs can be used with or without an object, but the relationship between the verb and the subject is different in each case. When these verbs have an object, the subject does the action. When they have no object, the action or event happens to the subject.
(s = subject; v = verb; o = object)
Transitive (the subject does the action)
Intransitive (the action or event happens to the subject)
[S]He[V]opened[O]the door and walked in.
[S]The door[V]opened slowly.
[S]The teacher always [V]begins[O]each lesson with a quiz.
[S]The interviews[V]will begin at 2.30 pm.
They increasedmy salary last month.
Global temperatures are increasing.
Do you know how you workthis camera?
How does this camera work?
Verbs with direct and indirect objects
Some verbs take two objects, a direct object and an indirect object. The indirect object is the person or thing that receives the direct object. The indirect object (underlined in the examples) comes before the direct object (in bold):
Can I askyoua question?
They chargedme£150 for three hours.
She gaveher brotheran MP3 player for his birthday.
Buying things on the Internet savespeoplea lot of time.
Prepositional complements can operate as an alternative to indirect objects with some of these verbs:
(pc = prepositional complement; io = indirect object; do = direct object)
I gave[DO]an old jacket of mine[PC]to my brother. (or I gave[IO]my brother[DO]an old jacket of mine.)
He oweda lot of moneyto his parents. (or Heowedhis parentsa lot of money.)
Many verbs which can be followed by a that-clause can also be used with a clause beginning with who, what, when, where, which, whose, why or how as the direct object. We call these wh-clauses (underlined in the examples below):
Miriam explainedhow she had done it.
I didn’t realisewho it was at first.
Can you rememberwhat they told us at the hotel?
Wh-clause + to-infinitive
Many of the verbs which can be followed by a wh-clause can also be followed by a wh-clause with to-infinitive (underlined below):
We discussedwhat to do about the community hall.
I really don’t knowwho to suggest as a replacement for Jim.