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tex's french grammar
transitive vs. intransitive
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1. definitions
  2. transitive verbs
  3. special cases
  4. stated and implied objects
  5. intransitive verbs
  6. variable variance: transitive or intransitive
  7. verbs with direct and indirect objects

definitions: transitive direct, transitive indirect, intransitive
Transitive verbs by definition have an object, either a direct object or an indirect object. Intransitive verbs never have objects.

A transitive-direct verb acts directly on its object. In the first sentence below, the telephone is the direct object. The verb 'entendre' (to hear) always takes an object; one hears someone or something.

A transitive-indirect verb acts to or for its object. Tex is the object of the preposition à in the second sentence since Joe-Bob is talking to him.

Intransitive verbs, on the other hand, have no object at all. The verb dormir (to sleep) in the last example, does not need any object to complete it. In fact, because the verb is intransitive, it cannot take an object. Intransitive verbs (as well as transitive ones) may be modified by adverbs or prepositional phrases: 'Joe-Bob sleeps in the car; he sleeps all the time.'

Tex entend le téléphone.   transitive-direct   Tex hears the telephone.
Joe-Bob parle à Tex.   transitive-indirect   Job-Bob is talking to Tex.
Joe-Bob dort souvent au volant.   intransitive   Joe-Bob often sleeps at the wheel.
For more examples and discussion, review the remarks on transitive vs intransitive verbs in the introduction.

transitive verbs
Because transitivity has to do with meaning, most English and French verbs usually maintain the same distinction. Thus, verbs that are transitive in English are also transitive in French, and verbs that are intransitive in French are also intransitive in English. The following examples are transitive in both French and English.

Tex mange un croissant et il boit du café.   Tex is eating a croissant and drinking some coffee.
Il finit son petit déjeuner   He is finishing his breakfast
et il lit le journal. Dring, dring. C'est Joe-Bob au téléphone.   and reading the newspaper. Ring, ring. It's Joe-Bob on the telephone.

special cases
direct object in French / preposition + object in English
There are, however, special cases where the transitivity of French and English verbs contrast. There are several very common verbs which take a direct object in French, while the English equivalent is followed by a preposition (at, to, for) and object. REDCAP is an acronym for the most frequent verbs in this category: Regarder, Ecouter, Demander, Chercher, Attendre, Payer.

Joe-Bob explains what happened:

Joe-Bob: Je roulais en voiture. Je regardais les filles.   Joe-Bob: I was driving along. I was looking at girls.
J'écoutais de la musique country à la radio.   I was listening to country music on the radio.
Et puis, oh, là là. J'ai eu un accident de voiture. La police est arrivée et le flic m'a demandé mes papiers.   And then, oh, la, la. I had an accident. The police came and the cop asked for my papers.
J'ai cherché ma carte d'identité, mais je ne l'ai pas trouvée.   I looked for my ID, but I didn't find it.
Pas de chance! Je suis au commissariat et j'attends mon avocat.   No luck! I'm at the police station and I'm waiting for my lawyer.
Tex, j'espère que tu vas payer la contravention!   Tex, I hope that you will pay for the ticket.
joe-bob's problem

preposition + object in French / direct object in English
There are also several verbs which have a preposition and object in French, whereas the English equivalent takes a direct object.

Joe-Bob téléphone à Tex.   Joe-Bob telephones Tex.

Here are examples of such verbs. These are discussed more fully with indirect objects and indirect object pronouns.

obéir à, to obey   répondre à, to answer
pardonner à, to pardon, to forgive   résister à, to resist
rendre visite à, to visit (someone)   ressembler à, to resemble
renoncer à, to give up, renounce   téléphoner à, to telephone

stated and implied objects
For many transitive verbs, in both French and English, the object is sometimes implied or understood. Do not be concerned about labelling these verbs, since the meaning will be clear from the context; and, like most verbs, they will form their passé composé with avoir.

transitive verb / implied object   transitive verb / stated object
En voiture, Joe-Bob chante toujours. (Joe-Bob always sings in the car.)   En voiture, Joe-Bob chante toujours Freebird. (Joe-Bob always sings Freebird in the car.)
Il parle fort. (He talks loudly.)   Il parle anglais. (He speaks English.)
Il rêve. (He dreams.)   Il rêve de hamburgers et de filles. (He dreams of hamburgers and girls.)
Il grignotte tout le temps. (He snacks all the time.)   Il grignotte des cacahouettes. (He snacks on peanuts.)

intransitive verbs
Perhaps you have already seen verbs which use être to form the passé composé. These être verbs (aller, arriver, partir, sortir, etc.) are the most frequent intransitive verbs and they are summarized in the Alamo d'être. Etre verbs are often described as verbs of motion, but it's important to note that there are many other intransitive verbs of motion which use the auxiliary avoir, for example, 'marcher' (to walk) and 'courir' (to run): 'Tex a marché vite. Les enfants de Rita ont couru.'

transitive or intransitive
Some verbs may be either transitive or intransitive. Contrast the following verbs. Note that the verb sortir uses the auxiliary verb être in the passé composé as an intransitive verb, but avoir in the passé composé when it is used transitively.

intransitive / no object   transitive / used with an object
Le week-end passé, Joe-Bob est sorti. (Last weekend Joe-Bob went out.)   Le week-end passé, Joe-Bob a sorti son beau camion. (Last weekend Joe-Bob took out his fine truck.)
Au commissariat, la tension de Joe-Bob monte. (At the police station Joe-Bob's blood pressure goes up.)   Joe-Bob monte l'escalier. (Joe-Bob goes up the stairs.)

There are several cases where a verb which may be transitive or intransitive in English must be translated by two different verbs in French: 'to return' (retourner, rendre), 'to leave' (partir, laisser, quitter).

verbs with direct and indirect objects
Many transitive verbs may have both a direct and an indirect object, for example:

Tex donne des conseils à Joe-Bob.   Tex gives advice to Joe-Bob.

Here is a list of some common bivalent verbs:

acheter, to buy   expliquer, to explain
apporter, to bring   montrer, to show
apprendre, to learn   offrir, to offer (give)
demander, to ask   prêter, to lend
donner, to give   promettre, to promise
écrire, to write   rendre, to give back
emprunter, to borrow   servir, to serve
envoyer, to send   vendre, to sell


fill in the blanks
Indicate whether the verb in the sentence is transitive, 't' or intransitive, 'i'.
1. Tammy lit un roman.

2. Tex écrit un poème.

3. Tex et Tammy partent ensemble.

4. Bette ronronne souvent.

5. Edouard arrive en retard.

6. Corey nage beaucoup.

7. Tex prend un café.

8. Fiona écoute la radio.

9. Tammy achète une nouvelle robe.

10. Corey aime l'insecticide.

11. Tex réfléchit souvent.

12. Les parents de Tex sont morts sur l'autoroute.