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Transitive and Intransitive Verbs in German Grammar

How to learn the German Transitive and Intransitive verbs


In German grammar, a transitive verb (in German: "transitives Verb") is a type of verb that requires a direct object to complete its meaning. In other words, a transitive verb expresses an action that is done to something or someone. The action of the verb is transferred from the subject to the direct object.

For example, in the sentence "She reads a book," the verb "reads" is transitive because it requires a direct object ("a book") to make complete sense. The verb cannot stand alone; it needs to act upon something.

Lilli ist an der Nordsee.jpg

Understanding transitive verbs in German is crucial for constructing grammatically correct sentences and effectively communicating your ideas. Here's what you need to know:

  1. Direct Object Requirement: Transitive verbs in German require a direct object to complete their meaning. Without a direct object, the sentence would feel incomplete or nonsensical.

  2. Word Order: In a German sentence with a transitive verb, the word order is typically subject-verb-direct object (SVO). For example: "Ich lese ein Buch" (I read a book).

  3. Accusative Case: The direct object of a transitive verb is usually in the accusative case. This means that the article or pronoun used for the direct object will change based on its role in the sentence.

  4. Gender and Number Agreement: The direct object's article or pronoun must agree in gender, number, and case with the noun it refers to. This adherence to grammatical agreement is essential for correct sentence structure.

  5. Infinitive Verb Form: When using a transitive verb, you conjugate the verb in the appropriate form for the subject, but the verb's base form remains unchanged.

  6. Choosing the Right Preposition: Some transitive verbs are followed by specific prepositions when introducing the direct object. These prepositions determine the case of the following noun.

  7. Verb Selection: Not all verbs that seem transitive in English are transitive in German. Some verbs that are intransitive in English become transitive in German due to different language structures.

  8. Practice and Exposure: Getting comfortable with transitive verbs takes practice. Reading, listening, and speaking in German will help you become familiar with common transitive verb usage.

Example Sentences:

  1. Er liest ein Buch. (He reads a book.)

  2. Sie malt ein Bild. (She paints a picture.)

  3. Ich esse einen Apfel. (I eat an apple.)

Quick Tip: To identify a transitive verb, ask yourself if the action of the verb is being directed toward an object. If the answer is yes, then it's likely a transitive verb. Remember that the direct object is essential for the sentence's meaning and structure.

Transitive Verbs

Transitive verbs have an accusative object (who/what receives the action directly).

Sie macht jedes Jahr mit ihren besten Freunden Urlaub an der Nordsee.  She goes on holiday to the North Sea every year with her best friends. - to do something

Heute hat Lilli mit ihren Freunden eine Sandburg gebaut. Today Lilli built a sandcastle with her friends. - to build something
Lilli sieht ein großes  Schiff. Lilli sees a big ship. -  to watch something/someone

Das Schiff fährt Passagiere nach Schweden. The ship is taking passengers to Sweden. - to drive something/someone

Transitive verbs can also be used in the passive voice. In this case, the accusative object moves to the beginning of the sentence.

Es wird ein Urlaub an der Nordsee gemacht. A holiday is being taken to the North Sea.
Lilli und ihre Freunde haben eine Sandburg gebaut. Lilli and her friends have built a sandcastle.
Ein Schiff wird gesehen. A ship is seen.
Die Passagiere werden nach Schweden gebracht. The passengers are being taken to Sweden.

INTransitive Verbs

Intransitive verbs are used without an accusative object.

Lilli ist an der Nordsee. Lilli is at the North Sea.

Am Horizont geht die Sonne unter. The sun is setting on the horizon.

Ein Schiff fährt auf dem Meer entlang. A ship is sailing along the sea.

Reflexive verbs are also intransitive.


Sie erholen sich gern am Strand. They like to relax on the beach.


Intransitive verbs usually can’t be used in the passive voice.

Verbs can be transitive or intransitive

Some verbs can be either transitive or intransitive depending on their meaning.
Ein Schiff fährt auf dem Meer entlang. A ship is sailing along on the sea.
in the sense of going forward → intransitive.

Das Schiff fährt Passagiere nach Schweden. The ship is taking passengers to Sweden.
in the sense of transporting someone/something → transitive

Verbs with different conjugation forms

Some verbs have different conjugation forms depending on whether they are used as transitive or intransitive verbs.

For transitive verbs, we use the normal forms.

Ich hängte das Bild an die Wand. I hung the picture on the wall.
Ich habe das Bild an die Wand gehängt. I hung the picture on the wall.
Wen/Was habe ich an die Wand gehängt? Who/what did I hang on the wall?

We use the irregular forms for intransitive verbs hängen (hängen-hing-hat gehangen)

Das Bild hing an der Wand. The picture hung on the wall.
Das Bild hat an der Wand gehangen. The picture was hanging on the wall.
Wer/was hing an der Wand? Who/what was hanging on the wall?

In the case of the verbs erschrecken and schwellen, not only do the past tenses change, but also the verb stem in the 2nd/3rd person singular in the present tense.


Der Hund erschreckt das Kind. The dog frightens the child.

to frighten/scare somebody
(erschreckt, erschreckte, erschreckt) 

Das Kind erschrickt schnell. The child gets a fright quickly.

to get a fright 
(erschrickt, erschrak, erschrocken)


Er schwellt seine Brust vor Stolz. His chest swells with pride.

to inflate something/make something larger
(schwellt, schwellte, geschwellt)


Sein Fuß schwillt an.

to become larger
(schwillt, schwoll, geschwollen)


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