Transitive and Intransitive verbs

The actions that we express by using verbs can be completed with an object. There may be a direct object as in:

Silvana scrive una lettera      Silvana writes a letter
Cerchiamo una macchina nuova     We look for a new car

Here the action of the verb can be completed by answering the question “what?” (che cosa?). The direct object of the verb is the noun that can answer this question without the use of a preposition (in this case una lettera and una macchina):

Che cosa scrive Silvana? What is Silvana writing?
Silvana scrive una lettera Silvana is writing a letter

Che cosa cerchiamo? What are we looking for?
Cerchiamo una macchina. We’re looking for a new car.

If we can ask and answer the question che cosa?, the verb is transitive, and it will use the auxiliary avere in compound tenses:

Silvana ha scritto una lettera      Silvana wrote a letter
Abbiamo cercato una macchina nuova     We looked for a new car

But some Italian verbs cannot be completed by a direct object and the question che cosa? would not make sense; these are intransitive verbs and they normally use essere as the auxiliary:

Andiamo a scuola alle 8.00. We go to the school at 8.00.
Il volo per Roma parte alle 6.00. The flight to Rome leaves at 6.00.
Siamo andate in ufficio alle 9.00. We went to the office at 9.00.
Il treno per Roma è partito alle 6.00. The train to Rome left at 6.00.

Here some examples of English phrases that cannot be translated directly into Italian, since the verbs camminare, volare, guidare and viaggiare are not generally used transitively:

I’m going to walk the dog.
I’m Sharon. Fly me!
Can you drive me home?
Travel the world with Airmiles!

Some verbs can be used both transitively (with a direct object) and intransitively (without a direct object), for example aumentare, cambiare, cominciare, crescere, diminuire, finire and passare. In the following examples, the subjects of these actions – beginning and finishing – are people and the verbs have direct objects (‘the medical visits’, ‘the holidays’):

Il dottore comincia le visite alle 10.00.
The doctor begins the medical visits at 10.00.
Finiamo le vacanze in agosto.
We finish our holidays in August.

In the next two examples , the same verbs (this time with ‘the medical visits’ and ‘the holidays’ as subject) cannot have a direct object:

Le visite mediche cominciano alle 10.00.
The medical visits begins at 10.00.
Le vacanze finiscono in agosto.
The holidays finish in August.

→ When used transitively, verbs such as correre ‘to run’, saltare ‘to jump’, vivere ‘to live’ take avere:

Hanno corso per 10 km
They ran for about 10 km

Oggi ho saltato la lezione
Today I skipped the lesson

Ho vissuto un’esperienza indimenticabile
I have lived an unforgettable experience

Generally Italian transitive verbs use the auxiliary avere, while intransitive verbs use the auxiliary essere in the compound tenses. However, there are quite a few verbs that use the auxiliary avere even when used intransitively. Here are the most common:

camminare – to walk
piangere – to cry
dormire – to sleep
riposare – to rest
giocare – to play
viaggiare – to travel
passeggiare – to walk

 Maria Scalici


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