As the common definition runs, an intransitive verb doesn't need an object as in "I run in the street." But my question is why some verbs are labeled intransitive, and at the same time, they take a preposition followed by an object: For example, agonize plus over/about and then an object:

  • She agonized about what she should do.

Why shouldn't we call it a transitive verb? Other examples: apologize to, object to

  • Because in that case there still isn't a direct object, since "what she should do" is still just acting as the noun part of a prepositional phrase. The sentence would still be perfectly valid and accurate if it simply read "She agonized." What she's agonizing over is just an editorial detail; icing on the cake of that sentence. Mar 26, 2015 at 6:41

2 Answers 2


In grammar, “transitive” means that the verb takes a direct object, not just an object. An object introduced by a preposition is not direct.

  • Erm, how about the verb *TELL in "Bob told me"? That seems to be transitive but doesn't have a direct object! Apr 1, 2015 at 8:54
  • @Araucaria I'm using ordinary terminology here ("the common definition"), which is not limited to syntax. In "Bob told me", there is an implied direct object: "Bob told me [something]."
    – Ben Kovitz
    Apr 1, 2015 at 9:00
  • Ah, so your saying that tell is usually a transitive verb, but it's being used intransitively in this sentence? ;) Apr 1, 2015 at 9:21
  • @Araucaria No, "tell" is being used transitively in that sentence; the direct object is left to implication.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Apr 1, 2015 at 9:48
  • 1
    @Araucaria My non-expert understanding is that "transitive verb" has usually been defined for the last ~1500 years as a verb whose meaning requires completion by an object in the accusative case; nom and acc switch when you switch to passive voice but the other cases stay the same (with occasional variations among grammarians, because there are many reasonable, very similar ways to draw grammatical distinctions). The Latin concept was force-fit onto English, etc. The traditional meaning persists in common usage, as reflected by common dictionaries. The other meaning is specialized, esoteric.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Apr 1, 2015 at 14:53

An object is a special type of complement of a verb. We can think of a complement as some phrase that fills a special slot set up by another word or phrase. In the phrase:

  • apologise to someone

We have a verb apologise, which selects a preposition phrase as a complement. The preposition phrase here is to someone. This preposition phrase has an internal structure, it has a preposition as its head, to and this preposition has its own complement, the noun phrase someone. The word someone here doesn't have a special relationship with the verb, it has a relationship with the preposition. It is the preposition heading the preposition phrase which has a special relationship with the verb apologise. So because someone isn't a complement of the verb here, it cannot be considered a direct object.

  • I can tentatively conclude that the word “tree” in the examples below can be considered both as a direct object and the object of preposition when a verb has different behaviors. For example, the verb climb serves transitively (as The boy climbed the tree) and intransitively plus an adverb or preposition (as in The boy climbed up the tree).
    – user61883
    Mar 27, 2015 at 11:45
  • @user61883 Exactly so! You've got it. :) Mar 27, 2015 at 12:01

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