How can we judge a transitive verb to be used correctly when it's in intransitive form in a sentence?

For example, are these uses of transitive verbs correct?

I drink.
He answered.
They will give.

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    In the real use of language, such utterances do not occur outside a discourse context. If the objects of these verbs can be inferred from the preceding context the sentences are fine. – StoneyB May 18 '16 at 11:26
  • Yeah, I agree about their being in a dialog to be correct. But can we extend this for all other transitive verbs? That is, can we say if an object can be inferred from the preceding context, so using a transitive verb (that way — without an object) is correct? – Franky May 18 '16 at 12:34
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    By and large, yes, as long as there's not something in the context which makes it ambiguous. Note that you're not likely to encounter ellipses like this outside speech, or discourse which emulates speech. – StoneyB May 18 '16 at 13:01
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    Thank you. You may want to offer an answer containing those useful comments. (As a Kurdish man — a non-native speaker—, I think you write like a philosopher or poet! :) – Franky May 18 '16 at 19:16
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    @Franky There are many constructions in which verbs usually thought of as transitive don't take direct objects, that is, they are used intransitively. "She moved to Chicago," would be an example of intransitive usage. "At the sound of the gun, she froze," (intransitive). But, "She moved her car," transitive usage. "She froze lemonade," transitive. Usually the intransitive form will involve a prepositional phrase, "They gave at the office," is a common construction (one could argued that the direct object is inferred). "He answered in a whisper." Your examples aren't incorrect, just not common. – Zan700 Nov 12 '17 at 23:01

How can you judge whether the verb is used correctly? You look it up in some kind of authoritative source (such as a dictionary) to see whether the verb is:

  • exclusively transitive,
  • exclusively intransitive
  • ambitransitive (having both transitive and intransitive uses)

It's a mistake to believe that a verb must be transitive or intransitive but not both.

For example, the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (3rd edition) list both transitive and intransitive usages for each of the verbs in the three examples in the question. You need to pay attention to the part-of-speech labels. This particular dictionary uses v.tr. to indicate transitive usage and v.intr. for intransitive usage:

drink. v.tr. To take into the mouth and swallow (a liquid). v.intr. To swallow liquid.

answer. v.intr. to speak, act, or write in response to a question. v.tr. To response to.

give. v.tr. To make a present of. v.intr. To make gifts or donations.

  • "It's a mistake to believe that a verb must be transitive or intransitive but not both." True, but in any given sentence the verb will function as transitive or intransitive. For example: I move to Detroit. (Intransitive) I move the boxes. (transitive) – Zan700 Nov 12 '17 at 22:21

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