If a verb is only listed in the dictionary as a transitive verb, can it be correctly used without a direct object, i.e. as an intransitive verb? We can use the verb "force" as an example, which is only listed as a transitive verb.

He always forces.

Can it be correct? Although the meaning is not clear from the example alone, but in context, the meaning could be understood regarding what he forces. Thank you for your help.

  • 1
    Sentence fragments are often understood in context, even though, on their own, they are not. But you haven't provided any example context that would make this particular use meaningful. (Although I suspect that, if you do, the question becomes more a matter of style than of grammar.) Commented Aug 25, 2019 at 1:51
  • The door being stuck, rather than gently pushing, he forced.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Aug 25, 2019 at 8:36
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    @NigelJ: My ears need an it after forced in all three of those sentences.
    – KarlG
    Commented Aug 25, 2019 at 10:05
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    By definition a transitive verb is one that has a direct object as a dependent, so the answer to your question is yes.
    – BillJ
    Commented Aug 25, 2019 at 11:36
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    @NigelJ: I considered them overly contrived and nonidiomatic, but to the degree they correspond with the answer your sentences inspired me to write, they're grammatical.
    – KarlG
    Commented Aug 25, 2019 at 14:24

2 Answers 2


Yes, a transitive verb always requires a direct object. Maybe the direct object is implied and merely known via context, but a direct object that's implied is nonetheless a direct object. Maybe you're coining a use that doesn't require a direct object, but that introduces a new definition that is intransitive.

Brass tacks: The very definition of "transitive" is that it requires a direct object. If it requires no direct object, neither expressed nor implied, then by definition, it becomes intransitive.


Dictionaries tend to be rather literal when it comes to categorizing verbs as transitive or intransitive. For instance, American Heritage lists three intransitive uses of toss:

  1. To be thrown here and there; be flung to and fro or up and down: The canoe tossed about on the waves.
  2. To move about restlessly; twist and turn: toss in one’s sleep.

Since English doesn’t mark the agent in active voice — the canoe is being tossed by the waves, not on its own accord — then this usage is intransitive, just as someone tossing in their sleep is both agent and patient, but toss is not a reflexive verb; it’s intransitive.

The third usage, however, is different:

  1. To flip a coin to decide an issue.

To toss for something — who pays for the next round, who doesn’t drink alcohol as designated driver — has, at least on the surface, an implied object. People do not toss random objects or, say, an unfortunate infant nearby, merely to be engaged in the act of tossing. One tosses a specific thing and that only: a coin. So why does American Heritage consider toss [a coin] intransitive?

A elided object does not make a verb intransitive. One could be sorting clothes before a move, and you could ask, holding a moth-eaten sweater that still has sentimental value:

Should I toss or keep?

This is a case of ellipsis: the speaker need not mention the sweater because it is the obvious object of the two verbs.

On the other hand, say a couple has gone through a bitter divorce:

They’ll never be able to forgive and forget.

Sure enough, American Heritage notes an intransitive use of these two verbs.

To cease remembering: Let's forgive and forget.
To grant forgiveness.

Now no one has ever said, “Let’s grant forgiveness and cease remembering,” but if you think of forgive and forget as a course of action, i.e., a strategy consisting of two actions in sequence, then it makes sense to call these verbs intransitive.

To ask what should be forgiven or forgotten would unroll an entire litany of grievances. One could argue that the object of the verbs forgive and forget is not only not implied, but actively suppressed.

It’s fourth down in American football: do you punt, run, or pass? The ball itself, of course, is what is punted, run, or passed, but the decision is choosing a course of action, not merely deciding what to do with the ball.

Which brings us back to the coin toss: it is a course of action chosen among the many possible — playing rock-paper-scissors, a footrace, reciting a poem from memory — not the choice of an action upon a coin.

In a report on a London video game tournament, to force suggests a meaning of engage in a force play:

They eventually hit 9:9 and decided to force, but as Navi (Ukraine) managed to take it away, Heroic (Denmark) had less money for the next. — Nikolay Mikhailov, “Ice London Challenge: Victory over Heroic,” 7 Feb 2019, Navi.gg

Again, the decision hinges on a course of action, to force, regardless of what that means in actual play.

American Heritage acknowledges the use of to force in baseball and card games, yet only as a transitive — force a run, force the ace of diamonds (bridge) — not yet this fairly recent usage, which can certainly be termed intransitive as much as toss, forgive, or forget.

If this usage remains jargon among gamers but becomes widely known — and e-sports are becoming more popular as spectator and tournament events — it may warrant a note in the dictionary as an intransitive usage following the entries for baseball and games, but it’s still too early to tell.

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