German Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Transistive und Intransistive Verben im Deutschen –

German Transitive and Intransitive Verbs – Summary


Transitive verbs are verbs, that can have or need an accusative object as addition. Transitive verbs are also used to form the passive voice, by turning the object to the subject of the sentence in passive voice. All the transitive verbs in German use the auxiliary verb “haben” to form the compound tenses.

  • Transitive verbs can always occur with an accusative object, but it does not necessarily occur with it. Examples are: “lesen, sehen, kochen, schreiben, backen.”
    – „Philip schreibt.“ (→ intransitive use, as the accusative object is missing)
    – „Philip schreibt einen Brief.“ (→ transitive use with accusative object.)
    – „Philip schreibt in seinem Zimmer.“ (→ intransitive use)
  • As already mentioned, transitive verbs are used to form the passive form of a verb. In this case, the accusative object of the sentence in the active voice is turned in the subject of the sentence in the passive voice.
    – „Der Angler fängt einen Fisch.“ (→ Sentence in the active voice with “einen Fisch” as accusative object.)
    – „Ein Fisch wird (vom Angler) gefangen.“ (→ sentence in the passive voice with “Ein Fisch” as subject, the prepositional object becomes then optional.)
  • Transitive verbs in German always use the auxiliary verb “haben” when conjugated in compound tenses.
    – „Ich habe einen Kuchen gegessen.“ (→ Perfect; Accusative object “einen Kuchen”)
    – „Wir hatten unseren Urlaub bereits gebucht.“ (→ Past perfect; Accusative object “unseren Urlaub”)
German Transitive Verbs

Have you ever wondered when looking into a German dictionary why there is (v.t.) or (v.i.) behind the verb? Well, will help you to solve this mystery of German grammar! So, (v.t.) stand for German transitive verb and (v.i.) stands for German intransitive verb. But… what are these types of verbs? Although you might think that this is just a marginal topic in German grammar – be aware! Of course, you have to master these verbs in order to speak and write in a perfect way.

So, in the following, I’d like to clear up what these type of verbs actually are, and we will also have a look at a group of verbs that can be both – German transitive and intransitive verbs.

Well, let’s come to our first topic of this article and talk about the German transitive verbs. Los geht’s!

German Transitive Verbs

Trantive Verben im Deutschen

So, let’s come to the first point of this article and talk about German transitive verbs. Luckily, most of the verbs in German are transitive.

So, transitive verbs are verbs that take an object e.g. a noun, phrase or pronoun. They take the accusative case.

Well, here are some examples that illustrate what is meant by this description.

  • etwas abgeben
    “Er möchte seinen Hut an der Rezeption abgeben.”
  • etwas anbraten
    “Philip brät sein Hähnchen an.”
  • etwas erfinden
    “Ich würde so gerne etwas erfinden!”
  • möchten
    “Philip möchte einfach nur Computer spielen!”

Of course, German transitive verbs can also be used in the perfect and past perfect form. So, in this case you should use the auxiliary verb “haben” (to have) for the active voice. Finally, you should be aware that there are some German transitive verbs that require a double accusative. Well, you simply need this in order to clear up their exact meaning. So, these verbs are:  “abfragen” – (to interrogate), “abhören” – (to listen to), “kosten” – (to cost money/something), “lehren” – (to teach), and “nennen” – (to name). Well, here are some examples:

  • “Lateinische Vokabeln müssen gelernt werden.”
  • “Jeder von uns möchte gmocht werden!”
  • “Danach wir ein Bier getrunken.”
  • “Die Strafe muss bis Ende des Monats bezahlt werden.”

So, I think these are the most important facts about this type of German verb. Now, let’s come to the next point of this article and talk about German intransitive verbs.

German Intransitive Verbs

Intransitive Verben im Deutschen

Well, German intransitive verbs do not appear that frequently in the German language. Nevertheless, you should try to master them anyway – it will definitely help you to understand grammatical construction and, of course, improve your speaking skills a lot.

So, the great difference between intransitive and transitive verbs is that this type will always take the genitive or dative case, whereas transitive verbs only take the accusative.

German intransitive verbs are verbs used without an accusative object.

Apart from that, you should be aware that this type of German verbs can not be used in the passive voice. Well, the only exception to this rule is when you’re using the pronoun “es” in special circumstances. And, by the way, reflexive verbs are also intransitive.

  • “Philip ist an der Nordsee.”
  • “Unsere Zivilsation geht bald  unter.”
  • “Ein Schiff fährt auf dem Meer entlang.”

German Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Transitive und Intransitive Verben im Deutschen

So, there also exist verbs that can be either transitive or intransitive, depending on their meaning. In the following, you will see some examples for these type of verbs.

  • “Ein Schiff fährt auf dem Meer entlang.”
    – in the sense of moving forward → intransitive
  • “Das Schiff fährt Passagiere nach Schweden.”
    – in the sense of transporting someone/something → transitive

Verbs with Varying Conjugation Forms

Well, a few verbs have varying conjugation forms depending on whether they’re being used as transitive or intransitive verbs. So, we use the regular forms for transitive verbs. In the following, we will have a look at the verb “hängen” (to hang).

  • “Ich hängte das Bild an die Wand.”
  • “Ich habe das Bild an die Wand gehängt.”

Who/What did I hang on the wall?

And, we use the irregular forms for intransitive verbs. Well, let me illustrate that by the following examples.

  • Das Bild hing an der Wand.
  • Das Bildhat an der Wand gehangen.

Who/what was hanging on the wall?



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