In Keller's Learn to Read Latin

11. Distinguishing Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

A transitive verb expresses an action that is directly exerted on a person or thing. The person or thing receiving the action is the direct object (see §1). For example:

The dog catches the ball.

She was sending a package.

The verbs in these sentences (“catches” and “was sending") are transitive (< transeo, go across). The direct objects in these sentences, “ball” and “package,” would be expressed in Latin in the accusative case.

Many transitive verbs, such as "catches" and “was sending," require direct objects to complete their meanings. Many transitive verbs, however, may be used absolutely; that is, they may occur without an expressed direct object. For example, to the question “What are you doing?” the response “I am writing" could be considered com- plete, although a direct object (book, some letters) is implied.

An intransitive verb expresses an action that is not directly exerted on a person or thing. It cannot take a direct object. For example:

He stands on the corner.

I shall go home.

Two important types of intransitive verbs are copulative verbs“ and verbs that express motion (go, come, etc.). The actions of the verbs in these sentences are not exerted on direct objects. In the second sentence, the adverb “home” (= homeward) is not a direct object since the action of “shall go” is not exerted upon “home.” For the most part, verbs that are transitive in English are transitive in Latin. However, there are several important exceptions. These are indicated in the vocabulary lists and notes.

How can I tell the difference between intransitive verbs, and transitive verbs which "may be used absolutely; that is, they may occur without an expressed direct object"?

For example,

Timeo is transitive but may be used absolutely (see §11). It may be accompanied by a Dative of Reference or by the preposition dé (as well as by other prepositions). ,

Agricola timet. The farmer is afraid. (used absolutely.)

Agricola reginam timet. The farmer fears the queen. (transitive)

Aricola reginae timet. The farmer fears for the queen. (with dative)

Agricola de filio timet. The farmer is afraid about (his) son. (with de + ablative)

  • When timeo is "accompanied by a Dative of Reference or by the preposition dé (as well as by other prepositions)", is it an absolute transitive or an intransitive?

  • In the third and last sentences, Is timeo an absolute transitive or an intransitive?

In Oxford Latin Dictionary,

  • Are the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th meanings of timeo transitive, and the 1st meaning intransitive?

  • which meaning of timeo refers to absolute transitive?

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  • 4
    Why do you think you need to?
    – Cairnarvon
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 18:20

1 Answer 1


You are comparing two completely different kinds of thing.

An intransitive verb is a way of classifying verbs in the lexicon.

An absolute transitive verb is a description of the way that a verb is used in a particular clause.

If a particular clause does not contain a direct object, then the clause is intransitive, and the verb in it is being used intransitively. There is no way of telling from that clause whether the verb might be used transitively elsewhere.

Note that you can't even tell from the semantics: consider the English verbs eat and dine. Eat is normally transitive, but can be used as what your book called an absolute transitive; Dine is intransitive. If you consider the sentences They ate early and They dined early, they are structurally identical. It happens that They ate fruit is grammatical and *They dined fruit is not, but there is no way you can tell that from the first pair of sentences.

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