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What Is a Ditransitive Verb?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 23, 2024
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A ditransitive verb is a type of verb that requires both a direct object and an indirect object in the sentence with it in order for the meaning of the sentence to be complete. This type of verb is typically used when something is being given or exchanged between two or more parties, as the something is the direct object and the receiver is the indirect object. An example of a ditransitive verb is “to give” in the sentence “The man gave the cat a fish.” This is in contrast to monostransitive verbs, which require only a direct object, and intransitive verbs that require no object of any kind.

The way in which verbs interact with their objects is referred to as the “valency” of the verb, which is a value that indicates how many objects are needed for the verb usage to make sense. A valency of one refers to an intransitive verb, which is a verb that does not require any kind of object. In the sentence, “The cat slept,” the verb “slept” acts as an intransitive verb since there is only a subject, “The cat,” and a predicate or verb, “slept.” While the cat may have slept on something, this is not required for the sentence to have complete meaning.

This is in contrast to a monotransitive verb, which has a valency of two and indicates a verb that requires a direct object. In the sentence, “I bought a bag,” the verb “buy” is monotransitive because it requires a direct object that was bought. “I” is the subject of the sentence and “bought” is the verb, while “a bag” acts as the direct object that indicates the object on which the subject took the action of the verb.

A ditransitive verb, which has a valency of three, is a verb that requires both a direct object and an indirect object in order for the sentence to be complete and make total sense. An example of a ditransitive verb is the word “give” in a sentence like “The man gave the cat a fish.” In this sentence, “The man” is now the subject of the sentence and “gave” is the ditransitive verb. The direct object in the sentence is still “a fish” since this is the thing being given, and now “the cat” has become the indirect object, which is receiving the action of the sentence.

Some verbs can have different valencies and act as an intransitive, monotransitive, or ditransitive verb depending on its usage in a particular sentence. The verb “gave” can be used in a theoretical or philosophical sense, such as “He gave” to indicate the general idea of giving; can only require a direct object in a sentence like “He gave all he could"; or become a ditransitive verb in a statement like “He gave the man a hat.” There are also some impersonal verbs that can have a valency of zero, which do not require a subject or any objects, such as states of weather like “It rained.”

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Discussion Comments

By Wisedly33 — On Jan 21, 2014

Ditransitive verbs? Valence? I always thought "valence" had something to do with chemistry. While I understand how a ditransitive verb is used, I've never heard the term, and I have a degree in English, with a concentration in grammar! Transitive and intransitive yes, but never "ditransitive."

I suppose it makes sense that verbs are classified in this way, but I'm not sure learning these terms is necessary to learning good grammar. It certainly doesn't change how they are diagrammed in a sentence.

Grammar is intimidating enough to some people without throwing in these kinds of distinctions. Learning these terms is for serious grammar nuts like me, not for the rank-and-file tenth grader.

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