What is Transitive Writing?

Written by Scott Wilson

what is transitive writing

Transitive and intransitive verbs are grammatical twins that every elementary school student learns about. They are key parts of diagramming sentences and understanding English grammar. By the time most students go on to middle school and beyond, they have absorbed the concepts to such a degree that they no longer have to think them through. Proper use is instinctive.

Transitive writing is a more advanced concept that only writers and philosophers explore. The meaning of the phrase shifts depending on who is using it.

It’s most common to find transitive writing referred to in philosophical papers debating the precise nature of literary and other texts.

For writers, transitive writing is writing with an objective. Like transitive verbs, the text of a piece of transitive writing acts on an object. Most writing that occurs today and the type of writing that most writers engage in is transitive. Novels, corporate reports, poems, ad copy, checks, and school assignments are all transitive. They are texts that are written to accomplish a goal outside the bounds of the text itself. That can include objectives such as:

What About Intransitive Writing?

It’s more difficult to contemplate intransitive writing, but it’s a style of writing that many writers actually use. Intransitive texts are those that are written for the sake of writing. They may include works such as:

These are sentences and paragraphs that are written simply for the sake of putting words to paper or screen, without any kind of outside or future objective. Writers might simply sit down and start typing in stream of consciousness to get the creative juices flowing, limber up their fingers, or see how words or phrases appear on the screen. No external objective or destination exists for such works.

While a reader might be able to parse and make sense of them, such reading would be interpretive, rather than objective.

Transitivity Represents One Tool in the Chest, But Needn’t Be a Point of Fixation

Mastering transitivity in the grammatical sense is just one of many basic writing skills that serious writers must embrace. Writers are expected to develop a deeper knowledge of such core English language concepts.

Just as important, they need to be able to use the proper forms in their work so it is both easily understood and carries the right level of impact and tone.

Transitive writing, however, may not ever be a concept that most writers have to grapple with, even if they use the form extensively. Even many creative writing degree programs are unlikely to cover it in any great detail.

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