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I am having difficulty understanding transitive and intransitive verbs. Most explanations say that a transitive verb takes a "direct object" and an intransitive verb takes an "indirect object" such as a person or thing to which an action is being performed.

OK, let's take as an example the transitive verb "lieben" and the intransitive verb "helfen". Both have no "direct object" but someone who is being loved or helped, yet "Ich liebe Dich" takes the accusative and "Ich helfe Dir" takes the Dative. Why?

  • love does have an accusative object. This concerns English, though, and this won't always be presserved by translation. – c.p. Jan 4 at 20:32
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Learners of German should avoid the terms direct object and indirect object as they often are a source of confusion. (Your question being a good example, by the way)

A transitive Verb in German is a verb which takes an accusative object.

An intransitive Verb is a Verb which does not take an accusative object. It may take an object in another case (often dative, but genitive objects and prepositional objects also occur), or no object at all.

The distinction is particularily important with respect to the passive: Transitive verbs can be put into the passive. The accusative object then becomes the subject.

Some intransitive verbs can be put into the passive, and some can't. If an intransitive verb is put into the passive, there is either no subject or a placeholder-es is taking the position of a (formal) subject. The (non-accusative) object(s) retain their case. For example, Ich helfe dir becomes Dir wird von mir geholfen when put into passive.

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