English for parenting: transitive and intransitive verbs

verbs-1Today’s post focuses on the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs when talking about newborns and parenting. To help you remember their meanings, I’m going to include some possible collocations. It’s a good habit when learning new words to always write down a few collocations, in this way your vocabulary will broaden quickly and soon you’ll find yourself using these new terms when speaking or writing.


A verb is transitive when it’s followed by an object. For example, “to raise” is transitive and indeed in the context of parenting a common collocation is “to raise children“. In this instance, the word children is the object.  “To raise” is not an intransitive verb because “someone can’t raise” but “he or she can raise something”: you can raise your hand / taxes / money / an issue etc.

In the following text I have bolded some transitive verbs related to parenting (together with some common collocations):

Babies cry to let you know that they need something: you might need to change their nappy, and so wipe their bottom etc, or you might need to feed them (they often suck their fingers when they’re hungry), they might just want you to cuddle them (= to hold them in your arms, maybe while singing a lullaby) or maybe you haven’t winded them properly. To settle your baby, especially if you notice that they are rubbing their eyes,  you might try swaddling him or her (=to wrap them very tightly in a blanket) and gently rock them in your arms until they fall asleep. Sometimes they cry just because they’re either too hot or cold, in which case you’ll need to undress them or add another layer.


And now let’s turn to intransitive verbs such as “to grow up“. Intransitive verbs are not followed by any object. Indeed we say that “someone grows up” but you can’t say that “someone grows up someone else”. Here are a few examples that should help you understand the difference between to raise and to grow up:

I grew up in London.
She lost her parents when she was two, so her grandparents raised her.
He was raised in France.
He grew up to be an important writer.

Now let’s have a look at some intransitive verbs about parenting and newborns:
When a baby fusses, fidgets or cries a lot, it might be a sign that he’s hungry. After your baby feeds, he should settle / calm down.
It’s not uncommon for babies to doze off during a feed.
You should always try to make your baby burp after a feed.
Babies tend to wriggle a lot when you change them.

Can you now guess why some of the above verbs are green? Yes, precisely because they can be either transitive or intransitive depending on their usage. Use a dictionary to check whether a verb is transitive, intransitive or both to make sure you’re using them correctly.

Hope this helps! 🙂
Talk soon,

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