When a verb is transitive, it means that it can take an object. For instance, you can "eat something" (transitive), but you can not "sleep something" (intransitive). Transitivity is not addressed in The Klingon Dictionary or any other canon sources.

Identifying transitivity

There is no way to really identify whether a verb is transitive or not. Many of the Klingon words are clear in their transitivity. In case of doubt, canon examples have very often clarified their meaning. But there still are many words which are ambiguous so that beginners and also expert speakers just cannot be sure how to use them. For instance, it was unknown whether the verb chagh drop is used to say "my pen dropped" or "I droppped my pen" until Marc Okrand clarified it at qepHom 2018.


During the 10th qepHom Saarbrücken in 2011, Marc Okrand gave David Yonge-Mallo some guidelines for what verbs take what objects. (1)

He explained that if the gloss for a verb is such that you can "[verb] that [sentence]" in English and it makes sense, then you can (normally) write [mu'tlhegh] 'e' [wot]. He also said that verbs defined as "[verb] a [noun]" can (usually) take objects, which must be things of type "[noun]".

David noted down ghet (pretend), Quj (play a game), and reH (play an instrument), which were his running examples. ghet can take 'e', whereas Quj and reH do not. Quj, however, can take "Monopoly" as its object. Some of those verbs might also be lay' (promise), maq (proclaim), 'ol (verify), and Sov (know). [these last verbs were suggested be people who had joined the discussion]. David also wrote down that Qoch can take 'e' as its object, because you can say "I disagree that..." and so on.


It is not possible to derive the transitivity from the gloss in The Klingon Dictionary, because Okrand has not been consistent with his punctuation. Some verbs include brackets in their definition indicating the object, but some do not.

Marc Okrand has confirmed this as follows: (2)

There is no convention or system or pattern governing the use (or non-use) of parentheses (or brackets) in definitions (in TKD or elsewhere). The enclosed words are there just to help clarify the meanings of the words. Admittedly, sometimes things are more clear than other times and usage questions remain.

The comparison of some entries confirm this:
These verbs take a spear (or spear-like projectile) as the object:
chuH throw (a spear) at, hurl (a spear) at
ghuS lower (spear) to horizontal to attack
wob hurl a spear by means of a chetvI'
These verbs take the thing played as the object:
chu' play (a musical instrument)
rIl play (a wind instrument)
Quj play a game
These verbs take the thing blown into as the object:
jo' blow into a container of some kind
SuS blow (into wind instrument) to produce sound

detailed explanation

written by Mark Shoulson, Thursday, 29 August 1996. Imported from the Mailing list's FAQ, with kind permission of its compiler d'Armond Speers

Verbs come in two flavors: transitive and intransitive. All verbs take subjects. The subject of the verb is the thing which is doing whatever the verb is talking about. In an intransitive verb, that's really the only thing that's required: someone to do it. So Qong sleep is intransitive in Klingon: jIQong I sleep, Qong HoD the captain sleeps, etc. That's it. No other entity is involved in the sleeping business. Intransitive verbs will use the no-object prefixes, because they have no object. Transitive verbs also have an "object," which is somehow the recipient of the action. When you eat something, you're involved (as the eater), and there's also involvment of something else: the stuff you eat, the eatee. You eat the food. That's what transitive verbs are: verbs which require (if only implied) an object. vISop I eat it, qagh Sop HoD the captain eats the qagh. Transitive verbs will have object-taking prefixes most of the time. Note, though, that in Klingon, a transitive verb can still take no-object prefixes to indicate sort of "in general": maSop we eat. Obviously we eat SOMETHING, but that something isn't even important enough to be ellipsized with "it." We're just saying that in general we perform the act of eating, and what the object is really doesn't matter.

The -moH suffix turns intransitive verbs into transitive ones (what it does to verbs that already have obvious objects is another problem). jIQong I sleep can become qaQongmoH I make you sleep. See the difference between vem and vemmoH, etc.

The feature that I said was distinctive in English is something I think even Krankor will agree that Klingon probably doesn't have, based on the canon words we know. In English, many verbs are used both transitively and intransitively, and the difference between the two uses changes the meaning dramatically. In the wISop / maSop distinction, there really isn't much difference: in both cases we're saying that we engage in the activity of eating, and the only difference is whether or not we're bothering to mention what we eat. Even if Qong can take an object (I dunno, maybe you can "sleep a bed" or "sleep a night"), the transitive and intransitive uses of it would still not change the meaning much, I think we all agree: the sentence would still be saying that the subject engages in sleeping.

But consider the English sentences "The stick broke" and "The stick broke the cup." In both sentences, we have the same verb (broke). In one it's transitive and in one it's intransitive. But look at the difference in meaning! What winds up in pieces at the end? It's very different. In the first sentence, the stick is on the receiving end of breakage, either due to some other influence or all by itself. In the second sentence, it's the stick that makes something else break. This is a pretty vast difference. English examples like this abound: "Bob drowned."/"Bob drowned Carol." "The crane moved"/"The crane moved the girder." "The sky darkened"/"The cloud darkened the sky." etc. It's this feature that I believe Klingon lacks. The very existence of the -moH suffix suggest that. So do canon word-pairs like vem / vemmoH , poS / poSmoH , SoQ / SoQmoH , taD / taDmoH , Qop / QopmoH , etc., all of which could be translated as single words with dual usages in English "I woke."/"I woke the prisoner." "The door opened."/"The fool opened the door." "The window closed on my fingers."/"You moron, you closed the window on my fingers." "The water froze."/"The flow of cold air froze the water." "My shoes wore out."/"The rough terrain wore out my shoes." etc.

See also


1 : published in a message to the Email discussion forum of Ma 08, 2019

2 : Message to the mailing list by David Yonge-Mallo, of May 11, 2019

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