The French grammar book that I am reading says that a transitive verb takes an object (ie, it takes a direct object, or an indirect object, or both). It also says that some transitive verbs can be used without an object and that for such verbs that are also "être" verbs, you have to remember something when using them in the passé composé: that if you are using them transitively, you must use "avoir" as the auxiliary verb instead of "être".

One example sentence surprised me. The following is a sentence that claims to be using "passer" as an intransitive verb.

Elle est passée à la boulangerie.
She went by the bakery.

However, "la boulangerie" looks very much like an indirect object (and thus, it looks like "passer" is being used transitively).

1. How can I use this dictionary entry for "passer" to confirm that "à la boulangerie" does not make "la boulangerie" an indirect object of "passer"?
2. Without using a dictionary, is it obvious (or even possible) to know that "la boulangerie" is not an indirect object? If so, how do you know this?

  • Have a look at cnrtl.fr/definition/passer
    – Toto
    Jul 6, 2018 at 10:58
  • I think this is a matter of understanding the definition of "transitive". I don't know whether it's different for French, but in English, the word "transitive" refers to verbs that take direct objects: there is no such thing as an English transitive verb that takes an indirect object and no direct object.
    – sumelic
    Jul 6, 2018 at 13:38
  • @sumelic: laits.utexas.edu/tex/gr/vti1.html says "Transitive verbs by definition have an object, either a direct object or an indirect object. Intransitive verbs never have objects. "
    – silph
    Jul 6, 2018 at 13:54
  • 1
    Thanks; that's interesting. It does seem this may be a difference between traditions for describing English and French; I have just looked over the following related WordReference threads: forum.wordreference.com/threads/…, forum.wordreference.com/threads/…
    – sumelic
    Jul 6, 2018 at 13:58

1 Answer 1


Many intransitive verbs may be constructed with the proposition à, where this does not represent the DATIVE, but some other idea, such as motion to, direction of thoughts, etc. Cf.

Il dit aux femmes de rester en bas. He told the women to remain below.

Elle lui ressemblait. She resembled him.

Peut-on résister à ce pouvoir ? Can one resist this power?

(all of them dative constructions)

with verbs of motion constructing with non-dative à

Il va à l'église. He goes to the church.

Elle y courut. She ran to it.

L'enfant est venu à moi. The child came to me.

À is also not dative after, for example, comparer à, être à, habituer à, faire attention à.

Ce livre est à moi. Il ne fait aucune attention à eux.

A number of French verbs are constructed with non-dative à, whose English equivalents take a direct object or some other preposition.

arriver à, parvenir à, jouer à, penser à, songer à, manquer à, renoncer à, etc.

But à with verbs of motion when used figuratively is dative.*

L'idée leur vint. The idea came to them.

Cette robe lui va. That dress suits her.

See also the comment of @Luke Sawczak

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    Pretty good... another way of saying this is to draw the distinction between an indirect object ("dative") and an adverbial complement. It can be hard to tell the difference but one gets some mileage out of (as you imply) putting locations usually in the second category.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Jul 9, 2018 at 2:10

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