Transitivity (or Valency) refers to the number of Participants involved in the verbal state or action. Across languages, distinctions of Transitivity can be marked in a variety of ways.  Algonquian languages in general typically first divide all verbs into two main types based on whether they refer to one participant alone (i.e. Intransitive) or at least two distinct participants with a transfer of action from actor (or subject) to goal (or object) (i.e. Transitive).

Intransitive Verbs are typically those that only specify the actions or describe the states of single participants, without any transfer of action towards any additional participants. In Cree, some verbs even indicate general states or occurrences (such as weather terms and times) without the need to specify any participants whatsoever. Included as examples of Intransitive Verbs in Cree are the following:

Intransitive VerbEnglish Translation
kimiwan“it is raining”
wāpan“it is dawn”
mihkwāw“it is red”
mihkwāwa“they (inanimate) are red”
mihkosiwak“they (animate) are red”
ninēstosin“I am tired”
kipimohtānāwāw“you (plural) are lying down”
pimohtēw“s/he is walking”
mīcisowak“they are eating”
kinēhiyawānaw“we (inclusive) are speaking Cree”

You will note that each of these verbs describes an event or occurrence or action which at best is attributed to a single participant (singular or plural – see Participants), as marked by the forms that each verb takes and the person marking attached (as described in detail below), as well as in the English translations through the use of the pronouns “it”, “they”, “I”, “you”, “she” “he” and “we”. Only one such reference is made, yielding an intransitive verb.

Transitive Verbs, in contrast, indicate the interaction of two or more participants, typically one acting on or affected by another. Thus, Transitive Verbs are often sescribed as representing some kind of transfer of action, as can be seen in the following examples:

Transitive VerbEnglish Translation
niwāpahtēn “I see it/them (inanimate)”
kiwāpamāw “you (singular) see him/her”
niwīcihānānak “we (exclusive) help them (animate)”
osīhtāw “s/he makes it/them (inanimate)”
mīciwak “they eat it/them (inanimate)”
mowēwak “they eat it/them (animate)”
kinanāskomitin “I am grateful to you”
nisākihāw “I love him/her”
nisākihik “s/he loves me”
kikī-miyinān “you gave it to us”

As will be described subsequently, the forms that these verbs take, including the person-marking of participants present, indicate that these are Transitive Verbs. Again, this is also reflected in the presence in the English translation of two or more pronouns of the forms “I” or “me”, “you”, “he” or “him”, “she” or “her”, “it”, “they” or “them”, “we” or “us”, indicating interactions between two or more participants. Thus, these are all examples of transitive verbs.

The division of verbs into Intransitive and Transitive verbs constitutes only part of the basic verb classification system of Cree. As is evident in some of the translations of both Intransitive and Transitive verbs, the Animacy of the participants will also be vitally important, and the role Animacy plays in the Plains Cree Verb Classification system is described next.