A pilot can land an airplane and an airplane can land. 'Land' is both transitive and intransitive.

What about 'take off'? I looked it up but there is just one example as an intransitive verb.

'The plane took off from Heathrow.'

A pilot can (make a plane take off).

What is the one word to replace what's in bracket?


  • "A plane taking off" doesn't mean the same thing as an action that "makes a plane take off". The first one is just an observation, the second a cause and effect. So it is not really valid to look for a similarity.
    – user3169
    Mar 11, 2016 at 19:34
  • Actually I was looking for a word to make my sentence. My example sentence was 'he wasn't good at being a pilot. He [made the plane take off] but couldn't fly it for a long time and had to land the plane a minute later.' I needed a verb phrase to put within brackets. As some dear friends pointed out, 'he took off (the plane)' can work here.
    – Yuri
    Mar 11, 2016 at 19:47

3 Answers 3


According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, you can use take off about either a plane or a pilot: in other words, it is correct to say

The pilot took off.

So the sentence in your comment would work as

He took off, but couldn't fly the plane for a long time and had to land it a minute later.

As you said, take off is definitely intransitive, so you cannot say something like

Have you ever taken off an Airbus 380?

You would have to say

Have you ever piloted an Airbus 380 at take off?

  • btw, if your language is Arabic I would be interested to know what word you would use.
    – JavaLatte
    Mar 11, 2016 at 18:34
  • Thank you for your comment ☺ and no I don't speak Arabic. It's Persian.
    – Yuri
    Mar 11, 2016 at 19:24

Usually in AmE, the pilot of a vehicle is doing whatever the vehicle is doing. "The driver stopped the car at the red light." and "The driver stopped at the red light." both say the same thing.

So in your specific example, we would say "The pilot took off" as JavaLatte mentioned already. We can also say things like "The pilot climbed at maximum speed during takeoff." even though it was the plane that was climbing, because it was the pilot that was causing the plane to climb.

We use different language if we are riding a horse or other animal where the animal can choose to do things without the rider's intervention. If she's riding a bicycle, the rider stops. If she's riding a horse, the rider stops the horse.


There's no specific grammatical rule saying the phrasal verb to take off can't be used transitively - it's just that native speakers don't normally use it that way. This example...

Mr. Waicott did not have that authority, that permission, from the duty officer to take off his plane.

...is from an Indian Parliament debate transcript, so it might be from a non-native speaker. But the surrounding text is impeccable English, and I personally wouldn't assume "non-native speaker!" just because he made the best of bad situation. That's to say we don't have a well-known alternative verb that can be used instead.

Here are a couple more written instances, more obviously from native speakers...

Given a long enough runway, it would be possible to take off our plane [loaded up to 10 tons].
[the way to do it is for you] ... to take off your plane, and land it at Washington National Airport.

In short, I suggest you copy native speakers - where possible, rephrase so you don't need a transitive verb; if you can't do that, just bulldoze through and use take off anyway. You'll always be understood.

There are probably other even less idiomatic terms than to make a plane airborne (perhaps relevant in specific technical contexts), but you'd probably not want to use them in more general contexts.

  • On the other hand, maybe the speaker (or transcript writer) just left out an in; "from the duty officer to take off in his plane."
    – user3169
    Mar 11, 2016 at 19:36
  • 1
    @user3169: Sure, if it was only a single example. And if you were certain no-one would ever dare defy JavaLatte's assertion that take off is definitely intransitive, so you cannot [use it like this]. But that's an even less likely explanation of my third example, since it would destroy the symmetry / parallelism of the juxtaposed take off / land. Interestingly, there are many written instances of take off and land a plane where the principle of parallelism could be invoked to justify my position here. Mar 12, 2016 at 12:51

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