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The difference between an intransitive verb and non-volitional verb

Before continuing with postpositional particles, this week’s article is about intransitive verb and non-volitional verb. In a previous article published in October, I explained the difference between a transitive verb and an intransitive verb. People often mix up intransitive verb and non-volitional verb and think these two are the same thing. So this article will explain the difference between an intransitive verb and non-volitional verb.


What is a non-volitional verb?

The volitional verb is anything that allows the subject to control the action or situation. If you want to do so, you can, and if you don't want to, you can stop doing it, and the verb to describe what you can do is the volitional verb. The non-volitional verb, as opposed to a volitional verb, is one over which the subject has no control of its actions. This non-volitional verb has some characteristics, and here are some examples.


The verb “ある/Aru/is”

The verb ある is a non-volitional verb.

Example: 机の上にリンゴがある/つくえのうえにりんごがある/Tsukue no ue ni ringo ga aru/There is an apple on the desk.

The verb ある which indicates that the thing exists there is a non-volitional verb. In this example, some may have placed the apple on the desk with intent but the situation that apple exists there is not a situation controlled by the will. The subject of the sentence is not a person and is also just describing the status.


The verbs that describe natural phenomena

There is no intention in natural phenomena. So verbs such as “降る/ふる/Furu/to fall (e.g. rainfall)” and “吹く/ふく/Fuku/to blow” are non-volitional verbs.

Example: 雨が降る/あめがふる/Ame ga furu/it’s raining

The verb 降る is a non-volitional verb because someone is not intentionally making it rain. People have no control over the weather by willpower.



Physiological phenomena and psychological descriptions

A verb that describes the physiological phenomenon and psychological descriptions is non-volitional, even if the subject is a person.

Example: 恐怖のために震えた/きょうふのためにふるえた/Kyouhu no tame ni hurueta/I shuddered with fear

So certain phenomena that occur in the body, such as shaking and sweating, occur independently of a person's will. It is not intentional to be discouraged or frightened. Therefore, such verbs are categorised as non-volitional verbs.


Verb indicating an event that occurred by chance

Verbs that describe an unforeseen event such as car accident are also non-volitional.

Example: 交通事故に遭った/こうつうじこにあった/Koutsuu jiko ni atta/I was in a car accident.

People can’t predict that they will be in an accident so the verbs describing unpredictable events are categorised as non-volitional verbs.


What is the difference between an intransitive verb and nonvolitional verbs?

As you may notice from the examples I have given, most of the non-volitional verbs are the same as intransitive verbs. This is why some people seem to mistake non-volitional verb = intransitive verb. Then what’s the difference between them? Intransitive verbs refer to verbs that do not require an object, so the presence or absence of a will is irrelevant. Therefore volitional verbs (verbs that a person can control) such as "行く/いく/Iku/go" and "座る/すわる/Suwaru/sit" are also included in intransitive verbs. This means not all intransitive verbs are the non-volitional verbs.

Intransitive verbs: Don’t need the object. Include both volitional and non-volitional verbs.

Non-volitional verbs: Verbs that people can’t control with one’s intention.


Momoka Yamaguchi


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