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The difference between Japanese Intransitive and Transitive verb

The words "intransitive verb" and "transitive verb" come up often when you are studying Japanese grammar. This article will explain each of them and the difference between them briefly.


What is an intransitive verb?

An intransitive verb is a verb that indicates “an action that the subject (you) does”.

For example the sentence

ドアが開いた/どあがあいた/Doa ga aita/ The door is open.

What does the verb “開いた” explain? Of course, the door. But who has done it? We don’t know that from this sentence. In this sentence, the door is the subject and the action “open” is done by subject (door), so intransitive verb should be used.

Thus the sentences with the intransitive verb have the nuance that implies actions happened naturally.


Tip: intransitive verb only focuses on “change on the object”

Basically, an intransitive verb is “a subject acting on itself” but what about this case?

What would you say when you found broken vase?

あ!壊れている!/あ!こわれている!/A! Kowareteiru!/Oh! It’s broken!”

Wouldn’t you say like this? This verb is intransitive.

The point is that in this instance, “it could really be broken by someone else’s action” but you don’t know that fact when you see it. In such cases when you don’t know the cause cases, we usually use an intransitive verb to focus only on change on the subject.


What is a transitive verb?

Transitive verb, on the other hand, is the verb which is acted by other than the subject itself. The important question is, “who took the action” to cause the change on the subject.

(わたしが)ドアを開けた/どあをあけた/Doa wo aketa/ (I) Opened the door

In this case, the door is opened by the action of I, which is the other and not the door itself. Therefore, a transitive verb should be used. A transitive verb is often used for actions done by someone with a will.



Difference between transitive/intransitive verb

In the previous two examples, two different verbs have been used, 開いた and 開けた. The original form of these two verbs is 開く(intransitive) and 開ける (transitive). There is not really a pattern to change intransitive verb to transitive verb, so you should learn both and be able to remember which one is which.



Examples of transitive/intransitive verb

Here are some examples of transitive/intransitive verb

開く/ひらく/Hiraku⇆開ける/あける/Akeru (To open)

閉まる/しまる/Shimaru⇆閉める/しめる/Shimeru (To close)

伸びる/のびる/Nobiru⇆伸ばす/のばす/Nobasu (To stretch)

消える/きえる/Kieru⇆消す/けす/Kesu (To erase/delete)

入る/はいる/Hairu⇆入れる/いれる/Ireru (To enter)

出る/でる/Deru⇆出す/だす/Dasu (To put out/To get out)

付く/つく/Tsuku⇆付ける/つける/Tsukeru (To attach)

止まる/とまる/Tomaru⇆止める/とめる/Tomeru (To stop)

落ちる/おちる/Ochiru⇆落とす/おとす/Otosu (To fall)

壊れる/こわれる/Kowareru⇆壊す/こわす/Kowasu (To break)

All of these verbs are the verbs that explain the changes that could happen to things.



How to tell the difference between them

As shown above, it’s pretty easy to distinguish between transitive and intransitive verbs when there are corresponding pairs. But how do you recognise something that doesn’t have a corresponding verb, like 行く/いく/Iku (To go) or 食べる/たべる/Taberu (To eat)? In fact, you can understand it in an instant if you add a particle "- を/wo" to it. Transitive verbs are not complete without "- を/wo". On the other hand, if anything other than "-wo" is added, it is an intransitive verb.


Today’s article was about "transitive verbs" and “intransitive verbs” in Japanese. Japanese people use them without thinking about it but they are quite complicated.

Momoka Yamaguchi

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