Japanese/Grammar/Transitivity

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Many Japanese verbs have pairs of transitive and intransitive verbs. Formally, the difference between these is that a transitive verb can take on a direct object, whereas an intransitive verb can not. There are a few pairs of distinct verbs in English that correlate to this: "raise"/"rise", "fell"/"fall" and "lay"/"lie".

This is best explained by example. Contrast the following two sentences:

English Verb Japanese
Transitive (I) close the door 閉める (しめる) ドアを閉めます。
Intransitive The door closes 閉まる (しまる) ドアが閉まります。
Transitive The teacher starts the class 始める (はじめる) 先生はクラスを始める。
Intransitive The class starts 始まる (はじまる) クラスが始まる。
Transitive The sun melts the ice 溶かす(とかす) 太陽が氷を溶かす
Intransitive The ice melts 溶ける(とける) 氷が溶ける

The general patterns for transitive and intransitive sentences is:

(<subject> は/が) <direct object> を/が <transitive verb>。
<subject> が <intransitive verb>。

The topics of intransitive verbs are usually inanimate.

Some parings are listed in the following table:

自動詞(じどうし) (intransitive verb) 他動詞(たどうし) (transitive verb)
〜ぇる〜ぁす
to go out ()deru ()dasu to get out
to escape ()げる nigeru (にが)nigasu to let escape
to melt ()ける tokeru ()かす tokasu to melt sth
to wither ()れる kareru ()らす karasu to let wither
-eru-yasu
to increase (by self) 増える fueru 増やす fuyasu to increase (sth else)
to cool down (by self) 冷える hieru 冷やす hiyasu to cool sth down
to grow 生える haeru 生やす hayasu to grow sth
-iru-osu
to wake up 起きる okiru 起こす okosu to wake sb up
to get off 降りる oriru 降ろす orosu to offload
to fall 落ちる ochiru 落す otosu to let fall
to elapse (time) 過ぎる sugiru 過ごす sugosu to spend (time)
-u-asu
to decline 減る heru 減らす herasu to decrease sth
to boil 沸く waku 沸かす wakasu to bring sth to a boil
to dry (self) 乾く kawaku 乾かす kawakasu to dry sth
to be glad 喜ぶ yorokobu 喜ばす yorokobasu to cheer sb
-u-eru
to get open 開く aku 開ける akeru to open sth
to reach 届く todoku 届ける todokeru to deliver
to grow up 育つ sodatsu 育てる sodateru to rear
to stand 立つ tatsu 立てる tateru to stand up
-ru-seru
to board 乗る noru 乗せる noseru to let board
to approach 寄る yoru 寄せる yoseru to let near
-ru-su
to return 返る kaeru 返す kaesu to bring back
to go through 通る tōru 通す tōsu to let through
to turn (by self) 回る mawaru 回す mawasu to turn sth
to get repaired 直る naoru 直す naosu to repair
to cross 渡る wataru 渡す watasu to bring to the other side
-reru-su
to break up 離れる hanareru 離す hanasu to separate
to diengage 外れる hazureru 外す hazusu to release
to tumble 倒れる taoreru 倒す taosu to overthrow
to become dirty 汚れる yogoreru 汚す yogosu to dirty
to appear 現れる arawareru 現す arawasu to let appear
to get broken 壊れる kowareru 壊す kowasu to break
-aru-eru
to be decided 決まる kimaru 決める kimeru to decide
to close 閉まる shimaru 閉める shimeru to close sth
to gather 集まる atsumaru 集める atsumeru to collect
to begin 始まる hajimaru 始める hajimeru to begin sth
to be found 見付かる mitsukaru 見付ける mitsukeru to find sth
to hang 掛かる kakaru 掛ける kakeru to hang sth up
to be saved 助かる tasukaru 助ける tasukeru to save
-waru-eru
to change (yourself) 変わる kawaru 変える kaeru to change sth
to join 加わる kuwawaru 加える kuwaeru to add
-eru-u
to burn 焼ける yakeru 焼く yaku to burn sth
to be sold 売れる ureru 売る uru to sell
to come out 抜ける nukeru 抜く nuku to draw out
to come loose 解ける hodokeru 解く hodoku to loosen
weitere
to be visible 見える mieru 見る miru to see
to be audible 聞こえる kikoeru 聞く kiku to hear
to extinguish 消える kieru 消す kesu to delete
to enter 入る hairu 入れる ireru to put in
to end 終わる owaru 終える/終わる oeru/owaru to end sth
to become なる naru する suru to do

The rule of thumb is that intransitive verbs usually take nouns with the particles 「が」(ga) or 「は」(wa) that act as subjects, whereas transitive verbs take object nouns marked with 「を」(o). Transltive verbs can also take a ga-subject or wa-subject, although it may be ommitted. Note that some intransitive verbs can take an o-object that indicates a location. For example, 出る ("to leave") can be used with a direct object that is a location from which the subject is to leave from. See the table below for more examples:

English Verb Japanese
Transitive with を (I) took out my wallet from my bag. 出す(だす) 財布をカバンから出した。
Transitive with は and を I took out my wallet from my bag. 出す(だす) 私は財布をカバンから出した。
Intransitive with を (I) left home 出る(でる) 家を出た。
Intransitive with は and を I left home 出る(でる) 私は家を出た。

See also[edit]