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Many Japanese verbs belong to pairs of transitive and intransitive verbs. In Japanese these are known as 他動詞 (other move verb) and 自動詞 (self move verb). Formally, the difference between these is that a transitive verb can take on a direct object, whereas an intransitive verb (normally) cannot. There are a few pairs of distinct verbs in English that correlate to this: "raise"/"rise", "fell"/"fall" and "lay"/"lie".

Transitive verbs can be thought of as causative, requiring an agent to perform an action. Intransitive verbs move on their own and can be thought of as just existing.

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

English Verb Japanese
Transitive (I) close the door. 閉める (しめる) ドアを閉める。
Intransitive The door closes. 閉まる (しまる) ドアが閉まる。
Transitive The teacher starts the class. 始める (はじめる) 先生が授業を始める。
Intransitive The class starts. 始まる (はじまる) 授業が始まる。
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 pairings are listed in the following table:

自動詞(じどうし) (intransitive verb) 他動詞(たどうし) (transitive verb)
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 something
to wither ()れる kareru ()らす karasu to let wither
to increase (by self) 増える fueru 増やす fuyasu to increase (something else)
to cool down (by self) 冷える hieru 冷やす hiyasu to cool something down
to grow 生える haeru 生やす hayasu to grow something
to wake up 起きる okiru 起こす okosu to wake somebody up
to get off 降りる oriru 降ろす orosu to offload
to fall 落ちる ochiru 落とす otosu to let fall
to elapse (time) 過ぎる sugiru 過ごす sugosu to spend (time)
to decline 減る heru 減らす herasu to decrease something
to boil 沸く waku 沸かす wakasu to bring something to a boil
to dry (self) 乾く kawaku 乾かす kawakasu to dry something
to be glad 喜ぶ yorokobu 喜ばす yorokobasu to cheer somebody
to get open 開く aku 開ける akeru to open something
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
to board 乗る noru 乗せる noseru to let board
to approach 寄る yoru 寄せる yoseru to let near
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 something
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
to break up 離れる hanareru 離す hanasu to separate
to disengage 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
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 something
to gather 集まる atsumaru 集める atsumeru to collect
to begin 始まる hajimaru 始める hajimeru to begin something
to be found 見付かる mitsukaru 見付ける mitsukeru to find something
to hang 掛かる kakaru 掛ける kakeru to hang something up
to be saved 助かる tasukaru 助ける tasukeru to save
to change (yourself) 変わる kawaru 変える kaeru to change something
to join 加わる kuwawaru 加える kuwaeru to add
to burn 焼ける yakeru 焼く yaku to burn something
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
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 something
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). Transitive verbs can also take a ga-subject or wa-subject, although it may be omitted. 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。

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