When learning Japanese, you can get by for a few years without worrying about transitive and intransitive verbs. As things start making sense, though, you’ll begin noticing that there are verbs that sound and look similar, but have very slightly meanings. Some common ones are:
- 始める vs 始まる (to begin vs. began)
- 起こす vs 起きる (wake up someone vs. wake up on your own)
- 入れる vs 入る (to insert vs. to enter)
Transitive Verbs: These verbs are descriptions of actions that are being done by yourself. For example, “I opened the door” would be transitive, whereas “the door opened” would be intransitive. These are actions in which you have a direct hand in the result of that verb.
Intransitive Verbs: These are the ‘passive’ verbs. These are actions that are being done automatically, without your help. For example, “I woke up” would be intransitive because it automatically happened, versus “I woke someone up” which would be transitive because you are doing an action.
You can see how these verbs might cause some confusion, and the sad thing is that there isn’t really a set rule on how to tell them apart. When it comes down to it, you just have to memorize which one is which and which one means what. There are, I suppose, a few general rules you can follow which will guide you in the right direction, but in the end it will take some good-ol-fashioned work to get these shifty verbs down.
How to tell Transitive and Intransitive verbs apart:
Transitive: Often times they will end with either an ‘eru’ or a ‘su’ sound. There are always exceptions, so you’ll have to just be aware of them.
Intransitive: These will often end with an ‘aru,’ ‘u,’ or ‘eru’ sound (I know, both of them have the ‘eru’ sound, it makes it really tough, and makes you memorize things).
As you can see, it’s very important to memorize which verb is which, and how to use them. So, in order to help you do that, I’ve included a list for you to look at and learn from. It doesn’t contain every single transitive/intransitive verb, but it does contain the main ones. Luckily, there aren’t many of these verbs to begin with, so you aren’t as far off as you think.
*Table created by Misuzu-san, Thanks!
Remember, the Intransitive verbs are the ones happening automatically or on their own. The door opens, the boy returns home, the cat disappears…Transitive verbs are the ones that you have direct influence on. I opened the door, I returned the boy home, I made the cat disappear. It’ll be difficult at first, but through practice, it will all come. Still, learning about these phantom verbs will make your life a lot harder. You can no longer go about speaking Japanese being ignorant about what you’re saying. Good luck!