LearnJapanese Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese





Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Posted by Tae Kim

In Japanese, sometimes there are two types of the same verb often referred to as transitive and intransitive verbs. The difference between the two is that one verb is an action done by an active agent while the other is something that occurs without a direct agent. In English, this is sometimes expressed with the same verb, such as: "The ball dropped" vs "I dropped the ball" but in Japanese it becomes 「ボールちた」 vs 「ボールとした」. Sometimes, the verbs changes when translated into English such as "To put it in the box" (入れる) vs "To enter the box" (入る) but this is only from the differences in the languages. If you think in Japanese, intransitive and transitive verbs have the same meaning except that one indicates that someone had a direct hand in the action (direct object) while the other does not. While knowing the terminology is not important, it is important to know which is which in order to use the correct particle for the correct verb.

Since the basic meaning and the kanji is the same, you can learn two verbs for the price of just one kanji! Let's look at a sample list of intransitive and transitive verbs.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs
Transitive Intransitive
落とす to drop 落ちる to fall
出す to take out 出る to come out; to leave
入れる to insert 入る to enter
開ける to open 開く to be opened
閉める to close 閉まる to be closed
つける to attach つく to be attached
消す to erase 消える to disappear
抜く to extract 抜ける to be extracted

Pay attention to particles!

The important lesson to take away here is to learn how to use the correct particle for the correct type of verb. It might be difficult at first to grasp which is which when learning new verbs or whether there even is a transitive/intransitive distinction. If you're not sure, you can always check whether a verb is transitive or intransitive by using an online dictionary such as jisho.org

Examples

  1. 電気つけた
    I am the one that turned on the lights.
  2. 電気ついた
    The lights turned on.
  3. 電気消す
    Turn off the lights.
  4. 電気消える
    Lights turn off.
  5. 開けた
    Who opened the window?
  6. どうして開いた
    Why has the window opened?

The important thing to remember is that intransitive verbs cannot have a direct object because there is no direct acting agent. The following sentences are grammatically incorrect.

  1. 電気ついた
    (「を」 should be replaced with 「が」 or 「は」)
  2. 電気消える
    (「を」 should be replaced with 「が」 or 「は」)
  3. どうして開いた
    (「を」 should be replaced with 「が」 or 「は」)

The only time you can use the 「を」 particle for intransitive verbs is when a location is the direct object of a motion verb as briefly described in the previous section.

  1. 部屋出た
    I left room.