(In)transitive Verbs, Part I

Do you have your grammar cap on?

I hope so, because...

 

🏰 Grammar Castle 🏰

Verbs (which express actions, occurrences, and states of being) can be transitive or intransitive.

A transitive verb is one that takes a direct object. Conversely, an intransitive verb does not take a direct object.

In certain contexts, the following sentences sound a bit strange, yeah?
- She likes.
- He hates.
- I buy.

Who or what does she like?
Who or what does he hate?
What did I buy?

If we insert some direct objects, this becomes clear:
- She likes apples.
- He hates himself. (Poor guy.)
- I buy presents for my nephews every Christmas.

In the above sentences, "likes," "hates," and "buy" are all transitive verbs because they all have direct objects ("apples," "himself," and "presents").

Intransitive verbs, on the other hand, do not have direct objects, as in these sentences:
- She smiled.
- I slept.
- They cried.

 

Life and grammar are rarely simple, however..

For example, the verb "eat" might seem like a straightforward transitive verb that takes a direct object:
- We ate pizza.

"Pizza" is a direct object.

But what about a sentence like this?
- He just eats and eats and eats.

No direct object!

 

Enough about English, though.

Let's talk about transitive and intransitive verbs in Japanese.

Transitive verbs are called 他動詞 (たどうし) in Japanese.



Intransitive verbs are called 自動詞 (じどうし).



If you're a kanji nerd, this makes a lot of sense...

 



🚙 Kanji Detour 🚙





Meaning of 自:oneself
Heisig Keyword: oneself






Meaning of 他:other, another
Heisig Keyword: other






Meaning of 動:move, motion
Heisig Keyword: move






Meaning of 詞:part of speech, words
Heisig Keyword: parts of speech


So, a "part of speech" (詞) that "moves" (動) upon "itself" (自) is an intransitive verb, while a "part of speech" (詞) that "moves" (動) upon "others" (他) is a transitive verb.

Gotta love kanji.

 

Consider the following past-tense, particle-free sentences:

車止めた。
くるま とめた。
I stopped the car.
Literally: “car + stopped.”



車止まった。
くるま とまった。
The car stopped.
Literally: “car + stopped.”



Why did I translate them differently?!

The answer is that I just so happen to know that 止める (とめる // to stop [someone/something]) is a transitive verb, which means that 車 (くるま) is the object of the verb.

And I know that 止まる (とまる // to stop) is an intransitive verb, which means that 車 (くるま) is the subject of the sentence (i.e. the one doing the the verb).

This becomes even more clear if we insert some particles:

止めた。
くるま を とめた。
I stopped the car.
Literally: “car + を + stopped.”



止まった。
くるま が とまった。
The car stopped.
Literally: “car + が + stopped.”



We've already seen that が can mark the subject of a sentence, yeah? So hopefully, if you've been reading the other lectures up until now, it makes sense that we would point out the subject of the second sentence using the particle が.

But what's going on with を?

Well, を is used to mark the object of a transitive verb. Thus, it comes right after our direct object, which is 車 (くるま).

 



Japanese has many pairs of 他動詞 and 自動詞 that go together.

Above, we saw 止める (とめる // to stop [someone/something]) and 止まる (とまる // to stop), but you'll also come across:

他動詞(たどうし // transitive verb
自動詞(じどうし // intransitive verb




助ける(たすける // to save [someone]
助かる(たすかる // to be saved



倒す(たおす // to defeat; to knock over; to topple
倒れる(たおれる // to fall over; to pass out



落とす(おとす // to drop; to lose
落ちる(おちる // to fall



汚す(よごす // to get [something] dirty
汚れる(よごれる // to get dirty; to become dirty



直す(なおす // to fix
直る(なおる // to be fixed



始める(はじめる // to start [something]
始まる(はじまる // to start



決める(きめる // to decide
決まる(きまる // to be decided



消す(けす // to turn off; to extinguish
消える(きえる // to disappear; to go away



入れる(いれる // to insert
入る(はいる // to enter



増やす(ふやす // to increase [something]
増える(ふえる // to increase



焼く(やく // to cook; to grill
焼ける(やける // to be cooked



割る(わる // to break [something]; to crack [something]; to smash [something]
割れる(われる // to break; to crack; to smash



折る(おる // to break [something]; to fracture [something]
折れる(おれる // to break; to fracture


 



What are the rules? Are there patterns?

Uh... I was hoping you wouldn't ask that.

Yeah, there are kind of patterns...

For example, here we see that our 他動詞 are ending in an -eru sound, while our 自動詞 are ending in an -aru sound:

止める(とめる // to stop [something]
止まる(とまる // to stop



助ける(たすける // to save [someone]
助かる(たすかる // to be saved



始める(はじめる // to start [something]
始まる(はじまる // to start



決める(きめる // to decide
決まる(きまる // to be decided



And we can see that the following 他動詞 end in -su, while their 自動詞 counterparts end in -ru:

倒す(たおす // to defeat; to knock over; to topple
倒れる(たおれる // to fall over; to pass out



落とす(おとす // to drop; to lose
落ちる(おちる // to fall



汚す(よごす // to get [something] dirty
汚れる(よごれる // to get dirty; to become dirty



直す(なおす // to fix
直る(なおる // to be fixed



増やす(ふやす // to increase [something]
増える(ふえる // to increase



But it's easy to get thrown off by apparent rules. For example, I used to always get confused by the following 自動詞 that end in -eru. I always felt like it should be the 他動詞 that end in -eru, but that's not the case:

焼く(やく // to cook; to grill
焼ける(やける // to be cooked



割る(わる // to break [something]; to crack [something]; to smash [something]
割れる(われる // to break; to crack; to smash



折る(おる // to break [something]; to fracture [something]
折れる(おれる // to break; to fracture


 



Long story short, I wouldn't worry too much about "rules" for determining which verbs are 他動詞 and which are 自動詞.

I'd just learn them one by one.

Sounds stressful, but it shouldn't cause you too much trouble long-term... although just the other day I used 止める (とめる) when I should have used 止まる (とまる). *_*

You might feel like this is all too much information to absorb in a single lecture.

If so, you'll be happy (stressed?) to know that we're covering this topic more in the next lecture...



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