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Assignment:

  • Learn the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs
  • Get familiar with the most common ones
  • Practice hiragana and basic kanji using those


So, I've been wildly derelict in these lessons because life ate me whole, but I'm determined not to go another couple of weeks without. So in the meantime, here's a short lesson!

Transitive versus Intransitive

I'm not a huge fan of going into grammatical details in these posts, but there's no getting around transitivity with Japanese. Here's a PDF that offers an explanation, but the gist of it:

Transitive verbs have a direct object that is acted on. Intransitive verbs have just a subject.

Transitive: (Someone) opened the door - (だれかが)ドアを開けた
Intransitive: The door opened - ドアが開いた

Once you go through a few examples, it's easy to get the hang on. Transitivity indicates some sort of direct action. Intransitivity describes state.

Transitive verbs take the particle を. Intransitive verbs take が (general actions) or に (actions that have directionality)

パンを食べる Eat bread
ペンを買う Buy a pen
人を見る See a person

----------

ドアが開く The door opens
人が見える A person can be seen

スーパーに行く Go to the supermarket
ここに来る Come here

Common Examples

A lot of verbs are innately either solely transitive or solely intransitive.

Transitive: 飲む・食べる・買う. It would be pretty hard to do these without a direct object.
Intransitive: 行く・来る・死ぬ

The worst of the confusion will come from remembering verbs that have distinct transitive and intransitive forms. But fear not! 90% of the time, transitive verbs have an え noise somewhere in there.

Practice: Intransitive・Transitive

開く・開ける
閉まる・閉める
見える (to be visible)・見る(to see) <-- Exception
立つ・立てる (The intransitive form is often use for something like, say, a building)
入る(to enter)・入れる(to insert)
始まる・始める
出る(to leave/exit)・出す(to take out/remove)

Find some more pairs of your own and practice.

Practice: Translate

Try translating these, switching between formal and informal, then negative and non-negative to practice your verb forms.

() indicates a part of speech that doesn't need to be explicitly translated in the Japanese

* The door opened
* I opened the door

彼(かれ) = he
財布(さいふ) = wallet

* He took out (his) wallet

紙(かみ) = paper
私(わたし) = I/me/myself/mine

* I will cut (some) paper

Verb hint: 倒(たお)・?
木(き) = tree

* The tree fell over


* I stood up
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A universe of unmapped grief and love
And new master light is beyond
The pleiades and plow and southern stars.

O soaring
Icarus of outworld, burn bright
The traceries of known skymarks,
Slide the highway planets behind
Your clear waxed wings.

Go conquer the everywhere left
Beyond your sad confinement
In a predicted bonehouse,
Witch thrown riddle of flesh
And water.

O soar until nothing
remains but great glittering holes
In the black godspun shirt over your head.

- John Fairfax