が vs げ in verb vocab - is there a rule or am I mistaken?

Up until now, I’ve sort of been assuming (bad idea, I know) that in vocab verbs that include [が] it generally indicates that the subject is performing the action on itself or by itself (the subject and object are the same), whereas [げ] generally indicates that the subject is acting upon an object that is something other than itself (the subject and object are different things).


[曲がる] vs [曲げる] - “to bend” vs “to bend something”
[上がる] vs [上げる] - “to rise” vs “to raise something”

Am I on point here or am I totally off mark? Or is it more of a “yeah usually but not always” sort of thing?

Any thoughts or advice would be much appreciated!


I think the description that “the subject is performing the action on itself or by itself” is a bit of a misunderstanding of what intransitivity means. For instance, if I say “the door opened” that’s intransitive. It doesn’t mean the door opened itself (that would be a bit silly) or that it opened on its own, just that I’m not specifying who or what opened the door. That’s not relevant (according to me as the speaker), it could be that my cat opened it, or I did, or someone else did, or the wind blew it open, but that’s just not specified. The door was closed and now it’s not.

That said, yes, there are patterns to transitivity and the one you describe is one of them. Though do note that given the other patterns there are, this doesn’t mean you can assume a verb ending in -える to be transitive! For instance 焼ける is intransitive, with its transitive sibling being 焼く, and 溶ける is intransitive with its transsitive sibling being 溶かす.

You can find some more of these patterns here:


I don’t know if that’s all of them, but it should give you an impression of some of the common ones at least.


I understand this to be a fairly firm rule (See Cure Dolly Youtube). It extends to the other -aru / -eru pairs:
[止まる] vs [止める] - “to stop” vs. "to stop something
[当たる] vs [当てる] - “to be right” vs. “to guess something”

Terminology can vary. For “Intransitive” CureDolly uses “self-move verb.” For “Transitive,” … “other-move verb.”


right right, I probably didn’t describe what I meant exactly-

for example, (and there might be a separate verb for it in Japanese) bread rises, but obviously it wouldn’t do so without someone preparing it initially.

Transitivity is confusing, but I’m glad I sort of understand the rule…


I didn’t even think of other -aru -eru pairs but you’re totally right- I hadn’t put two and two together on that. Thanks!

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That makes sense, those are literal translations of the Japanese terminology: 他動詞 vs 自動詞.

I think the “other-move” vs “self-move” distinction is potentially a bit confusing as intransitive verbs tend to just make no implications about the actor/agent whatsoever, but it’s hard to describe transitivity correctly and thoroughly without long explanations anyway.

It is, initially - but you’ve likely used it plenty already, just without realising. The only real difference is that transitive verbs take a direct object, whereas intransitive verbs do not. Or, in other words, the “self” in “self-move” as well as the “other” in “other-move” refers to the verb itself more than it refers to the sunject/object of it; you either describe what happens with something (intransitive) or describe who or what acts upon something (transitive).

English has a few transitivity pairs as well, like “fall” and “fell” (as in present tense “fell”, not the past tense of “fall”): a lumberjack can fell a tree, or the tree can fall. Both can be used in the exact same situation, the only difference is whether you describe what the tree does (falling) or what the lumberjack does to the tree (causing it to fall - a.k.a. felling it). Rise and raise is another - a strong gust of wind can raise a plastic bag, or the plastic bag can rise into the air, depending on what you want to mention. More often than not though, English won’t explicitly have transitivity pairs but instead just either apply or not apply a direct object to something - like with “I open the door” vs “the door opens”, or “the engine moves the car forward” vs “the car moves forward”. This works because in English, both the subject and object are always explicitly mentioned, and the absence of one (usually) indicates there is none.

Japanese is much more explicit about transitivity though. And given the tendency to omit subjects and objects, it can be useful to be aware of that distinction, because seeing a transitive verb points to both a subject and an object existing, even if they’re not mentioned.


I would argue that these are different verbs, not a transitivity pair, with “fell” meaning to cut down, rather than to make fall. If you make something fall other than by chopping it down, you’ve not felled it.

Probably the most common example is lie/lay. You lay your picnic blanket on the grass before lying on it. Some American dialects confuse things by using “lay” intransitively, however…


Yeah, you’re correct on that. I saw it as an example and rolled with it, but there’s definitely a specificity to “fell” that isn’t present in “fall”.

As for lie/lay, I avoided that one intentionally because of the confusion you mentioned, but it’s definitely a good example.

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Cure dolly = :heart_eyes:

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Transitivity is one of the hardest things for English speakers to wrap their head around.

While there are “rules” (all with plenty of exceptions), in my opinion it really is best to just let sheer repetition drill the meanings into your head. WK does a pretty good job of enforcing the distinctions (“to rise” / “to raise [something]”). They’ve also recently spaced out the transitivity pairs over multiple levels which really helps to keep them straight.

With enough repetition you’ll kinda automagically remember which form means which (whether or not it’s an exception to the “rule”).

But yeah, to answer your question directly: it’s definitely a “usually but not always” sort of thing that え column forms are often transitive (他動詞(たどうし)).

Just remember that incorrect answers are the most important part of the process. You’re paying for a service that gives you more frequent reviews of things you find difficult. The only way WK knows if you find something difficult is if you provide an incorrect answer. Transitivity is hard for most of us: lots of reviews are a good thing.


Eh, I feel like that article is overselling the difficulty of transitivity - but everyone’s different in that regard, what clicks near instantly for one can take lots of effort for another.

What it definitely oversells though is the “uselessness” of patterns in transitivity pairs. These rules are not that useful in isolation (i.e. “ending in -eru is always transitive”) but they’re significantly more useful when applied to transitivity pairs rather than individual verbs. You’ll notice that none of the examples showing that sometimes verbs ending in -eru are intransitive have a counterpart ending in -aru. There’s a reason for that.

So if you only look at 焼ける in isolation you can’t rightly tell if that’s transitive or not, but when you look at 上げる vs 上がる it’s pretty immediately clear. And that’s not 100% either of course because some of these patterns go both ways - after all 焼く vs 焼ける is exactly opposite to 空く vs 空ける for instance - but these patterns are absolutely a lot more useful than the article states, and a far cry from “you’re just gonna have to memorise each one, I guess”.


Maybe, but I find direct recall from sheer repetition far more useful in practice. Trying to apply rules during conversation or even while reading is an exercise in frustration for most of us.

Learning the rules is useful. Letting it soak in is useful. Trying to apply the rules in real time … not so much (for me).


Individual preference is always going to vary. I personally find these patterns quite useful while reading at least, but if you prefer to just memorise through repetition, nothing wrong with that.

That wasn’t the point though. The point is the article states “no way around it, patterns are a myth, just learn them all” which is misrepresentative at best.

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Though generally speaking if you have the ability to confirm that there’s a pair, you can just look them up and check the transitivity, The difficulty is actually knowing which transitivity it is when you encounter or try to use something in that moment. That situation, where you don’t know if there’s a pair and you aren’t sitting with a reference open, is one that I’m sure a lot of people experience. They then check it later and… memorize that there’s a pair.


Yeah, that’s fair. I guess it depends a lot on what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and what you do have memorised. I’ve definitely read stuff where I saw a verb, knew it was part of a transitivity pair, but had to think twice to know which one in the pair is transitive. I’ve also found that when memorising transitivity pairs, knowing about these patterns helps me in that (because it becomes more of a matter of “this pattern applies to these two verbs” than “verb X is transitive, verb Y is intransitive”, I guess?)

But it’s definitely not unthinkable that I’m the weird one in that respect :smile:

I think that is quite a general rule
also applies to e.g. 終わる 終える
変わる 変える

there are some other cases tho. basically this once was quite regular grammar but it has since because irregular so that you now have to learn it.

some other pairs can be found here

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The etymology of “fell” is just as the transitive version of “fall” though. You can “fell” (i.e. knock down) a person, or an animal (and, to be fair, you can also use “cut down” metaphorically of a person, as in “cut down in [their] prime” and so on).


Though just to throw a wrench in there, 終わる is used both intransitively and transitively.

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終わる used transitively is slag and formally considered wrong

It’s totally normal to hear teachers say 授業を終わります or for speakers in presentations to say 話を終わります. I don’t think I’ve ever heard 終えます in those situations.

If that’s slangy and incorrect, then Japanese people accept slangy and incorrect usage in these relatively formal situations, I guess. Jisho probably won’t stop them.

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