Add ~を or ~が for transitive/intransitive?

One thing that consistently tricks me up is distinguishing the transitive and intransitive versions of verbs from each other. I think the differences can be quite subtle and there isn’t a short set of rules for memorizing them that works consistently.

I have taken French in the past and I remembered that the way you learn whether a noun is masculine or feminine is to memorize it along with the appropriate version of “the.” For example we’d memorize “le livre” for “book” instead of just “livre.” There is a rule of thumb that most words ending in an “e” are feminine but that’s not always true, as is the case with “livre.”

In Japanese, the object of a transitive verb is marked with the particle “を.” So, if we were memorizing transitive verbs as ~を残す and intransitive as ~が残る we’d be memorizing transitive/intransitive along with the word. Intransitive verbs aren’t always seen with the subject marked by が but I think they can always take a subject marked by が.

I think it could work!


This is something I’ve pondered before. I know there are some guidelines for distinguishing transitive and intransitive verbs that are part of a pair (like せる and す ending verbs being transitive and -ある ending verbs being intransitive, etc.) but I wonder if a system like memorizing a particle that you associate with either transitive or intransitive could be an effective enough way (even if it’s not perfect) to generally remember which verbs are which.

I’m pretty sure this is correct. Regardless of the transitivity of a verb, the が marked subject of a sentence can be and often is omitted (become invisible, per se) when it’s established by context, but it’s always there. I know technically a が marked doer exists with both types of verbs (even if it’s not explicitly stated), but it seems you’re getting at the idea of memorizing が with a verb simply as a kind of reminder of “There is a doer but no explicitly marked object” while memorizing を with a verb is a reminder of “There is an explicitly marked object” which distinguishes transitive verbs from intransitive verbs.

Your approach is basically what people say, “just learn which is which”.

You’re just adding the particle to remember which is which.


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It could help if you have this particle in your SRS cards. I think it would probably stick better than a “(transitive)” or “(intransitive)” note on the card.


Yes, I’m saying it can work. I don’t know if it wasn’t clear. :sweat_smile:

I’m sorry for misunderstanding.

The impression I got from the phrase “just learn which is which” was that this approach is the same as rote memorization.

But now I see that what you said makes sense. It still is tagging the verb so that you can learn which is which.

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Either approach increases the chances of not knowing in real world situations. The subject/object isn’t always stated if it’s known from context, in which case there’d be no particle to help differentiate.

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Yes, I was considering bringing that up earlier on but when reading the topic more carefully I noticed that this is a technique for memorizing which one is which, not for recognizing it in real world contexts.

It would be fine as a mnemonic device on the back of an SRS card and would probably do a better job than just writing “transitive” or “intransitive” at being memorable. If each time you remember the word you remember a particle attached to it, it will be easier to know what kind of verb it is.

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Depends whether the note is on the front or the back of the card, right?

Personally I used to like to try to remember little phrases (noun + particle + verb) for some of the transitive/intransitive pairs I found it hard to remember; I figured that wedging a phrase into my brain helped in getting towards “this just sounds right and the other one sounds wrong”.


Yeah, I just worry that they would notice the を and give the transitive answer without really internalizing the meaning. It could depend on the person of course. But that’s why I like @pm215’s strategy of using small phrases.

I definitely agree that it can become a “this just sounds right” kind of thing. I can’t say I’ve experienced this with transitive/intransitive verbs in particular, but I have experienced this with godan/ichidan exception verbs. Basically if I wasn’t sure I would try to conjugate the verb into past tense or ます form in both the godan and ichidan ways and see which sounded more right.


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