An easy way to distinguish transitive and intrasitive verbs?

So, as levels go forward verbs are piling more and more and sometimes my memory fail me. :smiling_face_with_tear:

This last lesson session appeared the transitive verb 傾ける, and previously I learned 傾く.

is there a way I can distinguish those by the ending or something else?

because days later I am sure I will start getting them wrong in reviews like many other verbs that I saw in lesson to be intransitive and way before I saw the transitive version. But after a while I get them all wrong.


There are some rules you can follow which will help a lot of the time (see a previous explanation of mine here), but unfortunately, those rules won’t help with 傾ける and 傾く. ~ける and ~く pairs are common for sure, but it’s not consistent which is transitive and which is intransitive. So in the end, you just have to memorize those.


While there are rules to help distinguish transitivity pairs, they don’t cover everything. For 傾くand 傾ける they don’t really help, but you can find an explanation by Cure Dolly here.


Make up mnemonics, or alternatively weird associations, some wk mnemonics already do this (imho, they are not the best) but yours should work better

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What helps me the most is doing more ‘active’ style study with them, as opposed to ‘passive’ style study. WaniKani is an amazing tool, but it is closer to the passive end of things, where the words are shown to you and you fill in the translation or reading.

Switching to active study means focusing on trying to produce your own sentences, composing a sentence or two with the transitive verb and a sentence or two with the intransitive has helped me cement the differences because it gives me more context to think about how the verb is being used.

A nice step I like to use between passive and active study is to find example sentences and say them out loud to myself. I’m not creating the sentence, but I can feel confident that it is grammatically correct if I find it from a trusted source. Saying a sentence out loud activates more neural pathways in your brain than just reading it. Typing or physically writing out the sentence is another good way to do this.

A handful of example sentences from iKnow: (Source)

集める [あつめる] Verb type: 他動詞 [たどうし] Transitive


おとうと は きって を あつめて います。

English Translation

My little brother collects stamps.


がくせい たち は インターネット で いろいろな じょうほう を あつめた。

English Translation

The students collected all kinds of information on the Internet.

集まる [あつまる] Verb type: 自動詞 じどうし Intransitive

えき まえ に ひと が あつまって います。

English Translation

There are people gathering in front of the station.


せんせい の まわり に あつまって ください。

English Translation

Gather around the teacher.

Further Reading:
Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese - Transitive and Intransitive Verbs
A wiki page listing Transitive and Intransitive pairs in groups
An additional (more comprehensive) list of Transitive and Intransitive pairs from Jim Breen

Can’t forget to link Tofugu! (Personally, I like their explanation the best)

Fingers crossed something is helpful here for ya! o(°▽°)o


How about memorizing phrases? Like

  • 花瓶(かびん)(かたむ)いて(たお)れた。
  • (まえ)身体(からだ)(かたむ)け。
    • The example supplied in the app is somewhat less literal… 一心(いっしん)(みみ)(かたむ)けた。

After memorizing, probably then goes by particles.

It might help to memorize context as well; though in this case, Anime Context Sentence only returns (かたむ)ける for both vocabularies.


Most verbs ending in す are transitive. Most verbs ending in -aru are intransitive. I say most, but I think it’s essentially all.

So those ones are usually freebies when you encounter them.

It’s all when they are part of a pair, but very rarely when not in a pair they break that rule.

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My only advice, just learn those. Make mistakes again and again. And learn from those mistakes. After some time you will understand which one is transitive/intransitive. :slight_smile: I know it sounds horrible, but actually, it will come faster than you think.

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@PetiteChose is exactly right.

Brute repetition works. It often takes dozens and dozens of reviews, but if you get the transitivity of a particular item wrong often enough, believe me, you’ll eventually come up with some trick that works for you (until it no longer is necessary).

The goal is immediate, effortless understanding without applying any tricks or “rules”. Repetition will get you there.

My sincere advice is: Just do your reviews.


I found this explanation by the love-her-or-be-creeped-out-by-her Cure Dolly very helpful for some patterns that allow you to figure out which is which: Lesson 15: Transitivity- the 3 facts that make it easy. Transitive/intransitive verbs unlocked - YouTube

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about Brute repetition as you say, I guess eventually it works.

I finally could differentiate 傷む and 傷める days ago. The former I associate with a cow (moo) and since it gives dairy products, they get spoiled, they receive the action so that’s the answer, it is the intransitive. The other is the transitive then.

I hope one day get me menomics for to lean and to be leaned, so far nothing in my mind.

I know this sounds silly, but when I have trouble remembering a noun or verb in Japanese, I just substitute the Japanese word directly into a song that I know well in my native language (English in my case). For example, I kept mixing up 幸福 (happiness) with 幸運 (good luck), so I started singing “こうふく is a Warm Gun” along to the Beatles tune to myself during reviews and haven’t missed it since.

For intransitive/transitive verb pairs which don’t follow any helpful rules (e.g. -eru/-u pairs), it seems like you really only need a good mnemonic for just one of the pair to distinguish with the other. Coming up with a short, memorable phrase using the verb where the transitivity/intransitivity (が/を) is obvious as was suggested above really helps.

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Just as with 傷む and 傷める, you’ve already memorized that these are a pair, which is at least half the battle.

While I still think sheer repetition is by far the most important thing, a few other things occur to me that might help:

In addition to sound cues (“moo”) and associations, you can also use things like character length (傾く has two vs. 傾ける’s three) and sometimes specific visual differences in the characters to help remember which is which.

My favorite mnemonic was: ()げる・(のが)す — there’s no が in にげる, it escaped!

They don’t have to make sense, though, they just have to work. I’m embarrassed to even write this because it’s so non-sensical, but with this specific pair I focused on 傾く (the intransitive version: something is tilted or leaning). I noticed the く kinda points inward, toward the kanji before it, so I told myself that this is the INtransitive version, it acts on itself (geez that seems tortured now that I write it down).

Further, as someone mentioned above: memorizing a single Japanese sentence using one of the words often suffices if you know both versions pair.

In this case, I imagined my mother-in-law looking at a crooked photo and saying 「この写真(しゃしん)傾いてる (with a very strong emphasis on the が). It would sound very weird/off/wrong for to me to hear 〜を傾いてる now.

For some bizarre reason, I have very specific characters in my head talking to me all the time as I do my reviews (voices in my head explain much to and about me!).

I honestly hear them in my head! My mother-in-law appears quite often, as does じょうぜんさん who was a senior manager at one of the resellers I used to work with (I suspect it’s 定善さん but I’m unsure). Both have very clear, distinct voices, and for some reason I found them easier to understand than many of my Japanese friends and family. I seem to have subconsciously chosen those two voices as my primary imaginary speakers.

My father-in-law was by far the person I had the hardest time understanding. He had an extremely gruff voice, was very terse, and had a fondness for somewhat dated expressions and bad puns. But he still appears in my head during reviews from time to time for things I can CLEARLY imagine him saying!

I mention all this because I think it’s very important to actually hear spoken Japanese in your mind’s ear. It seems beneficial to imagine real Japanese characters who’s voices you know saying these things. It really does help to make things stick. (The main danger, of course, is imagining incorrect Japanese — it can be hard to unstick.)

In particular, memorizing, and hearing, phrases with を for transitive verbs and が for intransitive helps tremendously. Eventually (with enough repetition), it will just sound weird to use the wrong one.

But all of this only takes an instant! I’m no master by any stretch, but the combination of sheer repetition and imaginary speakers has done wonders for me.


Now, I would say I hate entering a correct English vocabulary equivalent. While forcing you to enter a correct one to be objective, and ensure that you can’t cheat, it might be better to ask a follow up question if WaniKani isn’t sure whether you get it right. On the-least-possible-hinting quiz, it might be along the line of, 「the said (Japanese) vocabulary is possibly used in which of the following (English) sentence?」 (It is also true that sentences can’t be translated completely, but at least it is better than vocabulary level.)

So, I would also say, be careful what you repeat or do rote memorization.

It is also true, that at least for me, audio works better than text, for memorizing this kind of stuff. Not sure about other sensation modalities.

Then, visual might be possible, if it is immovable. (Like a street sign, rather than a series of characters in a resizable font.)

Another thing I want to say, is that mnemonics don’t have to work the first time. It is far more important that you try to remember, and adapt mnemonics accordingly. (and throw away, if it doesn’t help.)

Though, at least in my eyes also, mnemonics can be in any language, and don’t have to be meaningful linguistically.

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Don’t worry about it too much and let immersion give you a feel for it. You’ll naturally start to hear what’s right and eventually produce it correctly. I don’t think transitivity has ever come in the way of understanding.

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