An idea for a new Userscript

Transitive/Intransitive verbs are an important part of Japanese, but this distinction is not something that most native English speakers are even aware of. We have a few exclusively transitive/intransitive verb pairs, but they’re few and far between. Even so, we know it sounds weird if I say, “He falled the ball.” That’s because “fall” is intransitive, and the phrase should use the transitive verb, “drop.”

It’s true that there are some patterns, for example a verb that belongs to a transitive/intransitive pair and ends with a 「す」 suffix will be the transitive variant. If that doesn’t apply, it’s usually safe to assume that a verb with an 「*える」 suffix is transitive, e.g. between 上げる and 上がる, the former is transitive.

But I think we can do better.

This userscript wouldn’t be particularly useful to anyone who only wants to read or listen. But, anyone aiming to speak and write will have to know the difference intuitively to do so properly. So here’s my idea:

For all non-する verbs, make the correct answer cause a “wobble” and a retry the exact same way WK does when you give it a valid Kanji reading it’s not looking for. Instead, all answers for transitive verbs must include「を」and all answers for intransitive verbs must include either 「は」 or 「が」 to be counted correct. Ex:

を交ぜる (To mix; transitive)
は交わる or が交わる (To intersect; intransitive)
が交じる or は交じる (To be mixed; intransitive)

As of now, I can correctly discern whether most verbs I’ve learned are transitive or intransitive, but I usually have to stop and think about it. If I drilled the vocab with a script like this, I’m hoping the difference would become ingrained to the point that を交わる would instantaneously sound wrong and bizarre. That’s the kind of understanding I’d like to achieve.

I think this would be especially beneficial to speaking, given that any slight pause to consider grammar is always acutely obvious.


Interesting idea! I imagine that the key point here is: how certain will you be that the script has correctly indentified a verb as intransitive/transitive?

Because the script would need a definitive categorization for all of the verbs on WK.

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One of my scripts is already doing it, I’m guessing it’s “WaniKani Part-of-Speech” but their description page isn’t very descriptive.

I think they just poll the data from from or EDICT one way or another:

I would be a little wary of a “one size fits all” application of particles to all transitive or intransitive verbs. Additionally, some verbs are defined as one thing, but take non-standard particles as a matter of real world usage. There are also the motion verbs that take を even though that’s not a beginner concept. In order to get it right, I think you’d have to look at each verb individually.

Wouldn’t it be simpler to write a script that accepts an extra じ (for 自動詞) or た (for 他動詞) or something like that? Then you’re not wading into the messiness of particles.

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How rare are those oddball verbs? It might be worth learning just a few wrong to lock in the majority. Discovering I’d been going about a verb wrong might even help me remember to distinguish it from the rest.

If there are a lot, well… We’d only have to set them up correctly once, and then the whole community could benefit. I’m patient. I wouldn’t mind looking up each verb as I progressed through WK as long as I knew where to look and had a means of altering the terms’ accepted inputs.

As for your alternative suggestion, I can’t say I’m familiar with that yet. But I suppose my goal is mainly to know what particles go where, so that solution would be somewhat of a compromise.

Just like English, Intransive/transitive verbs are very important and commonplace.

Well, they are all over the place. In level 2 I know we have 出る.

が出る would obviously be a right answer, since it’s intransitive, but を出る is not wrong, so you wouldn’t want to mark it wrong.

I’m not sure what you mean by you’re not familiar with that yet. The じ and た are just abbreviations I made up for the Japanese words for intransitive verb (じどうし) and transitive verb (たどうし). In that way you’re just stating the fact rather than judging the usage of a particle.

I misread what you said; I get it now. As for a solution that merely differentiates transitive/intransitive… rather than getting used to inputting gibberish, I think it’d be better to simply change the purple “Vocab” backdrop color to distinguish the difference.

Still, the idea of learning which particles are associated with each verb through WK is even more appealing if they vary that much.

In this particular scenario, I would leave 出る as the correct answer, and make が出る or を出る prompt a retry to remind me they’re both valid. Definitely less elegant than I’d hoped, but it would still passively reinforce correct usages.

It’s not gibberish if you know what the meaning of what you’re inputting is. It’s no different than adding a synonym like (to exit intr) to the meanings for 出る. Just changing the color is a passive thing, requiring nothing from you as the one entering the info, so I don’t see how that is equivalent.

It’s gibberish in the sense that you would never write or speak た上げる or じ上がる. Drilling proper particles would help develop a sense of what does and doesn’t sound natural.

I guess I keep forgetting that you plan to use this as a speaking tool. I’m not sure I see the benefit there, but it’s not my idea. Are you also going to accept に and から and any other particles that verbs can take?

On a fundamental level associating particles “with” verbs is not really going to do it. One, they connect to the word in front of them, not the verb, it’s 公園を 行く not the other way around. And two, you are trying to associate particles with a concept different than what their function is. を has usages with intransitive verbs. を might not be used in a sentence with a transitive verb.

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It hadn’t occurred to me, but no, I don’t really see a reason to.

Can’t say I’m surprised, I know I’ve still got a lot to learn. That’s good to know though.

Hm, yeah, in an ideal world, it’s a great idea (beyond being a grammar enhancement on a platform not built for grammar), but I can’t see a clean way of doing it either. The biggest issue I see with the transitive/intransitive verb pairs on WaniKani is that the allowable entries are very inconsistent on whether they allow identical vs different answers. In some cases, like 動く and 動かす, you’re required to enter “to move” vs “to move something,” while in other cases, like 返る and 返す, one answer, “to return,” is acceptable.

I think adding/adjusting acceptable answers is the best shot for what you want to do, though, unfortunately.


As discussed in the collocations thread, some particles appear much more frequently with some verbs than other particles, so if it’s for speaking practice it seems like you’d want to at least have the option of entering the things that get used.

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@EiriMatsu That’s exactly it, I make a point to note the difference in the meanings (“to X” vs. “to X something”), but wanted to reinforce it on the Japanese side as well. I guess I’ll just need a script that lets me add reading “synonyms.”

Thanks! I’ll have a look.