Any tips for remember transitive vs intransitive verbs?

Hi everyone! Currently on level 18 in WK also working through Genki book 2. I keep hitting a mental block when I get to transitive vs intransitive verbs. Any tips or tricks on how you learned and memorized them? I also am using torii srs. Even when I get the answer correct in my mind I don’t really think about whether its T or Int.

Any tips appreciated :slight_smile:

Nathan In Komatsu


For a given transitive/intransitive pair:

  • if one of the verb ends in “aru” (intentionally in romaji, so ある、かる、まる、さる etc work too), then it’s the intransitive one, the other one is transitive.
  • If one of the verb ends in す or せる, then it’s the transitive one, the other one is intransitive.

Cut the amount of memorization by quite a lot, but it’s not a silver bullet either, there is still a lot memorization to do unfortunately.


Following on from this. Something that helped me alot is that anything with ‘e is me’ and ‘a is automatic’ i.e. i dont do it. E being え

This isnt at all perfect but its a handy start



But it’s a questionable advice, don’t try to associate the eru sound with anything, because it can be either. 増える、現れる、帰る、枯れる、消える、売れる、焼ける、離れる、出る and lots of other are intransitive.

Better to only remember the aru rule, I think.


Most important thing I’ve figured out is that I have to remember them as a pair. If you see one of them, you have to remember how does the second one look like, otherwise you will fail to apply any of rules. Create those rules and remember suspicious pairs who don’t follow the rules.

For example for me verb pair 解く- 解ける is foul. because when I see
〜く 〜ける
〜む 〜める
〜つ 〜てる
and etc. pairs I assume 1st one as intransitive and 2nd one as transitive.
So I have to remember that “solving” is connected with something bad by any means.


I think what helped me the most with it was this video:

It covers a lot of the patterns that have been mentioned above, but I personally found the idea of self-move and other-move verbs really helpful.

(obligatory cure dolly voice warning, I found it really weird at first too but once you get past it her explanations are really intuitive. the video has subtitles too if the voice is too off-putting)


You can think of the “aru” verbs as coming from the the word “exist”, so that is the self moving variant. It just happens.

While す comes from する, which of course means “to do”, so it’s the “other do” variant, someone has to actually do the something, it does not just happen.

… I was too slow the Cure Dolly video is now linked :joy:


Oh yeah I forgot about that part, the connection to ある and する is really interesting too!


I don’t know if she made that connection up or it’s actually intended, but it really helps with a ton of verbs.


I’ve only encountered two pairs of these so far, but the way I’m differentiating them now is by whether their middle sound is が or げ. Let’s ‘ge’t this bread is active, and therefore transitive, in my mind :slight_smile:

If this is a bad habit, please tell me!

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A lot of intransitive verbs end in “eru”, so that might get you confused later on.

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yikes, I guess I’ll have to just learn them on a case-by-case basis then. Thanks for letting me know T^T

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Like somebody else mentioned above, there are some rules, but for some of them you need to know both of the verbs. Check out the Cure Dolly video above for example.

aru/eru: aru is always the intransitive one.
Any verb ending in す is transitive.

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Most anyway.

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Another formulation I’ve heard is if there are a pair of verbs and one ends in す is it usually transitive.

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When I asked this question a few weeks ago regarding pairs like 上げる and 上がる specifically, the following mnemonic was suggested to me: For え, the tongue points outwards (as if pointing to an object), so it’s transitive. For あ, the tongue points a bit more inwards (as if pointing at yourself), so it’s intransitive. It’s really dumb and therefore supereffective (for me at least).


Intransitive verbs in -す should be relatively easy to spot for that reason because they wouldn’t be part of a “pair”. Off the top of my head, I can only think of verbs like 暮らす or 差す, which can be used both ways, or compound verbs like 引っ越す or 降り出す, which have no transitive equivalent, but perhaps there are more confusing examples that I can’t think of right now.


Not for every meaning of the verb though. If there are specific meanings that can only be intransitive, that qualifies as “a す verb that isn’t transitive” in my opinion. It’s distinct from saying that something like 食べる can be used transitively or intransitively.

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Yeah, I didn’t mean can be used both ways in the sense that you can often use transitive verbs like 食べる intransitively by omitting one of its arguments, which doesn’t change the valency of the verb itself. I meant that 暮らす has both a transitive and an intransitive usage without being separated into two distinct verbs.

If you’re used to a language that (in most cases) doesn’t mark transitivity through different verbs, the difficulty of this whole topic is obviously that you now have to choose, for instance, between 始まる and 始める when you want to use to start in a Japanese sentence. Since 暮らす exists as one verb for two different meanings with a different valency, it doesn’t create the same issue.

Obviously, that doesn’t change the fact that there are -す verbs that are intransitive, but it makes it more or less negligible from a learner’s perspective (if you’re mostly concerned about producing a correct sentence and less concerned about the nuances of transitivity).


actually you are 100% right. Thanks for pointing this out to me mate.

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