Difference between す and る ending

I’m having trouble remembering different vocabulary with the same kanji that end in す or る, for example 写す and 写る. One is to copy and one is to be photographed. I have the same same problem with 上がる and 上げる, but the す and る ending seems to occure more often, so it’s becoming a nuisance.

Is there a rule that I am not seing? Is one something you do and one something you do to others or one is passive? Like a general rule that can be applied to all/most expressions like these? Everytime I think I got the hang of it a new one comes around that overthrows everything I thought I knew :smiley:


It’s the difference between “transitive verbs” (verbs that take a direct object) and “intransitive verbs” (verbs that don’t take a direct object).

Though it’s not always す vs る, etc. But there are many pairs in Japanese.

There are many topics discussing transitivity here.


@davna90 I can’t answer to the first example, as I haven’t come across it yet. But I have strategy I’ve been using to remember the difference between both 上がる + 上げる and 下がる + 下げる. For 上がる if you’re using the example story, imagine sitting back and watching as the tree rises up into the air all by itself. Then in 上げる, the げ stands for “ge-tting off your lazy bum and raising that object up yourself,” or in other words to raise. I think of it as whether or not I’m involved in the process.

Maybe for 写す you can think of being su-ed for copyright, and for 写る you can think of how ru-bbish it feels to be photographed when you aren’t looking your best / don’t have makeup on / have bed hair.


Yeah, keep in mind, Koichi’s mnemonics usually suck when it comes to differentiating transitive from instransitive, so you’re generally better coming up with new ones on your own.

Transitive verbs mean “someone” does the verb to “something”. Intransitive means the verb just happens on its own, noone does it. For example, if you want a cold drink, you put it in the fridge - you cool the drink - that’s transitive. While it’s in the fridge, the drink also just plain gets cold - the drink cools down - that’s intransitive. (If you’re wondering, those verbs in Japanese are 冷やす (transitive) and 冷える (intransitive).) If they’re given as options, I like to answer “to verb something” for transitive and “something verbs” for intransitive, just to hammer home which is which.

Koichi’s mnemonics typically involve “you” doing the action for transitive, and “someone else” doing the action for intransitive, but that’s completely off-base. Don’t learn it like that.


る looks like a photo camera.

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This article gave me a good insight in the difference between transistive verbs and intransistive verbs:


I don’t find it’s so much the mnemonics. I do ok on WK. It’s the english prompt itself that drives me nuts because I’m constantly failing the reverse questions on KW. Right now it’s 代える・代わる that i just can’t see the difference on KW.

It would be nice if it added the word ‘something’ to all the transitive ones, i.e. 始める - to start something.

[I’m aware I can do this with synonyms if it really bothers me that much :)]


I hadn’t thought of that @chopper, but I really like it! :grinning:

At least for 下げる and 上げる, to lower something and to raise something are both already included as synonyms. Is it not the same for the later vocabulary?

Not every transitive item has the “something” included in the meaning.

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In fact, one pair of verbs doesn’t even make a point of differentiating between them - 続く and 続ける are both translated as “to continue”, with a note from Koichi literally saying “Unfortunately, there’s no good way to differentiate the two “continues” using just the meaning”. Well no, 続ける is “to continue something” and 続く is “something continues”.

Sometimes I suspect Koichi doesn’t understand transitivity.


That’s really helpful to know @Belthazar, thanks. A bit disappointing though. I’ll have to keep my eye out now for when I get more transitive/intransitive verbs. At least you can go in and add synonyms yourself.

IMHO this video by KawaJapa CureDolly on transitive vs intransitive verbs pairs is terrific: Transitive/intransitive verbs unlocked

Yes, this kind of thing has been slowly driving me crazy. That and the phrasing of intransitive verbs as “to be…” like 壊れる as “to be broken”.

It’s not that the glass I was holding was broken or got broken (I mean grammatically); it’s that it broke. I don’t know how it broke but it did.


I’ll copy over something that I posted earlier today in response to an earlier post regarding transitivity:

Something that may help your intuitions re: transitive verbs is to look at the Japanese words for transitive (他動詞 - other move part of speech) and intransitive (自動詞 - self move part of speech). So a verb is serving a transitive function if the subject is “moving” something else, and it’s intransitive if the subject moves itself. So to expound upon my above example, the statement 「食べた」can be transitive OR intransitive depending on what you’re responding to.

For example, if you respond to 「あなたはお菓子をたべたか」(Did you eat the sweets?) then お菓子 is the implied direct object in your response 「たべた」(I ate (the sweets)) – you’ve ‘moved’ the sweets even though you don’t explicitly refer to them. To the simpler 「あなたはたべたか」, I believe that 「たべた」(I ate) serves an intransitive function because in this case you’re simply ‘moving’ yourself and there is no direct object.

As you can see above, some words can be transitive or intransitive depending on context. However there are some transitivity pairs that occur in which one half of the pair is always transitive and the other half is always negative. The only steadfast rules are that ーす and ーせる verbs are always transitive (and thus its counterpart, if it has one, is always intransitive regardless of ending) and ーある verbs (not to be confused with ーる verbs) are intransitive. Ultimately the distinction isn’t super important until you start producing the language as transitivity is usually very apparent in-context; and by the point where you’re actively producing Japanese you’ll hopefully have enough experience that you can intuitively use the right verb or you’ll get feedback on it until you do.


You may be right, but I think 食べる happens to be a confusing example to explain the concept, because you always eat something. Even in the intransitive case, there had to be a thing you ate even though it’s not important.

I think that’s the case for any verb that can double as transitive or intransitive, at least for the examples I can think of off the top of my head. I ate sweets // I ate; I sing a song // I sing; I drove my car // I drove; I am baking a cake // I am baking; etc.

I’d also argue that in the intransitive case there is no direct object even in the case of a word like 食べる. It’s true that you always have to have eaten (or sung, drove, baked, etc) something, but syntactically the を-statement is null. So another way to think about it is that the intransitive indicates a state of being while the transitive indicates a state of doing.

Edit: It just occurred to me that that last observation might be related to the fact that all verbs ending in ある (to exist) are intransitive . . . though I guess that doesn’t explain why verbs ending in いる aren’t. I can come up with reasons as for why いる verbs aren’t intransitive (have to do with いる referring to animate objects), but I won’t go down the rabbit hole of wild theories.

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It’s worth correcting here that instransitive doesn’t mean nobody does it. This is proved through simple intransitive verbs such as “he sat” or “he gets up” where in both cases somebody is doing the action. Intransitive simply means that the verb is not done to something else.


My advice in this case is that you do need to learn them because it’s part of Japanese, so best not to ignore them.

I do agree that WK doesn’t do a great job of explaining or defining (especially) the intransitive verbs. (The transitive ones are usually fine).

But feel free to add synonyms and notes that make the meaning clearer. Like in my complaint above, I added “to break” as a meaning for 壊れる.

Uh, no. Transitive and intransitive pairs are different verbs, not conjugations of the same verb. It’s vitally important to remember the distinction between them.

The only complication is that English tends to use the same word for both, but they do exist in English too.