Differences between transitive and intransitive verbs

Hey everyone! At level 11 now and finding that I’m consistently having trouble with this. For example, I keep getting “to help” (助ける) and “to be helped” (助かる) confused. Same with almost any other verb that I’ve learned both sides of. Is there something I’m not understanding about the difference or something that can help me remember which is which? It is really slowing down my progress (and my understanding) especially with older verbs that I remember the kanji, but I get the kana mixed up with the wrong meaning.

Edit: Changed the name of the thread so as to not confuse people with their gutter minds. (/s)

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Do you know what are Transitive and Intransitive verbs are?

If not, do take a look at this: http://www.guidetojapanese.org/learn/grammar/in-transitive

In short, Transitive verbs are usually you doing the action while Intransitive verbs are usually passive


I’ve heard of them and after reading that page I definitely understand the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs now. I feel like if I was reading I could understand the difference because of the sentence structure/particles, but when doing the quizzes I think I will still struggle to remember which is which. Any advice for that?

Thanks for that link, btw, it did help me to understand the difference better for sure.

Yea I felt the same way for awhile and still forget certain ones (交じる and 交ぜる most recently). I tend to try to make my own mnemonics for them, that usually helps. I also have a short list I can check on my phone every now and then when I’m bored.

Is there any pattern between transitive and intransitive verbs? I guess there isn’t one that works for every verb but I bet there’s some cool ways out there to distinguish some of them.

Yeah, those similar vocabs with different meanings are hard. And unfortunatelly I don’t have a way of helping you not mistake them. I suppose it will have to come down to usage: the more you use it, the better you will remember which is each. You could try using Kaniwani to study solely those verbs or even Houhou, I suppose Houhou will be easier to set up. Or, like when you study other stuff for school/college, you could try to get a logic of your own for when a verb is transitive or not (or some other sorting). But I would stick to KW or Houhou really, or even some other tool (Duendecat or something similar).

I don’t believe there is one or at least one that would be easy to apply, like transitive verbs have the “e” sound and intransitive an “a” sound, even though that seems to apply to some of them, it wont work on all.

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It only applies to some verbs, but ones ending in “aru” are always intransitive. “aru” -> “to be” so a verb ending in “aru” can be thought of as "to be ". On the other hand, verbs ending in “su” are always transitive. “suru” -> “to do”, so you can think of verbs ending in “su” to be about doing something rather than being something. I have to credit CureDolly for this comparison.

Unfortunately the ones that dont fall into this category just have to be memorized, but at least WK gives a little mnemonic for some of them e.g. “umu” vs. “umareru”. Actually, come to think of it, I believe all verbs ending in “areru” or “reru” are intransitive, anyway.

I’m on my tablet so I can’t quickly find the link, but CureDolly of KawaJapa has an excellent video on this topic. (protip: you can mute the audio and turn on cc if her voice creeps you out too much).

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Umareru is just the passive form of Umu, isn´t it? As in
Umu - to give birth
Umareru - to be born (lit. To be given birth)

Otherwise, as a rule of thumb, -aru verbs are intransitive (agaru - to rise; tasukaru - to be helped; hajimaru - to begin) and -eru verbs are transitive (ageru - to raise something; tasukeru - to help/rescue someone; hajimeru - to begin something).

Likewise -ru is usually intransitive (kaeru - to return/be returned) and -su is transitive (kaesu - to return something).

On a side note, when I read the title to this thread, I pictured something else entirely. :smirk:


Hahaha, should have thought of that… I would have worded it with transitive and intransitive but when I wrote it I couldn’t remember the proper words for that.

Thanks for that information though! I think that should help quite a bit.

Be careful with this rule of thumb, it doesn’t hold up in a lot of situations.

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I think they specifically meant when it’s an aru/eru pair, in which case it is true.


That’s a fair point!

@anon85068638 助かる is “to be helped” because a car (かる) is helping you. 助ける doesn’t have a (かる) part, which means no car for you, so have fun helping yourself.

@aplayne 交じる is “to be mixed” because Jesus (じ) is the one doing the mixing, not you. 交ぜる is “to mix” because you have to do it your-ぜ-lf.

Try to come up with these kind of mnemonics yourself and these vocabs will cease to be a problem. :wink:

Other people have said this but one way to think about it to kind of bring the point home (helps me to think of it this way at least) is that a transitive verb is me doing the action so look for the “me” in the verb.

In other words, when you’re distinguishing between a set of transitive vs. intransitive verbs the one with the “me” or “e” syllable is the transitive one. So look for the e from me in the verb. For example, 始める - hajimeru --> to begin something. It’s me beginning. 上げる - ageru --> to raise. It’s me raising something. 助ける - tasukeru --> It’s me helping. 交ぜる --> mazeru. It’s me mixing.

BUT AGAIN, you have to be careful because this only works for basic are/eru pairs so there are a lot of verbs that don’t conform to this.

A[quote=“Subversity, post:11, topic:19075, full:true”]

Be careful with this rule of thumb, it doesn’t hold up in a lot of situations.

Very true. I used that rule and it seemed good from like N5 - N4ish, but after that it seems less and less true.

Personally, I mostly ignore the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs. I’ve added both as synonyms a lot, because usually in context you can tell, and if not, you can look it up/ask questions/etc. these seem best learned from more reading/seeing the words in context more, but that’s not for everyone.

That’s something very cool already! ^^ I appreciate you sharing this info.

Yep! At least for me, most of my problem with transitive vs intransitive verbs is that I know the meaning but I don’t know which one is what. This represents like 40% of my meanings that I get wrong.

I might start making a list to try and find some patterns. Patterns between *** and ***ed are totally fine too.

I meant that specifically for are/eru pairs, not verbs in general (though perhaps I haven’t been clear about it). Are there any pairs for which this rule won’t stand?


I believe in that case yes. for me it was just whether it was an e or not. I misread that.

Generally, in a verb pair える verbs are the opposite of the other verb in the pair. Others have mentioned える/ある pairs as being transitive/intransitive. But there are also す/える pairs, where す is transitive and える is intransitive. For example:
負かす - to defeat
負ける - to lose

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