Do you have a technique to remember transitive vs intransitive verbs?

For example, how do you distinguish 集める from 集まる when you see them on WK?


There are two pretty consistent rules for transitive/intransitive verb pairs, one of which should help you here.

  1. When one verb rhymes with ある and the other verb rhymes with える, the verb rhyming with ある is intransitive and the verb rhyming with える is transitive.
  2. When one verb rhymes with える and the other verb ends in す, the verb rhyming with える is intransitive and the verb ending in す is transitive.

With your specific example, rule 1 applies. So 集まる is intransitive and 集める is transitive.


How do you test yourself with this on a flashcard. Just insert “something” after the verb if it is transitive?

Edit: never mind… I just tried this and it doesnt work


For the English translation, it’s case by case. Sometimes adding “something” for the transitive version makes sense. Sometimes it doesn’t. Even when it makes sense, sometimes WaniKani leaves it out (in which case you can add a synonym if you want). The rule I mentioned should help you remember which word is transitive and which is intransitive, but you’ll still have to learn the English meanings as you go.


I almost always know transitive vs intransitive cause of “e” verbs, it’s the English that’s the problem. Sometimes it’s “to [do] something”, sometimes it’s just “to [do]” and I can’t seem to work out a pattern between when it does and doesn’t want the “something” hahaha


Yeah, that’s because English is annoying and inconsistent.


There can’t be a pattern, because English doesn’t have the concept. I do feel like wk could have done a bit more to make this a little less annoying by adding more options for meanings instead of leaving it to the users to add synonyms.

1 Like

English actually does have the concept of transitive and intransitive verbs. In English, verbs can be intransitive, monotransitive, or ditransitive. For many (most?) verbs, the role they take depends on the sentence, though. We just derive meaning based on the order of words in a sentence as opposed to having separate words like Japanese does.

However, sometimes English doesn’t have a separate word or phrasing for a verb being transitive so I’d assume that’s why Wanikani asks for something that doesn’t feel exactly right.

If it’s a problem to explain to a native speaker what verb transitivity is, then it’s basically the same as not having that concept in the language imo. Not everyone is a linguist you know. You need context to tell with which kind of verb you’re dealing with most of the time, unlike in Japanese. I guess I can consider myself lucky that my mothertongue has 1 to 1 translations for Japanese verbs. All the explanations for native English speakers I’ve encounterd so far are terrible.

1 Like

What? Native English speakers just don’t learn about transitivity in grade school because for the most part, it’s the order of the words in a sentence that show a verb’s transitivity in a sentence so it’s more important to actually be able to construct sentences in the correct order, which native speakers pick up naturally. That doesn’t mean the concept doesn’t exist. It’s just a different structure to a language. Besides, it’s not as if Japanese doesn’t also have some verbs that can be transitive in one context/meaning and intransitive in another…


when is ま or め I can so far easily understand that me is for transitive and ma for intransitive

but with く and ける I make many mistakes

Question. If it’s that inconsistent, would you consider using double check cheating if you get the wrong…“version”?, I guess. So if the verb is “to roll” and you put “to roll something” (or vice versa) and get marked wrong, do you think it’s okay to just change it? I mean it’s still the correct action, it’s just, as you said, inconsistent in the English part as to whether it’s “to help” or “to [be] helped”, “to roll” or “to roll [something]”. Or should you just take the loss and try and remember in the future?

That depends on whether you actually remembered whether it was the transitive or intransitive version. For a comparison, when I do reviews, I tend to “say” (in my head) the reading. So if I type too quickly and mess up, I undo and type again because I know I knew the correct answer since I said the right answer before actually answering.

Can you say the same for yourself in this instance? I think it depends. For example, if when reviewing 助ける you wrote “to save someone” and got marked wrong because WaniKani wanted “to save” I think it’s okay to undo since you clearly knew it was transitive and got the general English meaning right. This is an example of what I meant when I said the English is inconsistent since WaniKani could add the word “something” to the expected answer and just chose not to. However, if when reviewing 助かる you wrote “to save someone” or even “to save”, you should take the loss because it really means “to be saved” and you clearly didn’t know the transitivity.

The problem is for verbs where “to X” is valid English for both the transitive and intransitive versions of the verb. In that case it’s truly ambiguous in English, but the distinction is incredibly important in Japanese. So are you 100% sure you knew the transitivity? Do you trust yourself to make that judgement objectively after the fact? If so then you may sometimes choose to undo in that situation too. However if you don’t trust yourself to make that judgement (or if you’re even slightly unsure whether you knew it when you do make that judgement), I’d recommend letting it fail. It’s better to get some extra reviews than to accidentally learn the wrong transitivity.


When 零れる got added I wasn’t thinking and answered “to be spilled” on the first review. :joy:

Hmm. This is kind of difficult to answer. I also say the word in my head (so I at least know I get read/remember the kanji lol), but I also know that in the same verb pairs “eru” is transitive and “aru” is intransitive. Same as “su” is transitive and “ru” is intransitive (in those pairs).

Now that you’ve pointed it out, I always (or almost always) get it correct with things like “to save” vs “to be saved”, and it took a while, but also things like “to raise” vs “to rise” and “to lower” vs “to get lower”.

It’s the other kind I keep getting stumped on: the “to do” vs “to do [something]”, for example, the rolling one. “To roll” vs “to roll [something]”. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t.

So it’s the [something] part that seems to be the issue. If the English translation is slightly different (raise vs rise, for example), I almost always remember the correct transivity, but if WK wants or doesn’t want the [something] included, I don’t always get it correct.

For the curious, there are a couple of useful terms for describing these unruly verbs:

  • Ambitransitive verbs can be used either transitively or intransitively.

  • Ergative / Labile verbs are a type of ambitransitive verb where the action of the object of the transitive version of the verb corresponds to the action of the subject of the intransitive version.
    These are very common in English, but almost completely absent in Japanese.

For example:


  • Isubject eat. → Isubject eat onigiri.object
  • Curiositysubject kills. → Curiositysubject killed the cat.object


  • Richessubject accumulate. → Isubject accumulate riches.object
  • The simulationsubject is running. → Isubject am running the simulation.object
1 Like