Having a hard time with Transitive/Intransitive

I was doing the new level 8 lessons and I realized I might have a problem with that.

I encountered 曲がる which is explained as “To Be Bent” so intransitive, something bends on it’s own.
My problem is when I think about “To be bend” my mind understands “To be bend by someone” and “To bend” as bending by itself.
But it seems for wanikani is exactly the opposite.

Maybe the problem is my english? I don’t really know.

I had the same problem with 下がる but not with 上がる / 上げる for the same reason.
上がる : To rise, by itself
上げる : To raise, someone - something
下がる : To lower, by itself (Which is wrong according to WK)

So I kept getting that one wrong until I just decided to add “To lower” as an option.

Seems like a recurring problem so I should try to find the root of it.

There’s some difficulty in the fact that in English, many transitive / intransitive situations don’t involve a different spelling.

Intransitive “bend” is just “to bend.” Transitive “bend” requires a direct object, so making it “to bend something” is probably going to be clearer. But “to bend” isn’t wrong for that one. So you can have “to bend” for both if you want.

Sometimes WK includes the “something,” for transitive verbs, but they don’t do it consistently enough that you can rely on it to not get dinged for adding it to something that is transitive but they just didn’t add it to.

They seem to be more fond of making intransitive meanings into passive versions, which isn’t actually always an acceptable meaning, I’ve found.


My solution is to think like this:
I always put “something” in there.

“To open something” (transitive) and “Something opens” (intransitive), for example.
To raise something. Something raises. Someone is either doing the verb to the something (transitive), or the something is doing it (intransitive).

I also find that knowing the kanji for the type of verbs helps a lot.
他動詞 – transitive. The first kanji here is “other”. The action is being done on something else.
自動詞 – intransitive. The first kanji here is “self”. The action is being done by the something itself.

The problem with English is that dictionaries really want the “to” in front of all verbs, which is silly. And it kills the logic when it comes to intransitive verbs.

In many cases (not all!), the a-sound in the verb tends to be the intransitive, while the e-sound tends to be the transitive. 上げる (ge) is transitive, you lower something. 上がる (ga) is intransitive, something lowers.

I hope any of this is helpful or at least makes sense. I’m not sure it does…

(EDIT: I made some mistakes in the original post. They should be fixed now).


“To be bent by someone” is intransitive because there’s no direct object there. You use that one if you don’t really care who’s doing the bending (at least in Japanese).

“To bend something” is the transitive version with “something” being the direct object.

As far as I’m aware, “to lower” isn’t really used as an intransitive version in English, although it’s in the dictionary. That’s probably why they only accept “to get lower” and it makes you show that you know if you’re using the intransitive form.

Intransitive and transitive verbs are a little different in Japanese, though. I’d recommend this video to learn more about it.


You have this backwards. In a verb pair, the verb rhyming with ある is intransitive. In those cases, the other verb (often rhyming with える) is transitive.

The other common case involves verbs ending in す, which are transitive. In those cases, the other verb (again, often rhyming with える) is intransitive.

Without knowing the other verb in the pair, seeing a verb rhyming with える tells you nothing.


As soon as there is a “someone” doing the action it is transitive. It just happens that “by someone” makes it passive.

玉が落ちた - The ball fell - intransitive
玉を落とした - (He/she/some specific person) dropped the ball - transitive
玉を落とされた - The ball was dropped by (him/her/some specific person) - transitive passive

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Ah, you are right, of course. That’s what I get trying to write an answer in the last minute before having to run to a meeting. I will fix this.

You’re right.

I was thinking in the sense that if inanimate objects does things, there always has to be an implicit actor. If you say, “the door opened”, you’re implicitly saying “the door was opened by someone/thing”, because a door can’t open on its own. But when you actually say, “the door was opened by someone”, you’re using the transitive verb.

The problem with WK is that in english, both versions are often the same, so they have to do something to distinguish them.

Maybe the problem is that I learned the difference in my native language in a different way.

In spanish the difference is:
Those that need a direct object to have a complete meaning
Those that don’t allow or require a direct object to have complete meaning so they normally go alone

And I don’t really know how to extrapolate those concepts to the japanese language.

I share your pain! I’ve just started using the Taji app https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=io.yamayama.taji and it’s already made a huge difference. It’s an SRS based app for learning transitive/instransitive verbs in pairs which hopefully is going to stop me messing up every single one of them on both Wanikani and Torii as I currently am! It’s definitely a distinction that’s much clearer in Japanese than it is in English so I’m hoping that drilling them is going to get it stuck in my head.


I will surely take a look at it. :blush:

I’m surprised there are really especific apps out there.

It’s pretty much the same I think. The important thing in Japanese is that you don’t have to actually specify the direct object. It can be implied from context. For example 落とした is a complete sentence using a transitive verb, and has a very different meaning (or at least nuance) compared to the sentence 落ちた.

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