How to spot words that are passive by meaning?

I come here specifically because I have problems with getting 見付かる and 見当たる right - “to be found.”

I see that there are:

  1. 見付ける - to find
  2. 見付かる - to be found

Do these simply fall under a transitive/intransitive rule of thumb and English just treats the intransitive form as passive? How to best memorize these? (And if there’s a rule of thumb, does 見当たる simply break it?)

(I saw rules of thumb for transitive/intransitive elsewhere on the forum since it trips me up so often.)

I found it especially hard since the mnemonics of these two make no attempt to help you distinguish them… I only later found a hint to the link between かる and being intransitive in a later vocab word. Maybe this could be handled better on WaniKani’s side, what do you think?

Also, maybe vocab could have a “can be confused with” section like kanji have a “visually similar kanji” section?

This is also a transitive/intransitive pair.

Unfortunately, English deals with transitivity so poorly that wording it in such a way that the translations are distinct makes the intransitive form sound like passive voice.

見付かる is not “[something] was found by [someone]”, but just “[something] was found”. The finding has been done, maybe it was done by an agent, but it’s unclear from this sentence.

There are… sorta rules of thumb, but the golden rule in Japanese is that All Rules Have Exceptions, Including This One.


Unfortunately, the trick of using the endings to try and identify transitive vs intransitive doesn’t work (there are transitive ones that have an -aru ending and intransitives with an -eru. Where they come in handy is when you know one of the pairs, then the ending can inform you as to which is transitive and which is intransitive)

Extra info no one needs

Transitivity pairs go back to some stuff involving classical japanese conjugation and how shimo-nidan verbs became ichidan verbs + a couple auxiliary endings that sometimes were conjugated as shimo-nidan and sometimes weren’t.

For 見当たる, the key thing here is the note they include.

Note: This verb is almost always used in the negative form. It is very, very rare for it to be positive.

Synonyms just kind of exist, you’ll have to learn to navigate them over time. This note is how you can learn a difference in usage between 見当たる and 見付かる.

As for why some intransitives are translated as “to be {verbed}” (which would be passive in English), it’s more or less just a consequence of English not having an equivalent single intransitive verb. The verb “find” in English is always transitive. But Japanese has an intransitive verb for the semantic of “find”; thus in English you need to passivize it to reduce the valence to intransitive.