I’ve never heard of one that would be absolute, but as you learn more verbs, it will be a little easier to figure out which are transitive and which are intransitive, same as with figuring out which are godan and which are ichidan. Also, I wouldn’t try to memorize the “to X something” and “to be Xed”, because Japanese transitivity doesn’t always map well to English.
Also, to mention, つく as a helper verb can be transitive, like in 吹きつく (to blow against a surface), 思い付く (to come up with something).
Just trial & error your way through them and you will be fine
Who is this ‘them’ you speak. The vast majority of languages don’t come predesigned by someone. They evolve naturally over hundreds or thousands of years by subsequent generations of users. Japanese is not a constructed language like Esperanto.
Cure Dolly is the one who finally helped me get a grasp on these verbs and their various endings. Here’s a very good video specifically on this subject of ‘self-move’ and ‘other-move’ verbs (usually translated into English as ‘transitive’ or ‘intransitive’ verbs, although self-/other-move verbs (自動詞 / 他動詞) are actually a distinct concept from the in-/transitivity of verbs in Japanese, although they do largely overlap):
[Note: You can watch with subtitles, to help with comprehension, and I would recommend doing so. They are hand-written, not auto-generated, so they help a lot in separating the English from the ‘embedded’ Japanese words.]
In particular, with her principles, you can apply them to your two examples like so:
This pattern fits her ‘flip-switch law’ (the third law, when the first two don’t match) where, whatever the ending of shorter version of the verb – in this case, く – the version that modifies it to end in -eru – in this case ける – is the opposite of the shorter, main verb (so, you really only have to know one version of each verb, the main short version).
In this case, I did a quick search in Jisho.org and found that although there are many words spelled つく, with different kanji and different meanings, most of them, and the most popular of them are ‘intransitive’, in other words ‘self-move’ 自動詞 verbs. Therefore, according to the ‘flip/switch’ principle, the ‘-eru’ version of any of these, つける should be ‘transitive’ i.e. ‘other-move’ 他動詞. And another quick search of Jisho for つける shows that, yes indeed, all such verbs are ‘other-move’ 他動詞 / transitive.
There are exceptions which will come up later, like 突く, ‘to stab’, but you can learn that later on I guess. (Although, the meaning of the word itself kinda makes it obvious that it’s an other-move word, and in any case it doesn’t have a self-move version anyway, so…) For now, it’s safe for you to remember that つく happens to be self-move, and so つける must be the opposite of that (flip/switch -eru), and be other-move.
This is yet another example of the flip-switch law, and no doubt explains why the law is phrased that way, since in this case it’s the opposite way around. But the -eru is still the ‘secondary’ / flipped version in this sense, and so you only have to remember かく. Checking Jisho shows that かく also has many different words with different kanji and different meanings. But again, of those words that are verbs, in this case all of them happen to be other-move 他動詞 / ‘transitive’.
So, if you learn one of those かく verbs as other-move, then you’ve ‘learned them all’, and thus learned that for all of them their かける version is thus self-move 自動詞 / ‘intransitive’ (as confirmed by checking Jisho again).
However, there is a slight catch with that last one, かける! It turns out that there is a very very common word, used in all sorts of situations, which is also spelled かける (掛ける), but which is other-move 他動詞 rather than self-move 自動詞! However, luckily, it’s from a different kanji/root from all the words whose base/primary word is かく, though, so if you stick with learning the base words かく as other-move 他動詞 and using the ‘flip-switch’ rule for those base words, you’ll still get the right verb type for their かける form, 自動詞.
It turns out that that word, 掛ける, has it’s own self-move 自動詞 version, but it’s spelled かかる (掛かる), which actually fits Cure Dolly’s earlier second principle, the ‘ある family law’, which takes precedence over the ‘flip-switch’ law (see video).
Not only that, but Cure Dolly also has a whole video dedicated specifically to this word pair かける / かかる which goes into the underlying ‘logic’ of that word.
[Again, I recommend turning on the subtitles.]
So, that’s a whole separate (and separately useful!) topic.
Exactly! I’m already experiencing this problem, where I often confuse transitive and intransitive verbs I was also hoping that there might be some kind of pattern that will show itself as I level up, but then I read this post…
I just watched the video, that’s big if true. The flip-switch law is a bit confusing, so i’ll rewatch later to understand it better but the family law of する and ある seems so easy to understand. Can someone confirm though if this is really true? She makes it seem as if all of the suru / aru family words follow this rule, but at the same time i feel like it’s too good to be true and there has to be some exceptions, right?
I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some rare exceptions, as, in my view, she’s mainly focused on providing some logic/structure where most textbooks provide very little if any. Even if her rules only apply in 80-90% of cases, that’s still a big benefit. Also, she does mention at least a couple of times that this is something to go off of when you’re just starting out, and that you start to get a feel for words later on as you get more experienced. I don’t think she really means to imply that it’s a 100% rule. Also, people in the comments of the video bring up questions and nuances and she has some more in depth answers in replies.
She also has an article (originally written before the video; the video is apparently an updated version of the article, so the examples are largely the same) which goes into more depth/detail:
I’ve never understood this argument that instead of using universally-known linguistics terms that one should instead use a hyper literal translation of the Japanese term as if it provides any deep insight. Even a guy like Jay Rubin, from which Cure Dolly heavily bases their work on, calls them intransitive and transitive verbs. Do you also not call 形容動詞 an ‘na-adjective’ and instead call it a ’description verb’? If you don’t why do you not, but instead you only use this literal translation for the linguistics terms 自動詞 and 他動詞?
That makes sense, and i agree. Eventually i’ll be exposed to those word pairs more often than just Wanikani reviews, especially when i start reading at higher level. So i suppose even if it’s not a 100% rule, but covers around 80-90% of cases it’s more than enough for me right now. It’s also easier to remember the “annoying” ones that defy the rule. Seems like a good alternative to mnemonics for those pairs, and eventually you’ll be able to recall them correctly without thinking about the rules.
I would say the rules CureDolly drafted do make sense in most cases.
It looks a little different when you have pairs:
across 〜う ending verbs, like 違う and 違える, 間違う and 間違える
and the opposite pair 使える (self-move) and 使う (other-move) (explained by the flip rule)
and verbs where the 〜む／〜ぶ verbs are self-move, but these don’t come as often
I think the 増やす and 増える pair she covered in one of the rules as well.
形容動詞 are not i-adjectives, but na-adjectives and it makes sense to use the Japanese term to emphasize that many of them are actually nouns which can act as adjectives and adverbs.
The reason some adjectival nouns are called なー and のー adjectives is because they often act as noun descriptors.
Regarding 自動詞 and 他動詞 CureDolly gave a good example of 従う and 従える.
従う emphasizes (despite the English translation) that whoever 従う, that subject does the obeying.
従える emphasizes that the action is performed on an object
The reason it’s important to differentiate that is because transitivity in English, per regular translations from Japanese, doesn’t always work the exact same way.
The other issue is movement verbs like 歩く、進む、飛ぶ, etc. which take を to denote the thing they move through. One would think that makes them suddenly transitive, but that’s not the case, because movement is still performed by the subject on itself. It just sounds silly in English .
Yes, I did typo. I will fix my post. Either way, if the argument is on the fact that we should use literal translations, na-adjectives should instead be called something like ‘description verbs’. But I don’t see any of the ‘self move’ and ‘other move’ people ever use these hyper literal translations for almost any other linguistic term. It seems to be only transitive/intransitive is the hill they die on. The inconsistency just seems odd to me.
Like I said, even guys like Jay Rubin who wrote the book on ‘What the Textbooks Don’t Tell You’ doesn’t use this ‘self move’ and ‘other move’ concept at all and simply uses the universally-accepted linguistic terms for the concepts. Yet I’m sure he’s quite a bit more adept at the language than Cure Dolly.
I think it’s partially because many resources just translated 自動詞 as intransitive and 他動詞 as transitive, but keeping the original Japanese use of each verb type. The resource CureDolly mentioned was one that decided to stick to the English definition of transitivity when translating verbs which makes for a lot of confusion, right?
The Japanese definition of transitivity is the same as it is in English. So I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean. 他動詞 if you read a monolingual dictionary provides the same meaning as transitive verb does in English. Calling it ‘other move’ is making a distinction without any real meaning.