I know this subject is surely not a new one on here, and I’m surely not the first one to struggle with this. However, I thought I’d put my perspective on here just in case it is helpful to anyone, or anyone would like to comment or offer advice.
I have been having a hard time with transitive/intransitive verb pairs for a while now, and finally decided to try and get to the bottom of why. I knew there was something that was tripping me up, but I hadn’t been able to put my finger on it.
What I realized is that it comes down to the inconsistent way in which WaniKani differentiates transitive and intransitive verbs (in the English meanings). There seem to be two main types of transitive/intransitive pairs.
The first takes the form of ‘to X’ / ‘to be Xed’, where X is some verb. For example, ‘to see’ (transitive) and ‘to be seen’ (intransitive).
The second type is of the form ‘to X something’ / ‘to X’, for example, ‘to stop something’ (transitive) / ‘to stop’ (intransitive).
The problem is that, when there is a transitive/intransitive pair, the root or simplest form of the verb, ‘to X’, is sometimes used for the transitive form, and sometimes for the intransitive form.
What was happening was that I was naturally and unintentionally learning these verbs as ‘the normal one’ (‘to X’) and ‘the other one’ (‘to be Xed’ or ‘to X something’), the problem being that this means that transitives and intransitives are all mixed up and crossed, preventing me from learning to recognize patterns that would allow me to intuitively tell transitive verbs from intransitive ones. For example, even when I consciously identified the pattern shared by 止める/止まる (to stop something/to stop) and 決める/決まる (to decide/to be decided), I got the meanings wrong because of this confusion.
Rather than try to force myself to learn in a way that isn’t working for me, I’ve decided on a plan to use going forward, which is to always learn the transitive member of a verb pair as the basic form, ‘to X’, if at all possible, with user synonyms where necessary.
This makes sense because the first type of transitive/intransitive pair (‘to X’ / ‘to be Xed’) seems to be much more common, and in most of these cases the root form of the English verb cannot be used to represent the intransitive meaning (‘to see’ can never mean ‘to be seen’). Furthermore, I find the other construction (‘to X something’ / ‘to X’) to be quite awkward and unnatural to begin with.
However, it is not as simple changing all the intransitive versions into the form ‘to be Xed’, as this is not always an accurate representation of the meaning being conveyed, especially with regards to events that occur on their own, rather than being caused by someone or something in particular (most of the cases where ‘to X’ is used as an intransitive verb fall into this category).
So, for these cases, my approach will be to either use a different word for the intransitive version (like is done by default for 上げる/上がる - to raise/to rise, and 下げる/下がる - to lower/to fall), or to modify the intransitive version of the verb in some other way to differentiate it (like is done with the intransitive verb 広がる, with its meaning being taught as ‘to spread out’ rather than ‘to spread’, making it feel more intransitive.
I am currently working my way through level 11 vocabulary, and it remains to be seen whether my approach, which I will be using starting now, will be viable and successful going forward. Obviously, the plugin which allows me to add synonyms in lessons will be useful to me. Something which would also be very useful, but which as far as I can tell does not exist, would be a user-defined blacklist plugin, which would allow me to disallow the meanings which I am not using anymore (‘to X’ on intransitive verbs). As it is, I guess it’s just honor system, and I’ll have to be careful to check after answering on verbs that have transitive/intransitive pairs.
Finally, I will list all the instances I have found in the vocabulary up to lvl 11 where the ‘to X something’ formation is used for a transitive verb, meaning I will be using alternate meanings. I have already burned some of these vocab items, so I probably won’t be reviving them, at least for now, unless I feel like I really need to.
Original meanings: To spread something / To spread out
My meanings: To spread / To spread out
Here, the intransitive verb is already differentiated, so I can simply use “to spread” for the transitive with no complication
Original meanings: To stop something / To stop
My meanings: To stop / To come to a stop
Here “to stop” was used as the intransitive version. However, I think “to come to a stop” actually conveys the intransitive meaning of “to stop” better, so I will use that.
Original meanings: To disconnect something / To be disconnected
My meanings: To disconnect, to remove / To be disconnected
The intransitive is already in the form ‘to be Xed’, plus I have been learning 外す as ‘to remove’, so less confusion there.
Original meanings: To stand something up / To stand
My meanings: To stand up / To stand
This one is a bit tricky, since ‘to stand up’ could easily mean ‘to stand’, and is in fact an accepted meaning for the intransitive verb. Furthermore, ‘to stand’ is the simplest form of the verb, not ‘to stand up’. However, I think as long as I am aware of this potential confusion, and think of ‘to stand up’ as a different verb, taking on its transitive meaning, this will be ok.
Original meanings: To let something pass / To pass
My meanings: To let pass / To pass through
This one is also tricky, since the transitive verb does not have the most obvious meaning, ‘to pass something’, but instead means ‘to let something pass’, and therefore cannot use the basic form ‘to pass’. Anyway, I think these are the meanings that will work best for me.
Original meanings: To advance something / To advance
My meanings: To advance / To move forward, To go forward
For this pair I think the best approach is to use the more literal meaning for the intransitive verb.
Original meanings: To lack something / To be lacking
My meanings: To lack / To be lacking
Original meanings: To roll something / To roll
My meanings: To roll / To tumble
“To roll” could be either transitive or intransitive, but the alternate meaning for 転がる is more clearly intransitive, so I it makes sense to use that for the intransitive meaning.
So anyway, that’s it, sorry for such a long post. Like I said earlier, I’ll have to see whether this turns out to be a good idea in the long run. Perhaps it won’t, and I’ll just have to accept that WaniKani isn’t really the place to learn grammar concepts like transitive vs intransitive verbs.
Also, I’m not necessarily advocating for anything to be changed, or for other people to adopt this approach, it’s just something I think might work for me.