Question about 開く

So, I thought ‘to open’ was one of those verbs that has two variants, あける (transative) and あく (intransative). But now my Anki deck taught me ひらく. Which looks identical to あく and apparently also means to open?

Why is there a third word for opening? Is is transative or intransative? How do you know which one it is if they look identical? Is the meaning slightly different or something?

I’m confused.

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I’m no expert on this (Leebo jumps in in 3…2…1…) but ひらく like あける can be written with more than the kanji you learned depending on context (so they won’t always use 開). ひらく is apparently more about describing the opening motion rather than the change of state as with あける. And finally, ひらく can be both transitive and intransitive.

Some better/more thorough explanation can be found here:

あく = intransitive
あける = transitive
ひらく = intransitive and transitive

Perhaps the thing that will help is to point out situations where only ひらく can be used.

傘を開く (かさをひらく)
本を開く (ほんをひらく)

Can you kind of feel what these “opening” actions are like? They involve something kind of expanding
or changing structure so that now the interior can be seen, but you can’t “go through” anything that opened up.

When that kind of motion has happened, you have to use ひらく.

More examples: flowers, wings, websites (getting a bit abstract there, but certainly nothing you can pass through opens)

When some other opening has occurred (such that there is a passage opened, like with a lid or a door) then both are probably acceptable, but あける/あく is probably preferred.

In the intransitive case, you can’t necessarily tell if it’s あく or ひらく visually. You can get a feel for which one is preferred over time, and of course if it’s something like 傘 or 本 then it has to be ひらく.

One thing to note is that for businesses both are possible, but generally speaking 店をひらく means to start a shop, while 店をあける means to open a shop for the day.

If anyone wants to try to tackle it in Japanese, here’s a good explanation.


Oh right, apparently both can be spelled with at least 3 different kanji. It’s never easy is it lol.

Thanks for the answers :slight_smile:. I don’t feel like I fully got it but its probably something you need to read a couple of times in the wild for it to make sense.

Been living in Japan for a few years and this has to be one of the simplest explanations I’ve ever seen or heard of for open. Astounding.

You’re welcome. I think Leebo’s explanation is much better than mine, probably because he actually knows what he’s talking about. :rofl: Yes, for this kind of thing, there’s no substitute for real world experience.

Your comment on emphasizing the motion versus the state is kind of touching on the same thing, think.

The shape of various doors can influence which one is used. For the sliding doors of trains, for instance, you often hear ひらく. For a hinged western-style door, you typically hear あく.

It’s not wrong to say that the train doors あく, but because of the expanding motion, they are probably more likely to get the ひらく description.

But anyway, I do think the most important thing is knowing the most restrictive examples, so you don’t fret too much about the others, at least until you get a good feel.

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