The Definitive Guide to WaniKani's Transitivity Pairs

Ah the trails and tribulations of Japanese Transitivity Pairs. Many of us have crumpled at their might or have been swayed in awe by their shear majesty. Some of us may be discovering them for the first time, confused and frightened by the fact that so many verbs look and act so similar and wondering why WaniKani makes you add “something” to your answers even when it seems entirely unnecessary. No matter who you are, I think you will find something useful in this guide.

There are quite a number of good guides on transitivity already on the internet. tofugu’s article is a good primer for the basics, Cure Dolly’s video on the topic is very intuitive and lays out many of the common patterns, and this article from wasabi is the most thorough in documenting the different patterns that I’ve seen. But from the perspective of a WaniKani user, I bring you something that none of those resources have. Data! I’ve combed through all of WK’s vocabulary items and compiled a list of all 168 transitivity pairs that WK asks you to memorize. And looking at this data, we can find out where the true patterns lie, where the exceptions are, and how much information you can actually figure out just by looking at the spelling of the verbs themselves.

The full list of WK transitivity pairs that I’ve compiled (plus false pairs and other info) can be found here: WaniKani Transitivity Pairs - Google Sheets
(In the sheet, transitive verbs will be labeled by 他 and intransitive by 自. Pair types and Configuration will be explained below along with other things)

What is Transitivity

There are many explanations of transitivity around already on the internet, so this explanation here will be fairly short. “Transitivity”, put simply, describes whether or not a verb in a language requires a grammatical “object”. That is, whether or not an action needs to be acted on another object or concept.

Take the English verb “to hang out”, you can “hang out at home” or “hang out till the bus gets here” or just “hang out” but you can’t “hang out an elephant”, it doesn’t make sense. “to hang out” cannot act on another object grammatically and so we say that it is “intransitive”

On the other hand, Take a verb like “to pick up”. Let’s look at a sentence: “George walked over into the grass and picked up”. To a native english speaker, this sentence sounds incomplete. “George picked up? picked up what?” This verb requires an object in order to be grammatical, even if we don’t know what George picked up we must say “George picked up something”. We say the verb “to pick up” is “transitive”.

Transitivity in Japanese

No matter how you feel about it, Japanese has a concept of Transitivity as well. In Japanese though, it’s fairly easy to explain the difference. In this language「を」is the particle that indicates the direct object of the sentence. If a verb is transitive then there must be an object indicated by を in order to make the sentence grammatical (although sometimes this object is assumed), but if the verb is intransitive then usually there will not be a を in the sentence and any other elements of the sentence will be indicated with either a は or が (or one of the indirect object particles に, で, へ, etc.)

In Japanese the words for transitive and intransitive are 他動詞(たどうし) and 自動詞(じどうし) respectively. Literally, “other verb” and “self verb”. Cure Dolly prefers to call these “self move” and “other move” verbs to make it more clear that in “self move” verbs the subject often does the action to itself and in “other move” verbs the action is done to something else. Regardless in monolingual dictionary you will often see verbs labelled as either 自 or 他 to differentiate the two.

The thing that becomes tricky about transitivity in japanese though is the concept of the transitivity pair. Lets look at the english verb “to stop”, is this verb transitive or intransitive? Well you can “stop a train” or “stop a fight” so it must be transitive. But we can also say “the train stopped” or “I stopped in my tracks” so I guess it’s intransitive. Well in english it can be both depending on the context. In japanese however, the same verb cannot be used in both contexts. If we wanted to talk about “stopping at a stop light” we would have to use the intransitive verb ()まる, but if we wanted to talk about “stopping a train” or “stopping a bull” we would need to use the transitive ()める. Two verbs, 止まる and 止める, that look and sound almost identical and would be translated the same in english, but cannot be used interchangeably. This is an example of a transitivity pair, and they are all over the japanese language.

It’s important to note that transitivity pairs are not entirely foreign to the english language. Consider the verbs “to rise” and “to raise”. “Rise” is intransitive, you cannot “rise” a flag or a hand or a statue, but you can “raise” one of those things. “rise” and “raise” are an example of a transitivity pair in english. The big difference between english and japanese is the number of pairs. English has maybe a dozen of these sorts of pairs in the language, whereas japanese has hundreds.

Another important thing to mention is that not all japanese verbs have transitivity pairs. There are some verbs which only ever make sense as one or the other. ()つ “to hit” must always take an object as you always have to be hitting “something”, there is no intransitive pair for this word. Same thing is true for intransitive (ある)く"to walk", it has no transitive form since you can’t walk “something” (other than a dog I suppose). Also, there are verbs that can be both just like in english, ()う “to say” can be both intransitive or transitive depending on the context (“to say a word” vs. “to speak”). In dictionaries this is often indicated by the symbol 自他.

Transitivity Pairs in WK

WaniKani on it’s path to teach you how to read all the kanji and their associated vocabulary also does it’s best to teach you a number of transitivity pairs along the way. WaniKani has a total of 168 of these but it’s not always clear to beginners what they are looking at. It’s easy enough if the pair exists in english as well (like (はい)る “to enter” vs ()れる “to insert”) But creating a natural english phrase that represents the transitivity of a verb that doesn’t have a pair in english is tricky. For a verb like ()れる, This verb indicates that something is being cut on it’s own without any involvement from anything else. How do we indicate that with a natural english expression.

The solution that WK came up with is to use the passive form of the verb as the intransitive version. In this case in english we could say “the rope was cut” which removes the cutter from the sentence. So in WK, 切れる is “to be cut” and 切る is “to cut something”. The only confusing thing is that 切れる is not actually in the passive form in japanese. The passive form of ()る is ()られる (as in ロープは田中(たなか)()られる “The rope is cut by Tanaka”). ()れる is simply just the intransitive version of ()る, as “rise” is the intranstive version of “raise”.

This “to x something” “to be x” is the most typical way that transitivity pairs are presented in WK but there are plenty of times when WK will choose to go in a different route, especially when the distinction already exists in english.

Transitivity Pair Types and Patterns (with WK Statistics)

At first when you study these pairs, they may start to feel random with no pattern. Why is ()く intransitive and ()ける transitive while ()る is transitive and ()れる is intransitive? Why is ()る transitive while (なお)る is intransitive? But there’s more logic to this then there might seem at first glance. Over the entire corpus of WK verbs, with one exception every pair fits into one of 3 categories.

  1. す pairs: This is the most common type of pair in WaniKani. With this pair, one of the two verbs in the pair will end with either す, せる, or ぜる. The verb ending in this す sound will always be transitive and the other verb will always be intransitive. In some cases the other verb ends in る or れる, in other cases it might end in another う sound like く but in either case す, せる, or ぜる will always be the transitive one. Cure Dolly compares this す sound to する “to do” as the “father of all other move verbs”. The actual etymology of this is not so simple but it does help to remember the pattern.

  2. ある pairs: In this case, one of the verbs will end in an sound that rhymes with ある (わる, かる, まる, etc.) and the other one will end with a sound that rhymes with える (える, ける, める, etc.). Both the ある and the える sounds will be attached outside the kanji as okurigana ((おく)仮名(がな)). The one with the ある sound will always be intransitive and the one with the える sound will always be transtive. Curry dolly compares this ある sound with ある “to be” as “the mother of all self move verbs” which might help you to remember which is which. In rare case, the other side of the ある verb can be a う ending verb as well, (such as (つな)がる and (つな)ぐ) and in other cases the ある turns into あれる. The pattern still holds regardless.

  3. う pairs: This is the final type of pair and the one that is the most difficult to guess. In this pattern, one of the verbs will be a verb ending in an う sound (む, ぶ, く, etc.). The other verb will take the consonant sound from the end of the other verb and add an える sound to the end (む→める, ぶ→べる,く→ける). Which one is which? well it’s not consistent. In general, the える verb will be transitive and the う verb will be intransitive but there are more exceptions here than anywhere else. れる will almost always be intransitive instead and く/ける pairs are about 50/50 one way or the other. You can find the exact stats for all of the different variations down below. Often though it helps me to think about which type of transitivity feels more “natural” for a given verb. Often the う verb fits that description better. (So ()くand ()ける are “to solve” and “to be solved”. When I think about “solving” I usually think about solving “something” like a puzzle or a riddle. So transitivity is more natural here and ()く is the transitive one) This trick will only take you so far though.

Even when one of these patterns overlap, they never contradict one another. So if you can remember the pair type, you can figure out the transitivity fairly easily. The only exception in WK is (なま)ける “to neglect” and (おこた)る “to be negligent”, these vocab items from beyond level 51 follow none of the patterns listed above but they are the only one (in WK at least).

Here are some stats about types from the complete list of WK transitivity pairs:

Number of pairs of each type

Pair Type Amount
う pair 42
ある pair 47
す pair 78
exceptions 1
Total 168

う Pair Stat Breakdown

Verb Ending う verb intransitive (自) う verb transitive (他) Total
3 0 3
10 8 18
3 0 3
1 0 1
7 0 7
1 9 10
Total 25 17 42

verb transitivity within transitivity pairs sorted by okurigana

送り仮名 Total
~す 0 70 70
5 0 5
14 8 22
0 1 1
4 0 4
3 1 4
9 4 13
~る 133 84 217
~おる 1 0 1
~いる 10 0 10
24 10 34
~える 53 74 127
える 8 10 18
ける 10 16 26
げる 2 7 9
せる 0 8 8
ぜる 0 2 2
てる 0 4 4
ねる 0 1 1
べる 0 1 1
める 0 24 24
れる 33 1 34
~ある 45 0 45
わる 6 0 6
かる 6 0 6
がる 9 0 9
さる 1 0 1
ざる 1 0 1
たる 1 0 1
なる 2 0 2
ばる 0 0 0
まる 19 0 19
らる 0 0 0
Transitivity by Verb Type and Okurigana

Alright, so pair types are great and all but maybe you’re doing your daily reviews and a verb pops up you’ve seen a number of times before. You know what it means and you remember it’s has a pair but you can’t remember whether it’s transitive or intransitive and you can’t remember what it’s pair looks like at all. Can you still figure out what it’s transitivity should be, just by looking at the shape of the verb? The answer is no, well kinda. The answer is almost. Below is a chart pulled from all 908 non-する verbs that WK currently teaches, we will go through each different type of verb and see if we can find any patterns when it comes to transitivity.

Verb Type 自他 Total
一段 (ichidan) 112 184 6 302
る (godan) 140 70 6 216
5 120 4 129
28 42 3 73
36 32 5 73
7 10 1 18
7 6 2 15
8 4 1 13
25 39 3 67
1 0 0 1
来る 1 0 0 1
total 370 507 31 908

As you can see most of these groups have a fairly heavy mix. You’re about as likely to guess a flipped coin than guess the transitivity of a く verb or a つ verb but there is one of these groups that has a really heavy skew.

す verbs

The vast, vast majority of す verbs both in WaniKani and elsewhere are transitive verbs. And even the ones that aren’t always listed as transitive often have at least one context in which they can be transitive. This presumably must have some historical linguistic reason. At some point there must have been some auxiliary verb or verb suffix that conferred a notion of transitivity. It might be related to the causative, させる, or have to do with する (which historically would have been the nidan verb す) or maybe it’s unrelated to both. My research didn’t lead me to any conclusions here. Still it’s convenient, even considering a few exceptions:

  • ()す, ()す, ()す, and ()くすare all listed by WK as intransitive. Even though all three of these have contexts in which they are transitive
  • Several compound verbs are intransitive even when their base verbs are not. Including ()()す, ()(かえ)す, and several ()す compounds

Ichidan verbs

Ichidan (一段(いちだ)) verbs sometimes know as る-verbs don’t follow any large pattern as a whole but if we break things down based on their okurigana, we can see some patterns emerge.

Verb Type 自他 Total
~いる 18 11 2 31
える 16 37 3 56
ける 15 26 0 41
げる 2 14 0 16
せる 1 12 0 13
ぜる 0 2 0 2
てる 2 8 0 10
ねる 1 4 0 5
べる 0 5 0 5
める 1 50 0 51
れる 51 8 1 60
5 7 0 12
total 112 184 6 302

As we can see some ichidan endings are more consistent than others. verbs ending in いる sounds can go either way although most of the intransitive いる verbs are じる verbs, which are essentially another form of する verbs. える and ける verbs are totally inconsistent but most other 一段(いちだん) verbs are transitive. Especially める, with an astounding 50 to 1 record (The one exception here is 目覚(めざ)める). The big exception though is れる which somehow flips the other direction.

れる verbs

れる just so happens to be part of two transitivity pair patterns at once. There are quite a number of す vs れる pairs, in which れる would be intranstive. And there are a lot of る vs れる pairs, in which for most れる is intransitive. It just so happens that both of these patterns agree with each other and れる verbs are almost always intransitive. Perhaps this at some point came from the passive られる, I haven’t dived deep enough to find the answers here. The big exception is ()れる which also has a somewhat exceptional relationship with it’s pair (はい)る. The other exceptions include compounds including ()れる and verbs like (わす)れる, ()れる, and (おとず)れる which have no pair.

ある and おる verbs

Godan (五段(ごだん)) る verbs (a.k.a. う-verbs ending in る) are also a mixed bag transitivity wise. Although there is a skew towards intransitivity. When these verbs have okurigana though, they become much easier to sort. No 五段(ごだん) る verbs have okurigana containing an える or いる sound, and there are very few with おる or うる sounds. Most often, if such a verb has okurigana at all, it will be an ある sound. Here’s what the spread of those looks like.

Verb Type 自他 Total
わる 10 1 0 11
かる 6 1 0 7
がる 14 1 0 15
さる 1 0 0 1
ざる 1 0 0 1
たる 2 0 0 2
なる 4 0 0 4
ばる 0 0 0 0
まる 20 0 0 20
らる 0 0 0 0
~おる 2 0 0 2
~うる 0 1 0 1
total 60 4 0 64

As we might expect from knowing our pair types by now, ある verbs are almost always intransitive. The exceptions are (おそ)わる, (あず)かる, and ()()がる. None of these are a part of a transitivity pair. We can also see that おる verbs also follow this pattern although there are much less of them. The one うる verb in WK’s list ()さぶる is transitive however.

する verbs

する verbs never come with transitivity pairs although they do have transitivity. Since my focus was on dissecting pairs specifically, I have not spent a lot of time researching する verbs although they do seem to skew transitive.

False Pairs

There some sets of verbs that WaniKani teachs you that look like they might be transitivity pairs but aren’t. Some of them follow transitivity pair patterns and some of them don’t. I’ve compiled a quick list of some major ones. The full list is in the spreadsheet.

Verb Trans/Intrans Meaning Verb Trans/Intrans Meaning
任せる To Entrust Something 任す To Entrust Something
触る 自他 To Touch 触れる 自他 To Feel
群れる To Flock 群がる To Flock
膨れる To Swell 膨らむ To Expand
苛める To Bully 苛む To Torment
教える To Teach 教わる To Learn Something From Someone
預ける To Deposit 預かる To Look After
越える To Go Beyond 越す To Go Beyond

Perhaps some of these were transitivity pairs at one point and their meanings happened to shift. Perhaps some of these are just simply unrelated, it’s hard to know.

Summary

Once you get the hang of working with transitivity pairs, you can actually start identifying them without a whole lot of trouble. Here’s a little cheat sheet for the major ways to identify verbs at a glance from one another.

Transitive verb endings: す, せる, ぜる, める
Intransitive verb endings: ~ある, ~おる, れる
Often transitive: げる, てる, ねる, べる
Complete Guessing Game: ける, える, any other う ending

Pair Types

  • す pair: verb ending in す, せる, or ぜる is transitive. Other verb is intransitive.
  • ある pair: verb ending in an ある or あれる sound is intransitive. Other verb is transitive.
  • う pair: verb ending in える sound is usually transitive. Verbs ending in れる are intransitive. Verbs ending in ける can go either way.

That’s all the information I’ve compiled for now but there’s certainly more research here. I tried to look a bit more into the linguistic origins of transitivity but my research kind of hit a brick wall. That’s something I would like to expand in the future if I have the time, but I might have to find my way past some academic pay walls. No explanation I have found so far can explain the ある/える pairs. I’ve also seen some demand for a userscript focused on transitivity pairs. The information is all compiled at this point so it shouldn’t be that hard to make. But I personally don’t have much experience making userscripts. Perhaps this is something I might try my hand at in the future.

Happy Studying and Good Luck! 頑張って~

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Thanks for putting this together. It’s obvious that it took quite a bit of work and is super nice to have a single reference in one place. I was already aware of the general patterns personally from other sources, but seeing them specifically applied to the verbs on WK and all of the breakdowns is really interesting and also helps provide a realistic gauge to how well or not those generalized patterns actually apply to a real corpus.

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Great write up! I had started to pick up on these patterns myself but seeing it all laid out in a well thought out post really helped solidify it :grinning:

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WOW, impressive!!!
Thanks for your effort into this and sharing it with all of us :slight_smile:

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Would just like to point out here that this statement is probably better written using “might” instead of “may” as the latter can accidentally be misinterpreted to mean “allowed”, where “may not” → “not allowed to”. を can and does get used with intransitive verbs in Japanese, it’s just not marking a direct object in those cases (…usually. I seem to recall the feeling of encountering some counterexamples, though I can not remember any concretely).

For more information on this, look up “Lexical Causatives”, as this is what these are in English. You’re right that they aren’t very common in English anymore, but back when we were still a mostly Germanic language there were more.

This is because they are not a transitivity pair (in the sense of the rest of them). 怠ける has an alternative kanji of 懶ける, but 怠る does not have this, indicating that they do not stem from the same word/root, so no exception here. As I am not that far into Wanikani, I have to wonder why they translate 怠ける as “to neglect” for the primary meaning (which is transitive in English) when the verb in Japanese is intransitive (and curiously 怠る is transitive but gets translated to the “intransitive”/passive “to be negligent” in English). I believe the former instance is something that should be suggested for correction to Wanikani.


If anyone is looking to further grasp transitivity pairs and why they are the way they are then I invite them to go down the same rabbit hole I went down a few months ago wherein I learned that the system evolved from the changes that took place when the nidan verb conjugation broke down and three auxiliaries that were used (す、る、ゆ) underwent changes such that they would become modern (せる、れる、える) respectively if the conjugation was shimo-nidan.

The rabbit hole as I have investigated so far

If the verb had no auxiliary used, but shimo-nidan conjugation was used for the transitive version, you end up with う-intransitives (godan) + える transitives (ichidan): [立つ・立てる], [向く・向ける], [点く・点ける + 付く・付ける], [苦しむ・苦しめる], [進む・進める], [開く・開ける], [育つ・育てる]

If the verb had no auxiliary used, but shimo-nidan conjugation was used for the intransitive version, you end up with う-transitives (godan) + える intransitives (ichidan): [売る・売れる], [欠く・欠ける]
As you can see this was much rarer in comparison.

If both the す-auxiliary as a transitive and る/ゆ-auxiliary as intransitive were present, and shimo-nidan conjugation was used for one of them or neither, you end up with the pairs that look like they have no or confusing pattern: [外す・外れる], [見返す・見返る], [回す・回る], [直す・直る], [治す・治る], [通す・通る], [乗せる・乗る], [放す・放れる doublets of 離す・離れる], [流す・流れる], [消す・消える], [返す・返る]

If there was る/ゆ-auxiliary as intransitive and a non-auxiliary transitive that used shimo-nidan, you get the ある・える pairs: [下げる・下がる], [分ける・分かる], [止める・止まる], [広げる・広がる], [代える・代わる], [当てる・当たる], [曲げる・曲がる], [助ける・助かる], [決める・決まる], [受ける・受かる], [始める・始まる], [終える・終わる]*, [集める・集まる], [温める・温まる]

* 終える comes from をふる shimo-nidan, but 終わる’s development is not proven, with only a putative but unrecorded yodan version it would have derived from

There are some other smaller classes:

  • る/ゆ-aux intrans + non-shimo-nidan trans: [見る・見える], [生む・生まれる + 産む・産まれる]**
  • す-auxiliary trans? + shimo-nidan intrans: [出す・出る], [化かす・化ける]
  • す-aux trans? + non shimo-nidan intrans: [落とす・落ちる], [動かす・動く]

** While the Classical shimo-nidan forms are attested, these are indeed just the normal and passive forms rather than specific pairs
? I am unsure if it was actually the auxiliary or if it was actually just the causative

For fun:

  • 見る・見える・見せる | special case | actually just 見る trans 見ゆ intrans w/ ゆ->える because shimo-nidan + 見す caus w/ す->せる because shimo-nidan
  • 交ぜる・交じる | pair but with weird endings; 交ざる does exist though, falling into the category of “る/ゆ-auxiliary intrans + shimo-nidan trans” and 交じる may be from Okinawan; all of these are alternatives of 混ぜる・混ざる・混じる
  • 待つ・待たせる | not actually a pair. 待つ is listed as transitive in jp-jp dictionaries and 待たせる is just the causative of that, Wanikani just lists 待つ as also intransitive to match how “wait” is used ditransitively in English (even though one could argue that even in English, when you leave out the thing you are waiting for, it is still implied there is a thing you are waiting for and thus it would could be transitive with an omitted object, but this feels a little silly)
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A nitpick, but 他動詞 and 自動詞 were coined as Japanese words in the Meiji period exactly to correspond to the words “transitive” and “intransitive” in translated works about European languages, so any idea that “self move” and “other move” are somehow different concepts to intransitive/transitive seems like a misconception founded on the way the kanji compound happens to seem more “transparent” in meaning than the English terms IMHO.

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There are multiple things here I think.

(1) A transitive verb must have a direct object – but in Japanese it can be omitted if it’s clear in context, so you still might not see an を in the sentence you’re looking at.

(2) を has a few other uses besides marking the direct object, so you might see it in a sentence with an intransitive verb. The most common example is marking a location being moved through, eg 道路を走る. Some people try to analyse these as を still being a direct object marker, but I agree with the Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar in separating them. (For instance you can’t turn this kind of sentence with a を marked noun into a passive where the noun is in the subject position.)

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Of course things would be a bit more complicated. I’ll probably edit this part a little bit to be more clear.

Wow. I didn’t know this. If I’m being honest, I ripped that straight from Cure Dolly without really thinking about it. The more and more I study, the less and less I find myself agreeing with the way she tends to frame things. I don’t even really think I understand what she was getting at in the video anyway. Her example was 従う and 従える, which fair enough “to obey” is transitive in english so the fact that it’s the intransitive pair is a bit confusing. But the idea that one verb might be transitive in one language and intransitive in another is not that surprising. I’ll probably reword this section a bit.

This was exactly the kind of information I was looking for! I looked through a few books (Bjarke Frellesvig’s A History of the Japanese Language specifically) but I couldn’t find any information on this. I wonder if you could point me some of the resources you’ve found.

So I guess to form a complete chart it would be:

自 Verb Type 他 Verb Type Example (自) Example (他)
non-nidan nidan 構う 構える
nidan non-nidan 焼ける 焼く
る/ゆ aux す aux (nidan) 乗る 乗せる
る/ゆ aux (nidan) す aux 外れる 外す
る/ゆ aux (nidan) す aux (nidan) 見える? 見せる?
る/ゆ aux す aux 返る 返す
る/ゆ aux nidan 上がる 上げる
る/ゆ aux non-nidan 繋がる 繋ぐ
nidan す aux 溶ける 溶かす
non-nidan す aux 飛ぶ 飛ばす
non-nidan causitive 怒る 怒らせる
passive non-nidan 呼ばれる 呼ぶ

I notice there might be some kami-nidan pairs in there as well. 起きる・起こす and 伸びる・伸ばす for example. But thank you for this info, it explains just about all the patterns that I’ve seen. Though there are some す pairs that do some weird things. For example, 刺さる and 刺す, just the rare case where the original verb was actually just a す verb on its own? or 散る vs 散らかす I wonder what’s going on there.

I was fairly lenient with what I decided to include as a transitivity pair. Even though I knew quite a number of them weren’t mentioned in my monolinguals. I figure if it’s framed by WK as a transitivity pair and it follows all the patterns then it would be helpful to include it. The one that gave me the most trouble though was all of the 揺 verbs (揺れる, 揺る, 揺さぶる, 揺らぐ, and 揺する), I eventually decided 揺れる and 揺る were the pairs but I haven’t learned these verbs yet. I’m not really sure what the difference is between all these and if or what the pattern is.

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I need to go through and search for and compile more credible resources. Everything I learned was just what I could find through wiktionary. On wiktionary, if a verb has a transitivity pair, they actually list it on the entry. Additionally, there is a wiktionary appendix entry for Transitivity of Japanese verbs that essentially taught me these basics. I too would like to find more academic resources that explain all of what they have. There’s also on the same page a section briefly covering Classical Japanese conjugation that was helpful.

Your chart looks good! It’s exactly the kind of thing I meant to compile but got busy with other things and never finished.


About kami-nidan verbs: you’re right. This is the note I made to myself about 起きる et al specifically

起きる・起こす | really not sure how to classify this pair. 起きる comes from 起く which was kami-nidan and ditransitive. wiktionary says 起こす also comes from this verb (起く) but I cannot figure out how the sound change happened and why it has す. 起こす is also the pair of 起こる, adding to the confusion

So I’m really not sure what to do with it. This is where having access to more academic resources would help but I’m almost certain they would be in Japanese.

Your other examples I can’t find good information on either on wiktionary, so again I think I’d need the academic resources to investigate.


This is how I have seen many others feel about Cure Dolly. It sort of comes across as a honey pot for beginners; they don’t know much, so what she says makes enough sense to them and seems to help them out. But once they move away from the starting line, they start to realize much of what she says isn’t as helpful as they once thought. Thus, I see a lot of people who are more intermediate to advanced recommend against Cure Dolly. Personally I’ve never actually looked at any of her material. Because my background is in linguistics, for a lot of things I don’t need a framework to help me reason about grammar; if I can find out what the grammar is in linguistics terms, often that will be enough for me to understand what’s going on (of course this doesn’t apply to everything though).

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That’s a really good resource. Unfortunetly wikitionary is not as thorough on references as wikipedia so it doesnt list where it got it from. Oh well :confused:

This is the true goal! What all of us come here to learn. How to read dusty linguistics papers and dictionaries in another language.

Anyway I still find her Cure Dolly’s videos helpful sometimes. Now though I often get information from lots of different sources. My favorite right now though is Kaname.

His videos a really informative and understandable and coming at it from a native perspective he can speak a lot to how colloquial speech actaully sounds like. His favorite expression is “you could say that but it sounds weird”. You don’t really get to pick and choose topics though. He kinda just talks about whatever he wants to talk about.

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I’ve just recently stumbled upon Kaname as well! His video on how to “tell stories” in Japanese was incredibly helpful to me because I occasionally watch JP vtubers and that means there’s a lot of talking about things that have happened to them and I hear the things he talks about in the video a lot, especially さ.

For anyone interested:

Definitely an instant favorite resource.

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Thank you for this! Although, it raises another question for me. I believe that the intransitive should also be able to be made passive as in 切られられる. However, even if it’s grammatical, I don’t know if Japanese would actually use it or if it even makes sense. I think I see a pattern, but find out I can’t use it all the time makes me sad. :wink: I guess that just means I need more repetition of native speakers and just accept it as gospel!

Hm, well considering the passive form changes the object of the sentence into the subject and intransitive sentences have no object. I wouldn’t imagine passive intransitive would get used all that much. But 入れる is transitive, so you will see 入れられる in quite a few places

I mean consider it in english, if “to wait” is intransitive (barring working in a restaurant) then lets see if we can fill in the blanks “____ was waited”. Outside of waiting a table, I don’t really think we can put anything in those blanks. Now japanese is not english, and it would not surprise me at all if there was some context where it was used. If there’s one thing I’ve learned by now its that the answer is usually not “it’s always like this” but instead “it’s very rare for it not to be like this”. That goes across the entire language

Warning, linguistics terms first: A passive construction that already reduces the valence of a clause to 1 argument generally cannot again be passivized as this would reduce the valence to 0 (however, we do see 0 valence constructions in practice, typically calling these “Impersonal Passive”, but not all languages will have this nor does it mean it is achieved through duplication of the passive construction of that language).

Without the linguistics terminology: No, you cannot just keep chaining passives together like that; 切られられる is ungrammatical (you can check this by just trying to search for this term; pretty much all your results will be corrected to 切られる). This is because you would be getting rid of the only remaining direct argument, the subject. When you passivize something, you are taking away one of its direct arguments, thus you typically only see passives with verbs that take a direct object (transitive verbs). Trying to passivize an intransitive would result in you trying to delete the subject from the sentence. Now, this isn’t to say it’s impossible, it’s just that the type of sentence where there is no true subject and no objects isn’t made by reduplication of the passive conjugation in Japanese.

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Thanks for that! It makes more sense when phrased that way. I was never very good at English grammar in school. Now I’m having to learn that again in order to learn Japanese! But, at the same time, Japanese is different than English so English grammar can sometimes make it harder. However, as an engineer, I want to see patterns that I can use. Thanks again!

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I would just like to point out that you wrote “intransitive” for both ある and える verbs in that paragraph

Thank you. Fixed it

In English I can say:

I bounced the ball down the stairs

and

The ball bounced down the stairs

The former is transitive. The latter is intransitive and, though not passive, what was formerly the object is now the subject. (This is a weird quirk of verbs like “to bounce” and “to roll” but not for example “to throw”.) Is it the correct template for transitive/intransitive pairs in Japanese?

From a simple point of view, yes.

You’ll run into some challenges where verbs are intransitive in Japanese but transitive in English or vice versa, but that’s just a matter of getting used to things.

I have this note saved to myself about the nature of English transitivity versus Japanese transitivity. I need to learn more so I can make an assessment to the veracity of it:

The English terms are generally used to refer to the syntax or structure of a sentence, and whether the verb in the sentence is followed by an object. The Japanese terms refer to the semantics or meaning of the verb, and whether the action of that verb is happening to or upon something else.

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So apparently “bounce” and “roll” are examples of so called “labile verbs” which have this dual transitive/intransitive nature. According to the Wikipedia page, the transitive/intransitive pairs in Japanese do indeed play the same grammatical role.