To X or to be X'ed - that is the question

Hi all,

How do you deal with to X vs to be X’ed vocabulary items?
I understand that eventually, with enough practice, it’s supposed to get penetrated into my mind and feel natural, but after over a year it still feels like a coin toss. Even when they get burned, it feels like luck rather than accomplishment.

There are two mnemonics that I know that so far that seem rather consistent:
‘す’ as in ‘写す’, to X Sue
‘ける’ as in ’ 助ける’, to X because you care

How did you memorize them, and what mnemonics did you use, if any?


I ignored the mnemonics altogether and learned the transitive vs intransitive patterns, because these are useful in day-to-day grammar endeavors outside of WaniKani.

I think maybe focusing too much on the mnemonics and translations doesn’t work for you? :slight_smile:


For everything involving す, I think the reason behind that is that they’re all related to する in some way. する used to be す in Classical Japanese, after all. する is clearly transitive (i.e. ‘to X’), so these verbs are too.

For the rest though…

Yes. Please learn these. They apply to pairs of verbs that start with the same sounds. The main ones are

Transitive=To X Intransitive=To be X’ed
〜う 〜える
〜える 〜ある

These are the sounds at the end of each verb. The kana used may not be exactly the same: you might see 〜める and 〜まる instead, for example.

The first pattern is a little less consistent in my experience, and may – but should not – be confused with the transformation into the potential form for godan verbs, but it’s still useful. Here are some examples: 切る・切れる、つく・つける

For the second pattern, here are a few: 集める・集まる、始める・始まる、終える・終わる
(The last one is a bit of an exception, but you can see the similarity, and it makes sense because ‘WE’ doesn’t exist as a sound in Modern Japanese.)


Thank you for the info!

Wonderful information, thank you. It seems I just failed to recognize these patterns (to my defense, verbs like 切れる and つける are partly to blame).

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It’s OK. It takes time for them to sink in, and in the beginning, honestly, you only have a hunch at best. It’s something you’d need external confirmation for unless you’re massively exposed to Japanese and notice that the pattern is everywhere (i.e. you’re immersed like a native speaker).

In any case, I’m glad it helped you, and I hope you’ll have an easier time remembering the difference from now on. :slight_smile:

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