Transitive versus intransitive

I think there are two things happening here:

  • 開ける read as あける is also the potential form of 開く so theoretically one can say that the “door can be opened”, but maybe that sounds wrong with が
  • 開く read as ひらく means “to unravel” or “to open up” or “to unfold” and it’s more related to things like flowers, businesses, etc. It’s less tangible than あく. The potential form would be ひらける, but that to me sounds weird. Maybe it makes sense in some contexts, though.

I did some extra digging and there are unfortunately overlaps between あく and ひらく so it might be more context-dependent yet.

The definition of transitive as “has a direct object” is the issue. To obey or to follow generally have a direct object (even when it’s implied, as in “he went … and I followed”.

In other words there is a slight mismatch between the definitions. If you instead go by the underlying “does this act on something else?” you get closer to 他動詞.

I don’t really see how there’s a mismatch. “to follow” is transitive in English and 従う is intransitive in Japanese. It’s annoying for people when they have to remember those “opposite” verbs, but it doesn’t change what transitive and intransitive mean.

Very interesting discussion, it’s brought a question to my mind. What about reflexive verbs? By definition, they require a direct object (and in English, a transitive verb) but under the self/other-move system, if I were to use my intuition (I haven’t studied Japanese reflexive constructions yet), I would place them in the former group and guess that they therefore use the ‘intransitive’ form? :thinking:

In Japanese they would be 再帰動詞 but I couldn’t find any reference outside of research papers and most were behind paywalls.

Practically though, I’ve found that Japanese tends to just make use of reflexive pronouns (再帰代名詞) with both 他動詞 and 自動詞 verbs for that kind of construction.

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