What's the Difference? To look back at

If you search for the phrase “To look back at”, you get two results, one is mikaeRU and the other is mikaeSU. The context sentences feel like they have the same meaning. There there a difference between these two?



As it notes in jisho already: one is a transitive verb and one is an intransitive verb. ^^


Thanks for the video! I’ve have a hard time understanding the whole transitivity thing. What’s jisho?

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Jisho.org one of the more commonly used ENG-JP online dictionary websites. My mind auto filled in that you lookedit up there, but that’s my assumptions showing. :slight_smile:


Transitive verbs can take a direct object (marked by the を particle), intransitive do not require a direct object.

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The problem is that one/two¹ of the example sentences for 見返す don’t have a direct object marked with を, while two of the example sentences for 見返る do have an object marked with を. I think it’s especially confusing that for 見返す it’s about a kitten looking back at me, and for 見返る it’s about a baby looking back at me, which makes them seem interchangeable².

When I googled “difference 見返る 見返す” I found an answer from @TofuguKanae and two answers on HiNative:

I think it’s interesting that neither of these native speakers mentioned transitivity.

And here are two other WK forum threads with the same question:

¹ In the sentence “答案は提出する前に見返したほうがいい。”, 答案 is the direct object, but it is marked with は instead of を. So this sentence does have a direct object, it is just omitted to avoid repetition (答案は答案をみかえすas for the test, look back over the test=> 答案はみかえすas for the test, look back over (it)). At least that’s how I interpret it.

² Maybe the difference is that in the case of the kitten, it first looked at me, then at the sardines, and after that it looks back at me again, while the baby just looks at me? Probably not, and I’m just trying to construct a difference where there is none.

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I updated my wording since obviously transitive verbs can be used without an explicit direct object. I didn’t mean to state that every sentence using a transitive verb has to have a specific direct object. And in casual speech, obviously を is dropped quite a lot. And even the part about を with intransitive verbs is subject to exceptions (such as saying 部屋を出る).

Can you provide these sentences?

Is it actually a direct object or just the topic? I can say ケーキは食べる and ケーキを食べる where obviously I would translate both as “I eat [the] cake”, but I don’t believe that means that the ケーキ is a direct object in the first sentence even if that’s the way it would be worded in English. It sounds like a similar case in the sentence you mention.


過去 looks like a direct object (?)


後ろ looks like a direct object (?)
I don’t have much confidence in my grammar knowledge, so I might be entirely wrong.

I think in the sentence “ケーキは食べる”, the direct object to 食べる is still ケーキ, but it is omitted: ケーキはケーキを食べる. Similar to how Dr. Jay Rubin and Cure Dolly say that every sentence has a subject marked with が, but it is sometimes omitted¹. Maybe that’s not really what happens in the sentence “ケーキは食べる”, but it seems plausible to me.

¹ So in my mind, the complete sentence is: ケーキは私がケーキを食べる。

Well Cure Dolly also admits that the zero pronoun is just a convenience invented to clarify Japanese for non-native speakers and that Japanese people likely have no need or even the concept of the ‘zero pronoun’.

Japanese academic linguists are not primarily concerned with utility for the foreign user* (neither should they be). So really there is no “argument” here. They may be “right” insofar as their own attempt to free Japanese grammar from foreign influences is concerned.

The concept of the zero pronoun, for example, is quite patently a way of making Japanese clearer to people who already have the concept of a pronoun as part of their apparatus for formulating meaning.

I don’t think Japanese people themselves have any need of (and from a “Japanese purity” perspective should very likely avoid) the concept of the zero pronoun.

However, it does clarify Japanese very effectively for foreign learners, and, unlike Eihongo grammar, does no violence to the Japanese structure. Indeed it is a wholly valid (but not exclusively valid) way of describing what is happening.


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As to the other part about the を見返る maybe it’s a usage related to this question:

Maybe it’s just something that has become a natural collocation even though it appears to be an exception to the normal rules?

Edit to add:

I missed this from one of the HiNative threads you posted:

見返すand 見返る mean look back. 見返る is old-fashioned and we use 振り返る instead. Only 見返す means look once more

From that bolded part, maybe the phrase is just an old fashioned equivalent of 過去を振り返る?

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