Why is 写る "to be photographed" and not "to photograph"?

Been a while since I studied Japanese, trying to get back into it, so maybe this is an incorrect understanding but: why does WK define 写る as “to be photographed” and not “to photograph”? Wouldn’t “to be photographed” be 写られる? (for the record, not saying WK is incorrect–they’re the experts obviously lol–just trying to understand a little better)

Also: what’s the difference between 写る and 写られる then? Assuming it has more to do with how someone feels about being photographed, maybe?


[quote=“tsubasa401, post:1, topic:60698, full:true”]why does WK define 写る as “to be photographed”

Because that’s what it means?


写る is what’s called an intransitive verb. This means, that the action doesn’t have an object, rather it’s happening to them. Think about drop vs fall, drop is transitive, you drop something, while fall is intranstive, you can’t fall something, you can fall yourself. This same thing is happening with 写る, it’s intrasitive, it’s being photographed.
It’s actually in a very common intransitive-transitive pair-type, the transitive version of it, so “to photograph” is 写す. This す-る pairing will come up very often.

What you described, 写られる is passive , and as far as I know, it’s not possible, because it’s an intransitive verb(nevermind, this is true for English, false for Japanese, it’s just incredibly hard to translate). Passive has a very similar meaning to intransitive verbs, the difference is, while the intransitive verbs don’t have someone responsible for the action, with passive there is, it’s just not mentioned. Think about “It fell” vs “It was dropped”, first sentence uses an intransitive verb, second uses passive and there’s a definite difference between them.

So the trio you can look out for is the intransitive 写る, the active transitive 写す, and the passive transitive 写される. With “photographed”, the difference is not obvious, but it’s there.


Also, as a quick aside, and a quick shill. You can use the online dictionary jotoba.com. Among other features, there’s a button that takes you to the transitivity pair of a given verb. So for 写る, there’s this button:
That takes you right to the transitive version of the verb

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I imagine the wording of the English gloss is what’s causing confusion.

If you read a monolingual definition, it’s actually more literally like “to appear in a photograph” or “for a photograph to be taken.”

1 写真に姿・形が現れる。写真が撮れる。

But that’s kind of awkward in English to learn as something you have to put in as an answer.

So they chose something that is roughly what you’d say in English, despite the fact that the English gloss is passive.


The passive is a specific conjugation that changes the argument structure of a verb. In many cases, it takes a transitive verb and makes it intransitive.[0]

But there’s also verbs that are “naturally” intransitive. In Japanese, these occur quite often.

So, it’s wrong to think of intransitive and passive as opposite terms, they just describe different things.

[0] This is true of the regular passive in English and the so-called direct passive in Japanese, but Japanese also allows for the affective/indirect passive, where the construction might still be transitive.


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