Post Reply Transititivity and Intransitivity in Japanese language 1
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Posted 11/15/08 , edited 11/16/08
You'll be surprised how long you can study Japanese for without moving a notch up to intermediate if you don't stay in Japan where practice is free for use all the time. And yes, lovelies, this is a rather difficult concept for beginners and english speakers. Transitivity and Intransitivity. I will focus solely on the meaning for today, which might or might not stretch into a series depending on how well this thread is received.


Transitivity and Intransitivity.


Transitivity and Intransitivity. This is used to denote active and passive states in Japanese language. The verbs in the Japanese language differ in the sense that transitivity and intransitivity is not marked solely by particles as would normally happen in English:

The cat broke the glass.

Passive: The glass was broken (by the cat).

Note that the tense here is both past tense, the active form contains the active agent performing an action, which is the cat breaking the glass.

The difficulty here is that in english you can tell passive forms by looking at change in structure of words. The glass that was at the end of the sentence has now moved up to the top of the sentence.

Transitivity in Japanese

In Japanese, this would be slightly different. Transitivity would mean an active agent (cat) performing an action (break) TO an object (glass). This result is that there is an action that is transfered, and its effect is left on the object. This happens in real time, and not past tense, unless you use a past form of the verb:

neko wa garasu wo warimasu.
agent-topic particle-object-obj particle-action verb+tense (if any).

Warimasu --> dictionary form = waru 割る
waru will be the transitive verb form meaning 'to break'

Intransitivity in Japanese

This is where is gets complicated. Where passive form in english can still have an agent that performs the action, in Japanese, the agent is completely eliminated. The particles used to mark the intransitive verb also changes from 'wo' to 'ga'.

Garasu ga waremasu.
object-subject particle-state describing verb

The glass (is) broke(n). (By itself, presumably, or it was broken when you said the sentence. Happening in real time.)

Waremasu ---> Wareru 割れる
Wareru is the intransitive verb form meaning 'break'.

Notice the lack of agent. Without the agent, you CAN'T accuse the cat! You can only describe what is there. if you want to accuse the cat, you have to learn another conjugation form, which is painful so just don't accuse the cat.


- AGENT --> action --> affects the object.
- generally using the particle 'wo'.

- AGENTLESS --> state
- generally using the particle 'ga'.

They are 'general' because in colloquial Japanese, particles and subjects are often obmitted when assumed that the listener is able to pick out the meaning. The Japanese have a habit of not being too direct in speech because being too direct robs the listener of active interpretation, and thus makes the listener look like an idiot being spoon fed information. Therefore, the Japanese are usually vague and use ... ... a lot. ... yes...

But that sort of headache will be left to next time to solve!

This is true, in what I've been learning in my area of studies (Japanese studies), this is true even in commercials and television shows. Language is rather sensitive to the Japanese people.

How do I tell transitive and intransitive verbs?
You can check up a good dictionary. I use a lot, but JWPce (search google) is good. When you see things like 'vi' it means intrans, and v5r or 'vt' means transitive. Good luck!
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