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Transitive, Intransitive and which particle should be used.

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Transitive, Intransitive and which particle should be used.

Postby lonelytraveler8 » Fri 11.06.2009 11:57 pm

Hello. A short conversation regarding transitive and intransitive verbs took place in the 日本語の練習 subforum and I would very much like to see it continued over here. I am personally very unsure of myself when it comes to such things and don't really understand why some verbs take を, some take が, or possibly a different particle. Is this something that can be accurately figured out based on the meaning of the verb, or are we forced to learn the proper particle for each individual verb?

My primary reason for asking is that looking up a verb dictionary doesn't necessarily tell you which particle to use (this really applies to online dictionaries, since real dictionaries are pretty much guaranteed to have example sentences).
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Re: Transitive, Intransitive and which particle should be used.

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sat 11.07.2009 12:08 am

To reiterate what I said in the other thread, the basic idea is that verbs that involve control or "human will" mark their objects with を, and those that do not mark them with が. There are some things which are maybe not actually exceptions, but are at least not obvious, but those can be learned individually.

So you say 日本語を話す because you can directly control whether you are speaking Japanese or not. But 日本語が話せる because you are not able to directly control whether you are *able* to speak Japanese (you can work towards it, but it's not really controllable).
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Re: Transitive, Intransitive and which particle should be used.

Postby furrykef » Sat 11.07.2009 12:42 am

I think that explanation might be too advanced -- so far I've rarely encountered this except in 分かる vs. 知る and the potential form of verbs -- and might not actually cover the cases that lonelytraveler8 is actually confused about. lonelytraveler8, can you provide some examples of verbs or sentences that confuse you?
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Re: Transitive, Intransitive and which particle should be used.

Postby keatonatron » Sat 11.07.2009 12:54 am

lonelytraveler8 wrote:I am personally very unsure of myself when it comes to such things and don't really understand why some verbs take を, some take が, or possibly a different particle.


It seems to me like you are making it more complicated than it is. I didn't read the other thread, but it's very possible that this isn't your fault :lol:

When it comes to transitive and intransitive it's quite simple: the doer of the action always uses が and the receiver of the action uses を. With an intransitive verb, the receiver of the action becomes the doer, and so you use が where you would have used を if the verb had been transitive.

The hardest part, really, is just remembering which form is transitive and which is intransitive.

For example:

(私が)車を止めた。 I stopped the car. (I am the doer, using が. The car is the receiver, using を.)

Change the transitive verb 止める to the intransitive form 止まる, and you get:

車が止まった。 The car stopped. (Now the car is doing the action itself, so を changes to が)

This を/が relationship is the same with all transitive/intransitive pairs.

When you start talking about the potential form of verbs (etc.) things change, but connecting that to transitive/intransitive is confusing, and so I recommend you just remember that as a special (separate) rule.
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Re: Transitive, Intransitive and which particle should be used.

Postby lonelytraveler8 » Sat 11.07.2009 2:10 am

Well, I wasn't particularly confused about anything. I was just more curious about how I should figure out which particle to use if I look up a new verb. Keatonatron's explanation is pretty much what I understood it to be, and the examples helped a great deal in putting into perspective.

PS - I also thought someone who tried to search the forums about this in the future would have a much easier time getting relevant material if there was a thread specifically about it.
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Re: Transitive, Intransitive and which particle should be used.

Postby Astral Abraxas » Sat 11.07.2009 5:30 am

The way I always see it is intransitive verbs are explaining something that does something (the store opened etc) so naturally (even in english) it IS subject, to treat it as something different would be incorrect. Transitive verbs are talking about how someone did something to something. Xは日本語を勉強している。 X is studying Japanese.

side note:

(the store opened) = intransitive store did something
(the store was opened) = passive something happened to the store

Now, the reason why transitive verbs can take が

日本語を話せる and 日本語が話せる

Are both technically correct because 話す is transitive. 日本語が話せる is stressing 日本語 more than 日本語を話せる。 日本語が話せる you're talking 100% specifically about Japanese it's now the subject. The difference is kind of like "It's Japanese that I can speak"(日本語が話せる) vs "I can speak Japanese"(日本語を話せる). Notice how Japanese sticks out more in the first one?

When you're talking about something you CAN do, it's natural, at least in Japanese to make that something the subject. It makes sense to do that honestly. 日本語を話せる isn't incorrect but it's substandard because of this. Textbooks will tell you it's not incorrect but substandard. However, they don't explain it to you. This is why I think it is.

Yudan Taiteki disagrees with this explanation but it works perfectly for me. There maybe an exception that his explanation might work better for that case but this works for me.
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Re: Transitive, Intransitive and which particle should be used.

Postby keatonatron » Sat 11.07.2009 6:01 am

Astral Abraxas wrote:日本語を話せる and 日本語が話せる
Are both technically correct because 話す is transitive.


I'm not sure that's right. I think changing a verb to the potential form (i.e. X-える) changes the meaning to something similar to an intransitive form, so it should (in theory) only take が. We translate this form as simply "can [speak]", but it's actually more complicated than that.

It has often been said that only 日本語が話せる is correct, and I based on experience I think that is true. 日本語を話せる is an incorrect-but-still-occasionally-seen phrase similar to 彼女を好きです. :wink:
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Re: Transitive, Intransitive and which particle should be used.

Postby Astral Abraxas » Sat 11.07.2009 6:09 am

http://img43.imageshack.us/img43/1529/imggk.jpg

Says otherwise keatonatron

Edit:

In addition I also explained why he should use が all the time in my previous explanation for potential verbs.

Edit:

While following my explanation, you may try and say something that may technically be correct but is unnatural. You need to learn the "natural" way to say things. To do this you do what Magamo stresses: use native material.

It's like this:

In english it's more natural to say "I can speak Japanese" but in Japanese it's more natural to say "It's Japanese that I can speak." but neither are incorrect! You need to learn this through practice. Interacting with Japanese using native material etc.
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Re: Transitive, Intransitive and which particle should be used.

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sat 11.07.2009 10:14 am

furrykef wrote:I think that explanation might be too advanced


I don't think so, and in any case, the volition vs. non-volition affects a lot of other things in Japanese, such as the use of たい forms.
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Re: Transitive, Intransitive and which particle should be used.

Postby keatonatron » Sat 11.07.2009 10:30 am

Native material is a good idea. Here's how one person explains it:

現在では日本人の大多数が「私は英語を話せる」に違和感を覚えなくなっています。
オーソドックスには、「私は英語【が】話せる」か「私は『英語【を】話す』こと【が】できる」と言うべきなのです。

可能動詞は「話す」→「話せる」のように形成されますが、
同じパターンで他動詞から“受動動詞”、“自発動詞”というべきものが形成されます。
こちらは可能動詞ほどほとんど例外なく形成されるわけではないため、派生自動詞として別途辞書の見出しにも掲げられます。
 「謎を解く」→「謎が解ける」≒「謎が解かれる」 (受動)
 「気を置く」→「気が置ける」≒「気が置かれる」 (自発)
可能動詞も発生の経緯はこれらと同じです。
ですから、可能動詞は「~を」という目的格を承けることはないのが本来の在り方なのです。
「英語を話せる」でもかまわないと言うのは、現状追認のために取って付けた説明で、日本語を正しく考察したものとは思われません。


As I said, *proper* grammar dictates that you can not use を with the potential form, however many people have started doing that recently. Your textbook appears to be teaching "natural Japanese" without giving much background. (This is actually a good example for that other thread, where Coco is asking about natural Japanese vs. textbook Japanese :wink: )

But the reason for my post wasn't to debate what is and isn't correct; as Chris says, the rules of modern language are created by the people who use it. Rather, I meant to say, in a nice way, that your explanation of the difference between を and が in those sentences is not accurate, and is not a reliable answer for why both forms exist.

The correct answer, as I have always understood it, is that originally the potential form of a verb had an intransitive meaning, and so instead of "I can speak English" a more accurate translation would be "English can be spoken by me". (Another person happened to point out that when を changes to が, が changes to [に]は, as in 私[に]は英語が話せます) Recently things have simply evolved, and people have stopped thinking of it intransitively (and perhaps got tired of the ambiguity) and have started changing the form of the verb while leaving the particles as-is.
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Re: Transitive, Intransitive and which particle should be used.

Postby NocturnalOcean » Sat 11.07.2009 10:35 am

I am quite sure using を with potential verbs it not wrong at all.
I remember from when I attended Keio, we read a book written by a Japanese professor, and one sentence had を coupled with the potential form, and I remember at that time I was very surprised, cause I had learned that が was the only correct particle to use. But then my teacher in that class had a long and detailed explanation of the nuances of using を instead of が in those situations. Unfortunately, due to my poor memory, I can't really remember why, but it made me at least aware of that using を is not wrong in certain contexts and so on.
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Re: Transitive, Intransitive and which particle should be used.

Postby Astral Abraxas » Sat 11.07.2009 12:11 pm

NocturnalOcean wrote:I am quite sure using を with potential verbs it not wrong at all.


It's not wrong. They can say it is if they want to but not only does the textbook I linked to say other wise but I have native Japanese that agree with me.
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Re: Transitive, Intransitive and which particle should be used.

Postby keatonatron » Sat 11.07.2009 12:50 pm

Astral Abraxas wrote:but I have native Japanese that agree with me.


That's quite a moot point, since I have native Japanese that agree with me as well. :wink:

And if textbooks make you feel better, here's one that simply states that を changes to が:
みんなの日本語

And another: 日本語教育文法講義[...]

This one says that textbooks and reference books state that only が should be used, but recently people have started using を also: 新・はじめての日本語教育基本用語事典

I should apologize, though, for my original statement coming across stronger than it should have. I fear I made it sound like I think it's wrong to use を; I don't. However, I do believe it was at one point considered wrong and (relatively) recently became acceptable.

Of course, you've been focusing on this (something that we agree on), while ignoring my real point which I explained in my last post. :P
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Re: Transitive, Intransitive and which particle should be used.

Postby magamo » Sat 11.07.2009 1:33 pm

NocturnalOcean wrote:[...]But then my teacher in that class had a long and detailed explanation of the nuances of using を instead of が in those situations. Unfortunately, due to my poor memory, I can't really remember why, but it made me at least aware of that using を is not wrong in certain contexts and so on.

You might be interested in this short article about the を/が interchangeability:

http://www.ritsumei.ac.jp/acd/cg/lt/rb/ ... gasiya.pdf

This is written in Japanese, but it doesn't use obscure technical terms and is accessible to everyone who has a solid grasp of Japanese. The author talks about which particle is preferred in what kind of situation. Difference in usage between generations is briefly discussed too.

Anyway, it's not very easy to choose the right particle for the "object" or "object-like noun" of a verb such as を in 車を止める and が in あなたが好き. If you take a verb in the dictionary form out of context and try to give the "most likely" particle to be used to mark its object, keatonatron's doer-receiver explanation works in many cases.

You need more explanations to handle a little more complicated cases like conjugated verbs. I think Yudan Taikeki's volition/controllable explanation nicely sums them up. The volition approach works well for many short phrases taken out of context, and probably this is the best explanation in the sense that it's simple and covers most cases. I think what's happening in a native speaker's mind is more or less like this explanation.

The thing is that it's not that easy to know if the verb in a phrase is volitional or not in the sense of particle choice ("Volitional" here isn't the volitional form of verbs.). You might be able to decide if a given verb is volitional or not for each conjugated form, but those particles determined by the rule are merely the most frequent ones, and you'll find a lot of examples where less frequent particles are used.

This doesn't mean the volition rule is wrong, but rather collocation is as important as this general rule, and sometimes surrounding words and context can also influence the volition/non-volition feel in a native speaker's mind.

So it's not very easy to deal with full sentences in real life, and reasonable explanations that can handle full sentences in context would be inevitably lengthy and not very practical for many learners. If you're interested, the article I linked in this post is not very difficult for advanced learners, I think. It doesn't explain the を/が interchangeability in detail, but it might be helpful if you want to know how native speakers' minds work.

If you're into grammar and want to learn more about related topics such as Xを合格する vs. Xに合格する (similar problem of を vs. に), I recommend 現代日本語文法概説. It's based on modern results in linguistics and gives solid explanations for a lot of Japanese grammar points, though it's written in Japanese so it would be quite difficult for beginning/intermediate students.

As for Astral Abraxas's explanation, it seems to me that his/her theory falls somewhere between the simplest keatonatron's doer-receiver explanation and Yudan Taikeki's volition rule. It may not be as sophisticated as the volition rule, but I couldn't find obviously unnatural Japanese sentences in his/her post. If it works for sentences you normally come across, it should be a nice explanation. If the volition rule is too advanced but the doer-receiver rule is too simple for you, this might be a good workaround.

But I'm not a teacher or anything, so take it with a huge grain of salt.

Edit: Added a comment "'Volitional' here isn't the volitional form of verbs" to avoid confusion.
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Re: Transitive, Intransitive and which particle should be used.

Postby Astral Abraxas » Sat 11.07.2009 4:09 pm

I might be contradicting myself but... It's not just the verb that decides whether to use が or を but you also need to understand what the particles really mean. It's easy to say "が marks the subject, を the object" but to really understand what that means and how Japanese take advantage of that is a completely different thing.

Another thing

Yudan Taiteki wrote:I don't think so, and in any case, the volition vs. non-volition affects a lot of other things in Japanese, such as the use of たい forms.


You're right. It's natural to say ミルクが飲みたい not ミルクを飲みたい。 If you understand the particles it should be obvious why you use が and not を。 Grammatically 飲みたい is like an adjective though... for the same reason you don't say Xをむずかしい you don't say Xを飲みたい。 Wait a second... Instead of trying to explain the grammar I'll tell you how I pick my particles.

When I choose I don't think if the verb is transitive or intransitive or any of that. I always think simply about what I'm saying. "I want to drink milk" if this is what I want to say, milk sticks out in my head and I naturally choose が. If I say "I can speak Japanese" Japanese sticks out in my head and I choose が. If I say "I will speak Japanese" it doesn't stick out especially and I choose を. I'm not sure why though. Maybe it's this volition / non-volition thing you're speaking of...

Magamo wrote:As for Astral Abraxas's explanation, it seems to me that his/her theory falls somewhere between the simplest keatonatron's doer-receiver explanation and Yudan Taikeki's volition rule. It may not be as sophisticated as the volition rule, but I couldn't find obviously unnatural Japanese sentences in his/her post. If it works for sentences you normally come across, it should be a nice explanation. If the volition rule is too advanced but the doer-receiver rule is too simple for you, this might be a good workaround.


I just puke out Japanese and hope to god it's right :) I don't really think about it that much when I use it.

EDIT:

The reason I was against the volition rule is opposite of what you're thinking. It just sounds too simple to be true D:

I simply try to develop Japanese instinct. I use grammar to take my first step and from there I disregard it.
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