Transitive / Intransitive
■ While this topic may seem complex, familiarize yourself with the concepts and learn examples. Eventually, it will seem natural to you.
■ Transitive verbs require an object:
I want a dog. [want is a transitive verb that requires an object (dog).]
■ Intransitive verbs don't require an object:
I sang. [sang is intransitive and does not require an object]
■ In Japanese, the same verb can take both forms by changing its sound slightly to indicate transitive or intransitive. The good news is, you can learn two words for just a little extra studying. You only have to learn one kanji and the two verb forms usually sound similar.
■ A transitive verb indicates the action is done by someone or something.
In Japanese, these verbs are called 他動詞 and take an object before the particle を.
Sentence Pattern for Transitive (他動詞) verbs:
Acting Agent は (or が) | Object を | Verb
With a transitive (他動詞) verb, the は or が marks the actor that causes the action on the object.
The を marks the direct object, the object the actor affects. In some cases, however, が marks the object. See our entry on が for more on that.
intransitive verb has the action done but who or what caused the action isn't important.
In Japanese, these verbs are called 自動詞.
Sentence Pattern for Intransitive (自動詞) verbs:
Noun は (or が) | Verb
How to Use:
■ Let's look at a verb pair that tripped up Clay as a beginner: 落とす (transitive; to drop something) and 落ちる (intransitive; to fall)
I dropped the ball.
The ball dropped.
■ Now, let's look at a 入れる (to insert; to put inside—transitive) and 入る (to enter--intransitive) [Notice the sound change.]
私は、猫を家に入れます。 I put the cat inside the house.
猫が家に入ります。 The cat goes inside the house.
With the intransitive form (入る to enter) the subject is doing its own entering and therefore doesn't have an object.
■ With a transitive (他動詞) verb, the は or が marks the actor that causes the action on the object.
■ The を marks the direct object.
Here is a list of useful transitive/intransitive pairs.
出す to take out
出る to leave
入れる to put in
入る to enter
起こす to awaken
起きる to wake up
落とす to drop (something)
落ちる to fall down
開ける to open out
閉める to shut
閉まる to be shut