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]

Study Notes:

■ 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(たどうし) and take an object before the particle を.

Sentence Pattern for Transitive (他動詞(たどうし)) verbs:
Acting Agent は (or が) | Object を | Verb

With a transitive (他動詞(たどうし)) 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.


An 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(じどうし).

Sentence Pattern for Intransitive (自動詞(じどうし)) verbs:
Noun は (or が) | Verb

How to Use:

■ Let's look at a verb pair that tripped up Clay as a beginner: ()とす (transitive; to drop something) and ()ちる (intransitive; to fall)

[Transitive] (わたし)は、ボールを()とした。
I dropped the ball. 
[Intransitive] ボールは、()ちた。
The ball dropped.

■ Now, let's look at a ()れる (to insert; to put inside—transitive) and (はい)る (to enter--intransitive) [Notice the sound change.]

(わたし)は、(ねこ)(いえ)()れます。 I put the cat inside the house.
(ねこ)(いえ)(はい)ります。 The cat goes inside the house.

With the intransitive form ((はい)る to enter) the subject is doing its own entering and therefore doesn't have an object.


■ With a transitive (他動詞(たどうし)) 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.



()す to take out

()る to leave

()れる to put in

(はい)る to enter

()こす to awaken

()きる to wake up

()とす  to drop (something)

()ちる to fall down

()ける to open out

()くopen (doors)

()める to shut

()まる  to be shut

()す erase

()える disappear

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