単語 Tuesdays – Transitive / Intransitive Verb Pairs

This post is going to be a combination of a grammatical lesson and a vocabulary list. Why, you ask? Because understanding verb grammar will help you understand the difference between two types of verbs – transitive and intransitive.

Consider this – It’s a rather hot day outside and you don’t have A/C, so to cool off the house you open the window. You are doing the action, and you are performing (transiting) the action to another direct object, in this case the window.

On the other hand, maybe a cool front came through and now it’s too cold in your house. Your mother walks into the room, and says rather naggingly, “Why is the window open?” In this case the action has already been done, and the verb refers to a state. Nobody is transiting action to the window anymore, and this makes the verb intransitive. However, the action had been applied to the window, and it is now in the state of being open, which makes it the indirect object.

In English we don’t make distinctions between the two types of verbs directly. We do, however, make use of active and passive voice. In the above sentence, it would sound more like passive voice if written as “Why has the window been opened?” Active voice is considered transitive, and passive is considered intransitive. Passive voice applies for Japanese as well, but there are usually two separate verbs for its transitive and intransitive form.

A common mistake is to try to “categorize” the transitive pairs by their endings. Although there are some predictable types, in a lot of cases this can be misleading. For instance, the pair 開ける (to open [a window, a door], transitive) and 開く (to be open, intransitive) is different than 開ける (to become open, intransitive) and 開く (to open up [bank account, festival], transitive). You would think that in this case the verbs endings dictate whether or not it is transitive, but as you can see the separate verb pairs for the same kanji do not follow the same pattern.

This is why it’s essential to learn verb pairs as they come along rather than trying to memorize baseless “patterns.” Your safest bet is to search up the word in a dictionary, such as this one. I’m going to keep this post brief to help you get the idea, then you can check out this verb pair list for reference. Warning that there are a few errors in categorization, so make sure to look up words in the above dictionary to confirm its type. With that out of the way, let’s look a few pairs to get you started!

The Verbs

開く (あ・く) / 開ける (あ・ける) – to be open (intransitive) / to open (transitive)

Examples:
開いてある。 The window is open.
開けなさい。 Open the window.


Let me interrupt the list momentarily. I want you to look at the two sentences above carefully. Can you spot the important difference between the two sentences? I’ll give you a hint, it has to do with the particles. Take your time.

If you noticed that the transitive verb uses を to mark the direct object of transitive verbs, whilst が is used to mark the indirect object of intransitive verbs, give yourself a pat on the back. This is the fundamental grammatical difference between the two types of verbs. Anyways, back to the list!

開く (ひら・く) / 開ける (ひら・ける) – to open up [a festival, a bank account] (transitive) / to become open (intransitive)

Examples:
お誕生日だからパーティを開こうよ。 Since it’s your birthday, let’s have a party!
この読む眺望開けるでしょう。 After reading this book, your perspective will widen.


受ける (う・ける) / 受かる (う・かる) – to take a test, to accept, to undergo (transitive) / to pass a test

Examples:
もう一度試験受けるべきだ。 You should try to take the exam again.
こつこつすると受験受かるのでしょう。 If you stick to it you’ll pass the exam.


掛ける (か・ける) / 掛かる (か・かる) – to wear, make a phone call, to multiply… (transitive, too many meanings) / to take or require, to be hanging (intransitive)

Examples:
また明日電話かけるね。 Call me again tomorrow.
絵を描くことは時間がかかるよ。 遅いでね。Drawing a picture takes time. Go slower.


分ける (わ・ける) / 分かる (わ・かる) – to divide, to separate (transitive) / to understand, to grasp (intransitive)

Note: 分かる, being intransitive, means “to understand” in the sense that everything has been divided for you. You can tell the difference between this and that.

赤道地球二つ半球分ける。 The equator divides the world into two hemispheres.
数学全く分からないよ。 I don’t understand math at all.


広げる (ひろ・げる) / 広がる (ひろ・がる) – to spread, to make wider (transitive) / to extend, to reach

知識広げるのは大切なものだ。 It is important to expand your knowledge.
悪い広がるのが早い


終わった!

That wraps up this brief 単語 Tuesday, but I hope that the verb pair list will make for a helpful addition to your vocabulary bank. See if you can tell the difference between the two by looking at their meaning – after a while you’ll be able to “feel” the difference. Questions like “Does this verb do something to something else?” help.

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