Intransitive & Transitive: Part 1

第239課: Intransitive & Transitive: Part 1

Previously, we learned about how the particle を can be used with intransitive verbs to mean “through.” In this lesson, we will look at verbs that don’t change form depending on whether they’re used as a transitive or an intransitive verb. These verbs in Japanese are called 自他同形動詞.

One mistake that many students as well as educators make all the time is downplay the number and importance of these kinds of verbs. Japanese only has about 300 important intransitive-transitive verb pairs, and a lot of these pairs are not straightforward, and that means all other verbs can either be one or the other…or both.

Each one of these verbs that can be both deserves special attention. That means we’ll be returning to this topic several times until we’ve truly gone through the mysterious quirks of Japanese transitivity.

閉じる, 伴う, 張る, 開く, 限る, & 言う


閉じる  means “to close” and can be used with various things such books, the eyes, flip phones, legs, or anything that can be conceptualized as stuck/sealed and/or put back to how it was.

1. かさじてください。
Please close your umbrella.

2. 調理後ちょうりごからじたままのかいかならててください。
Please always throw away shellfish whose shells remain closed even after being prepared.

3. あかちゃんは、妊娠にんしん8げつはいると、起床時きしょうじにはひらいて、ているときにはじるようになります。
A baby’s eyes, once one has entered month eight of pregnancy, opens when it wakes up and stays closed when sleeping.

4. じてください。
Please close your eyes.

Its transitive usage is similar to the words 閉める and 閉ざす. 閉める means “to shut/close” and can be used with various things like doors, lids, shutters, businesses, gates,  etc. When spelled as 締める, it has various other usages such as “to fasten,” “to wear (necktie, belt, etc.), to sum up, etc. Lastly, 閉ざす is used in metaphoric expressions by personifying some emotionally packed word like 心 or 気持ち.

5. ドアをめてください。
Please shut the door.

6. てんめるときにのこった商品しょうひんはどうするんですか。
When closing down a store, what do you do with unsold merchandise?

7. いとめてください。
Please fasten the strings.

8. でしめてください。
Please marinate the sashimi with vinegar.

9. 共和党きょうわとう衆議院しゅうぎいん過半数かはんすうめています。
The Republican Party holds the majority in the House of Representatives.

10. {みずから・自分じぶん}のくびめる。
To strangle one’s own neck.

11. かれ家族かぞくこころざしてしまっていた。
He has had his heart shut off to his family.


伴う can be used with either the particles が,に, or を. With the particle が, 伴う means “to accompany” in the sense “mountain climbing accompanied by danger.” With the particle に,伴う means “to accompany” in the sense “to be accompanied with.” With the particle を, 伴う means “to accompany” in the sense “to be accompanied by/to bring with…”

12. 最後さいご過程かていには、相当そうとう文化的喪失ぶんかてきそうしつともなうだろう。
In the final course, a considerable cultural loss will go hand in hand.

13. この業種ぎょうしゅ危険きけんともな仕事しごとです。
This type of industry is the kind of job that brings danger with it.

14. リスクをともな金融市場きんゆうしじょう従事じゅうじする。
To engage oneself in the finance market which is accompanied with risk.

15. 家族かぞくともなってくのもおすすめです。
Going and bringing your family along is also recommended.

16. 不況ふきょうともなって、会社かいしゃ業績ぎょうせき悪化あっかした。
The company’s performance worsened accordingly with the recession.

17. 地形ちけい季節きせつ変化へんかともなって気候きこうがどのように変化へんかするのかがわかります。
We understand how the climate changes per topography and seasons.


The verb張る has several meanings such as “to stretch/strain/etc.” among many other things. For the most part, its usages can easily be rephrased from being intransitive to transitive and vice versa.

18. 自分じぶんたちでテントをりました。
We pitched tents by ourselves.

19. っていてなかなかれない。
The roots have spread and I can’t seem to completely remove them.

20. フロントガラスにこおりっている。
Ice is forming on the windshield.

21. お風呂ふろみずっておきましょう。
Let’s fill the bath with water ahead of time.

22. っていると風邪かぜかないよ。
You won’t catch a cold when you’re tensed.

23. そんなにってつかれませんか。
Don’t you get exhausted straining your nerves like that?

24. こえってください。
Raise your voice.

When used to mean “to stick/post,” is spelled as 貼る.

25. 封筒ふうとう切手きってってください。
Put a stamp on the envelope.


The verb 開く is both intransitive and transitive, but the subject of the sentence acts differently depending on how it’s used. First, let’s consider the following examples in English.

i. The rose buds are blooming.
ii. The rose bloomed.
iii. The school door opened on its own.
iv. He opened the door for me.

In Japanese, 開く would appear in all four of these sentences. Its usages differ in the emotional state of the subject. If the usage utilizes a subject that has no willful control of itself, then changing the sentence from an intransitive one to a transitive one doesn’t change this fact.   

26. ハスのつぼみひらくときはバラのように綺麗きれいですね。
The lotus blooming is beautiful like roses, huh.

Spelling Note: ハスmay also be spelled as 蓮. バラ may also be spelled as 薔薇.

27. あおいバラがつぼみひらいた。
The blue roses bloomed.

As you can see, 開く can mean “to bloom,” and when its buds bloom, you can describe this as a transitive sentence, with the plant having its buds flower. This, though, is an involuntary action as the act of blooming happens naturally.

However, when the subject switches from one that has no volition over itself to one that does, the subject’s willfulness becomes prominent usingを.

28. ドアがひらいた。
The door opened.

29. まどひらきました。
I opened the window.

The next question that is presented here is the existence of two readings for 開く. It may either be read as あくor ひらく. The former is essentially only used as an intransitive verb in the sense of a gap/vacancy/etc. opening. When used to describe emptiness/vacancy, it is spelled as 空く.

30. あなが{いて・いて}しまった。
A hole opened.

31. 店員てんいんが、いたカップを片付かたづけにた。
A clerk came to tidy up the empty cups.

32. いつならいている?
When are you free?

33. 昌子しょうこいまくちひらいてています。
Shōko wa ima, kuchi wo [hiraite/aite ??] nete imasu.
Shoko is now sleeping with her mouth open.

However, some speakers do use it like in Ex. 33 to indicate involuntary opening that is carried out by a clear agent. Although Shoko may be asleep, she is still the one opening her mouth when she is asleep. As sound as this reasoning may be, most speakers would still either use 開ける or ひらく.

As for the difference between 開ける and ひらく, the former is only used to indicate the opening of a partition or exposing a space of some sort. That’s why it may also be used to mean “to empty” when spelled as 空ける.

34. まどけました。
I opened the window.

35. 中身なかみけてください。
Please empty out its contents.

36. てんけてください。
Please open the store.

This means that business at a store has begun. The actual “opening” of the store would usually be described as 店をひらく. ひらく tends to be politer and more formal than 開ける whenever both can be used. ひらく, though, indicates two or more surfaces that are pulled apart. Think of eyelids, books, two-part doors and windows. If any such item doesn’t lead to the opening of some physical space or content, then 開ける can’t be used.

37a. ほんけてください。X
37b. ほんひらいてください。○
Please open the book.

38. まぶたけてください。
Please open your eye(lids).

Spelling Note: 瞼may be alternatively spelled as 目蓋.

39. ひらいてください。
Please open your eye.

Nuance Note: In this last example, ひらく has a deeper meaning beyond the literal physical act of opening one’s eyes.

Below are more examples of ひらく to showcase more of its scope of use.  

40. 口座こうざひらいてみませんか。
Why not try to open a bank account?

41. 抜糸後ばっしご傷口きずぐちいてしまいました。
The wound opened after having my stitches removed.

42. 教科書きょうかしょひらいてください。
Please open your textbook.

43. 定期的ていきてき展示会てんじかいひらいています。
We’re routinely holding exhibitions.

44. さかなひらいて、ほねのぞきましょう。
(Let’s) cut open the fish and remove the bones.

45. 平清盛たいらのきよもりそうとの国交こっこうひらいて貿易ぼうえき振興しんこうした。
Taira no Kiyomori opened up diplomatic relations with the Song Dynasty and promoted trade.

46. 源頼朝みなもとのよりとも鎌倉かまくら幕府ばくふひらいた理由りゆうなにですか。
What is the reason for why Minamoto no Yoritomo opened the Bakufu Shogunate in Kamakura?

47. 設定画面せっていがめんひらいてください。
Please open the settings screen.

48. 山林さんりんを{ひらいて・開拓かいたくして}農地のうちにしました。
I opened up the forest and mountain and turned it into farmland.

Spelling Note: In the sense of “to open up (land),” ひらく may also be spelled as 拓く.


The verb 限る can be both a transitive meaning “to restrict/limit” and “to be restricted.” Its intransitive usage is discussed at length in Lesson 226. The transitive sense is frequently used in the passive form. The intransitive form, as you will see, has no active agent. Like most other intransitive verbs, it lacks volition. This is how you can differentiate it from its transitive form, which is the opposite of this.

・Transitive Examples 

49. 駐車ちゅうしゃ1いち時間じかんかぎられています。
Parking is limited to one hour.

50. 被害者ひがいしゃ女性じょせいかぎっている現在げんざい規定きてい見直みなおし、性別せいべつにかかわらず被害者ひがいしゃになりうる。
(The government) is to re-examine the current stipulation restricting victims to women so that people may be (deemed) victims regardless of sex. 

51. 対象者たいしょうしゃ成人せいじんかぎっています。
We are limiting the target group to adults.

・Intransitive Examples

52. うちの子供こどもかぎってそんなはずがない。
That could never happen to one’s own child. 

53.  いそいでいるときかぎって信号しんごう次々つぎつぎ(と)められたことはありますか。
Have you ever been stopped by lights one after another particularly when you were in a hurry?


You know how the verb 言う as a transitive verb is used to mean “to say.” You also know how it’s used as a supplementary verb in grammar patterns such as という. As an intransitive verb, it is used to mean “to make a sound.” In this sense, it is used with various onomatopoeic expressions. 

Pronunciation Note: Remember that this verb is technically pronounced as “yū.” 

54. いぬはワンワンとってなにしゃべっているのですか。
When dogs bark, are they saying something? 

55. ベッドにすわるとミシミシ(と)おととなりこえるんですか。
When you sit in your bed, can the creaking be heard next door? 

56. プロポーズってなにえばいいの?
What should you say in a (marriage) proposal?