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.
Please close your umbrella.
Please always throw away shellfish whose shells remain closed even after being prepared.
A baby’s eyes, once one has entered month eight of pregnancy, opens when it wakes up and stays closed when sleeping.
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.
Please shut the door.
When closing down a store, what do you do with unsold merchandise?
Please fasten the strings.
Please marinate the sashimi with vinegar.
The Republican Party holds the majority in the House of Representatives.
To strangle one’s own neck.
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…”
In the final course, a considerable cultural loss will go hand in hand.
This type of industry is the kind of job that brings danger with it.
To engage oneself in the finance market which is accompanied with risk.
Going and bringing your family along is also recommended.
The company’s performance worsened accordingly with the recession.
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.
We pitched tents by ourselves.
The roots have spread and I can’t seem to completely remove them.
Ice is forming on the windshield.
Let’s fill the bath with water ahead of time.
You won’t catch a cold when you’re tensed.
Don’t you get exhausted straining your nerves like that?
Raise your voice.
When used to mean “to stick/post,” is spelled as 貼る.
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.
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.
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.
The door opened.
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.
A hole opened.
A clerk came to tidy up the empty cups.
When are you free?
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.
I opened the window.
Please empty out its contents.
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.
Please open the book.
Please open your eye(lids).
Spelling Note: 瞼may be alternatively spelled as 目蓋.
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.
Why not try to open a bank account?
The wound opened after having my stitches removed.
Please open your textbook.
We’re routinely holding exhibitions.
(Let’s) cut open the fish and remove the bones.
Taira no Kiyomori opened up diplomatic relations with the Song Dynasty and promoted trade.
What is the reason for why Minamoto no Yoritomo opened the Bakufu Shogunate in Kamakura?
Please open the settings screen.
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.
Parking is limited to one hour.
(The government) is to re-examine the current stipulation restricting victims to women so that people may be (deemed) victims regardless of sex.
We are limiting the target group to adults.
That could never happen to one’s own child.
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.”
When dogs bark, are they saying something?
When you sit in your bed, can the creaking be heard next door?
What should you say in a (marriage) proposal?