|Kanji in this term|
The terms transitive and intransitive are somewhat misleading in reference to Japanese. The English terms are generally used to refer to the syntax or structure of a sentence, and whether the verb in the sentence is followed by an object. The Japanese terms refer to the semantics or meaning of the verb, and whether the action of that verb is happening to or upon something else. The Japanese term 自動詞 (jidōshi) literally means “self-acting word”, and 他動詞 (tadōshi) literally means “other-acting word”, in reference to this semantic consideration.
For instance, in English, the verb ate in the simple sentence “I ate” would be considered an intransitive verb, because it is not followed by an object.
However, in the corresponding Japanese, the verb 食べた (tabeta, “ate”) in the simple sentence 私は食べた。 (“Watashi wa tabeta.”) would not be considered a 自動詞 (jidōshi), but would instead be considered a 他動詞 (tadōshi, literally “other-acting word”), as the underlying semantics or meaning of the verb 食べる (taberu, “to eat”) conceptually require an object: when one eats, one eats something, even if left unstated.
This semantic focus is the underlying mechanism by which verbs in sentences like 私は食べた。 (Watashi wa tabeta. - “I ate.”) are still considered 他動詞 (tadōshi, glossed as “transitive”) even when there is no stated object (because the fundamental meaning of the verb implies action by the subject upon something else), and verbs in sentences like 道を歩く。 (Michi o aruku. - “[I] walk the street.”) are still considered 自動詞 (jidōshi, glossed as “intransitive”) even when there is an explicit object marked with the object or accusative particle を (o) (because the fundamental meaning of the verb only implies action by the subject itself in a way that does not affect the noun marked by を).
- ^ 1988, 国語大辞典（新装版） (Kokugo Dai Jiten, Revised Edition) (in Japanese), Tōkyō: Shogakukan
- 2006, 大辞林 (Daijirin), Third Edition (in Japanese), Tōkyō: Sanseidō, ISBN 4-385-13905-9
- ^ 1995, 大辞泉 (Daijisen) (in Japanese), Tōkyō: Shogakukan, ISBN 4-09-501211-0
- 1997, 新明解国語辞典 (Shin Meikai Kokugo Jiten), Fifth Edition (in Japanese), Tōkyō: Sanseidō, ISBN 4-385-13143-0
- ^ 1998, NHK日本語発音アクセント辞典 (NHK Japanese Pronunciation Accent Dictionary) (in Japanese), Tōkyō: NHK, ISBN 978-4-14-011112-3