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This book (Chap. 29) says that for some verbs which can be unilateral or bilateral (like 相談する, 話す, 合う),

The particle implies that the verb is shared 50/50 between the two participants (bilateral), whereas the particle implies that the main (or only) person doing the action is the subject (unilateral):

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For example:

ジョンがトムに話した。 (John talked to Tom)

ジョンがトムと話した。 (John talked with Tom)

ジョンがトムに相談した。 (John consulted Tom)

ジョンがトムと相談した。 (John consulted with Tom)

I was wondering since ジョンがトムと話した。 already implies that it is a bilateral action, what is the difference in nuance between ジョンがトムと話した。 and ジョンがトムと話し合った。?

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ジョンがトムと相談した and ジョンがトムに喧嘩した are ungrammatical. – user458 Sep 27 '11 at 15:07
@sawa hmm weird I didn't invent the と相談する example. I got it from amazon.com/Making-Sense-Japanese-Grammar-Paper/dp/0824825837 – Pacerier Sep 27 '11 at 16:09
The question is about 話し合った, so why do you list a bunch of examples that have nothing to do with the question? I mean, I eventually see where you're going with it, but it's a very roundabout way to do it, and confusing as you're reading through the question. – istrasci Sep 27 '11 at 16:53
@istrasci ok I've done some touchup, is the question still confusing? – Pacerier Sep 27 '11 at 18:44
Yeah, a lot better. – istrasci Sep 27 '11 at 19:39
up vote 7 down vote accepted

A が B に ... means A did something to B (asymmetrically). The verb must be something that one does to another:

 'John asked Tom for suggestion.'
× ジョンがトムに喧嘩した。
 'John fought (to) Tom.'
 'John talked to Tom.'
× ジョンがトムに話し合った。
 'John conversed (to) Tom.'

A と B が ... or A が B と ... means A and B did something with each other (symmetrically). The verb must be something that a group of people do with one another.

× ジョンがトムと相談した。
 'John asked with Tom for suggestion.'
 'John fought with Tom.'
× ジョンがトムと話しかけた。
 'John talked to with Tom.'
 'John conversed with Tom.'

話す as well as talk has two meanings. One includes the meaning of 'start', and the other does not. The former is asymmetric and the latter is not. That is why both forms can be used.

 'John talked to Tom.'
 'John talked with Tom.'

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The x besides the sentence demarks an incorrect sentence? – yadokari Sep 27 '11 at 18:12
@sawa what's the difference between using 「と話し合った」 and using 「と話した」 ? – Pacerier Sep 27 '11 at 18:43
@Pacerier 合う when used in compound verb means 'mutally'. かける means 'start' or 'attempt'. – user458 Sep 28 '11 at 3:57
@sawa hey thanks but I'm still quite confused about the difference. Isn't 「ジョンがトムと話した」 also a mutual action? – Pacerier Sep 28 '11 at 14:25
@Pacerier 話した is ambiguous between mutual action and one-way action. Adding 合う disambiguates it so that the one-way meaning will not be allowed any more. – user458 Sep 28 '11 at 15:04

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