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The verb 触れる challenges my concept of what を does; to mark a direct object.

Consider these uses of 触れる:

(人)の頬に指を触れる (Touch a finger to someone's cheek)

(人)の頬に手を触れる (Touch someone's cheek with your hand)

Now, if transitivity of the verb were not taken into account, I would guess that it's the finger or hand that is being touched since they are marked by the direct object marker . But because I know that 触れる is intransitive, I understand that the object is marked by instead.

(Question) What is the role of when used in the above type of pattern? Should the particle be instead since / are the "means" by which the action was carried out?

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I don't fully understand what you are saying. The fact that it can take indicates that it is a transitive verb. And, note that the grammatical pattern allowed in Japanese is not always grammatical in English. In fact, I think the English translation for the first sentence is okay as word-to-word gloss, but is ungrammatical as a English sentence. –  sawa Nov 14 '11 at 3:52
    
@sawa when I look up 触れる in the dictionary, it's labelled as "vi" which stands for "verb, intransitive". –  Flaw Nov 14 '11 at 8:17
    
That is for the usage without the ...を phrase. If it only lists "vi", then that dictionary does not have the usage with ...を in mind. –  sawa Nov 14 '11 at 9:09
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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

My daijirin lists both an intransitive and transitive form of the verb 触れる.

I suspect this is just a mismatch between the Japanese verb and it's closest English equivalent. The verb is something more like 'move-to-be-in-contact-with', so the direct object is the part of the body you're moving.

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Just think that 触れる is "to shake, agitate, stir, displace" or something like that.

(人)の頬に手を触れる

I displace my hand to the chin of a person -> I touch the chin of a person.

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