As an answer to a previous question, a user stated the following:

In Japanese this distinction is shown by referring to 自動詞 ("self-acting" verbs) and 他動詞 ("other-acting" verbs). Many J dictionaries show this after the headword: for example, 新明解国語辞典, highly recommended, gives なおる【自五】 and なおす【他五】.

I would like to understand:

  1. How should I read 自五 and 他五?

  2. What is their exact meaning / translation into English? I understand from the context what they express, but I would like an "official translation".

  3. What is the meaning of 五 in this particular context?
  • 1
    I suspect the 五 relates to the 五段 asked about in this question. No idea about how (or if) it would be pronounced though.
    – jkerian
    Commented Nov 17, 2014 at 10:08

1 Answer 1


(I don't think the question is phrased well: it's really about dictionary abbreviations. Perhaps you can edit it after this answer.)

Remember these are abbreviations, so if you want to read them out helpfully it's:

自五: ji-go, short for jidoushi-godan 他五: ta-go, short for tadoushi-godan

The 五段 means "5-base (verb)", which has all sorts of other names, including "4-base verb"(!), meaning the base vowel changes.

Unfortunately the Official Translation (complete with ribbons, legal certification, and other decoration devoid of significance) is probably "Transitive" and "Intransitive" (although you still have to define in terms of Japanese grammar exactly what you mean by that).

If you take another pair: 貸す and 借りる, 新明解 says they are both 他(動詞), presumably because you both lend and borrow a hammer. So sadly the obvious distinction is missed by the Official terminology.

Incidentally, this distinction really is everywhere: at the moment there's a question on the right of this screen: "Difference between 向け and 向き". 新明解 again:

むく【自五】 so "self-acting" and the vowel changes, thus the noun form is むき
むける【他下一】 so "other-acting" and an "-eru" verb, thus the noun form is むけ

  • 4
    What specifically is unfortunate about translating 他動詞 and 自動詞 to transitive verb and intransitive verb?
    – user1478
    Commented Nov 17, 2014 at 10:45
  • 1
    Well, it depends on exactly how you define "transitive" for Japanese verbs, but typically you lose the full generality of this "self/other" distinction, in pairs like: 借りる・貸す 出る・出す 入る・入れる And there is the basic problem of defining exactly what you mean by "transitive" in Japanese. Commented Nov 17, 2014 at 15:21
  • 3
    In Martin's 1975 Reference Grammar of Japanese on p.310, he points out this sort of verb pair: "There are also verbs which have a parasyntactic relationship similar to, but differing from, the transitive-intransitive relationship; both verbs are transitive but the direction of action is reversed". He pairs the outgoing 貸す・教える・預ける with the incoming 借りる・教わる・預かる.
    – user1478
    Commented Nov 17, 2014 at 16:41
  • 「向ける」の名詞形「向け」というのは、どういう文章で使うんですか?
    – user1016
    Commented Nov 17, 2014 at 16:44
  • @snailboat I think the point Brian is trying to make is that if you adopted the original meanings of 自動詞 and 他動詞, those verbs would be classified differently. The subject in 「生徒が先生に英語を教わった。」 is the one being acted on, so in that sense 「教わる」 is a "self-acting" verb -- that is, 自- vs 他- would be about the thematic relation of the subject as opposed to whether the verb is intransitive or transitive. (I personally don't know if this is actually how those terms were originally used in Japanese or not.) Commented Nov 18, 2014 at 4:53

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