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My textbook makes a difference between verbs that describe activities and verbs that describe changes. Two examples given are:

話す - activity
結婚する - change

It then goes on to say that 話している describes an action in progress while 結婚している describes the result of a change (being married). Then it goes on that ている after transitive verbs describe actions in progress, and ている after intransitive verbs describe states that hold after the change takes place.

It's clear to me that 結婚する is a change verb, but I'm not sure if 結婚する is transitive or intransitive. All the dictionaries I've checked don't list 結婚する, just 結婚. But, in any case, do intransitive-change verbs always coincide? Or are there transitive-change verbs?

Also, how can I distinguish an action verb from a change verb? It's not always as obvious as with 結婚する. Is there any reference or dictionary that tells you which are which? Or any method you guys use to know which is which?

  • They don't always coincide―there are verbs like 失う and 忘れる, too. – snailcar Mar 17 '15 at 19:07
  • One dictionary I know that lists transitivity for する verbs is the 明鏡国語辞典: 結婚=自サ変. It's not available online afaik. – blutorange Mar 17 '15 at 19:20
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    To summarize the question is (?): (a) How to determine a verb's transitivity and change/state? (b) Is there any correlation between transitivity and action/change? (c) How does transitivity and change/state influence the meaning of the ~ている form? – blutorange Mar 17 '15 at 19:34
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"It's clear to me that [結婚]{けっこん}する is a change verb, but I'm not sure if 結婚する is transitive or intransitive."

In Japanese, it is intransitive. You can only say 「Person + + 結婚する」, never 「Person + + 結婚する」.

" All the dictionaries I've checked don't list 結婚する, just 結婚."

Of course not, because 「結婚する」 is two words. For the sake of a smooth discussion, however, we will pretend that it is one word and is a verb.

"do intransitive-change verbs always coincide? Or are there transitive-change verbs?"

There certainly are transitive-change verbs. For instance, all the verbs that get translated into "to wear" are examples of those.

[着]{き}る (to put on tops)、[履]{は}く (to put on bottoms)、かぶる (to put on hats)

「スミ子は白いシャツを着ている。」 can actually mean two different things, strictly speaking.

  1. State: "Sumiko has a white shirt on." and

  2. Action: "Sumiko is in the middle of putting on a white shirt."

For the Action meaning, however, native speakers will almost always use a different structure such as:

「白いシャツを着ているところです。」 or

「白いシャツを着ている[最中]{さいちゅう}です。」

Conversely, if a native speaker reads or hears the sentence 「スミ子は白いシャツを着ている。」 without any further context, chances are that we are likely to think it means "Sumiko has a white shirt on." She probably put it on 12 hours ago for all we know.

"Also, how can I distinguish an action verb from a change verb? It's not always as obvious as with 結婚する."

The distinction is not always clear. You can destroy a vase in a second but it would take you a while to destroy a large building.

In foreign language acquisition, both the teachers and the students look for simplified rules about grammar points and such when, in reality, any natural language is full of exceptions.

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This is a great question, because Japanese and English don't coincide one-to-one in some spots. ~ている can mean "current status (as a result of something happening)" or "currently doing"

Like snailboat mentioned in a comment, if you said 忘れている it means both "in the state of having forgotten" and "forgetting"

I think if you train yourself to see ~ている as "the current state (as a result of doing something) is ~" you really can't go wrong.

For example, もらっている? can mean the same thing as もらった / もらいました (received). It means "you're currently in the state of having received [something]?" Which is the same as saying "did you get one?"

There are a few "intransitive" verbs that fit the bill well, like

死んでいる "is dead" ... versus 死んだ (died)

edit: Actually there are many intransitive verbs that work in this way, I won't say "all" but to me it seems like all of them do.

開いている : Open / Opened (like a store)

植わる -> 植わっている Has been planted / is being planted 

タクシー が止まっている (The taxi has stopped) -- of course as pointed out in other answers it can also mean "the taxi is in the middle of stopping" 

もう is often used as a qualifier to emphasize that something "already happened"

もう もらっている (have already received)  [space added for clarity]

And まだ ~ない (まだ plus negated verb) is often used to express clearly "not yet"

まだ もらっていない (not yet received) or "I haven't gotten one yet"

Hope that helps

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    There are a few "intransitive" verbs that fit the bill well It would be more clear if you say what you meant by "fit the bill." – Kimball Mar 18 '15 at 1:45

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