In active sentences, the verbs can be transitive and intransitive.

  • 私が消しゴムを落としました。I dropped an eraser. (transitive)
  • 私が走ります。I run. (intransitive)

But I got surprised that 見つかる which is an intransitive but it makes the sentence has a passive meaning, for example:

  • 財布が見つかった。The wallet was found.

Is there a better translation in English for it but with active form?

Why can an intransitive verb have a passive meaning in Japanese?

  • 5
    But 「財布が見つかった。」 is active voice. What is passive voice is only someone's "translation" -- "The wallet was found." That has nothing to do with the voice of the original.
    – user4032
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 12:08
  • OK. How to translate it in an active form? Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 12:10
  • 2
    It looks like you are confused between the Japanese "intransitive", "transitive", and the English's "intransitive" and "transitive". Trying to explain the difference of the SVO style language ( English ) and SOV language ( Japanese ) could directly go to linguistics. Your question might better simply fall into the technique of the translation...I think.
    – user7644
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 12:52
  • 5
    You might also ask why intransitive verbs can have passive-like semantics in English: "She doesn't frighten easily."
    – user1478
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 13:43
  • Tighten, Strengthen, Moisten, Enlighten.....I have no idea why these adjectives or nouns can become verbs after they become passive.........uhm.
    – user7644
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 14:58

4 Answers 4


Many Japanese active sentences are better translated into English using passive voice, and vice versa. One well-known example is already found in your question:

I was surprised.

Where 驚く is an intransitive verb, and 'surprise' is a transitive verb. (We also have the transitive version 驚かす, but we say 私は驚かされた far less frequently than English speakers say 'I was surprised').

Other examples:

  • 満足する be satisfied
  • 生まれる be born
  • がっかりする・落胆する be disappointed

So don't think that something has a universally passive meaning in all languages.

  • +1 As the Russian below ( a bit familiar personally ) says, sometimes English speaking people weigh a bit much on their style of speech. Russian, a much more inflectional language than English, even though their very origin is same ( Indo-European ), Speech such like Poidu ku Mosukuvu seichas ( I go to Moscow now ) does make sense, even without the subject I and even if the position of each word changes, it could make sense. But English needs the subject I at most of the cases, and their pattern is always fixed ( though not entirely. ) Every language has its own style per se.
    – user7644
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 13:26
  • 1
    @naruto 「生まれる」は受身です… matatabi.net/Poetry/Yosi_03.html Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 3:33
  • 2
    @broccoliforest まあ「生まれる」の形で間違いなく辞典に載ってるから自動詞でいいのでは…「男に生まれる」も「男が生む」の受動態じゃないですし。と思いつつ、若干引っかかっていたのも確かです。なんか白熱した議論がありますねえ。
    – naruto
    Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 4:23
  • @naturo その例の場合、「盗賊に返り討ちにされた」の2番目の「に」に当たるのであまり適切ではないと思いますが、確かに動作主を「に」で取れないので受身形っぽくない、というのは言われてみればその通りですね。 Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 7:05
  • 3
    @naruto It does seem hard to explain 生まれる as a passive version of 生む! Martin's Reference Grammar of Japanese (p.307) gives the same reasoning found in your comment. By the way, English be born doesn't act like most passive forms, either. It doesn't accept a by-phrase with an agent: I was born in 1981 is OK but *I was born in 1981 by my mother is not. A to-phrase indicating the parents is okay: On November 24, 1935, a child was born to John and Jane Smith. Somehow this reminds me of the situation in Japanese . . .
    – user1478
    Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 13:59


Why can an intransitive verb has a passive meaning in Japanese?

This question sounds like a pseudo-problem because there's actually no "passive meaning" in the world. It seems to be true that you're so proficient in English (unlike me) that you can sense "passive meaning" as like Germans sense the gender of a noun (but occasionally muddle them up in hazelnut cream) or Japanese know the correct counter word to use, but it's only a language-specific matter that can never be generalized. French disagrees with German in gender, so does Korean with Japanese in counters. Likewise, using passive or not is really depends on each language (below is German):

Ich war erstaunt. (lit. "I was astounded.") vs. I was astounded.
Ich bin erschrocken. (lit. "I've startled.") vs. I was startled.
Ich habe mich gewundert. (lit. "I've surprised/wondered myself.") vs. I was surprised.

You can see German, a very close language to English, has three verbs each takes different construction where English uses passive in all cases. "Passive meaning" just doesn't exist.

So, the meaningful part in your question is: why we form phrases as 「財布が見つかった」 instead of 「財布が見つけられた」?

The answer is, Japanese passive ("~られる") is used when you emphasizes external interference. It's not an convenient tool to make intransitive from transitive. In other words, it sounds like "the wallet was found by someone" rather than "the wallet was found". Since in most cases Japanese has proper intransitive counterpart for each transitive verb, you should try using them first, unless you believe whodunnit, howdunnit, or the fact it was done by something else (e.g. it was intelligently designed!), are relevant information.

Related answer: Examples of when passive form in English takes active/non passive form in Japanese

Further reading: 自動詞文と他動詞の受身文(中上級を教える人のための日本語文法ハンドブック) (Japanese)


Do you speak Scandinavian/Slavic?

"Кошелек нашелся" - exact one-to-one translation

"Lommeboka fant seg" (100% ungrammatical, but easily understood regardless)

Afaik, there's no analogue in English. "Found itself", if it somehow helps you understand.

  • Do you speak Haitian or Löyöp? =)
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 13:39
  • To be honest, I didn't even know such languages existed. I thought Haitians speak French.
    – Aleksander
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 13:42
  • Haitians speak Haitian Creole, which is based off French.
    – Blavius
    Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 0:10

Because 見つかる included a element of passive meaning.

見つかる is a complex word.

It can divide some units.

見る - 着く - らる みる - つく - らる

見る means look or see or watch. 着く means arrive or reach. らる means passive voice. this is a origin of Auxiliary verb.

it conjugate like this: 1 みる - つく - らる 2 miru - tsuku - raru 3 mi - tsuku - raru 4 mitsuku - raru 5 mitsuk - aru 6 mitsukaru 7 みつかる 8 見つかる

  • 2
    見つかる ... 見る - 着く <-- ん? 「見つかる」は漢字で「見付かる」ですよね?「見着かる」じゃなくて。
    – chocolate
    Commented Nov 1, 2020 at 11:17
  • ご指摘ありがとうございます。おっしゃるとおりです。 「見付かる」が正解(correct)です。漢字変換にはいつもとまどわされます。といっても誤変換でそうなったわけではないですけど。いちおうarrive,reachなので「付く」のaddと本質的には同じ意味だと思います。 見当が付く→見付かる だから、見立てがある対象に辿り着く、の意味になると思います。
    – Takashi E
    Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 6:12

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