I think it's known that some intransitive verbs can take を particle and be used as transitive verbs such as for example 「私のことを分かってくれない」. While using 分かる transitively would require specific scenarios or patterns, from the point of view of an English speaker it just naturally makes sense, for the reason that "understand" is a transitive English verb.

On the other hand, there are verbs that are naturally intransitive in both Japanese and English, that simply do not make sense to assign any noun objects, like 死ぬ and "to die". There is no way to imagine "Subject dies object", both in English and Japanese, unless if we modify it to "Subject allows/makes object to die" but that would change the main verb in question, again, both in English and Japanese.

At first I thought 行く and 来る are parts of those naturally intransitive verbs, since there is no way for "Subject goes object" or "Subject comes object". And then I found a proverb 「天馬空を行く」, which made me look up "を行く" on Google. The result? 8.75 millions results. "を来る" has 243K results which are a lot less but still a significant figure that shows that out there, 行く and 来る are used with を. However, my thought still remains, that there is no way for "subject goes object". Looking at sample usages, there seems to be a pattern of the nouns that are modified by "を行く" are roads, path etc, but imagining it in English as "to apply the act of going onto the road as the object" doesn't work to me. "を来る" does not even have any pattern that can be seen among the sample noun objects.

Examples from Google results:

  • お気楽サラリーマンジャングルを行く!
  • 歴史街道を行く
  • 一歩先を行くPythonプログラマが読むべきOSS
  • 私は私の道を行く
  • 晴れの日を来る
  • 遠い道を来るまでに

So, how do we make sense of 「を行く」 and 「を来る」?

  • 8
    Even with die in English, you can make it transitive. The object in these constructions are called cognate objects. He died a miserable death.
    – user458
    Sep 22 '11 at 17:18
  • Not to forget: 蒼空を翔けたいんです :-) (a line in 風をあつめて from Happy End)
    – xmjx
    Sep 23 '11 at 6:19
  • @xmjx Does that mean I can interpret all movement-related verbs with を the same way as を行く and を来る (which means "through" as suggested by sawa below)?
    – Lukman
    Sep 23 '11 at 6:58
  • @Lukman: As far as I know, "through" is not the best translation, either, but を means more like "place of movement". I understand "through" as the act of entering something, going across it and leaving it again. But English isn't my first language and I'm not exactly good at Japanese either. Plus, I could not find anything about this usage of を in any of my Japan Times grammar dictionaries.
    – xmjx
    Sep 24 '11 at 9:23
  • 1
    You could say 'walk the road' in English... Jan 19 '14 at 19:16

Think of it as through.

'go through the sky'

'go through a jungle'

'go through a historic street'

'go through (a path) one step ahead'

'go through my own way'

'come through a sunny day (atmosphere)'

'come through a long road'

  • Can I use を行く in casual conversation, e.g. この道を行こう, or is it only used in songs, headlines etc?
    – Lukman
    Sep 23 '11 at 3:56
  • 4
    @Lukman It is completely fine in casual conversation. A school teacher may say to a student: 廊下を走るな.
    – user458
    Sep 23 '11 at 4:26

Another way to think of を in this sense is to do some action which "leaves something behind you", either literally or figuratively. Here are some additional examples:

  • 公園を散歩する → Walk (through) the park; the park is "behind" you after you've walked through it.
  • 家を出る → Leave home; home is now "behind" you in your time-line of activities
  • 階段を下りる → Go down the stairs; same as walking example
  • 大学を卒業する → Graduate from a university; you're "leaving behind" student life as you go forward into your future
  • 道を通り抜ける → Make your way down the street; same as walking example
  • 2
    This makes sense to me, except for abstract object, for example what do I leave behind in 一歩先を行く? And does it mean that in 私の道を行く I'm leaving my own way behind (which sounds like abandoning my own way rather than honoring it)?
    – Lukman
    Sep 23 '11 at 17:22
  • For any movement verbs, just think of it like the red-airplane-line from Indiana Jones. As you move (either literally or figuratively like in 私の道を行く), you're leaving a trail behind you. In this case, you're not abandoning your own way, you're leaving behind your starting point/state (which is when you hadn't done the things you set out to do).
    – istrasci
    Sep 23 '11 at 17:37
  • Got it! Thanks for this alternative approach.
    – Lukman
    Sep 23 '11 at 17:43

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