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What's the difference between 折【お】る and 折【お】れる? According to my dictionary, they both mean to break or to fold. When would you use one over the other? These verbs are on the JLPT N4 vocabulary list.

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This is an example of a [自他]{じ・た} pair. These pairs are an important concept to learn in Japanese because there are a ton of them! [Here]{LLLL} [are]{LLL} [several]{LLLLLLL} [resources]{LLLLLLLLL} with lots of examples and good explanations.


折る is a [他動詞]{た・どう・し} which is a transitive verb. This means an external agent/influence performs the action in question. You can remember this because 他 is also read as 「ほか」, meaning "(an)other"; so something other than the object itself performs the action on the object. With transitive verbs, you'll have to show that the external agent performs the action on something. In the case of 折る you might have something like

  • 花子は左腕の骨折った → Hanako broke (the bone of) her left arm
  • 僕は枝踏んで折った → I stepped on the branch and broke it
  • 手紙折る → Fold a letter

折れる is a [自動詞]{じ・どう・し} which is an intransitive verb. This means the action happens to the thing/object itself, and the object is the focus. You can remember this by remembering 自 means "itself", like 自分. With intransitive verbs, since the focus is the thing itself, you'll have or to show this focus. In case of 折れる:

  • 折れた → The branch (itself) broke
  • 本が落ちて、何枚ものページ折れた → The book fell, and several pages were bent/"folded".

If you want some extra confusion after you learn the basics, check out

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折る is a transitive verb and 折れる is intransitive. Keep in mind 折れる could also mean the conjugated potential form of 折る.

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As other users told, 折る is a transitive verb that requires an objective such as 折り紙を折る - do an origami. 折れる is an intransitive verb, like 箸が折れる chopsticks snap. It requires a subjective.

折る、折れる aren't necessarily referring to physical objects like a branch, tree, bones, and a window glass. It can be used for abstract objects, for examples:

骨を折る - make an serious effort, take care of (someone else)

話を折る - interrupt others' story, stop other's talking.

腰を折る - block / check someone's attempt

心が折れる - discouraged, down-hearted

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