I thought intransitive meant there is no actor/the thing is happening like on its own. But playing is done by a person, right? Yet the dictionary says it is intransitive...

I believe there are other examples of such verbs which would seem transitive to me but actually work as intransitive verbs. I'm confused. Do you have an explanation for these?

  • 4
    Intransitive verbs are verbs that don't take an object, not verbs without agents.
    – Angelos
    Aug 19, 2017 at 14:40
  • Oh right, that makes a lot more sense... Looks like I read the wrong webpage about transitive verbs! Thanks. Aug 19, 2017 at 15:19

1 Answer 1


For a really good answer, please see this site. My answer comes from it as well as the answer to this question. Transitive and intransitive verbs can be hard so research is always the best course of action.

Transitive verbs take someone to do then. They do not happen on their own. There is a subject doing the action, and an object that receives it. Here are some examples:

I broke my phone.

I moved the car.

Intransitive verbs do not have an object. There is, of course a subject, but these verbs happen on their own since there is not an object. For example:

The car moved.

My phone broke.

So why is 遊ぶ intransitive? You do that on your own. To play, you don't necessarily need an object. Sure, you can play with the ball, but play is still intransitive here. If we were to use play as a transitive verb, it would be:

I play the ball.

That is a transitive usage of play, and it doesn't make sense in English. In Japanese, there is no transitive counterpart for 遊ぶ because it wouldn't make sense even if it did exist.

Just as a side note, playing an instrument (like the piano) is a different word in Japanese, ひく。

  • Just to note "I play the ball" does make sense in the context of soccer (possibly other ball sports), although you'd more commonly hear something like "X plays the ball" from a commentator.
    – user1624
    Aug 20, 2017 at 15:58
  • @Ciaran You would be correct. In that case, however, 遊ぶ would not work in the translation either. I'm not familiar with Japanese soccer lingo, but I would imagine a translation that goes along the lines of: X challenge(s) the ball handler.
    – ajsmart
    Aug 21, 2017 at 14:36
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    That is such a good answer, I understand better now, thank you! Aug 21, 2017 at 19:27

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