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I'm studying kanji right know and I found this verb with the kanji 別 and its: わかれる. It is an intransitive verb and it means to be divided. Then I found out that to divide is 分ける but it has a different kanji. I did a little research and I found in a book that the intransitive form of 分ける is 分かれる which has the same pronunciation as 別れる but it uses a different kanji too and it has another meaning.

  • 分ける = To divide (Transitive)

  • 別れる = To be divided (Intransitive)

  • 分かれる = To branch (Intransitive)

Can someone explain this to me? For me it makes more sense that 別れる is the intransitive form of 分ける.

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Is 「別{わか}れる」 the intransitive form of 「分{わ}ける」?

No, it is not. Instead, 「分かれる」 is the intransitive form of 「分ける」.

「別れる」 means "to part from another person" or to put it simply, it means "to say good-bye (to someone)".

「分ける」 means "to divide (into smaller units)".

For that rather huge difference in meaning, 「別れる」 and 「分ける」 could not logically form a transitive-intransitive verb pair.

「分かれる」, however, means "to branch off", "to split into", etc. and that makes it good enough to be the intransitive form of 「分ける」.

As a side note, 「分かれる」 and 「別れる」 originally were the same word when Japanese was a spoken language. Since we started to write Japanese, two different kanji were assigned to fit the two different usages of the verb "wakareru", which would end up giving Japanese-learners a hard time 2,000 years later.

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    I especially appreciate the side note, as I recognized the difference, but could not understand why these homophones had such a similar meaning. – ajsmart Oct 15 '17 at 16:59
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The intransitive of わける is indeed わかれる. However, transitive–intransitive verb pairs always use the same kanji, so the intransitive of 分ける would be 分かれる.

In fact, transitive–intransitive pairs are a good way to recall the okurigana of a verb. (For example, you can't assign a consistent reading to 伸 if you were to write *伸る・*伸す for 伸びる・伸ばす.)

Etymologically, 分かれる and 別れる are the same (intransitive) verb わかれる "to separate", "to split". However, as with many, many other verbs (a prime example being みる), kanji have been used to differentiate different meanings. Even though 別れる is intransitive, you can tell from what I said above that it doesn't have a transitive twin in modern Japanese, since its okurigana doesn't accommodate a reading of 別 for わける.

  • @Earthlin Is is ever possible to have different kanji for transitive pairs, i.e. in exceptional cases? Or when kanji compounds are used? For example, what about 消灯する? Is it 明かりを消灯する for transitive and 明かりが消灯した for intransitive? Maybe 消灯 isn't the best example, but I'm referring to how to use Nounする in transitive or intransitive ways. – kandyman Dec 4 '18 at 11:16
  • "Examples are 座る (suwaru, sit) vs. 据える (sueru, put, install, seat) and 廃る (sutaru, fall out of use, be disgraced) vs. 捨てる (suteru, dump, abandon)" - japantimes.co.jp/life/2016/08/22/language/…. But I think 廃る and 廃れる are a proper pair, right? Also I thought 据わる and 据える were a proper pair. – kandyman Dec 4 '18 at 11:22

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