There are situations where transitives and intransitives are switched without any clear reason. For example, a transitive verb is usually used to describe a situation like this:


rather than the logically more reasonable intransitive version:


I am not particularly discussing the availability of the latter, and to compare the frequency of these forms is totally irrelevant to my question, but suppose you want to do an estimate. I know of a search engine called Google, which, at this moment, returns 35 hits for the string for the illogical "タクシーが流す", most of which are the relevant phrases, and 14 hits for the string for the logical "タクシーが流れる", of which 7 are the relevant phrases (excluding this very question), so that indicates that the illogical form is used almost five times the logical form (keeping aside the hits made by another "Google" that I am not aware of, which returns 16,700 results for the illogical "タクシーが流す" and 507,000 results for the logical "タクシーが流れる", leading to the opposite conclusion, according to a user of this site).

Outside of this peculiar usage, the transitive 流す requires an animate and volitional agent as the subject, which is distinct from the theme that is the object, and cannot be used reflexively.

* そうめんが流す

* 気球が空を流す

* ニュースが電光掲示板を流す

Similarly, in stock exchange contexts, transitive verbs are used instead of their intransitive counterpart:



On the contrary, when directions are given in cooking, intransitives are used instead of the more logically appropriate transitives:


Outside of this peculiar context, the intransitive 入る either 1) requires an animate volitional agent 2) or the sentence has to describe the potential/ability rather than a single event.

* 日曜日の晩に辞書がかばんに入ります

Why do these switching happen?

  • 2
    But both versions are grammatical? If so then there is nothing inherently wrong with either right?
    – Flaw
    Commented Jun 24, 2012 at 15:15
  • 2
    And, are there any logical faults in the uses with transitive verbs? What/Who defines which is more "logically appropriate"? Grammatically both versions seem logical.
    – Gradius
    Commented Jun 24, 2012 at 18:32
  • 1
    I partly agree with Gradius: it is more helpful to state why you think that intransitive (or transitive) verbs are more logical in the examples. Also, it is quite possible that if you examine carefully why you think that intransitive/transitive verbs are more logical, you may find out the answer to your question by yourself. Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 1:14
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    @sawa, two things: One, what is a "Google fundamentalist"? I think I know what you're trying to say, but I don't think you said it how you meant it. Secondly, I'm not sure if English is your first language, but saying "the user in question" comes off as quite rude in this context. It's implies (at least to me) that his fault is so awful that you can't even speak his name (or write out his pseudonym as the case may be). I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you didn't mean it that way. Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 3:17
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    +1 for an interesting question, I deleted my answer (for now), as I admit it was off the mark. I feel that there is an underlying pattern behind the usage, however I can't put my finger on it yet!
    – Jesse Good
    Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 3:41

4 Answers 4


I do not have a firm hold on what is going on in these sentences, but here are some observation and speculation.

As for タクシーが街を流す, as I wrote in a comment on the question, I observe that the structure of the sentence is quite similar to 陸上選手が100メートルを流す. The latter 流す means something like “exercise lightly,” which I feel some connection to the meaning of the former 流す, namely “(for a taxi) to cruise looking for a passenger.”

As for 株が高値を付ける, I consider it as a personification: the stock is usually inanimate (of course), but in this sentence, it is considered as something which moves up and down by its own will.

As for 酒とみりんが入ります, it might be the case that the narrator does not want to describe it as a step which a listener MUST FOLLOW, because doing so may drive the listener away. Rather, the narrator wants to give the impression that the step is easy and nothing to worry about, by describing it as something which happens spontaneously.


The decision on whether transitive or intransitive should be used in the above sentences is not based on whether there is a direct object that exists for the verb to take. I believe the decision is based on the focus of the sentence, the transitive focuses on the action and the intransitive focuses on the subject. Also, when you use transitive, it implies that there is a change in state and something was affected by the action, whereas the intransitive versions do not reflect this.


The above focuses on the action of traveling through town, which is more important than the subject (taxi). Also, I believe that using transitive shows that something is being affected, in the above example, traveling through town shows a change in state (your surroundings are constantly changing), whereas if you used the intransitive version, I feel that the change in state is lost and the focus is on the taxi only.


Here again, the focus is on the action and what happened rather than on the subject, and the important aspect is that the stock value changed.


This is the opposite, the action is irrelevant, what's important is what ingredients are used, not the action of putting them in, and also there is no notion of "change in state". In other words, you have no idea what is being affected.

  • 1. Transitivity is not a notion that is solely for English. 2. 越す is just another variant of 越える. My examples are intransitive-transitive pairs that have different forms. They are not 自他同形.
    – user458
    Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 2:07

After thinking several days, now I think that タクシーが流す is not just a transitive version of タクシーが流れる. They can have different meanings (nuances). Basically 流れる represents just an observation, but 流す often implies a certain intended action when we talk about taxi. タクシーを(が)流す means to drive an empty taxi here and there looking for potential passengers. Therefore, the transitive and intransitive versions are not automatically interchangeable in this case.

NOTE: タクシー 流す (not using を) sounds a little unnatural to me and I wouldn't like to use it, but we can really find many uses of it. Perhaps some people use it because タクシーが流れる can't convey the meaning mentioned above. This might be a reason why they still stick with 流す even when a subject is タクシー.

An example use of タクシーが流す: http://plaza.rakuten.co.jp/hashiretaxi/diary/200806010000/

As for other expressions, I think that the difference between transitive and intransitive versions is mainly a point of view. Both can be logical and can't be logical. The difference is how to describe phenomena from speaker's point of view.

Moreover, we can use 入る in other cases than cooking instruction. One of the most notable things to 入る is 邪魔 (じゃま). Do you think that 邪魔 is always animate?


We can find a lot of other intransitive examples, such as:









Some of you might not like Google, but you can find a huge number of examples on it by searching "が入りました", etc..

Finally, let us see the following example.


We don't say this indeed, because there is no reason to change subjects in the middle of an utterance. Especially in writing, this kind of ねじれた文 is not recommended. However, the mother of the student would say,

かばんにちゃんと辞書入ってる? ちゃんと入れた? 入ってるかどうか、もう一度確かめて。

We don't say 入る in this context, but we can say 入っている, which is also a intransitive expression. This may be a little off topic, but I think 入っている is used more widely than 入れてある.

  • I am still wondering if タクシーが街を流す is correct. It sounds like a slang (to me).
    – Gradius
    Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 5:14

I think the notions of focus, intention, observation, and Google are good ones, but consider this English example: a person starts talking about a terrible meeting in the past tense. He gets worked up and starts speaking in the present tense - e.g. "...so I say, are you telling us..." and now a variety of tense issues can arise and he makes mistakes no Japanese would/can make. I wonder if a Japanese person might start thinking 'intransitively' (it's a recipe so food cooks) but then gets caught up in himself transitively and makes mistakes only Japanese can make. I can't even imagine what might happen. These won't be the mistakes i make. The mind wanders as blogs are typed (and not proofed) and now Google serves up intriguing sentences with mistakes that give insight into the Japanese brain. If I were truly bilingual, would/should I make them too?

  • That is called historical present. It is an established narrative form. It is not a mistake.
    – user458
    Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 0:16
  • @sawa Agreed. It is not a mistake. It is the way the mind works. Why did the English speaker switch to "historical present", why did the Japanese speaker choose transitive? I think we can train ourselves to develop empathy for options in foreign language. Context gives empathy a stage from which it can extract the correct grammar descriptor.
    – medmal
    Commented Jul 30, 2012 at 2:28

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