I’m trying to understand the tadoushi/jidoushi distinction. I read an article in wikionary.org Here which seemed to make sense. In particular it stated that the tadoushi/jidoushi distinction is a semantic one: a tadoushi verb acts upon another entity; a jidoushi verb does not.

Subsequently I looked at this sentence:

道を間違えたのかな (I wonder if I mistook the street)

I understand that there is a related jidoushi verb, 間違う, but 間違える itself, if it can indeed be translated as "to make a mistake", does not seem to act upon another entity. Yet it has a direct object.

I’d appreciate it if somone could explain tadoushi/jidoushi in a way that accounts for the syntax in the sentence cited. Thank you.

I’m pretty much a newbie, so romaji will be fine with me.

Addition: Having thought about this more, my tentative conclusion is that the tadoushi/jidoushi distinction is a semantic one that is not necessarily expressed in syntax. If we were classifying English verbs, that of “I remembered Helen” would be jidoushi and that of “I kissed Helen” would tadoushi. Both can take a direct object, so it is not useful to link tadoushi with transitivity and jidoushi with intransitiviity.

Could anyone confirm or negate my conclusion?

  • In this sentence, I remembered Helen, I guess both can be Jidoshi and Tadoshi because I don't know remember means which, remember(not forget) or memorize (learn)? If remember means memorize, it is translated ”ヘレン{Helen}のこと{no koto}を{wo}覚える{oboeru}", and this "remember" is Tadoshi. If remember does not mean memorize, it is translated ”ヘレン{Helen}のこと{no koto}を{wo}覚えている{oboeteiru}" I think this "remember" is Jidoshi, but it might be gray. This is almost academic. – Kay Dec 19 '20 at 16:05
  • As long as Object is paired with "を{wo}" and is not "place", basically the verb is Tadoshi. So, "I go to school." "go" is Jidoshi. Kiss or touch is gray. Even in japan, it is not grammarlly clear, but I think it is Jidoshi. Simply speaking, Tadoshi is used basically always with "目的語{Mokutekigo}"-Object and "を{wo}" like "パンを食べる{Pan wo taberu}" - I eat a bread. Of course, there is exception, but it is rare case. – Kay Dec 19 '20 at 16:17
  • Related, or duplicate? japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/44523/… – Chocolate Dec 20 '20 at 15:15
  • @chocolate : Thank you. I’m so pleased to see the distinction between semantics and syntax being made by someone else. It only takes me so far though. Kay (native Japanese) has advised that kiss would be considered jidoushi, which is the opposite of what I expected. – justerman Dec 20 '20 at 17:23

In short, Tadoshi is basically used with "目的語{Mokutekigo}"-Object and "を{wo}" like "パン{Pan}を{wo}食べる{taberu}" - I eat a bread.
Of course, there is exception, but it is a rare case.
An exception case is as below.

猫が私の庭を走っている - Neko ga watashi no niwa wo hashitteiru
A cat is running in my yard.

In this sentence, "走っている" (infinitive verb is "走る{hashiru}) is Jidoshi because Niwa, yard is place. In addition, if you can alternate "を{wo}" with "で{de}" like "庭{Niwa} で{de} 走る{hashiru}", it is not Tadoshi.

Your sentence,

A tadoushi verb acts upon another entity; a jidoushi verb does not.

I think this is basically correct. However, in my opinion, some verbs like kiss someone or touch someone is Jidoshi. (Even in Japan, it is not clear.)

kiss someone is "にキスする{ni kisu suru}", and touch someone is "に触れる{ni fureru}"
This verbs act upon an entity/object, but are not paired with "を{wo}".

To make matters complicated, touch can be translated as either "を{wo}触る{sawaru}" or "に{ni}触れる{fureru}".
I guess the former is Tadoshi, and the latter is Jidoshi.

This is just my thought, but I understand that "触る{sawaru}" implies "touch tightly to check something or with a clear purpose.", but "触れる{fureru}" implies touch slightly or without his/her will. So, I think this slight difference makes Japanese learner more confused.

I am not sure if kiss is Jidoshi or not, but if we follow the principle, kiss is Jidoshi because it is used with "に{ni}" (not "を{wo}").

Again, this case is gray and rare, but basically, Tadoshi acts upon an object and is used with "を{wo}"

In this case:

道を間違えたのかな (I wonder if I mistook the street)

道{michi}, street is object/entity.

道-を-間違えた {Michi-wo-machigaeta} is "I went the wrong way" (directly translated to" I mistook the street")

間違える itself, if it can indeed be translated as "to make a mistake"

I think "to make a mistake on something" is more correct.

Japanese often omit/skip object or subject.

B:ごめん。間違えた。(間違えた is the past tense of 間違える)

A:I asked you to buy coke by Coca-cola, but this is Dr. Pepper!!
B:I am sorry. I made a mistake.

In this case, B doesn't say what he/she mistook because it is obvious.
Correctly speaking,

B:I am sorry. I bought Dr pepper by mistake for Coca-cola.

By the way, In Engslih class in Japan, we Japanese learn that a verb which needs preposition is Jidoshi.
For example, "I go to school." It is Jidoshi because of to.
"I opened the door" It is Tadoshi because of NO preposition.

In this method, kiss or touch is an exception case. This is Jidoshi although they do NOT need preposition.
However, this is gray even in Japan. Some dictionaries say this is Tadoshi.
I think this is a rare case.

Does this answer your question? feel free to tell me if you have qustions.

  • Thank you for responding. I fear I haven't been very clear, so let's take it one step at a time. 間違える, translated as "to make a mistake on something", does not seem to act on another entity. Am I then right to regard it as a jidoushi verb? – justerman Dec 18 '20 at 8:44
  • Let me confirm. An entity is something or someone that exists, but does it include abstraction? For example, can "calculation" be an entity? If not, I am sorry for my misunderstanding "entity". Tadoushi verb can act upon an object whichever it exists or not, whichever it is concrete or abstract. Then, the object for 間違える is 道{michi}, street. So, 間違える is tadoushi verb. – Kay Dec 18 '20 at 17:06
  • Perhaps I’m misunderstanding “acts upon” or, to take the more literal translation of the Japanese: “other move”. In my example, the street is not acted upon nor moved, not affected in the way that, say, the fish is in the sentence “I ate the fish.” So I say jidoushi, you say tadoushi. I don’t know who is right. We’ve probably gone as far as we can. Thank you for trying to help me. – justerman Dec 19 '20 at 10:43
  • Indeed, "acts upon" might be not correct.. I can say Tadoshi is always with "Mokuteki-go" (Object). where, Object can be omitted. E.g. "I ate the fish." fish is an object (Mokuteki-go) and ate is Tadoshi verb. If it is obvious that you ate the fish, You can say only "I ate."(食べた{Tabeta}) because object can be omitted. However, "ate" in this case is Tadoshi verb because the fish is object for "ate" though it is omitted. In English case, "Did you really finish you homework?" you can answer "I did!", right? I think it is same. homework is Mokuteki-go (Object) and it is omitted. – Kay Dec 19 '20 at 13:53
  • I don’t have a problem with tadoushi verbs not always having an object. My problem is understanding what tadoushi and jidoushi mean. I think the verb of “I remembered Helen” (no one acted upon or moved) would be jidoushi and that of “I kissed Helen” (Helen acted upon) would be tadoushi. But I don’t know if I’m right. – justerman Dec 19 '20 at 19:52

I think it may be helpful to look at the actual meaning of the terms:

自動詞 jidoushi

他動詞 tadoushi

自 self, auto-

他 other, another

動詞 verb (move+word)

In other words, 自動詞 works “by itself” while 他動詞 acts on something else (an object).

The corresponding English grammar terms are rather unintuitive (unless you know Latin) intransitive and transitive verbs but at least they can be easily looked up in any grammar reference.

For example, the verb “fly” can be both transitive and intransitive:

The birds fly - intransitive or 自動詞

Fly a hot air balloon - transitive (acts on balloon) or 他動詞

In Japanese they are not the same - intransitive is 飛ぶ while transitive is 飛ばす.

Japanese examples:

雨が降る 花が咲く 自動詞

本を読む 窓を開ける 他動詞

Most commonly 他動詞 take a direct object (対象) marked with a particle を but this is not a hard rule, other situations are possible.

  • Thank you for responding. When you say “the corresponding English grammar terms are . . . intransitive and transitive”, are you saying that jidoushi means intransitive and tadoushi means transitive? If not, what is the meaning of jidoushi and tadoushi? – justerman Dec 19 '20 at 19:35
  • the official translations to English are intransitive and transitive but if you take the kanji literally it could be something like "self-verb" and "other-verb". – Igor Skochinsky Dec 19 '20 at 19:37
  • I don't know about "official" but I know how the terms are often translated and I know the literal translations. I'm trying to understand whether you think there is any difference between "tadoushi" and "jidoushi" on the one hand, and "transitive" and "intransitive" on the other? If so, what? – justerman Dec 20 '20 at 8:29

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