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Nearly all Japanese verbs are classified as either transitive or intransitive. However, I am wondering if there are cases where one can use an intransitive verb in a transitive way, especially in a humorous, poetic, or philosophical context.

For example: the verb 「死ぬ」is intransitive, as is the verb "to die" in any language. However, in some languages like English we have expressions like "to die a painful death". Here the abstract concept "death" is the object of the intransitive verb "to die".

Is this possible in Japanese? That is, is something like「死を死ぬ」acceptable in Japanese, or would it be considered ungrammatical by virtue of having used「を」with the verb「死ぬ」?

Would a native speaker of Japanese understand an expression like 「死を死ぬ」, or would it sound like gibberish to them?


(See the Wikipedia page on cognate objects for a description of the general concept , although the the term "cognate object" is a bit of a misnomer as the key idea is not about the object being cognate with the verb. "Abstract object" would be a better term.)

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  • This was originally a (heavily) edited version of a different question, but per the suggestion of a fellow user has been re-asked as a new question, with the other question restored to its original state. – Aqualone Jan 5 at 3:41
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Something like 悲劇的な死を死ぬ makes no sense in Japanese. If you're interested in such patterns, the answer is "no". As a native Japanese speaker, I was totally puzzled when I saw "to die a tragic death" in an English sentence for the first time. I have never seen anything similar to this in Japanese.

Of course you can say 長い話を話す, 楽しい歌を歌う and so on, but these do not seem to match the definition of cognate objects in Wikipedia (話す and 歌う are inherently transitive).

Some suru-verbs work both transitively and intransitively (see this), but I think this is not what you are asking about.

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  • But I seem to have come across a few instances of this kind of language. For instance, a song titled 俺は俺の死を死にたい. And there's a line 僕は今を生きていくよ in the song『歩いていこう』. Perhaps these expressions mean something else entirely that I am missing? – Aqualone Jan 5 at 4:44
  • @Aqualone を in 今を生きる is a kind of place marker that can be used with an intransitive verb (see this). 俺の死を死にたい is indeed interesting (I didn't know this song), but I think this is more of a rare wordplay. – naruto Jan 5 at 5:38
  • thanks, that makes sense! So you mean the を in 今を生きる is similar to the を in 道を歩く but with time rather than place? – Aqualone Jan 5 at 17:56

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