In the context of the sentence: スーパーで雑誌が売っている, is the verb 売っている being used as a transitive or intransitive verb?

I understand that usually 売る is a transitive verb in the sense that "I sell apples" can be written: りんごを売る

My textbook implies that the intransitive partner to the verb 売る is 売れる。However, while 売れる is indeed an intransitive verb, it really means to "sell well" rather than to "be sold".

I found this link https://www.nhk.or.jp/bunken/summary/kotoba/term/128.html, which implies that both

  1. スーパーで雑誌売っている and
  2. スーパーで雑誌売っている can be used.

Is it correct to think of (1) as an intransitive usage of the verb 売る, roughly translated to "Magazines are sold at the supermarket" vs (2) a transitive usage of the verb 売る, roughly translated to "[Some(one/people)] are selling magazines at the supermarket"?

As such is 売る an ambitransitive verb Can verbs be both transitive and intransitive??

  • This is actually a very complex issue, grammatically speaking. I would suggest you leave it open for a bit longer. I understand aguijonazo's answer may seem abstruse at first, but I think their answer gets it right. I was going to write an answer in support of that answer. Of course, naruto's answer addresses your question about the transitivity of this specific word but I don't think that gives the whole picture.
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 20:08
  • Okay, I guess this is the downside to stack exchange where the person asking the question is probably least qualified to determine the correct answer. I’m awaiting your supporting remarks.
    – Jase Uknow
    Commented Dec 3, 2022 at 3:15
  • @EddieKal Hmm, please keep in mind that we all know there are various situations where が and を can be more or less interchangeable (eg 猫(が/を)好きになる, 本(が/を)読みたい, 切符(が/を)買える). What should be discussed here is specifically thing + が + Vt + ている, which is totally different to me.
    – naruto
    Commented Dec 3, 2022 at 6:30
  • 1
    @naruto I would just like to humbly ask for 2 more days.
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Dec 3, 2022 at 7:46
  • @naruto My apologies but I probably need a few more days. I will be sure to get it done in a few days. But I believe there are some interesting things in the information I found.
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Dec 6, 2022 at 6:33

2 Answers 2


Please read that NHK article more carefully; it says 雑誌が売っている is nonstandard and should be avoided at least in broadcasting. I am aware that the usage of 雑誌が売っている is gradually increasing among young speakers, as the graph in that article shows, but it still sounds clearly unnatural at least to my ears. 明鏡国語辞典 explicitly states this usage is grammatically wrong.

使い方 「イチゴが売っていたよ」のように、物を主語にした「~が売っている」は、文法的には誤り。

Still, if we are to accept 雑誌が売っている as a new correct usage of 売る, it is being used an intransitive verb meaning "to be sold". Although a dictionary published 30 years from now may have this intransitive usage, for now, it is always safer to say 雑誌が売られている.

By the way, the same can be said for 発売する. I had believed this was always transitive (新しい本を発売しました or 新しい本が発売されました), but an intransitive usage (新しい本が発売しました) is gradually increasing in the last decade. I personally hate this trend, but word usages change over time...

EDIT: As far as I can tell, this nonstandard usage (thing + が + transitive-verb + ている) is perhaps unique to 売る, and I am aware of no meaningful pattern here. (After a long discussion, aguijonazo failed to give me even one example exactly like this one.) It often happens that a misuse becomes widespread somehow, and you shouldn't try to over-generalize something like this.

EDIT 2: @Chocolate found a research article exactly on this topic!

大西美穂. 存在表現の適用ー「やる」と「売る」の自動詞用法ー. 日本語用論学会 第14回大会発表論文集. 2011.

You can read the entire article here (PDF). According to this research, the only pattern that is relatively common and similar to [物]+が売っている is [TV番組]+がやっている. Although the author gave long hypotheses for each of them as to why they came into use, she could find no similarities between the two verbs. It's more than 10 years after the first publication of this research, and we have not found any new verb similar to them. Therefore, ultimately, I think it's best to treat those two verbs merely as exceptions.

  • 1
    – chocolate
    Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 15:16
  • 2
    @Chocolate あー「のど自慢がやってる」「再放送がやってる」とかですか。個人的には言わないですけど検索したら出ますね。なにか共通点とかあるかな…
    – naruto
    Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 15:53

What makes が acceptable to a certain degree is the subsidiary verb いる, not the intransitivity of the verb 売る. In fact, 雑誌が売る is clearly ungrammatical. In general, [V て-form]- いる describes a state. It could be either transient or near permanent. The most typical examples of near permanent states include 住んでいる and 勤めている. In the case of 売っている, it could be either depending on the context. If it refers to a near permanent state, it could be seen as a property of the thing being sold. This is why the subject marker が sounds somewhat acceptable. It is similar to why が can be used instead of を to denote the direct object of an action with a potential verb, as in 日本語が話せる. The focus shifts from the action to the thing being acted on.


For the record, denying the uniqueness of 売る was never my objective. I don’t even see the need.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – chocolate
    Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 14:37

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .