suru verbs -- transitive or intransitive
  • It seems that most suru verbs end up being transitive in nature... that is, they take a direct object. But I've come across some sentences using suru verbs which don't include a direct object. For instance, I've seen hossoku suru (発足する), meaning "start", used like an intransitive verb. Do suru verbs simply work either way, depending on what you need to say, or are they strictly one way or the other?
  • You have to be sure that a verb in a sentence DOES REALLY play intransitive role. Do not forget that both を and が can be interchangeable within normal sentences.

    Both 私はリンゴを食べた and 私はリンゴが食べた mean the same.
    Both 「私は」日本語を勉強する and 「私は」日本語が勉強する are the same.

    Actually, the compound verb [NOUN]する is considered as all-time transitive (as far as I know), since [NOUN] does not (in most cases) imply transitivity or intransitivity.
  • リンゴを食べた is correct. リンゴが食べた means 'the apple ate'.

    I'd say that を and が are interchangeable when you have a sentence like "リンゴが食べたい". Otherwise they're usually not.
  • Some are transitive, some are intransitive, and some can be both. There is no specific rule for suru verbs.
  • リンゴが食べた means "the apple ate" when there is no, ie. 私は/「?」は
  • 私はリンゴが食べた is not correct Japanese. を marks the object of a sentence. が marks the subject. リンゴ is the object of this sentence, hence, を is correct.
  • Not trying to be a smartass, but I think there is a case where 「リンゴが食べた」 is correct. In isolation, the phrase sounds odd to me as well, but I'm certainly not a native speaker.

    Anyway, if responding to a question where the emphasis was on, specifically, what was eaten then you would say it. Two grammar rules in play are:

    1. When the particle follows an interrogative word (何), use が and
    2. Since interrogatives using が are also answered with が, you would say:

    A: 何が食べた?
    What was it that you ate?
    B: リンゴが食べた。
    It was apple (that I ate.)

    (I can't take credit for knowing this. I read about it recently in "Basic Connections, Making Your Japanese Flow" by Kakuko Shoji. It's an awesome book.)
  • 何を食べた is correct.

    I'm sorry, but ~が食べた, to mean "ate a ~" is just wrong. If you really wanted to use が, you could say リンゴが食べられた ("the apple was eaten"), but clearly that's not a natural sentence in the context we're talking about.
  • Thanks for all the great info so far. So as to provide some context:

    The verb in question is 発足する -- hossoku-suru -- which means
    establish, found, start, launch, inaugurate. Some of these words
    are clearly transitive, while others are a little iffy (start
    and launch, for example). Because of this, I was left wondering
    if 発足する, and by extension, other suru verbs, could be
    either transitive or intransitive, depending on context.

    A Google search of '発足する' shows that it is often used
    with が, but perhaps as often with を. Particle を is usually
    used with transtive verbs (though it is used with some
    intransitive verbs such as verbs of motion).

    So, we really have two issues here.

    1) can some suru verbs be intransitive?
    2) can the が particle be used to identify an object?

    In case you are wondering, the sentences which got me to
    thinking about this were as follows. It's the second
    sentence that confuses me:

    ヤマトが ガミラス帝国との 戦い に 勝利し、
    地球に 帰還してから 凡そ 1年の 間に 再興させる 事に 成功した。

    "The Yamato wins in the battle with the Gamilon Empire,
    and they succeed in bringing about revival on Earth
    in a space of about one year after they return."

    それと 合わせて、地球連邦 が 発足した 模様。

    a) "And, all in all, it seems that they have established
    the Earth Federation (地球連邦)."


    b) "And, all in all, it seems that the Earth Federation
    has started."

    Hopefully this helps.

  • > 1) can some suru verbs be intransitive?
    明鏡国語辞典, entries marked with 《自サ変》


    Think about it:
    noun: the action of belonging to sth.
    >suru-verb: to do "belonging" (does belong)
    Now we use that verb in a sentence: X does belong to Y.

    Now try to use this transitively: X does belong Z to Y???

    Anyone cares to guess what 卜スル means ?
  • 卜スル probably is とする... which is in the dictionary. It's really just する, preceded by と. Means literally to 'take as', 'use for...'
  • I'm sorry, but that is wrong. Try copying&pasting the word to the input field of and *only* replace the last two katakana manually with the respective hiragana. Prepare for a surprise :) (or use rikaichan)
    While we're on it, does anyone see the difference between 己 and 已, 日 and 曰?
  • Ah, a tricky kanji, 卜!


    I can only barely see the differences between 己 and 已, 日 and 曰. I am surprised that these kanji have not been made more distinct. (爆)

  • Well, context tells everything, consider i l j or O 0 o or n m or u v , especially in handwriting, these letters may look quite similar. What's more, while both 己 (eg自己紹介) and 日 (eg 日記) are still in common use, 已 (eg已むを得無い・已然形) and 曰 (eg孔子曰く) aren't used a lot anymore. Still, I find such kanji fascinating and at least having a passive knowledge might prove useful.

    Die spinnen, die Römer??
  • Thanks. Another point of confusion which I've found with regards to suru verbs is that some of them seem to be, by default, passive, while others require switching to sareru to acheive a passive meaning (which is more what I would have expected).

    For example, in the course of translating something, I found the author using 壊滅する (kaimetsu suru) to mean "be destroyed" (passive), while elsewhere the same author uses 破壊される (hakai sareru) to mean "be destroyed" (again, passive). The noun bases are different, an thus I am assuming that this clues the reader in.

    Neither verb is listed in, but the noun bases for both words are listed and mean "destruction". If I did not already know a little bit about what was being discussed, I would have thought that 壊滅する would have been an active verb, meaning "do destruction" (i.e., destroy). I suppose that's what we could call context, but it makes me uneasy. Is there some other clue, perhaps given in other dictionaries than, as to whether a verb ending in "suru" is passive rather than active?
  • I would say your confusion with active/passive stems is because of what we (Europeans, Western people, English speakers?) think is active or passive. To us, 大震災で町は壊滅した seems like a passive verb, while 一つの村を破壊する seems to be active.
    Rather, I would say both verbs are active, in the Japanese way, and the difference between them lies with transitivity/intranstivity.
    Consulting a Japanese dictionary, we find 壊滅する:自サ変 (intransitive suru-verb) and 破壊する:他サ変 (transitive suru verb).

    壊滅する: Xは「なくなること」をする X performs the verb action "nakunaru"
    Does using this verb transitively make sense? Xは「Aをなくなること」をする???

    Translating nakunaru with the active mood isn't exactly easy in English, one often uses the passive voice for that. But we shouldn't be concerned with how English expresses things.
    Perhaps "X does becoming non-existent". Trying to use it transitively "X does A becoming non-existent???", makes no-sense. At any rate, from the Japanese point of view, it is a normal intranstive verb, used actively.

    破壊する: Xが「Aをこわすこと」をする。
    Nothing strange going on here, still active. We can do this because 破壊する is transitive. (Actually, it's both.破壊:物が壊れること。 But that is irrelevant here.)

    Now that I think about it, consider the verb 壊れる: Shinwaeidaijiten says "be [get] broken", "be destroyed", "be wrecked", "collapse", ... Intransitive Japanese verbs may sometimes look passive, but from a Japanese perspective, they are not.

    That being said, we're still left with the question of how to remember which verb is transtive and intranstive. But at least you know how to look it up.

    Another example would be 存在する. This is an intransitive verb that is hard to impossible to translate passively into English, we just say "to exist". One could render this into passive voice, however, by defining a new verb
    freate = "cause to exist"
    We can now say "X exists" = "X is freated."

    Sure, that is a strange way to express things. But that's the point. Sometimes English does things the same way as Japanese, sometimes not. Yet what is common to both English and Japanese, is that we can find those phenomenons in both languages.
    We shouldn't be surprised just because the details are different in Japanese. (Which concepts to express with the active/passive/transitive/intranstive mood)
  • Good points. Perhaps 壊滅する means 'come to destruction' (intransitive), while 破壊する 'bring something to destruction' (transitive). The only problem, then, is that last bit -- looking it up. One needs to determine whether a given suru verb is transitive or intransitive, but for these verbs, does help because it does not list them. It only lists the base nouns, 壊滅 and 破壊. I think that this is actually the crux of my original question which began this thread (though I didn't think of it in this way).
  • To quote myself:
    >Consulting a Japanese dictionary, we find 壊滅する:自サ変 (intransitive suru-verb) and 破壊する:他サ変 (transitive suru verb).
    The dictionary I was using is the the 明鏡国語辞典, which tells you about transitivity for suru-verbs. I looked around a bit, but there don't seem to be many dictionaries that do that, you might have t get the meikyo kokugo jiten. It is a great dictionary with easy yet concise explanations, and contains many remarks concerning usage, spelling &c, I don't think you'd regret buying it. It is installed on many Casio 電子辞書s, I'm using the XDA10000, but of course, you don't have to get the most expensive one.

    But of course, you could just take look at example sentences and determine transitivity based on that... after all, that's how the dictionary makers got the information in the first place....

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