Another method of grouping is related to the meaning of verbs. Therefore, you need to recognize the concepts of action, state and change as related to verbs.
First of all, let’s divide verbs into two groups.
- active verbs
- non-active verbs
The active verbs are easy to figure out. Examples include taberu, nomu, suru, miru, iku and so on. Easy examples of non-active verbs are aru and iru. They are not actions, but instead indicate the existence of something or someone.
Sundeiru is the same concept. Some people think of this as an action, but it’s not a momentary action. It indicates a continuous state of living.
―――― sundeiru (I have been living)―――――→ (time)
Other verbs indicating states are tsukareteiru (have been tired), futotteiru (have been fat), kondeiru (have been crowded) and so on.
What do their dictionary forms mean then? Tsukareru, futoru and komu are the dictionary forms and they indicate changes.
Being in good shape ――→ get tired (tsukareru)
Being thin ――→ get fat (futoru)Of course, naru indicates change as well.
Additionally, potential forms are also non-active verbs.
Watashi wa nihongo ga hanaseru. (I can speak Japanese.)Hanasu is an action. On the other hand, hanaseru is the state of having the ability to speak. The same concept applies to oyogeru (can swim), yomeru (can read), surfing ga dekiru (can surf) and so on. Each one means someone has the talent or skill to do something.
What about mieru and kikoeru? They are non-active verbs, too. They are often translated as “I can see” and “I can hear”. However, it’s not one’s ability that these verbs refer to, but instead to situations happening naturally. Thus, they are not the potential forms of active verbs. Please keep in mind that these are different from verbs like hanaseru or oyogeru.
Fujisan ga mieru. (Mt. Fuji is visible.)It’s visible just because it’s there. It doesn’t include an action with any intention. Ultimately, mieru and kikoeru refer to states of being visible and audible, respectively. You can interpret wakaru in the same way. I wrote this in the previous post too, but please have a look at this again.
(watashi wa) nihongo ga wakaru. (Japanese is understandable (to me).)Wakaru isn’t an active verb, but a state verb. Benkyo suru (to study) and narau (to learn) are actions, but wakaru refers to the state of knowing or understanding as a result of studying. That result is a state.
If you’re wondering why I have explained this, it’s because it’s easier for you to understand Japanese grammar if you can distinguish between active verbs and non-active verbs.Basically, non-active verbs are not used with を (wo). I previously wrote that “nihongoを wakaru” is incorrect. Similarly, “kuruma を aru”, “surfing を dekiru”, “Fujisan を mieru” aren’t correct either. You should use が, not を. However, を can be used with potential forms such as “nihongo を hanaseru” and “kanji を yomeru”.
Also, there is one more important difference, too.
- 1. Active verbs include the speaker’s intention.
- Non-active verbs don’t and instead express a state, change, ability or result.
For example, compare tame ni and you ni.
Byouki wo naosu tame ni, kusuri wo nomu. (I take medicine in order to cure my illness.)
Byouki ga naoru you ni, kusuri wo nomu. (I take medicine so that I’ll get better.)Next, compare tara and ba.
Ano mise ni ittara, cake wo tabeyou. (Let’s eat cake if/when we go to that shop.)
Ano mise ni ikeba, oishii cake ga aru. (If we go to that shop, there are good cakes.)Tame ni and tara are paired with active verbs, and you ni and ba are paired with non-active verbs. (Tara and ba have different usages as well.)
There are many cases in Japanese grammar where you can choose whether to use verbs with intention or not. If you can distinguish between the two verb types, it gets easier to use Japanese grammar correctly.
Remembering the meaning of words is not enough. Try to think about whether it’s an action, state or change at the same time!