There goes Godzilla…

In one of my Japanese classes I was studying transitivity pairs of verbs: in each pair both verbs have the same basic meaning, but one is transitive and the other is intransitive. (A transitive verb requires an object; an intransitive verb does not.) For example, one of the pairs was 「出す/出る」, which means “take out / go out”: 「ごみを出す」 means “take out the trash”; 「出る」 means “I’m leaving”.

The textbook then described how the meanings would change in the present imperfect tense (the book didn’t call it that; it just called it the 「+ている」 form). Transitive verbs describe an action, so the present imperfect tense of a transitive verb describes an action in progress; this is a normal use in English. But intransitive verbs describe a change, so the present imperfect tense of a intransitive verb describes a state that is the result of the change. That made sense, and I hope it still does.

But then came the example sentences. They are usually good examples that can be used in normal conversations, so I wasn’t surprised by the intransitive imperfect for “break”: 「このコンピューターは壊れています。」, meaning “this computer is broken”, is a useful phrase. But the corresponding transitive example was 「ゴジラが町を壊しています。」 translated as “There goes Godzilla, destroying the city.”