I have noticed that Chinese characters are labelled as “exoactive”, “endoactive”, “exopassive” and “endopassive” on Wiktionary.

For example, it says that 娶 (marry) is the exoactive version of 取. I am unable to find other websites which utilize this term, and its usage seems to be rather obscure.

Now, I do understand that 娶 is a phono-semantic compound, where the character’s sound is indicated by 取, and its meaning indicated by 女. Could the aforementioned terms be related to this concept?

  • 2
    Not an exoactive Chinese character, but an exoactive form of the morpheme/word. These definitions may be found in the source literature (maybe Schussler..?)
    – dROOOze
    Commented Jun 21, 2020 at 15:13
  • @dROOOze then again, the main search results are that of wiktionary. So perhaps the wiktionary editors use it more than the original researchers...? Anyway, the larger problem is that I don’t really understand the use of the term in relation to the Chinese character. What does it even mean when 娶 is the exoactive form of 取?
    – Axel Tong
    Commented Jun 21, 2020 at 15:16
  • 1
    Looks like Schussler. books.google.ch/… and it seems to do with tone in relation to meaning.
    – Mou某
    Commented Jun 21, 2020 at 16:01
  • 1
    By the way, "娶 someone" is gender-exclusive language, limited to heterosexual male. "娶(取) Take a wife" involves materializing women (you can take a thing rather than a human being). It is a outdated in the background of gender equality and diversity. "跟 someone 结婚" is more gender-neutral language.
    – Bósài
    Commented Jun 21, 2020 at 20:30
  • Another example, 奸 has a 女 on the left, words for the character: 奸细 (spy) 强奸 (rape). However, the cost of creating new Chinese characters is too high. Not only the support of Unicode are needed, but also the support of font manufacturers, word processing software and operating systems are required.
    – Bósài
    Commented Jun 21, 2020 at 20:35

2 Answers 2


These terms were devised in the late 20th century analysis of Classical Japanese, originally, for the difference between -(さ)す (glossed as externally instigated) and -(ら)る (glossed as internally instigated). This exoactive vs endoactive reflects 18th century Japanese use of 他動詞 vs 自動詞 (tadoushi vs jidoushi).

In more traditional Western-orientated linguistic parlance, this is equivalent to transitive vs intransitive; in Modern Japanese, this is how it is presented to students. E.g. 散る (ちる) chiru vs 散らす (ちらす) chirasu. However, there are pairs even in Modern Japanese which definitely do not fit this description, e.g.

部屋を出る (へやをでる)

heya (w)o deru

to go out of / leave the room

... where there is an explicit object, but the verb is endoactive (with る), yet transitive. Contrast this with:

結果を出す (けっかをだす)

kekka (w)o dasu

to yield / come out with results

... where there is an explicit object, the verb is still transitive, but exoactive (with す). There is also a school that calls them causative vs inchoative pairs.

However, on application to Chinese, endoactive vs exoactive was used for directional transitive verbs, e.g.:

"buy" 買 mǎi vs "sell" 賣 mài

"buy grain" 糴 vs "sell grain" 糶

"hear/smell" 聞 wén vs "ask" 問 wèn

... and a wide range of pairs that fit a similar semantic alternation. This regular(ish) association of exoactive = Middle Chinese 去聲 (departing tone) implies some sort of regular morphology in Old Chinese, which is believed to be a final *-s suffix, which later (in the Han?) became *-h and ended up in departing tone.

Schuessler expands on this endoactive/exoactive distinction with the endopassive/exopassive one, as well as providing a simplex (neither -active nor -passive) version, and associates them with different proposed derivational phonology by their outcomes in Middle Chinese. Some of the above examples were reallocated.

This tonal difference is what accounts for 取 vs 娶, which in Middle Chinese have rising and departing tones. This distinction is preserved in (colloquial) Min but lost in Mandarin and (most of) Cantonese. However, if "take" is the endoactive (internally motivated) direction, then how is "to take as a wife" an exoactive (externally motivated) one? That's the semantic leap that Schuessler has to make, and provides an explanation for:

However, the key was apparently the person as indir. object.


On p. 43 of ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese By Axel Schuessler we have the following introduction:

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which is later expound on:

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On p. 44 we find the exact example that you are asking about:

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It also comes with an explanation:

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There is a little explanation also here:

[...] endoactive (introvert) verbs also can be tr. like mai 'to buy (something)', Exoactive verbs are the extrovert, transitive / cauastive ounterparts (mài 'sell something to someone')


We could have used the familiar labels 'middle' for 'endoactive', 'active' or 'causative' for 'exoactive', 'passive' for 'exopassive'.

Understanding exoactive as causative variant might be an easier connection to make.

  • Does this mean that 娶 is anomalous in its relation with 取? If that is so, how did they even make the connection that it is the exoactive form of 取?
    – Axel Tong
    Commented Jun 21, 2020 at 16:40
  • I'm trying to wrap my mind around this right now as well. It seems like it is really a Japanese concept adopted into Chinese. I'll have a closer look and see what I can see.
    – Mou某
    Commented Jun 21, 2020 at 17:15

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