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Tweet of the Week #31: A Sticky Situation

Learn how to make compound verbs in Japanese with this week's viral tweet.

By 4 min read

Rice holds a very special place in the Japanese diet. The country is the ninth largest consumer of rice in the world with 8,450 metric tons wolfed down annually. From north to south, millions of Japanese farmers plant rice and some rice paddy terraces are even considered a tourist destination.

Nowadays, rice production is also highly mechanized which brings some good ups — such as improved productions and working conditions — but also some surprising downs.

Oops!

あーぁ…機械きかいわすれて道路どうろ田植たうえ。
道路に延々えんえんつづいていました。こんなふうにやらかしてるのはじめてた。

Aaaaah… The rice transplanter was still on and planted rice on the road. It kept going forever like this along the road. This is the first time I’ve seen something like this.

While all that wasted rice has us wincing, we can definitely sympathize with the farmer who must have had his mind elsewhere after a long day at the wheel. However, looking at the tweet below it looks like some people are making the most of his misadventure, commemorating it with original artwork just because.

How to make Japanese compound verbs

Assuming you know more than a couple of verbs in Japanese, you’ll probably be excited to learn how you can step up your game with compound verbs.

Japanese compound verbs — and their lovely acronym JVCs — are built by combining two verbs in order to create a third one that will express more complex emotions, states or elaborated phenomena. That’s right, despite appearances the Japanese language is actually more flexible than a double-jointed yoga guru.

Learning how to deal with JVCs will give you the power to speak more sophisticated Japanese. Even if you’re sometimes inventing a word that’s not listed in the dictionary, it’s likely a native speaker will get what you’re trying to say. Sweet!

One rule to bind them all

Take one verb, let’s say める and attach the stem of this verb (止め) to another verb, れる, and you get 止め忘れる or “to stop forget.” Doesn’t sound so great in English, but in Japanese, it’s completely natural!

The good news is that you’ll find JVCs follow only a limited number of patterns. Although nuances can be hard to tell, building a compound verb can:

  • Express a sequential action

あそつかれる = to get tired playing (hanging out) (from 遊ぶ, to play and 疲れる to get tired)

  • Express a simultaneous action

ある= to walk around selling stuff (from 売る, to sell and 歩く to walk)

  • Add nuance to the first verb (the first verb conveys the main meaning)

しぶ = to hesitate to say (from 言う to say and 渋る, to hesitate)

  • Add nuance to the second verb (the second verb conveys the main meaning)

える = to convert to something new (切る, to finish and 替える, to switch)

And, the trickiest combo of all:

  • Create a completely new word which may or may not be close to both verbs’ meanings

あみ = to design, to invent (from 編む, to knit and 出す, to remove)

Ways to learn Japanese compound verbs

The bad news is that there are thousands of compound verbs for you to memorize. They can be very ambiguous and even if the kanji can somehow give you a hint, you can never be sure of the meaning until you’ve looked it up in the dictionary. Not so sweet now, is it?

But worry not, as your holy grail, a.k.a. Japanese textbooks, hold the key to sorting this mess out. Most of the time, they’ll introduce compound verbs by listing the most frequent ones, based on their stem verbs, e.g. they’ll be laid out as “all the compound verbs that use the verb ‘to read’.”

We can only encourage you to learn them as they come. Still, a good online reference to boost your vocabulary is the Compound Verb Lexicon that you can play around with.

Vocabulary

Japanese Romaji English
機械きかい kikai machine, device
わすれる tomewasureru to forget to stop
道路どうろ douro road
田植たう taue rice seedling
延々えんえん enen continuously, forever
つづ tsuzuku keep going
こんな konna fuu ni like this
やらかす yarakasu perform, do, proceed negatively, screw up
はじめて hajimete first time

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