Thursday, January 10, 2019

~dzurai ~づらい, ~辛い

In Japanese, ~dzurai ~づらい, also written ~dzurai ~辛い, pronounced the same way as zurai ずらい, and inputted in an IME as durai, is an auxiliary adjective that means a verb is "hard for you to do" because doing it causes you trouble or distress.

Manga: Komi-san wa, Comyushou desu. 古見さんは、コミュ症です。 (Chapter 5, 喋りたいんです。)


Like other auxiliary adjectives, ~dzurai ~づらい is attached to the masu stem of verbs, also called their "connective form," ren'youkei 連用形.
  • suru
    To do.
  • shimasu
    To do. (polite form.)
  • shi

  • shi-dzurai
    Doing is hard.
    Hard to do.
  • sh-dzurai辛い
    (same meaning.)


The auxiliary ~dzurai ~づらい can be conjugated just like any i-adjective.
  • ~dzurai
    Hard [to do.]
  • ~dzurakatta
    Was hard [to do.]
  • ~dzurakunai
    Not hard [to do.]
  • ~dzurakunakatta
    Was not hard [to do.]

Tsurai 辛い

The word tsurai 辛い is not an auxiliary adjective, it's normal i-adjective that means something is painful, tough, harsh, distressing, etc.
  • kodoku wa tsurai
    Solitude is painful.
    Solitude is tough.
    Solitude is harsh.
    Solitude is distressing.

Clearly, the auxiliary ~dzurai づらい comes from this tsurai 辛い.

The reason ~dzurai starts with dzu づ while tsurai starts with tsu つ is because suffixes sometimes undergo a process called rendaku 連濁, in which the first syllable gets a diacritic.

Zurai ずらい

In this post, づらい is being romanized as dzurai. That's because dzu づ is tsu つ with a diacritic, so, for me, it makes sense.

Note, however, that this dzu づ is actually pronounced exact same way as zu ず. In fact, you'll see that a lot of people romanize shidzurai しづらい as shizurai しづらい instead. They're the same Japanese word, it's just a different romaji for the same word.

Furthermore, in a computer, you'd type du to input a dzu づ, as typing dzu may get you d-zu dず.

Lastly, because dzu づ and zu ず are pronounced the same way, some Japanese natives may misspell ~dzurai ~づらい as -zurai ~ずらい. Make no mistake: although it sounds the same, the correct orthography is ~dzuraiらい, as it comes from the word tsurai らい. [「づらい」と「ずらい」正しいのは? -, 2019-01-10]

~づらい vs. ~にくい

The difference between ~dzurai ~づらい and ~nikui ~にくい, another auxiliary adjective that also means something is hard to do, is that ~nikui means something is merely difficult to achieve, while ~dzurai means that something is distressful to do.

In many cases, ~dzurai and ~nikui are interchangeable. That's because something that gives you trouble doing must also be difficult to achieve, and something difficult to achieve must also give you trouble.
  • wakari-nikui
    Understanding is hard to achieve.
    It's difficult to understand this.
  • wakari-dzurai
    Understanding is distressful.
    I'm having trouble understanding this.
  • yomi-nikui
    Reading is hard to achieve.
    It's hard to read this.
  • yomi-dzurai
    Reading is distressful.
    This handwriting is so bad it's making my eyes hurt.
  • ii-nikui
    Saying is hard to achieve.
    It's difficult to say something like this.
  • ii-dzurai
    Saying is distressful.
    Saying this would result in a level of drama I really don't wanna handle.

Note, however, that ~dzurai is more subjective compared to ~nikui. That is, something ~nikui is something that's generally difficult for anyone to do, objectively difficult. While something that's ~dzurai is difficult for you to do, because it implies it causes you distress, not anyone else.
  • wakari-nikui
    This is hard to understand because it's a complex subject and you'd need to be a genius to figure this thing out.
  • wakari-dzurai
    This is hard to understand because I'm a baka and all this information makes my head hurts.

A lot of times, saying, asking about, talking to, and other social actions get ~dzurai because it can be stressful for you to interact with certain people or talk about certain things with them.

Manga: Komi-san wa, Comyushou desu. 古見さんは、コミュ症です。 (Chapter 5, 喋りたいんです。)
  • Context: Tadano 只野 thinks about the school's most popular girl.
  • Komi-san wa
    gakkou no madonna demo
    hanashi-kake-dzurai bijin
    demo nakatta.
    Komi-san was neither the school's madonna
    nor a beautiful person [who's] hard to [approach].
    • hanashi-kakeru
      To approach and talk with. To start talking to. To begin a conversation with.
    • Very literally: to pour a conversation onto someone.
  • In this panel, Tadano says he thought Komi-san was unapproachable because she was a "beautiful person." In other words, it's ~dzurai because she's way out of his league. This is a subjective matter. Someone at the same league as her wouldn't face the same difficulties.

Since ~dzurai has a subjective nuance, you'd use ~nikui instead of ~dzurai whenever you have an action that you aren't actually involved in doing.

For example, say you have an embarrassing memory of your childhood that you really want to forget, but:
  • wasure-nikui
    [It's] hard to forget.
    Forgetting is hard to achieve.

You wouldn't say wasure-dzurai 忘れづらい here because forgetting isn't something you actively try to "do," it simply happens. It's "hard" for it happen, but it's not like you close your eyes and focus and put some tremendous effort and sweat starts dripping from your brow and hmmhmmmrrrmmmmrrrr!!!! *poof* Memory gone. That's not how it works.

Likewise, say you are talking about a pen and the permanence of its ink:
  • kie-nikui
    Hard to disappear.

You wouldn't use kie-dzurai 消えづらい in this case because you aren't involved in this "disappear" verb. The ink is disappearing, not you.

On the other side, sometimes you have a verb where ~dzurai is more appropriate than ~nikui. For example: say you're in a social gathering you really don't wanna be, but if you just left, you'd hear a lot of trouble later. So it's:
  • nige-dzurai
    Hard to escape.

In this case, you wouldn't use nige-nikui 逃げにくい because, to begin with, the word "to escape" here is very subjective. It has to do with your personal situation. A lot of people could just leave that gathering and face no trouble at all. It's not objective enough like it's a maze anyone would find difficult to escape from. So you use nige-dzurai here, not nige-nikui.

The difference between ~dzurai and ~nikui is also said to be psychological vs. physical. [「しづらい」と「しにくい」の使い分け -, 2019-01-10]

Which is kind of confusing since something physically painful is tsurai.

What it means, though, is like the difference between something you think is impossible, and something that's actually physically impossible according to the laws of physics. That is, subjective versus objective. For example:
  • hanashi-dzurai
    Hard to talk with.
    Because that guy doesn't seem friendly. I don't like him. I don't want to talk with him.
  • hanashi-nikui
    Hard to talk with.
    There's a lot of noise in the background. Plus he's wearing a mask over his mouth. We are experiencing technical difficulties in our communication.
  • hairi-dzurai
    Hard to enter.
    Because someone I don't want to meet is in there.
  • hairi-nikui
    Hard to enter.
    Because this door is way too small. I would need to shrink to be able to go through here.

Again, don't let the "psychological" word mislead you. A lot of actions done psychologically aren't -dzurai because they don't distress you. For example:
  • kangae-nikui
    Hard to think.

The verb "to think," kangaeru 考える, generally gets ~nikui instead of ~dzurai because it refers to something is hard to think, hard to conceive, unimaginable. Coming up with that thing is a task hard to achieve. If you used kangae-dzurai instead, it would mean that you are having trouble thinking, which is often not the case.


The antonym of ~dzurai ~づらい is -yasui ~やすい, "easy to do." This ~yasui is also the antonym of ~nikui, by the way.
  • wasure-yasui
    Easy to forget.
  • nige-yasui
    Easy to escape.

Further Reading



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