Monday, October 28, 2019

fukugou-doushi 複合動詞

In Japanese, fukugou-doushi 複合動詞, "compound verbs," are verbs composed of two words: a stem, and a verb head suffixed to that stem.

For example: nomi-komu 飲み込む, "to gulp down," mochi-dasu 持ち出す, "to take out," bukkorosu ぶっ殺す, "to beat to death," hiki-komoru 引きこもる, "to shut in," and mezameru 目覚める, "to wake up," kawai-sugiru 可愛すぎる, "to be too cute," are all compound verbs.


There are way too many compound verbs to list all of them at once. Instead, I'll list some of the common auxiliary verbs found in compound verbs:
  • ~dasu
    To move something out of somewhere.
    To start doing something.
    • tobi-dasu
      To jump out.
    • omoi-dasu
      To recall. To remember. (because you're taking memories out of your memory.)
    • hashiri-dasu
      To start running.
  • ~komu
    To put into a container, to shove into, to cram into.
    • tobi-komu
      To jump in. To dive in. (a hole, for example.)
    • omoi-komu
      To assume something to be true. To get in your head that something is true.
    • fumi-komu
      To step into.
  • ~mawaru
    To go around doing something.
    • aruki-mawaru
      To walk around. (the city, for example.)
    • sagashi-mawaru
      To search around. (the city, again.)
  • ~toru
    To take. Used when you acquire something by doing an action.
    • uke-toru
      To receive. (a package.)
    • yomi-toru
      To read and understand what it's written. (here, "to take" would be like "to get" what it means.)
    • kiki-torenai
      To not be able to hear-and-take. To not be able to figure out what someone is saying.
    • sui-toru
      To suck out. (e.g. a vampire sucking out blood.)
    • shibori-toru
      To squeeze out.
    • ne-tori
      The act of sleeping with someone else's lover.
  • ~nokosu
    To leave remaining.
    • tabe-nokosu
      To eat something partially. To leave leftovers.
    • nanika ii-nokoshitai koto wa aru ka?
      Is there something that [you] want to leave said?
      Any last words? (before I kill you?)
  • ~kaesu
    To return.
    • ii-kaesu
      To say back.
    • tori-kaesu
      To take back.
    • tori-kaeshi no tsukanai koto wo shite-shimatta
      [I] did something that can't be taken back.
      [I] did something that can't be undone.
  • ~hajimeru
    To start doing something.
    • yomi-hajimeta
      To start reading.
  • ~kakeru
    To start doing something, and be partly doing it, but not finished doing it.
    To do something to someone.
    • ii-kakeru
      To say something, but stop half-way.
    • shini-kakeru
      To be about to die.
    • yobi-kakeru
      To call [someone]. (as in: hey! Come here! Oy!!!)
    • hanashi-kakenaide
      Don't talk [to me].
  • ~tsudukeru
    To keep doing something without stopping, continuously.
    • benkyou shi-tsudukeru
      To keep studying. To study continuously.
    • sakebi-tsudukeru
      To keep screaming. To scream continuously.
  • ~owaru
    To finish doing something.
    • yomi-owatta
      To finish reading.
  • ~kiru
    To do something completely.
    • tabe-kiru
      To eat completely.
    • tsukare-kiru
      To tire completely. To become completely tired.
  • ~sugiru
    To do something too much.
    • tabe-sugiru
      To eat too much.
    • asobi-sugiru
      To play too much.
    • hanashi-sugiru
      To talk too much.
  • ~naosu
    To do over. To do again, because the first time you did it wrong.
    • tsukuri-naosu
      To rebuild.
    • kangae-naosu
      To rethink.
    • ii-naosu
      To say again, this time properly. To correct oneself.
  • ~nasai
    To do. (imperative.)
    • kotae-nasai
      Answer [me].
  • bu'~
    To do with force.
    • buttobasu
      To hit something so hard you make it fly. To punch someone so hard you know them out of the ground.
    • bukkakeru
      To pour something so hard it splashes.


The term fukugou-doushi 複合動詞 refers to literally any word that's a compound, that's composed of multiple words, and which is a verb, because the head of the compound is a verb.

Incidentally, if the head was an adjective, the term would be fukugou-keiyoushi 複合形容詞, "compound adjective," instead.

A consequence of this simplistic definition is that not all compound verbs are the same. In particular, they differ according to their stem: some compound verbs have a verb for stem, others have nouns, adjectives, or even adverbs.(張威, 2009:126)
  • oi-tsuku
    To chase and attach to. (literally.)
    To catch up with.
    • Verb plus verb.
  • kizu-tsuku
    To injury-attach to. (literally.)
    To get injured.
    • Noun plus verb.
  • chika-yoru
    To approach.
    • Adjective plus verb.
  • bura-sagaru
    To dangle.
    • Adverb plus verb.

Despite this plurality of compound verb types, an overwhelming majority of them—really, around 90%—are verb plus verb.(張威, 2009:128)


Like any other suffix, the suffixed verb of compound verbs can be affected by changes in pronunciation. For example:
  • kiru
    To wear.
  • kaeru
    To replace.
  • ki-gaeru
    To change clothes.
  • kaku
    To scratch.
  • harau
    To pay.
    To wipe away.
  • kapparau
    To steal. To snatch.

Verb + Verb

In compound verbs formed by a verb stem and a verb suffix, the stem is conjugated its ren'youkei 連用形 noun form. For example:
  • kaku
    To write.
  • kaki
    Writing. Written.
  • kaki-nokosu
    To leave [something] written [somewhere].
  • tsuki-au
    To hang with. To do an activity with.
    To date with.
  • kuri-kaesu
    To repeat. To do the same thing again.

Note that this form ends in ~i for godan verbs, but for ichidan verbs the ~ru is removed instead.
  • kiru
    To cut.
    • A godan verb.
  • kiri-komu
    To cut deep into. (the blade gets shoved deep into the target.)
  • kiru
    To wear.
    • An ichidan verb.
  • ki-komu
    To wear extra clothes. (you get shoved inside extra layers of clothing.)

The stem verb in a compound verb must be in noun form, which is a ren'youkei 連用形 form. However, that doesn't mean it must be the ren'youkei of its plain form. It's possible to conjugate the stem verb to passive or causative, before affixing the suffix verb:
  • tabe-tsudukeru
    To keep eating.
  • taberare-tsudukeru
    To keep being eaten.
  • tabesase-tsudukeru
    To keep forcing [someone] to eat [something].
  • tabesaserare-tsudukeru
    To keep being forced to eat [something] by [someone].

The head verb can be conjugated, too.

Manga: Gabriel DropOut, ガヴリールドロップアウト (Chapter 5)
  • Context: Vignette learns the harsh realities of doing group projects.
  • anta-ra ii-kagen ni shinasai yo'!!
    You [two], stop it already!!
  • mendou mi-kirenai tte!!
    I can't take care of all the trouble you make!!
    • mendou
    • mendou wo miru
      To see trouble.
      To take care of trouble.
      To take care of someone, which is trouble, in the sense of it may cause trouble to you to do it.
    • mendou wo mi-kiru
      To completely take care.
    • mendou wo mi-kireru
      To be able to completely take care.
      (potential form.)
    • mendou wo mi-kirenai
      To not be able to completely take care.
      (negative potential form.)
    • Vignette can't handle all this trouble.

Some verbs, due to changes in pronunciation, end up not really being in the ren'youkei form.
  • oi-kakaeru
    To chase someone.
  • okkakeru
    (same meaning.)

Deep Compounds

Syntactically, a compound verb is a verb. And a compound verb can be composed of two verbs. That means you can compose a compound verb out of a compound verb and another verb.
  • hiki-ageru
    To pull up.
  • hiki-age-nobasu
    To stretch by pulling up.
  • hiki-age-nobashi-tsudukeru
    To keep stretching by pulling up.


In general, compound verbs are well-established words that you can find in dictionaries. That is, you don't normally just grab a random verb and attach it to another verb to make a compound.

That said, it's totally possible to take an auxiliary verb and attach it to a random word. For example, the auxiliary verb ~hajimeru ~始める pretty obviously means "to start doing something," no matter what you attach it on.
  • guguru
    To google. To search on google. (a neologism.)
  • iroiro guguri-hajimeta
    To have started googling various things.

Semantic Bleaching

Some verbs are said to become semantically bleached when they're used as the auxiliary verb of a compound verb. That is, their meaning as an auxiliary is completely different from their meaning as a normal verb.

For example, kiru 切る means "to cut." It has nothing to do with ~kiru ~切る, "to do completely."

Except that kiri ga nai 切りがない means "having no end," "going on forever," "impossible to finish no mater how long you keep doing it," and so on.

Therefore, I'm not really such they've lost their original meanings when used as auxiliaries, or they just had multiple meanings to begin with.


Some verbs have multiple meanings, and, consequently, when they're used in compound verbs, the compound verb ends up having multiple meanings, too.

For example, oriru 降りる means "to fall," but it can also mean "to get out of a vehicle." Consequently, tobi-oriru 飛び降りる can mean either "to jump from a high place and fall," or "to jump out of a vehicle."

Auxiliary Verb

The auxiliary verb of a compound verb is often, but not always, the suffix verb. Consequently, the main verb is often, but not always, the stem verb.

Basically, the main verb is the verb that expresses the main action of the compound. Observe:
  1. uchi-kaesu
    To shoot back.
  2. uchi-korosu
    To kill by shooting.

In the first example, the main verb is the stem, but in the second verb, the main verb is the suffix, and the stem is an auxiliary.

This happens because there are three different classes of auxiliary verbs:(Niimi et al., 1987, as cited in Uchiyama et al., 2005:6)
  • The aspectual class.
    Whether the action has begun, finished, is continuing, and so on.
    For example, ~hajimeru ~始める.
  • The spatial class.
    Toward what direction the action is going.
    For example, ~ageru ~上げる.
  • The adverbial class.
    How the action is performed.
    For example, ~sugiru ~過ぎる.

Among the classes above, aspect and space are easily distinguishable. The verbs to start, to finish, etc. are aspect. The verbs to rise, to drop, to take out, to put in, etc. are spatial.

The problem is the adverbial class.

In general, if a verb has been semantically bleached, it's used as an adverbial auxiliary. For example, mawaru 回る originally means "to turn around," "to roll." Going "around" is a more adverbial usage of it.

Sometimes, compound verbs are composed of a stem that describes the process, and a suffix that describes the change or outcome of the process. In such cases, the verb describing the process is working adverbially, and therefore is the auxiliary.

Observe the examples below:
  • hiku
    To pull.
  • hiki-dasu
    To pull out.
  • hiki-ageru
    To pull up.
  • hiki-nobasu
    To stretch by pulling.
  • hiki-saku
    To tear apart by pulling.

The stem verb is hiku 引く in all examples, but in the last two examples, hiku 引く works adverbially, and the main verb is the suffix instead.

In such cases, it's possible to replace the stem verb by its te-form.
  • hiite nobasu
    To pull [it], subsequently stretching [it].
  • hiite saku
    To pull [it], subsequently tearing [it].

This is even more obvious in verbs like this:
  • tsukatte suteru
    To use and to throw away.
  • tsukai-suteru
    To throw something away after using it.

Note that this principle governs the correct order of the verbs in a compound. Observe:
  • uchi-korosu
    To shoot someone, then killing them.
    To kill someone by shooting them.
  • koroshi-utsu
    To kill someone, then shooting them.
    To shoot someone by killing them.
    • This doesn't make any sense.
    • It literally means you kill somebody first, and then you shoot their corpse. Why would you do that? What's the point of such savagery?

The spatial class of auxiliaries works the same way logically, but ends up being classified the opposite way.

For example, the verb ageru 上げる means "to raise" something. Therefore, we can interpret hiki-ageru 引き上げる as "to raise something by pulling it," which would make hiki the auxiliary.

Similarly, hiki-sageru 引き下げる, "to lower something by pulling it," or "to pull something down."

So which one is it? Is the verb hiku the auxiliary, or is it sageru?

In such cases, ageru 上げる and sageru 下げる are the auxiliaries. This happens because the spatial auxiliaries may appear to be verbs expressing an actual action of moving things, but, upon closer inspection, they're only there to describe what's the final direction of the action.

We know this because spatial auxiliaries can be suffixed to verbs that don't mean physical actions. For example:
  • naru
    To become.
  • nari-agaru
    To become something greater. To rise in rank.
    • For example, to become rich, to become a company president, to become a king, and so on.
  • nari-sagaru
    To become something lesser. To drop in rank.
    • This is a way more common word in anime than nari-agaru. Basically every time you have a character who's a noble, or king, or anyone in a high social position, who ends up losing such status because of whatever shenanigans, this word applies.
    • For example, a teacher ending up becoming a student's summoned beast. A princess ended up becoming a maid. One of the demon lord's generals being reduced to a NEET who does nothing but eat and play games on the internet every day.

None of the compound verbs above can be interpreted as "to raise or lower by becoming," agaru 上がる and sagaru 下がる are auxiliaries that merely describe the direction, they don't actually mean the action of moving something.

By the way, there are terms to classify auxiliary verbs according to their position.[複合動詞の成立条件 -, accessed in 2019-07-17]
  • zenkou-doushi
    The auxiliary comes before the main verb.
  • koukou-doushi
    The auxiliary comes after the main verb.
  • ryoukou-doushi
    The auxiliary can come either before or after the main verb.


Compound verbs are affected by the transitivity of the verbal head. In particular, some verbs feature ergative verb pairs, and which verb is used depends on the transitivity of the stem verb.

For example deru 出る, "to go out," has the lexical causative counterpart dasu 出す, "to put out."
  • tsuku
    To thrust.
  • shita wo tsuki-dasu
    To stick out [your] tongue.
  • atama kara tsuno ga tsuki-deru
    Horns stick out from [his] head.

Above, the ergative verb pair deru and dasu form an ergative verb pair of compound verbs: tsuki-deru and tsuki-dasu. The verb tsuki-deru is intransitive, so what "sticks out" is marked as the subject, while tsuki-dasu is transitive, so what "is caused to stick out" is marked as the object.

Unfortunately, it's more complicated than that.

For example, dasu 出す as an auxiliary verb can also mean "to start doing [something]." Consequently, sometimes a compound verb has a deru and a dasu variant, but they don't form an ergative pair. Observe:
  • mizu ga nagare-deru
    Water flows out.
  • mizu ga nagare-dasu
    Water begins to flow.

The reason it doesn't work as you'd expect is because nagareru 流れる, "to flow," is intransitive and forms an ergative verb pair with nagasu 流す, "to make flow," "to flush." Consequently, the correct transitive combination would be this:
  • mizu wo nagashi-dasu
    To flush out water.

Some verbs aren't part of ergative pairs. For example, the verb kiru 切る, "to cut," is transitive, and has no intransitive counterpart.
  • kiri-otosu
    To cut [something] off, causing it to fall, because of gravity.

The verb otosu 落とす, "to cause to fall," "to drop," forms an ergative verb pair with the intransitive verb ochiru 落ちる, "to fall." Since kiru 切る is transitive, we can use otosu 落とす with it, but not ochiru 落ちる.
  • *kiri-ochiru
    (you can't say this, because kiru is transitive, while ochiru is intransitive.)

It's technically possible to attach ochiru to kiru in its passive form:
  • kirare-ochiru
    To be cut, and then fall.

However, it's more normal to just use the passive form of the compound verb instead:
  • kiri-otosareru
    To be cut and dropped.

A common ergative pair to watch out for is agaru 上がる, "to rise," and ageru 上げる, "to raise."
  • yuusha wa mou ichido tachi-agaru
    The hero shall stand up one more time.
  • iwa wo mochi-ageru
    To grab-up a boulder.
    To lift a boulder.

English has more ergative verbs than ergative verb pairs, consequently, you can end up with an intransitive compound verb and a transitive compound verb that translate to literally the same thing in English. For example:
  • yaku
    To burn [something]. (transitive.)
  • yaki-korosu
    To kill by burning.
    To burn to death. (transitive.)
  • yakeru
    To burn. (intransitive.)
  • yake-shinu
    To die by burning.
    To burn to death. (intransitive.)

Noun + Verb

Some compound verbs are composed of a noun plus a verb instead.
  • tabi-datsu
    To go on a journey.
  • se-ou
    To bear. (a responsibility.)
  • te-watasu
    To hand over. To surrender.

In some cases, it's possible to start with a properly marked sentence, then replace the particles with nothing (see: null particle), and then turn that into a compound verb. For example:
  • na wo tsukeru
    To attach a name.
    To name.
  • na-dzukeru
    To name [someone]. To give a name. (like to a pet.)

However, most of the time this doesn't really work. For example:
  • na-noru
    To name [oneself]. To state your own name. To claim to be a certain person.
  • na wo noru
    To embark a name. (literally.)
    To take over a name. To claim a name. To claim to be a certain person.

Although the above should mean the same thing, the properly marked phrase isn't really used, only the compound verb na-noru is used.

Adjective Plus Noun

Sometimes, the stem of a compound verb is an i-adjective. When this happens, the steam of the i-adjective is used, that is, without the ~i ~い suffix.
  • chikai
  • chika-dzuku
    To approach.
  • nagai
  • naga-biku
    To be prolonged.

There are few compound verbs that follow this pattern. Most of the time, it's going to be the verb sugiru 過ぎる that will be attached to the adjective.
  • oo-sugiru
    Too many.
  • taka-sugiru
    Too high.
    Too expensive.
  • tsuyo-sugiru
    Too strong.

Adverb Plus Verb

In extremely few cases, the stem of the compound verb is an adverb.
  • bura-sageru
    To dangle.
  • bata-tsuku
    To move around without calming down.

Both the adverbs above happen to be mimetic words, and can be reduplicated: burabura ぶらぶら, *dangling,* *swaying to and from,* batabata バタバタ, *flapping.*


There are many words made out of conjugating compound verbs to their noun forms.

For example, some names of foods are nominalized compound verbs with the head yaku 焼く, "to heat," "to burn," "to roast," "to grill," "to bake," etc.
  • okonomi-yaki
    A pancake with various ingredients.
    • okonomi
      Your preference. Your liking.
    • o
      Honorific prefix.
    • konomu
      To like something. To prefer something.
  • tamago-yaki
    A rolled omelet.
    • tamago

  • suki-yaki
    A dish with thinly sliced pieces of meat.
    • suki

    • Origin: in the past, farmers used to use the spade of farming tools as a cooking utensil, hence the name.[すき焼き -, accessed 2019-10-30.]
  • medama-yaki
    Fried egg, sunny side up.
    • medama
      The yolk of a fried egg. (from its shape.)
  • tai-yaki
    A fish-shaped pancake.

It's also seen in names of games, like:
  • ishi-keri
    A game like hopscotch, but you kick the stone instead of throwing it with your hand.
  • shiri-tori
    A word game where someone says a word, and the next person has to say a word that starts with the same kana 仮名 as the previous word ends with. Repeating words or saying a word that ends in n ん makes you lose.
    • shi-ri-to-ri
      (game start.)
    • ringo
    • gohan
      Food. Meal. Rice.
      (game ends.)

Other Suffixes

There are some suffixes that look like they form fukugou-doushi 複合動詞, "compound verbs," but in reality they don't.
  • kaki-yasui
    Easy to write.
    • Here, yasui forms a compound adjective, fukugou-keiyoushi 複合形容詞, instead.
  • kaki-tai
    [I] want to write.
    • Here, ~tai ~たい is a jodoushi 助動詞 instead because ~tai doesn't mean anything on its own..
  • kaki-yagaru
    [He] has the nerve to write [it].
    • Here, ~yagaru ~やがる is a jodoushi 助動詞, too, because it doesn't mean anything on its own, even though its origin would be the verb agaru 上がる..
  • kaite-ageru
    [I] will write [it] for [you].
    • Here, ~ageru ~あげる is a hojo-doushi 補助動詞, "support verb," instead, because it goes after the te-form of the verb kaku 書く, which is kaite 書いて, not the noun form, kaki 書き.


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