How do you know which verb is being used?

How do you know which verb is being used? Is it limited to transitivity or context?

There are many verbs that mean different things but use the same spelling. I’m sure I asked this before, but could someone remind me again?

For example: 付く、着く。

One means to attach the other is to arrive. Maybe it’s as simple as looking at what the sentence asks or says. It’s even easier to read here… different kanji. How am I going to tell the difference when it’s spoken?



How do you know whether I’m asking you to read a book or if you’ve read the book? “Read” is spelled exactly the same but pronounced differently in the previous sentence, but it shouldn’t be too hard to tell which is which.

For Japanese, it’s the same: you’ll use context to figure it out.


Even if the context is omitted?

For example: Read.

I could be telling you to: Read a book. Just Read. Have you read it yet? When’s the last time you read something?

In english it’s pronounced differently and context is usually there. In Japanese, it’s omitted.

I’d say context makes a big difference.

If you think about it: “He attached in Tokyo,” versus “He arrived in Tokyo,” makes the likely choice quite clear.

As a newcomer to the language, some confusion might occur over time. I can’t think of concrete examples, but I think I have misinterpreted what’s being said before.

But on the whole, as I got more used to grammar and developed my vocabulary more, it became easier. If you understand 30% of a sentence, a homonym can really trip you up. If you understand 80-90% of a sentence, it vastly narrows down your options most of the time.

Stick with it! :muscle: Over time, more and more of the confusion will fade. ^^


It’s just like reading English. Some authors are better than others at conveying information, but you should be able to get by for the most part.

And when you can’t you make an educated guess and move on.

I’d say this was the present tense or the imperative since that’s more likely to be on its own. Even without context, there are still clues.

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Japanese is so frickin complicated.

@alo Basically you get a feel for it… Like readings for kanji. In the beginning you dont know what to make of it. As you see it paired to make words, you see what spelling each word takes and you know which reading to use.


Part of the fun, I think.


Pretty much. As your vocabulary grows and you read and listen more, things just start to make more sense. Your brain is kinda good at that.

Hehe, well, yes and no. All languages are complicated. Japanese has its own quirks, but it’s one of the more logical ones IMO.


I’m confused - why would the context be omitted? In the real world, you will literally never be asked to define つく without context.


Why do you presume a Japanese person would just mutter an ambiguous single-word phrase without context? Yes, context is omitted but people are only going to do that when context is clear. People don’t just spit out random homophone words and end there.


The two mentioned meanings of つく aren’t actually that different conceptually just because we use different words in English. In both cases “one thing reaches / makes contact with another thing.”

Other nuances of つく (就く, 点く, etc) can be conceptualized similarly.


There are pronunciation differences

What athomasm said. Japanese speakers don’t omit necessary context any more than English speakers do.

Now, a lot of the context may be culturally dependent, either unknown outside of Japan or unknown outside of a specific cultural context. But English is like that, too. Consider the following conversation:

A: Wears t-shirt that says, “The Spanish Inquisition.”
B: “I did not expect that.”
C: “No one ever does.”
D: Looks confused.

A, B, and C have already seen (or at least heard about) a certain famous Monty Python skit. D has not.



In english, yes. But from where I sat, it was more like…

"How do you say arrive : tsuku…
How do you say to attach… tsuku.
How do you say… "

That’s what I was seeing.

Which, by the way, there are now two kanji for “to climb”
and they BOTH are noboru

See what I mean?

The Japanese seem to use the same word to convey two totally different ideas.

read a “book”
“book” a train

I gotta go to “work”
It doesn’t “work”

I “can” do it
I like to drink from a “can”

Aren’t all languages pretty much like this?

edit: These are all verbs vs nouns though so it’s probably a lot easier to guess what the speaker is trying to say here


Surely you’re aware that English words can have lots of different meanings.

But how are 上る and 登る “totally different.” They don’t even have different English glosses, so isn’t “climb” just as “confusing”?

What’s your reaction going to be when you learn about 昇る…


More like, subtly different ideas. Namely, you tend to 上る on stairs and 登る on mountains (while the sun does 昇る), but the point is, when speaking, the distinction is irrelevant. If you say aloud “I’m going to climb Mount Fuji”, noone’s gonna be thinking “Gasp! He said 上る when he should have said 登る!”.


Nah, just was thinking “two that mean the same… ok”

I get your point.

I guess I just have to figure it out…
Hopefully there’s a pitch difference or something… Maybe I can memorize that it means both and just use both as it applies?

I cant really do much else.

After looking at 「つく」の意味や使い方 わかりやすく解説 Weblio辞書 it seems like pitch accent might not be super helpful unfortunately :sweat_smile: But yes you will definitely get it sooner or later!

There’s nothing quite as bad as the mess in English that is “to be” :stuck_out_tongue:

In spoken language you pretty much don’t have to care about the difference in kanji. You could probably even argue that they’re all the same underlying word, but written with differently (this doesn’t make sense with alphabets, but you have to remember that kanji represent concepts, and were basically tacked on to an existing language so there’s some mismatch).