Whats the best way to deal with the masses of compound verbs?

Since I’ve been building and following a more strict reading routine I’ve really come to struggle with compound verbs.

The problem is, I’m never too sure if it’s the kind of compound verbs which lead to completely new meanings or just a combination of verbs that just give the combined meaning.

For example:
見る + 上げる = 見上げる
to see + to rise = to look up
Fair enough.

But then there is:
食べる + 歩く = 食べ歩く
to eat + to walk ≠ to eat while walking but to try out foods at various restaurants

It’s kind of tiring to look every single of those verbs up because you never know which kind it is. It’s no problem if I’m reading digitally since I’m using Yomichan but if I’m reading a book I’m always secondguessing.


Gotta dig deep into my brain for this but there was a thing I used for a long time. It was like:

In pairs, anything with okurigana ending in -yasu -asu or -su was usually transitive.

Anything ending in -waru and -aru was usually intransitive.

Or something like that. That covered a decent amount of verbs, but required you to know the pair if the one you were looking at wasn’t obvious. (Ex: 直る is ??? but if you known that the pair is 直す and 直る then 直す is obviously the transitive one, meaning that 直る is intransitive.)

On the other hand if you saw something like 癒す in the wild that’s probably just transitive and you don’t need to know the pair. Likewise, it’s the other way around if you saw something like 変わる (ends is -waru, so intransitive).

1 Like

Compound verbs that have a meaning different from the sum of their part has to evolve through usage, so they are much less frequent.
I usually just assume it’s the sum except when context doesn’t match, in which case I look it up.


I usually go with this approach as well. To me for instance 食べ歩く wouldn’t mean “eating while walking”, because it doesn’t feel like that’s what one would do, at least not with this verb combination. There are some which sadly need to be memorized, like the various 込む-ending verbs.


This was one that plagued me for a year or two after I started reading.

I personally would look up all of them, and only add them if they weren’t the sum of the parts.

I know this isn’t going to sound particularly motivating, but its just something that will take a lot of time and a lot of words learned. Going through my past 1000 anki cards I made I still have a couple that I’ve had to learn recently.

I think even the ones that mean stuff that is the sum of their parts require a lookup or even a card though in a lot of cases.

For example grabbing a really simple one from a book


I learned those like 4 years ago so maybe I’m just not remembering, but I feel like I wouldn’t be able to fully grasp the meaning of those words just by looking at it. Looking at the definition its really easy to be like “ah yeah that makes perfect sense”, but I feel like for a less experienced reader where you’re not 100% on the context and surrounding nuance to begin with its hard to be sure. So for a lot of those I still added it.

It was just things like 直す and other very nice auxiliary verbs for the most part where I said screw it.


Uh, maybe it’s just the curse of knowledge talking, but I feel like that sentence is enough context on its own? Like, what else could you be doing with your courage? Also, 食らいつく brings the image of biting down hard and not letting go, like a pit bull or something. With the context, it’s easy to get to the meaning of stick to something and try hard until the end.

That being said, you did remind me that when I started reading books, and even for a couple years after that, I was indeed looking all those verbs up. It did help building up the intuition I have now.
So yes, I’m going complete what I said and recommend to indeed look up everything that someone feels unsure of. Again, that should build up a type of intuition for those verbs and eventually look ups won’t be necessary anymore.


Speaking for myself, I had absolutely no idea what that sentence meant. Perhaps if I knew 振り絞る or 食らいつく I could have figured out the other. But knowing neither of them when they are the only two verbs in a short sentence? No chance I could have figured out the meaning of the sentence.


I used to hate everything that was V + 込む, I remember having my Japanese readings tormented by those all the time.

In general I think in the beginning yes, I would try searching for all of them (to find out most are not in the dictionary anyway), until gradually letting it go. But to be honest, even now I’m not sure I would be able to give a good translation for one of these compound verbs if they are presented as an individual word. When in sentences they make sense by context, so I just let it go.


I think it is that curse of knowledge. Sean is a pretty great example because hes by no means a noob but he couldn’t get it. Im in a nice position to where I still kinda remember having to struggle with all this stuff, but yeah these things can definitely be tough.

Yeah, once you know them and theyre cemented in, im sure youll look back and be like yeah of course those mean what they mean, its so obvious. But its all a matter of perspective I guess, and you never know for sure until you look it up.

The curse of knowledge is kinda rough and I feel myself slowly becoming less and less qualified to give advice the more I learn.


V+込む = to verb into. :slightly_smiling_face:


Yeah, I remember having that explained to me and still hating it nonetheless, lol


Until you come across



Ah well, my bad, then.

I’m starting to feel completely disqualified. The other day, one of my colleagues (foreigner, speaks some Japanese but not much) was asking me for tips on how to start reading and I was like err you start at the top of the page? But the problem was like by the time they finished looking up all the words in a sentence, they had already forgotten the first word… I then remembered that time, but not what I did about it.


Oh boy, I remember those days. Not fun at all! Still can happen to me with very long sentences where there are many words I don’t know, but it’s relatively rare these days. I think as I got better at managing sub-clauses in my head it became less of an issue, and of course having to look up fewer words helps too.

Really all they can do is read the sentence again and look up the earlier words again until they can keep track of it all. At least that’s what I used to do. I suppose some people actually physically write a one word translation into the book (:see_no_evil:), but I never did that.


LOL, on the bus to my city from the quarantine hotel I had a similar experience. One of the other alts was wanting to start reading and overheard me talking with the CIR about the books we read, so she asked me how to get started. I said just crack open a book and use yomichan for any unknown words and make anki flashcards. She was like “what do I do when I come across grammar I don’t know?” and I was just like “oh its always on yomichan too” thinking of たらしめる, 成る丈, but looking back I forgot that you also have to learn things like verb conjugations, てはいけない, ざるをえない etc…

I’ve been thinking of just making a really long video diary thing of everything I’ve done, learned, and experienced in japanese just to kinda preserve it and make sure my view doesn’t become misconstrued with time and more experience, and I guess other people could watch it and maybe learn some stuff.


Oh… Been there so many times. Reading and searching everything like three times and still… Nope D=

My Japanese school back at home used a lot of children books once we got to intermediate level, because they are “easy”. I remember what a hell for me all those dialogues with ちゃ(ては)、りゃ(れば)、あん(ない)and such were. It was never “just search for it”, never… D=


Oh, back on topic, I just remembered something I did back in the days.
I don’t remember how, but I found a list of common suffix (?) verbs like 込む, 直す or つく mentioned earlier.
It did help a lot.

Edit: found one!

1 Like

Hahah, especially that one. :smiley: I still kinda struggle with it a little and need to do a double-take before answering that Anki card. Actually, even more so with 見込む…

Out of curiosity, are there special combinations with 直す which don’t relate in meaning to V + 直す even in a broad sense? Like I would include 見直す as 見る+直す, for instance. Recently in Tobira 〜直す was introduced as grammar point, but didn’t mention any outliers so I wonder.

I know 出す does have some, though.

I can’t think of anything at the moment. I did a quick search, but everything seems straightforward. That might be why they decided it was a grammar point.

1 Like

Just for the record, I’ve seen a context in which the noun form of this verb (食べ歩き) was used in such a way that it could mean both literally ‘to walk and eat’ and ‘to try out food at various restaurants/stalls’, because the character involved was walking down an alley, buying food from various places, and eating it. What I’d suggest is to look up those that make no sense to you in context, and then (if you’re so inclined) to ask yourself how the meanings you find are linked to the literal meanings of each verb, and to the combination you’re seeing. For example, with 思い込む and the noun 思い込み, ‘thinking into’ or ‘thinking and moving into’ might not make sense, but if you’re considering the meanings of ‘strongly believing something’ and ‘firmly making up one’s mind about something’, well, what happens when you think about something and you’re really ‘into’ it? What happens when you think and think and think and sink into something? You get stuck on it, right? That thought never leaves your mind, or it becomes so solid that you’ll never change that opinion. So the word makes sense. This doesn’t work for everything, of course: I remember seeing some other word recently (which I can’t remember anymore) that made me think, ‘OK, I don’t see how this is linked to the component verbs. I can sort of link them up, but it’s really abstract.’ However, I think that it helps quite often, and even if you don’t reach a point where the new compound makes perfect sense to you, you might at least have reached a new understanding about the verb.

That aside, some verb common auxiliary verbs do get listed in dictionaries along with their common meanings when they’re used in compounds, so it might be worth looking those up, especially in monolingual dictionaries, which tend to be more complete when it comes to these things.

I saw a discussion on this on the Japanese version of Yahoo! Answers recently (Chiebukuro), and one of the answers said that one shouldn’t forget that there’s another use of 〜出す that is very similar to 〜始め. (If I remember correctly, the difference is that 出す tends to be used for actions that are more spontaneous, and not consciously started, like 笑い出す for ‘to burst out laughing’.) That helps explain uses like 飛び出す to mean ‘to jump out (of)’, even though one might expect such a usage to be transitive based on the more usual meanings of 出す.