Edward Mack

University of Washington

Category: Uncategorized


Ok, so the time has come for me to figure out the difference between these two.

From the 違いがわかる事典:

One can read a book while lying down (寝たまま) but not while sleeping (眠った状態).

The focus of 寝る is on the fact that one’s body is lying down; hence the opposite is 起きる (to get up).

The focus of 眠る is on one’s eyes being closed and being unconscious/asleep; the opposite is 覚める (to wake up).

From the 知恵袋:

The main senses of 寝る are: to sleep; to lie down; to sleep with someone; to be confined (by illness) to bed.

The main senses of 眠る are: to reduce activity and fall unconscious; to be inactive; to die.

In both cases the first sense is shared between the two terms, while the remaining senses are specific to the given word.

The main difference, then, seems to be that 眠る always refers to being asleep, whereas 寝る does not necessarily do so.


Particularly when reading pre-World War II texts (though sometimes in more recent texts) one comes across the verb せしめる. Kenkyūsha’s Japanese-English dictionary gives the following meaning:

get; take; obtain; do [cheat] 《sb out of sth》; squeeze [get, wheedle] 《money》 out of sb; extort [wheedle] 《money》 from sb; swindle 《sb》 (of #his [her] money); rustle 《cattle》; 《文・法》 take unjust possession of sth; purloin; 《口》 wangle; #《口》 finagle; mooch 《a drink》

This sense, however, seems to obtain primarily when used by itself and taking an object, as in the following example sentence:

彼は妹から 1,000 円(を)せしめた. He has done his sister out of ¥1,000.

There is a more common (and easier) meaning in prewar texts, where it usually is the verb “suru” in the mizenkei form “se” with the causative auxiliary verb “shimeru.”  That is to say, it is equal to “saseru” in meaning.  So, consider the following sentence quoted in Tsuboi Hideto’s Koe no shukusai (1997), p. 151:

作者と読者とを高度に結合せしめるような綜合形式.  An integrated form that closely connects writers and readers.


Family relations, represented graphically



These can also be written in kanji, and can sometimes be hard to look up, so here they are:




Note that these are not fully interchangeable in practice.

Another unusual use of 「を」

Consider the following sentence from 『黒流』:


At first, the second 「を」 particle might suggest that two or three of the horses, likely because they have been startled, might have caused the sleeping ones (the other horses?) to jump up.  This, however, is not what is happening.  Our first indication is that the verb 「飛び上がる」 is an intransitive verb.  This is not what is happening, however.  Instead, imagine that a verb such as 「やめて」 has been elided after the particle; the meaning would then become, “Two or three of the horses, apparently because they were startled, stop sleeping [they wake up] and leap up.”

As we discussed in class, this is odd because horses almost always sleep standing, and this verb suggests they leap from a non-standing position to a standing position, though the native speakers I asked all agreed this would likely not mean “reared up on their hind legs.”  Perhaps our author was as unfamiliar with horse sleeping habits as I am.

More important is this use of 「を」, more about which I will write soon.


Between 1946 and 1949, a number of kanji were simplified.  As a result, when you read texts from before this time, it is common to encounter characters in their old form (旧字体).  The link below takes you to a chart that shows the characters that were changed, in both their old and new forms.



Yet again, an entry on something I still do not fully understand.  In Japan (and other parts of Asia), a single-fold eyelid (hitoe-mabuta) is considered by some to be less desirable than a double-fold eyelid (futae-mabuta).  For more information, read this on the epicanthic fold and this on “Asian blepharoplasty.”

References to mie-mabuta (an eyelid with three folds) are less common; below is an image someone has posted of one:

I bring this up also to point out the following blog entry on mie-mabuta (and this follow-up.)  I wasn’t able to find anything on the blog to let me know who runs it, but I am going to presume that it is a native speaker in Japan.  The existence of sites like these show us that even native speakers (1) are sometimes uncertain and (2) are interested in these small details.


Welcome to the “Reading Japanese” blog, which has been constructed to augment my classes in advanced reading comprehension.  We will be using this space to discuss at greater length issues that arise in class.  I hope that it will come in handy.  Please do not hesitate to add comments, whether they be questions, clarifications, or corrections.

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