So, for example, in English we have the phrase “copy and paste”, whereas in Japanese, this is shortened to “kopi-pe” – the two actions are run together as one. Perhaps the most common form of this is when the “root” form of verbs (what’s left after “-masu” is removed from the polite form) is used to make a noun. For example, “Norikae” is a noun meaning to change trains. This word comes from the root forms of “noru” (to ride) plus “kaeru” (to change). In this way, two simple words can be combined to create a third word.
There are many more examples:
– “Tsukaisute” – disposable. From “tsukau” (to use) plus “suteru” (to throw away).
– “Morainaki” – to cry because someone else is crying. From “morau” (to receive) plus “naku” (to cry). (This is one of our favorite Japanese words, possibly because we can’t think of any word in English that comes close to this meaning…)
– “Nusumigiki” – to eavesdrop. From “nusumu” (to steal) plus “kiku” (to listen).
– “Kiritori” – to cut out. From “kiru” (to cut) plus “toru” (to take).
– “Hikiwake” – a draw (e.g. in sports). From “hiku” (to pull) plus “wakeru” (to divide).
As most of these combination-words are made of quite simple parts, they are often much easier to remember than the corresponding English might be. However, the biggest advantage of this flexible part of grammar is that as long as you follow the simple rule, you can make your own words, and almost anyone who hears them will understand!
For example, a student recently made up the word “Nakushiwasure”, to mean losing something and then forgetting that you ever owned it. This new word is made from “nakusu” (to lose) plus “wasureru” (to forget). It’s not an established word, in that you won’t find it in any dictionary, but in the context of the conversation, his teachers had no problem understanding the meaning of it.
The Japanese language is very open to wordplay and games, and this type of wonderful flexibility is one of the most fun parts of it. See what new concepts you can create!