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My JLPT textbook gives me this example sentence to explain the meaning of 凝{こ}る:

釣{つ}りに凝{こ}る

The book provides a translation, which is, "be absorbed in fishing."

Later, in a test question, there is this sentence:

あの建物{たてもの}はかなりこった造{つく}りをしている

(The question in the book does not use the kanji for 凝{こ}る.)

This really confused me until I looked in a dictionary and saw that 凝{こ}った can also be defined as "elaborate, refined, artistic."

I notice, when I use Rikaichan to double check the definitions as I write this, that the "artistic" definition only comes up for the こった form of the word, and the "be absorbed in" definition comes up for the こる form of the word.

I don't understand how I was supposed to get the meaning in the question from the meaning in the example. Perhaps the book just made a mistake? Or maybe there's some other way of looking at this that I'm just not seeing. The varying forms of the verb and the use of hiragana versus kanji is confusing me to the point where I can't sort it all out.

What is the relationship between the meanings, the kanji versus hiragana use, and the two forms of the word?

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In this case, 大辞林 lists the first sense with the note (「…にこる」の形で), and that fits 釣りに凝る. –  snailboat Mar 3 '13 at 15:25
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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

It's just one word with more than one definition. See for yourself (or here). Your first example falls under the first definition (趣味に夢中になる) while your second example falls under the second definition (意匠をこらす). Kanji usage seems irrelevant here, it's the same word and you can use the kanji or not with no change in meaning. Context should give you an idea for which meaning you need to use. So for example, if a building has a "こった造り" then you can probably surmise that it's not referring to someone being absorbed in something.

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I think I was overly influenced by the fact that the book only offered one definition, and then tested me on another definition that is not present in the book. I get that kanji have multiple meanings, but I trusted the book to be consistent about relating their examples and their quizzes. The lesson learned is to not overthink the motivations of the authors. –  Dave M G Mar 4 '13 at 9:06
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I recognise the expression and traced the question in the book (総まとめ語彙n1?). I also see I had flagged the question when I studied it. This is how I think you were supposed to approach this:

The question asks you choose between こった and こりた. Both 懲りる and 凝る were part of that chapter and you are being asked to choose between the two.

The other meaning of 凝る in my dictionary is 工夫を凝らす, one example is 「凝った庭園|an exquisite garden」. 8 pages earlier in the book we had to learn this expression as "come up with ideas" and learn the expression「これは特別な工夫をこらして作りました。」There is also one meaning of こった、stiff as in stiff shoulders which you are possibly expected to know anyway.

If you don't know the specific meaning in the question then my guess is that if you have picked up all the other words in the book mentioned in the last paragraph, and you know your kanji, then you might know 懲りる is a rare word with only one meaning but there some variations on the use of 凝る and therefore it is probably the best fit.

Strange? Maybe but, as I expect you know, it is probably difficult for even a native speaker to answer all the questions in the real JLPT N1 correctly in the allotted time. Us non-native speakers have to think laterally using what we do know to make intelligent guesses, and this is this book's way of getting us used to it.

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Thanks for taking the time to make this situation specific analysis. Much appreciated, and very helpful. –  Dave M G Mar 7 '13 at 6:41
    
総まとめ is quite good and you can pass with that series but if you can go one step further and get on to the 完全 series in time for exam then you'll be better prepared. (I got onto 聴解 book which is relatively easy but good value. Since passing I have been reviewing the N3 grammar book which is also v useful if you have time not to rush.) –  Tim Mar 7 '13 at 15:33
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