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I have these two sentences in my JLPT practise book. They are in different sections, so the book isn't making a deliberate comparison, but I couldn't help but wonder about the similarities.

彼女{かのじょ}は学生{がくせい}時代{じだい}、先輩{せんぱい}に憧{あこが}れていた。

学生{がくせい}時代{じだい}、彼女{かのじょ}は先輩{せんぱい}を慕{した}っていた。

Both more or less translate to, "In her school days, she yearned for her superior." The use of "superior" in this context sounds awkward in English, but it'll do, as it's not the focus of my question.

What I'm wondering is if there is any meaningful difference between the two sentences? In the first, 憧{あこが}れる is an intransitive verb, so I'm guessing it emphasizes her as a source of the feelings. In the second sentence, 慕{した}う takes a direct object, so I'm guessing that emphasizes the superior as the target of her affections.

However, in English, saying "she yearned for him" and "he was yearned for by her" similarly puts grammatical emphasis on different parts of the sentence, but the resulting difference in meaning is negligible, if it even exists. It's just two grammatical ways to get to the same point.

The words also have different nuance, in that in my dictionary they both list "yearn for" as the first definition, but 憧{あこが}れるleans more toward "admire" and 慕{した}う leans more toward "adore". I'm unclear on how strongly they differ in that regard, and in any case, in this context, the two ideas overlap a lot. In both cases it seems we're talking about a woman with some kind of affection for a person at her school.

Is there any meaningful difference between these sentences? If so, is it the grammatical construct that differentiates them? Is it the nuance 憧{あこが}れる and 慕{した}う? Both?

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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

An interesting reply here to a similar question suggests that 慕う is directed towards someone close to you, and 憧れる more distant (e.g. you can 憧れる someone like an author or actor who you don't actually know). So perhaps there is some difference in your example sentences regarding the implied type of relationship between 彼女 and 先輩, where the 慕う version suggests a closer level of interaction.

In the context of your sentences 先輩に憧れる would, I think, also be more natural if you were talking about a reason for choosing a certain career path or learning a certain skill - because she admired (and wanted to emulate) that person.

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I can't see any difference in these two sentences but 憧れる seems to have a wider range of uses and can directed towards places. 慕う seems to be limited to people.

(This is based on studying the dictionary examples. I learnt 慕う but have never heard it used.)

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