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I've seen all four used in the context of something being finished. What's the difference between them?

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May have been downvoted as a possible duplicate of japanese.stackexchange.com/q/5039/78 –  istrasci Jul 20 '13 at 15:53

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

My non-native intuition, with examples stolen/adapted from alc:

  • 済む means "to complete", in the sense that its negative implies that there are things lacking, or things yet to do/happen. Perhaps 済んだ has the sense of "over and done with", and has a slight feeling of relief about it. 済まない means "it is not finished", and implies that the speaker feels a sense of guilt hanging over them; more commonly written すまない (すみません), it means "sorry" (probably with a feeling of "I am in your debt").

    • 済んだことだ。 It's in the past. 済んだ話 a story from someone's past; all in the past
    • これで済んだと思うなよ。 You won't get away with this. (lit. Don't think it's finished with this.)
    • 仕事はほぼ済んでいる to be nearly done with one's work
  • 終わる simply means "to finish", "to end", "to come to an end", "to cease", etc. It refers simply to the point at which something stops, and doesn't necessarily imply that anything has been finished or completed, merely that it has stopped.

    • 終わることのない戦い an endless struggle
    • テストが終わったよ。 I just finished my test. (lit. the test ended)
    • 着替えは終わっている to have clothes on (lit. the changing clothes is finished)
  • 出来る is an interesting verb. It usually means "to be possible" (more often translated as "to be able", but be careful - it's actually intransitive). It doesn't mean "to finish", but certain tenses allow it to take on a similar meaning. It can also mean "to be built/set up".

    • 出来た! I managed it! (lit. I was able to do it! It was possible! I was up to it!)
    • 新しく出来た市立図書館 the new (lit. newly built) city library
    • 最初の結婚でできた子ども child from (someone's) first marriage (lit. a child that arose from / came about from...)
  • 上がる also doesn't mean "to finish" on its own. As a suffix verb, it means something like "do thoroughly" or "to completion", so 焼きあがったばかり means "freshly baked (to completion)", 出来上がる means "to be completed / ready", 仕上がる means "to be finished" (the 仕上げ are "finishing touches"). It can also mean something like "to go as far as it can go": 煮上がる means "to boil up" or "to be completely cooked".

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Can 済む ever be used with things, that one cannot control? (e.g. the weather, a season, puberty) –  Daniel Safari Jul 21 '13 at 10:05
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I doubt it. Perhaps you could talk about a long drought that had now finally 済んだ, in the sense of "let up", but I'm not sure. Summer and puberty could perhaps 済む, if you considered them as processes that had many goals to achieve (and finally achieved them before ending), but it sounds somewhat mechanical to me. You might have to ask a native speaker. –  Billy Jul 21 '13 at 10:49
    
You could use 已む for the weather, eg 雪が已んだ。"stopping" or "finishing" is not its primary/only meaning. 済む and 澄む(become clear, clarify) share their history. 結婚式は滞りなく済んだ describes the situation from.an outside point of view (it doesn't focus on your control over it, "it ended" not "we ended it"), but that's still not the same as the weather. You could say 雨に濡れずに済んだ, but of course, it doesn't apply to the rain directly here. –  blutorange Jul 21 '13 at 11:04

They all means "to finish", but "to finish" has two different meanings.

One is "to get through" or "to come to an end", which means something ended.

The other is "to complete" or "to come to be available", which means something is ready.

済む, 終わる = the former

出来る, 上がる = the latter 

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