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The verbs つつむ and くるむ and both written 包む, and according to my English-to-Japanese dictionary both have the meaning "to wrap". くるむ is glossed "おおう", while つつむ is glossed "すっぽりと覆う", but I am having difficulty distinguishing the two from these definitions and from the example sentences provided. Is there a difference in usage between the two words, or can they be treated as synonyms?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

Both mean to "wrap" but つつむ is the one that has the more general meaning of "wrap" that we think of. くるむ is usually written in hiragana and has a nuance of rolling something up in order to wrap it, or generally enclose it, for example with 風呂敷{ふろしき}, or even 毛布 like in 毛布にくるまれた女の遺体 (a girl's corpse wrapped in a blanket). A little gross, sure, but a poignant image to drive the point home.

So 包む is basically always going to be つつむ. It refers to "wrapping."

くるむ is going to be hiragana. It refers to "rolling."

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Yup! And I found the mimetic word 「くるくる」 helpful in memorizing the nuance of 「くるむ」. – Noir May 20 '14 at 8:24

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