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According to my dictionary, both 照{て}れる and 照{て}れてる mean to be shy, or be awkward.

I don't think one is a different verb form of the other. The +いる form of 照れる would be 照れている, not 照れてる.

So I think they're different words, but do they have a difference in meaning?

Also, the kanji by itself seems to mean "to shine". Is there some kind of association in the word origin or in the culture between shyness and shining?

(Please note that the green check will only be awarded to answers that do not rely on technical linguistic terminology to be understood.)

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照れてる looks "being shy" or "looks shy" to me. –  YOU Jul 29 '11 at 6:31
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I think it's simply the contracted て+いる form, just like how 食べている is contracted to 食べてる –  Lukman Jul 29 '11 at 7:05
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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

As Lukman comments, 照れてる is simply a contracted form of 照れている. て + いる can be used to mean either or both

  • Progressive (as in English be ~-ing)
  • Perfect (as in English have ~-en)

depending on the verb. In this case, 照れる will mean that the person generally gets shy; not that the person is shy at a particular moment.

彼は人前でいつも照れる
'He always gets shy in front of people.'

In order to describe a particular event of getting shy, you have to use the て + いる form.

彼は今,照れている
'He is being shy now.' [literal translation]
'He is shy now.'

照る can be translated into English as 'shine', but it also means 'glow'. When you are getting shy, (stereo-)typically, your face gets red with increased blood flow. The origin of 照れる is this face described metaphorically as 'glowing in a fire'.

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Whoops you beat me to it. Your answer is much better though, especially the "face gets red" part, so +1 :) –  Lukman Jul 29 '11 at 7:46
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I think it's simply the contracted て+いる form, just like how 食べている is contracted to 食べてる and している is contracted to してる.

As for the meaning of the kanji itself, my Japanese dictionary software (which uses EDICT) lists down four possible meanings: illuminate, shine, compare, bashful. So I think 照れる takes the "bashful" meaning straight from the kanji.

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