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What's the meaning of すます in 耳をすませば?

How would you translate this?

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

すます is 澄ます without the kanji, and it means "to clear, to purify".

耳をすます【みみをすます】is a set phrase, listed in the dictionary in its complete form, meaning to listen carefully.

You can think of すます, then, in this context, as meaning to clear out your ears so as to listen better.

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Didn't realize it was an idiom. I think I'll stop trying to deconstruct it. – Louis Jul 31 '11 at 2:23
    
Actually, the relevant sense of すます that is the origin of this idiom is 澄ます 'purify'. So the non-idiomatic translation is 'purify the ear'. – user458 Jul 31 '11 at 2:27
    
sawa: Okay, I'll trust you on that and edit accordingly. – Questioner Jul 31 '11 at 2:30

As stated above 耳をすます is an idiom that means 'to listen carefully'. If we translate literally there is a kanji for 'ears' - '耳' and a verb 'すます' which means - 'to clear' - so if we combine these it's - 'to clear ears' which is the same as 'to listen carefully'.

As for translation of 耳をすませば, it seems that すませば is a form of a verb to include 'if'. So I would translate it as 'if you/someone listen carefully' or something of that sort.

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It is difficult to translate すます alone in this context. 耳をすます is an idiom meaning 'pay attention to any slight sound'

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1  
Sorry for the lack of context, it's the title of a movie. Thanks for commenting on Dave's answer. Going from to complete -> completely kinda bugged me. – Louis Jul 31 '11 at 2:39
    
@Louis No problem. By context, I just meant it would not be useful to give a non-idiomatic translation. But it turned out it may have been. What you gave was sufficient. – user458 Jul 31 '11 at 2:41

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