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持ちつ持たれつ (meaning approximately "supporting eachother") is commonly heard, but seems to be formed from some archaic grammar.

  • I'm assuming it's an archaic form of 持って持たれて or something like that, but can somebody confirm/dismiss/elaborate on that?
  • When was this kind of grammar in active use?
  • Are these archaic forms used in any other common modern expressions?
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A native Japanese person suggested to me that it might be an abbreviation of 持ちつつ持たれつつ, i.e. "while holding and being held" or something like that. But if so, why would the two つs disappear? – dainichi Jan 24 '12 at 12:34
if that's true I'd say because that is a pretty good 早口言葉 if you had those extra つs. ^.^ For me anyway... – silvermaple Jan 24 '12 at 15:13
Other examples of set phrases: 「追いつ追われつ」 and 「差しつ差されつ」 – nkjt Jan 24 '12 at 15:32
up vote 8 down vote accepted

This 〜つ〜つ form means 〜たり〜たりしながら. It is followed by how or why those actions occurred. The two verbs are usually "opposite" or "contradictory" actions. I think it is a more formal construct, but not necessarily archaic.

Here are some example sentences from my book:

  • マラソンの最後の500メートルで二人の選手は抜きつ抜かれつの接戦になった → The last 500 meters of the marathon become a close battle between the two runners as they kept trading out for first place.
  • 風に吹き飛ばされた赤い帽子は木【こ】(こ)の葉のように浮きつ沈みつ川を流れて行った → A red hat that was blown about by the wind kept rising and falling (sinking) like a (tree) leaf as it went on down the river.
  • 変な男の人がうちの前を行【ゆ】(ゆ)きつ戻りつしている。何をしているんだろう。 → There is a strange man going back and forth (going and coming) in front of our house. I wonder what the heck he's doing!?

As far as your example 持ちつ持たれつ, a whole sentence and/or more context would be easier to really decipher the meaning.

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Thanks! Never heard these expressions before, but now that I know them, I might :) – dainichi Jan 25 '12 at 4:25
How come no one has stated that it is an auxiliary verb? See definition #3 here. kotobank.jp/word/%E3%81%A4?dic=daijisen&oid=12258400 – l'électeur Oct 1 '14 at 4:07
@snailboat: Updated and linked. That version is a little old, but concepts stay the same! – istrasci Oct 1 '14 at 4:08
@非回答者: Which #3? I see quite a few "3"s on that page. – istrasci Oct 1 '14 at 4:10
@istrasci Probably the one that says 3 「…つ…つ」の形で – snailplane Oct 1 '14 at 4:11

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