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I recently came across this phrase

しばらくは呆れていましたが、なるほど考えてみると

My questions are:

  1. What is the meaning of this なるほど?

  2. Why なるほど means "I understand" when used in isolation?

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    Related: How come such a "strong" expression as なるほど is used in such a "soft" meaning? Note that なるほど is not just "I understand" but includes a sense of "aha!" or "ah you're right!". 明鏡国語辞典 defines this as "自分では気づかなかったことを他人に示されて、納得・同意する気持ちを表す". Just like "never + the + less" or "how + ever" in English, "なる + ほど" is a compound word that has lost its original meaning, so we should not worry too much about its etymology from a practical standpoint.
    – naruto
    Aug 11, 2023 at 0:17

1 Answer 1

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First, there is なる(動詞連体形)+ほど(副助詞) and なるほど(adverb), each with its own pitch pattern. The latter probably derives from the former.

死にたく{LHHH} なる{HL} ほど{LH} 恥ずかしい{LHHHL}。

駅に近くなるほど家賃は高くなる。

えきに{HLL} ちかく{LHL} なる{HL} ほど{LH} やちんは{HLLL} たかく{HLL} なる{HL}。

なるほど確かにそうだ。

なるほど{LHHH} たしかに{HLLL} そうだ{HLL}。

なるほど(adverb) was originally synonymous with なるべく and なるたけ (as … as one can). (精選版 日本国語大辞典)

I can only guess how the contemporary senses of なるほど arose, but maybe it first got the transferred sense of as … as it could be and used as in なるほど確か or なるほど尤も, meaning you are quite right, and なるほど came to mean such even by itself.

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  • なるたけ or なるだけ? 😄 Aug 10, 2023 at 16:12
  • @EiríkrÚtlendi I think both are fine. Perhaps たけ sounds dated (to me). 「なるだけ」とも
    – sundowner
    Aug 10, 2023 at 22:31
  • @sundowner, thank you! Never heard the 清音 version in this context. My time living in Japan was in the Tōhoku and Kantō regions, maybe that's why? The Tōhoku in particular seems to have a reputation for consonant voicing. 勉強になりました。(^^) Aug 11, 2023 at 17:12
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    @EiríkrÚtlendi Re Vocing of tohoku, I'm not sure. My personal impression and web searches agree that the unvoiced なるたけ is dated. The only person who I'm sure used the unvoiced version is my grandmother who grew up in Tokyo before the war.
    – sundowner
    Aug 14, 2023 at 8:49
  • @sundowner, thank you for the additional details! 😄 Aug 14, 2023 at 17:03

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