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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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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."

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

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