Just learned the verb “to live” 住む. When conjugated to masu negative it is pronounced as すみません. How is this related to the expression すみません which means “I'm sorry”/“Please excuse me”? Or is it just a coincidence?

Is there any way the negative of 住む would actually be used in conversation? In English it feels wrong to say “not live” or “doesn't live”, and I don't know any examples where the negative of 住む is used.

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    The negative form IS 住まない/住みません, but you almost always say 住んでいる/います and 住んでいない/いません. I think 済む, 澄む and 住む are cognate, all containing the common meaning of 落ち着く.
    – Yang Muye
    Oct 27 '14 at 6:04
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    @YangMuye I don't disagree with any of that ... but comments are not for answers.
    – virmaior
    Oct 27 '14 at 6:07
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    I would suggest that 住む and 巣 are cognate.
    – Dono
    Oct 27 '14 at 6:40

Regarding the etymology of the "please" すみません, according to the gogen-allguide entry, it is 済みません, not 住みません.

As to whether 住みません is used, it is, but not terribly commonly.

Basically it's only used when you really want the future tense:

"Won't you live together with Tarou?"

"After this week, no one will live in this house."

Otherwise, you use the negative stative form:

"Tarou doesn't live in England anymore."

As a side note, 住まない is much more common than 住みません for the reason that it can appear in relative clauses with the stative semantics (〜ません, of course, is not used in relative clauses):

"Houses that no one lives in are dreary."


住む often occurs in the 〜ている form in the wild to reflect a continuing state or condition.

So then, if I wanted to say I don't live somewhere I would say (dictionary and polite):

東京に住んでいない / 東京に住んでいません。


東京に住んだことはない。 / 東京に住んだことはありません。

(I have not lived in Tokyo)

The すみません of apologies is from 済む. But generally, it is not written in kanji. In fact, even Japanese people sometimes seem to get surprised by it if you use the kanji in apologies: chiebukuro.

According to the online Japanese accent dictionary, all three すむ verbs have the same accent in their pronunciation.

  • @snailboat that was my sense -- thanks for confirming it (and to goo's dictionary for being a more solid source that 知恵袋 for this sort of thing).
    – virmaior
    Oct 27 '14 at 6:03
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    Here's how Samuel Martin explains すみません: "The verb すむ means 'comes to an end, terminates; settles'. From these basic meanings a number of others are extended, as when すみません is used to mean 'there is no end to [my rudeness or obligation] = excuse me; thank you'." (Martin 1975 p.546)
    – user1478
    Oct 27 '14 at 8:08
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    @blutorange Maybe we could turn the discussion on cognates into a separate question.
    – user1478
    Oct 27 '14 at 18:27

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