I think we all are familiar with する verbs, which are verbs that are formed by appending する to nouns. Examples include 勉強する, 愛する etc. This pattern is very convenient because it can be appended to almost anything, such as ライクする (to 'Like' a Facebook post).

There is another common verbification pattern, which is the つく verbs. Examples include 嘘つく, 傷つく etc. However, unlike する which simply means "to do", つく has a lots of meanings and kanji characters. When I queried in WWWJDIC, つく has at least 8 variants, including but not limited to 付く, 就く, 点く, 突く, 着く etc. While I observe many of these verbs are made of 付く, there are some that are made of different variants like 落着く {おちつく} and 楯突く {たてつく}, and some even have multiple variants, for example うそつく can be written as both 嘘付く and 嘘吐く. How do we tell (apart from referring to a dictionary of course) which つく that made up a particular つく verb, for example むかつく?

There is also a question on particles on the extended verb phrase. For example, while 傷つく is 傷をつく and 嘘つく is 嘘をつく, 気づく is actually 気がつく. What about, again, むかつく? Is it むかをつく or むかがつく? In a Google search, I even saw むかとつく. So, in general, how do we actually tell which particle is used in a particular verb?

  • 嘘つく does not sound right unless is it omission of in 嘘をつく, which is not particular to certain predicates. 嘘つき is okay. 傷をつく is ungrammatical. It should be 傷がつく or 傷をつける.
    – user458
    Jul 20, 2011 at 15:07

3 Answers 3


Before I come back to a rough rubric for determining which kanji to use, let me take a stab at the second half of your question: namely, how to tell which particle to use. This is a relatively simple problem in most cases. If the verb is transitive (i.e. it can have an object), it uses を. If the verb is intransitive (it can't have an object), then it uses が. This is why it's 気が付く, because 付く is an intransitive verb. The transitive form of 付く is 付ける, which leads us to another phrase you've likely heard before... 気を付ける.

The problem is that some つく are transitive, and others are intransitive. Unfortunately, you just have to memorize the lists.

  • Transitive (を): 突く、吐く
  • Intransitive (が): 付く、着く

That covers all the main ones. Basically, everything except 突く and 吐く are intransitive and therefore use が.

Now, moving back to the first part of your question: how to tell which つく is part of a given word. The first rule of thumb seems to be that for just about anything, you seem to be able to use 付く (even the transitive ones like 吐く, strangely enough). Other than this exception, if you think about the word, and understand the meanings of the various つく, you should be able to figure it out with at least a decently high degree of accuracy. Here's a list:

  • 突く (also 衝く, 撞く, 捺く) - to thrust/strike
    If the idea requires pinpoint accuracy or is aggressive, this could be your word. A relatively obvious example is 雲突く【くもつく】 (to tower: "to thrust through the clouds"). One less obvious is 毒突く【どくづく】 (to curse at someone: "to attack someone with poison [of the mouth? :p]).

  • 吐く - to breathe/expel
    The most common example is 嘘【うそ】を吐【つ】く (to lie: "to spit lies"). It's usually used either for speaking negative things or breathing -- usually outward, e.g. ため息を吐く (to breath a sigh).

  • 着く - to reach/arrive
    If you think about it, words such as 落ち着く begin to make sense. We use a very similar metaphor in English: "settle down." One's mood reaches a more normal point after falling. Occasionally, it is also used in things having to do with clothing (that would normally be 付く), probably due to the kanji's use in 着る【きる】 (and less commonly, 着く【はく】).

There are several others, but these are the main ones. Many of them can arbitrarily be replaced with 付く, which actually seems to have subsumed some of the less common ones (such as 点く and 憑く). Unfortunately, this answer is already much too long, and covering every one of the extremely large number of つく verbs is likely beyond the scope of this website.

One final note: No dictionary that I can find lists a kanji for the つく in むかつく, but if I were to guess, I would say 着く ("reaching an irritated state"). Alternately, 付く, which seems to be a relatively safe bet quite a bit of the time. However, it seems that this word, at least, is normally only written in kana.

  • +1, for the effort that I didn't make ;) However there's a lot more to each つく verb that can be explained in one answer.
    – repecmps
    Jul 20, 2011 at 8:22
  • additionally there's no kanji for むかつく because it's a fairly recent word that comes from an onomatopoeia [ムカムカ[する]] I think 付く is better suited.
    – repecmps
    Jul 20, 2011 at 8:32
  • @repecmps, むかつく is cited to 1145. Is that too recent? :D See the KDJ entry here. Apr 1, 2020 at 5:47

I think to approach this problem, you need to recognize that つく isn't a word with many different meanings, from "stick" to "tell lies" to "stab".

The situation you are facing is that these are different words that happen to be homonyms (words that sound the same). 吐く, 突く, 付く, 着く, and all the rest are distinct entities, not all aspects of some common thing.

Now, before some etymologist jumps all over me and points out some potential relationships, note I am not saying they don't potentially share roots or commonalities. I'm just saying that in this situation the possible commonalities in the origins of these words aren't as useful as the differences as their modern usage.

Once you see that these are different words with different kanji, you can see that this isn't like taking a word and adding する in order to make it a verb. This is just a matter of putting words together to refine a meaning. It's like adding 出す to 取る to make 取り出す【とりだす】 to mean "pull out" instead of simply using 取る to mean just "pull".

That you sometimes see it in hiragana isn't an indication that this is some kind of grammatical form, just that in all likelihood, the author just chose to not use kanji, as Japanese often do as a matter of course.

In order to figure out what words go with which version of つく, there is no rule book, it will just depend on the sense of the resulting two word combination. 嘘つく is not going to be 嘘点く, because what would it mean to light with a lie? I suppose you could get poetic, but let's just keep to common, every day usages. The point is that the normal combination is 嘘吐く, because 吐く means to tell lies (I like to think it means that lies are "spat").

Unfortunately, not all combinations are obvious. The only way to be sure in an unclear case, though, is to use a dictionary or ask someone.

Also, last note, it just happens that sometimes okurigana is omitted in some of these kinds of kanji combinations. So 落ち着く can also be written as 落着く. The middle is dropped, so to a beginner it might appear as a kanji compound, but it's really just a two word combination.

Hope that helps.

  • 2
    Not sure why you say that the separate kanji spellings "are distinct entities, not all aspects of some common thing." Monolingual Japanese dictionaries would disagree with you, lumping many spellings together into single entries. A better analogy might be if English used kanji to spell, but kept English pronunciation. Take the verb get -- now imagine that each different shade of meaning were spelled with a different kanji. You get sick. You get a thing. You get told something. You get out. You get off. You get it. Etc., etc. That's what we have here with つく. Apr 1, 2020 at 5:32

How do we tell which つく that made up a particular つく verb

You can't. It's vocabulary, there's just no rule to decide one or the other. You need to know their meaning. I would list them all here, but there are really too many and each one of them would probably need special attention.

Even knowing the meaning of each つく verb, you would still have a chance to use the wrong one (ex: 嘘付く = attach a lie? Nobody would know 付く is the one to choose) Most of these are fixed expressions and most of them probably have deep etymological origin.

how do we actually tell which particle is used in a particular verb?

It's like making a normal sentence. You need to know how transitive/intransitive verbs work, how to mark the subject, action...etc. There are a lot of possibilities for each つく verb: (see questions about particles)


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