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I feel like I always see 「しまう」 at the end of sentences (not the verb "to put away"). I saw some examples here on Weblio.

どうしても写真は実物より劣ってしまう。 Pictures really don't do it justice.

私はどうしても彼を目で追ってしまう。 No matter what happens I keep following him with my eyes.

「私の場合、どうしても溝口健二と比べてしまう。」 I can't help but compare him to Kenji MIZOGUCHI.'

I thought it's basically like 'can't help but', but then the first example seems different.

Anyone have more examples of this? What exactly does it mean?

2 Answers 2

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I think the most basic meaning in English is "wind up" or "end up".

That seems to work for all of your sentences:

どうしても写真は実物より劣ってしまう。

Somehow the photo always winds up being inferior to the real thing.

私はどうしても彼を目で追ってしまう。

I always somehow wind up following him with my eyes.

「私の場合、どうしても溝口健二と比べてしまう。」

In my case, I always somehow end up comparing him with Kenji MIZOGUCHI.


I think there's sometimes a sense of disappointment as suggested in the other answer, but I don't think that's ubiquitous (If I'm wrong, I look forward to learning).

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    +1 "wind up/end up" is the important nuance.
    – user4032
    Dec 25, 2014 at 13:36
  • Thanks, I wasn't sure if the 'sense of disappointment' was always true either. I can't say since I'm just learning this. :) Maybe I'll figure it out once I hear it used a few more times.
    – freedrull
    Dec 25, 2014 at 14:22
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This use of しまう is like adding "regrettably", or "unfortunately". It means that the action given in the て form is not a good thing.

The fact that pictures don't do somebody justice is not a good thing. So they end the sentence with しまう.

ああいう話{はな}し方{かた}は、人の年齢{ねんれい}をさらけだしてしまう。

"That style of speaking reveals a person's true age, unfortunately".

This means that there are bad overtones to the person's age becoming known. For example, the style of speaking reveals that he/she is too old or too young in the speaker's opinion.

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    "not a good thing"っていう部分がどうしても引っかかるね。それ以外の意味で使われることも多いから。
    – user4032
    Dec 25, 2014 at 13:30
  • @l'électeur That's true, but I think this is the case that applies to the OP's sentences. Dec 25, 2014 at 13:47
  • Cure Dolly compares this sense to the use of "done" as an auxiliary in some stereotypical rural American dialects. Jul 28, 2023 at 0:41

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