I found this particular proverb on WWWJDIC when I looked up for なんじ : [艱難]{かんなん}[汝]{なんじ}を[玉]{たま}にす. It is translated into English as: Hardship makes the man.

How do we parse the proverb? I know 艱難 {かんなん} means "hardship". But 汝 {なんじ} means "thou" (archaic 'you') so what nuance does it contribute when suffixed to 艱難? And does 玉 {たま} mean jewel or actually refer to the family jewels? And what about にす, is it an archaic verb, or simply abbreviation of にする? How are all these in the end summed up as "hardship makes the man"?

1 Answer 1


The sentence is classical Japanese, not modern Japanese, and should be parsed as such. I analyse it as follows:

艱難 汝を 玉に す
kannan nandi-wo tama-ni su
hardship thou-ACC jewel-LOC make
Hardship will make you into a jewel.

In classical Japanese, the subject of a main clause is usually not indicated by a particle. In a typical sentence, the main verb will be in the terminative form (終止形); the classical form of the modern verb する is an s-stem irregular verb (サ行変格活用動詞) and its terminative form is just す. する is its attributive form (連体形).

  • So if we were to reconstruct it using modern grammar, it would be 艱難が汝を玉にする, right?
    – Lukman
    Commented Aug 4, 2011 at 12:55
  • @Lukman: I suppose so. I would use あなた instead of 汝, since the latter is, as far as I know, strongly associated with the classical language.
    – Zhen Lin
    Commented Aug 4, 2011 at 13:00

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