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I understand that the word 立つ has various meanings, but basically can be used to describe a state (for inanimate and animate objects) as well as a process (for animate objects). To describe a state for inanimate objects both: 立つ and 立っている seem to be accepted forms (ビルが立つ, ビルが立っている).

Now, an idiomatic expression 顔が立つ is undoubtedly used to describe a state of "keeping one's face".

The form 顔が立っている does not seem to be recognised. is my observation wrong?

What exactly does 立つ mean in this context and why the form 立っている is incorrect? Is it really a state, or could it be a response to some kind of a ..."periodic test"? Like "whenever I look at him, his response is 顔が立つ thus he is a man of honour"?

If the form 顔が立っている is incorrect, how does 立つ in 顔が立つ differ from 立つ in 腹が立つ, where 腹が立っている is also recognised and used form?

  • 1
    It's not particularly incorrect to interpret 顔が立っている as that meaning (e.g. 今は、かろうじて顔が立っている), and I don't really think 顔が立つ stands for a state. In most cases, 顔が立つ is used in conditional, like そうすれば、私の顔も立つ. – user4092 Nov 12 '15 at 11:13
  • Well... it is described by 保つ, in that case maybe I misinterpret the meaning of 保つ if it was not a state. – macraf Nov 12 '15 at 11:20
  • 顔が立つ is synonymous to 面目を保つことができる. If you regard it as a somewhat state, maybe it's that. – user4092 Nov 12 '15 at 12:31
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As user4092 suggests in the comments, I don't think 顔が立っている is particularly incorrect. It's just not frequently said. Some actual examples from the internet:

  • 彼らの頑張りで、こちらの顔が立っているのだから。
  • 嫁が親戚付き合いを自然にこなしてくれるので、俺と俺の親の顔が立っている
  • その芸能事務所のマネージャーがただそのモデルなりタレントの子達にたいしては顔が立っているだけって事でしょう。

顔が立つ is perhaps more like an action rather than a state, similar to the English to save face. Then it follows that you don't often say “my face is being saved/kept”.

  • こうすれば部長の顔が立つ This way we'll save the manager's face
  • こうすると部長の顔が立たない This will make the manager lose face

I can think of some other 〜が立つ idioms that are also less likely to be used in 〜立っている form:

  • 歯が立たない insurmountable
  • 角が立つ harsh
  • 口が立つ eloquent

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