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This page is supposed to disambiguate the two words but I am at loss to perceive the difference:

1.「担ぐ」は、物を肩にのせる意。

2.「担う」は、物を肩にかけて運ぶ意。

In particular, I don't really know how to understand properly the difference between 肩に載せる and 肩にかける. Up to my understanding, the former would have the sense of "to put on one's shoulder and the thing that is shouldered is in major part above the shoulder" like in 神輿{みこし}を担ぐ, the later would have the meaning of "to put on one's shoulder and the thing that is shouldered is in major part below the shoulder". In this sense I have the feeling that かける could be cognate with ぶらさげる.

Is this correct or are there other nuances that I did not catch?

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I think the difference between 肩に乗せる and 肩にかける is trivial, and does not help understand the difference between 担ぐ and 担う.

What's more important is the following sentence:

(「担う」は)下から支える意味合いが強く、通常は「次代をになう」「責任をになう」のように、物事を支えるという抽象的な意味で用いられることが多い。

担【かつ】ぐ and 担【にな】う both means to carry, but the latter is almost always used metaphorically today (役割を担う, ~の機能を担う, ~という意味を担う, etc). I checked the first 200 hits of 担う in BCCWJ, and none of them meant to physically carry something on one's shoulder or back. goo辞書 seems to have some examples of 担う used in the physical sense, but they are from old novels.

On the other hand, 担ぐ is used both physically and metaphorically today. The most important metaphorical usage of 担ぐ is to flatter someone.

  • Thank you for your answer, if possible could you clarify some points? 「下」in「下から支える」is used metaphorical or physical or both here? I can't really see the point of saying "support above the ground" when talking about "carrying" since it is obvious that something carried is not on the ground. If 下 is used metaphorically it would be "supported from the beginning" but I am not perfectly sure. – 永劫回帰 Nov 13 '15 at 1:48
  • What lead me to think that 担うもの would be carry under the shoulder is, one, because of 担い桶, and second, since 担う can also be spelled 荷う and that 荷 is also in 荷物 I don't think that lugguage is often carried above the shoulders. – 永劫回帰 Nov 13 '15 at 1:51
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    This 下から just means (apply a force against gravity) from below. Carrying something under one's arm like this is 脇の下に挟む or 脇の下に抱える, and you can safely say ショルダーバッグを担ぐ even though most of its weight is under the shoulder. – naruto Nov 13 '15 at 2:05
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In addition to naruto's answer, I think there's an element of aspect: if I understand the terms correctly, katsugu is telic or momentary, describing the action of actually putting something on one's shoulders, whereas ninau has more atelic or ongoing connotations of something being on one's shoulders. This may be part of why the usage diverged over time.

  • I am not sure to understand. What you say is that katsugu is momentary whereas ninau does not have this property anymore. That may be true as of today. But, back in time, the two could be used for a momentary action as 棺桶を担う would suggest. – 永劫回帰 Nov 13 '15 at 2:57
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    To be clear, I'm not saying that ninau doesn't have any momentary aspect, rather that it seems to have connotations of ongoing aspect that katsugu doesn't have. – Eiríkr Útlendi Nov 13 '15 at 2:59
  • I agree with you on this. – 永劫回帰 Nov 13 '15 at 3:02

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