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From the grammar book I learned that when 自動詞 is being used as an adjective, it should change its form to the た形, for example:

  • 優れ{すぐれ}学生
  • 拗れ{こじれ}話し

But can I say 優れ学生 or 拗れ話し? Why?

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You can, but the meaning will change.

Basically, you can use 辞書形 (dictionary), た形 (perfective), 可能形 (potential) verb phrases, and of course all of their negative forms, to modify a noun.

  • 【辞書形】飛ぶ{とぶ}豚{ぶた} a pig that will fly
  • 【た形】飛んだ豚 a pig that flew
  • 【可能形】飛べる豚 a pig that can fly

A lot of other derivatives work too:

  • 【〜いる】飛んでいるa pig that is flying
  • 【〜しまう】飛んでしまうa pig that flies unintentionally
  • 【〜そうな】飛びそうなa pig that seems like it's going to fly, etc.

So the meaning of your example will change accordingly: こじれ話 (a matter that became complicated) vs. こじれ話 (a matter that will become complicated).


優れる is a verb that needs special attention though. The dictionary form will want some kind of prepositional object. And when 優れる takes an object, it is more commonly used in the continuous form.

  • 【た形】優れ学生 an excellent student
  • 【辞書形】優れ学生 ← unnatural
    • 【目的語+辞書形】スポーツに優れ学生 a student who excels in sports ← OK
    • 【目的語+進行形】スポーツに優れている学生 ← more common
  • こじれた話 can just mean "complicated matter", can't it? E.g., 「この人はいつもこじれた話をする。」 – Darius Jahandarie Nov 23 '15 at 5:00
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    @DariusJahandarie At least to me, it retains the “became [verb]-ed” sense as in 話がこじれた. But then again, 優れた and also ありふれた/ばかげた as in Derpius's answer feels very much like a plain adjective (“excellent student” and not “student who excelled”), so I came to realize my answer is a little simplistic. It probably has to do with lexical aspect — I hope someone more knowledgeable than me will chime in. – mirka Nov 23 '15 at 6:07
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These verbs are generally used in the past tense possibly through connotation of a static, perfective state. If you want to emphasize a present imperfective aspect, such as when expressing a subjective opinion that you just came up with that very moment, you can use 優れている. In this sense you can even use 優れていた if it happened in the past.

  • バルサに敗れたシメオネ、「彼らの方が優れていた」

Indeed, the ている form is the most frequent when it is the main verb of the sentence, while the plain form often only appears directly modifying a noun.

Other common verbs of this type include [似]{に}た, ありふれた and ばかげた.

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