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More from the JLPT1 vocabulary list.

I've been presented with 重んじる and 重んずる, both given as transitives and with the meaning to prize, to honour, to esteem.

Is there a difference in nuance between the two? Are they interchangeable?

A bunch of examples are given for 重んじる but not 重んずる. Is the latter outdated?

Lastly I've seen more of these pairs (which I don't recall at the moment). Is there a general rule to be said about these verb endings?

I apologize for the many questions, let me know if it needs a split.

よろしくお願いします。

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Is there a difference in nuance between the two? Are they interchangeable?

The only noteworthy difference between 「~~じる」 and 「~~ずる」 is that the former sounds "lighter", "less literary", "less formal", etc. than the latter.

There is no difference in meaning between the two forms. Thus, for the pure purpose of maintaining the meaning, one could say that the two are interchangeable.

IMPORTANT: Language, however, is never very simple and therefore, if you changed one word in a sentence, you might need to change some others as well to retain the level of formality, literary feel, etc. of the original sentence.

Is the latter outdated?

No, hardly not. You will encounter the 「~~ずる」 form quite often in more serious and/or formal kinds of writings/speeches.

It is just not used very often on the street, so to speak.

Lastly I've seen more of these pairs (which I don't recall at the moment). Is there a general rule to be said about these verb endings?

What does exist is more a tendency than a rule; In fact, there is no such rule. 「~~ずる」 tends to be used more often in social sciences than in natural sciences. As a Japanese-speaker, if I were asked where I would see/hear 「~~ずる」 most often, I would tend to think of proverbs, philosophical sayings, or for a lack of word, "more profound statements" in general.

  • Thank you! I reckon that's why there were only examples given for 重んじる then - JMdict seems to favour informal texts and conversations for sample sentences. – matshell Jul 4 '16 at 6:34
  • Sorry, that was badly worded. I meant to say less literary, not informal. – matshell Jul 4 '16 at 7:55
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It's worth noting that ‑zuru forms are historically older than the ‑jiru forms. This might account for the sense l'électeur notes, that the ‑jiru forms come across as "lighter", "less literary", "less formal", etc.

How the forms developed

Historically, there are many terms that started out as compounds, where a noun or a borrowing from Chinese (in this case, a single-character kanji term read with the on'yomi) was appended with す as the generic suffix used to make something a verb. (This す was also the origin of modern verb する "to do".) These (almost) all became the modern verbs ending in ‑jiru.

  • At first, it was simply [WORD] + す -- 重{おも}み + す, or 信{しん} + す.
  • Over time, in those words where this す came right after a voiced mora (usually み or ん), the す often became voiced too, turning into ず. Any み before the ず also often eroded into just ん. 重みず → 重んず, 信ず. (It's interesting to note that the MS IME offers up the correct kanji spellings for conversion of these terms ending in ‑んず.)

  • Another historical development was the addition of the る on the end, to give us 重んずる and 信ずる.

    • This was a regular process that occurred with all of the verbs called "type 2" verbs in English-language instructional materials, like 食{た}べる or 感{かん}じる or even 寝{ね}る, as well as the "type 3" verbs 来{く}る and する. Remember that the ず on the end of 重んず and 信ず counts as する here.
    • The "type 2" verbs all had older forms that ended in -u in the terminal (sentence-final) form, and that ended in -i or -e in the negative, conjunctive (‑masu stem), and imperative forms. The "type 3" verbs live up to their name as "irregular". :)
    • For our sample "type 2" and "type 3" verbs above, taberu came from tabu, kanjiru came from kanzu, neru came from nu, kuru came from ku, and suru came from su.
    • Probably to help differentiate the terminal forms from other verbs or other senses (is uku 浮く "to float", or 受く "to receive"? is iku 行く "to go", or 生く "to live"? is tsuku intransitive or transitive? etc.), the "type 2" verbs were more commonly used in the ‑masu stem form + る. Meanwhile, the irregulars just got る stuck on the end, probably also to make them more clearly distinguishable when speaking. This informal spoken practice then gradually influenced formal writing, producing the modern forms.
  • Finally, the ‑ずる on the end followed the same general pattern that "type 2" verbs went through previously, and changed from ‑ずる to ‑じる.
    • This process is somewhat incomplete, as the ‑ずる forms have not vanished from the modern language.

So in modern Japanese, both 重んずる / 信ずる and 重んじる / 信じる are recognized as grammatically valid forms. The ‑ずる forms are older, and may thus lend a more formal, weighty, or traditional feel, while the ‑じる forms are the most common in regular speech, and thus may come across as more informal, prosaic, or everyday.

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Interchangeable. Just a minor difference in pronunciation. Perhaps it's an [音便]{おんびん} thing

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