I was searching for the definition of this phrase


and from what I could research this phrase comes from the novel Romance of The Three Kingdoms (三国演義).

From my understanding a leopard is being chased by a tiger, and in doing so the tiger is leaving his hideout exposed, so somebody is making the wolf attack the tiger's place.

The problem is this paragraph i found were there's a direct translation that I can't understand:


I'm trying to interpret this as: Make a wolf infiltrate (a tiger's hideout) by impelling a tiger.

I'm using the 3th definition of 呑む from here: https://www.weblio.jp/content/%E5%91%91%E3%82%80

③ 比喩的に,門や入り口が人などを入れる。 「五万の観衆を-・んだ国立競技場」

I'm having troubles understanding this because most of the examples I found using 呑む in causative form mean "to make someone cry/feel bad" which wouldn't make sense according to what the phrase wants to express. Also is it normal to use two を in one sentence? I think there's a rule against it.

  • 呑 also means "to annex (a country)" in Chinese: cjjc.weblio.jp/content/%E5%91%91 But I'm not sure if that's the intended meaning here. (I'm not sure why causative form is used in that 直訳 in the first place... isn't the literal translation "to swallow a wolf"?)
    – naruto
    Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 4:19
  • I think the causative form is used because the phrase refers to a plan used in Romance of the Three Kingdoms were someone devices a plan to make 2 allies fight each other (the tiger and the leopard in this case) using a 3rd person (the wolf).
    – Jon
    Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 5:01
  • The simplest interpretation seems fine to me, i.e. "To drive the tiger to swallow the wolf". In the first place, 狼を呑ませる doesn't mean to make the wolf swallow.
    – user4092
    Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 6:07
  • Using を twice (or more) in a sentence is fine as long as they are contained in separate clauses. This allows the direct object in each clause to be unambiguously identified. Thus, the direct object of the first clause is 虎, while the direct object of the second clause is 狼.
    – kandyman
    Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 12:20

2 Answers 2


虎を駆って狼を呑ませる means "to drive the tiger to swallow the wolf".

狼を呑ませる doesn't mean "to make the wolf swallow", which is 狼に呑ませる, but "to make someone to swallow the wolf".

There's nothing wrong about を. The first を leads to 駆って and the second one does to 呑ませる.

  • This does not match the context in 三国演義. In the original episode, the tiger will not even see the wolf in the first place. "to drive the tiger (away) and let the wolf swallow (while the tiger is away)" is semantically closer to the actual meaning of 駆虎呑狼, although I don't know that's the grammatically correct way to read the original Chinese phrase.
    – naruto
    Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 7:54
  • I see, then, it wouldn't be correct to translate 駆虎呑狼 into 虎を駆って狼を呑ませる but 狼に. However, according to Zeyuan, it seems twisted.
    – user4092
    Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 17:15
  • @naruto I believe in the original story, the 狼 is 劉備 and the 虎 is supposed to be 呂布, so this explanation would make sense in that 曹操 was trying to make 呂布 take out 劉備, which does in fact happen.
    – Ringil
    Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 17:52
  • @user4092 Okay, if Zeyuan is correct, that means what I saw in several Japanese pages was a bit twisted interpretation of 駆虎呑狼, but that may be the case here.
    – naruto
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 2:19

Let me share my perspective from a Chinese point of view. It might be helpful if you can read 三国演义 in the original or simplified Chinese version. The Japanese version of 三国演义 may interpret 駆虎呑狼 in a different way than the original.

駆虎呑狼 literally means "to drive the tiger so that it swallows the wolf". It is most commonly used figuratively to mean " using some clevelr manipulation so that two people ( or groups of people) fight against each other, and you benefit from them being weakened in the fight." Here the 虎 and 狼 typically refers to someone much stronger than you. That's why you cannot just use brute force, but rather must rely on some clever technique.

Edit: I should add that "fight" here is also used figuratively to refer to any kind of competition. For example, competition between two business companies. However, it does NOT apply to sports competitions. When you run a 400m race, you are not using 駆虎呑狼 if you wait for people in first and second to get tired and then you run past them to win first place.

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