I found some sentence and I am a bit perplexed by the 抱える, whose first meaning is “hold or carry in the arms.” I found that it also meant: to have problems; but how did it acquire its second meaning?

Some example: it is some reflection from a high school student who has some cynical (but also quite lucid) views about his classroom students.


There's a hierarchy among carnivores.‌ If you can't become the alpha, the stress will continue to pile up until you die.


1 Answer 1


抱える can be safely used with intangible objects such as 負担, ストレス, 仕事 and 借金. In English it just means "to have". Note that saying ストレスを持つ is wrong and 抱える is the default verb used with ストレス.

but how did it acquire its second meaning?

Is it surprising? Many English verbs including "have", "hold", "carry" and "embrace" take both tangible and intangible objects (e.g., "carry a meaning", "embrace a policy"), and I have never wondered why. It may be related to the fact that words like 荷物 ("burden") have both physical and psychological meanings.

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    The entry in WWWJDIC notes that "(2) to have (esp. problems, debts, etc.);" I think it does tend to be related to problems, what do you think?
    – user36788
    Mar 9, 2020 at 3:31
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    @Ben Yes, 抱える tends to be used with bad things (悩みを抱える, 問題を抱える, トラブルを抱える, 空腹を抱える, ...). 抱く is more generic and can be used with good things (夢を抱く, 期待を抱く, 憧れを抱く), too.
    – naruto
    Mar 9, 2020 at 5:38

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