While I can understand the meaning of the word, I cannot wrap my head around the logic behind it.

In all similar cases, the basis of the expression is the object of the action:

  • Aを食べる ⟶ A: 食べ物

  • Aを飲む ⟶ A: 飲み物


  • A入れる ⟶ n/a

  • A入れる ⟶ A: 入れ物

I have asked my native Japanese teacher, but she could only explain it by saying that the container is still involved in the action of putting things inside it, and is thus labeled by that action. But to me the object of an action is a quite distinct thing, and the "direction" of it all seems off in the case of 入れ物.

Could someone explain the logic behind this? Are there other A-物 expressions that are not based on the object? Or is this just a unique exception?

  • 1
    We also have 乗り物. And even 生き物, 壊れ物, 余り物... – Chocolate Jun 6 at 16:29
  • Basically the meanings of those ~物 words are unpredictable, and you have to learn them one by one. – naruto Jun 9 at 6:54

You may be right that most of the examples of nouns following the V連用形+物 pattern usually describe the direct object of the verb. But that is far from always the case.

One noteworthy exception that springs to mind is 生き物 (living thing). This would notionally refer to the subject of the verb (e.g. the 私 in 私が生きる), rather than a direct object, which this verb only rarely uses (e.g. 瞬間を生きる meaning 'to live in the moment').

Slightly separately but possibly helpful to your understanding, I think it is worth noting here that there are also many words following this pattern that have very specific interpretations (unlike the examples you gave). For instance, 吸い物 doesn't refer to anything that uses the verb 吸う (e.g. a cigarette); rather, only a dish of a clear broth with ingredients/garnish floating in/on it.​ EDIT: It seems that I may have had an slightly overly narrow view of the word 吸い物 myself. Please see comments below.

吹き出物, meaning a 'pimple' or a 'rash', is a good example of one noun which sits in the intersection of not being a direct object, and having a specific meaning. A pimple is not a direct object (taking を) of the verb, as the verb 吹き出る (meaning gush out, spout, break out) is intransitive. Similarly, 吹き出物 doesn't correspond to anything that is gushing out e.g. 水が吹き出る.

So, it's not worth, in my opinion, trying to find a strict rule here regarding it being a direct object of the verb, as opposed to some other part of speech. It's rather just that the verb plays some role in the thing involved, and the expression may convey a broad meaning (like 食べ物 or 飲み物) or a more specific one (like 吸い物).

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  • 1
    Minor detail, and doesn't change your overall point, but I disagree that 吸い物 doesn't refer to anything that uses the verb 吸う: it is often used with things you sip or slurp (really, "purse your lips and suck"). Still, it refers to a very specific subcategory of things you would use 吸う with, and isn't just "sippable/吸う-able" things in general, as 食べ物 or 飲み物 are. – Micah Cowan Jun 7 at 1:46
  • Ah, really?! I had been corrected on this by a Japanese friend, but perhaps they were over-simplifying their correction so as to make the correction process quicker/less awkward... Anyway, thank you! I’ll put a note to refer to your comment. – henreetee Jun 7 at 1:52
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    For reference, here's my attempt at a Google search that looks for uses of 吸う outside of smoking. As expected, one of the top hits (for me) is 息を吸う; but I'm also seeing 水を吸う, うまい汁を吸う on that first page, which is along the lines of what I was hoping for. And of course the word for vampire is 吸血鬼 :) – Micah Cowan Jun 7 at 1:59
  • @MicahCowan ah, yes, thank you! I’m aware of (some of!) the other uses of 吸う :) (hadn’t truthfully come across the word for vampire!) — but when it came to 吸い物, I had rather just thought it was that type of dish, rather that certain other things too. Looking back, I should have perhaps said “everything” or “just anything” rather than “anything” in my explanation – henreetee Jun 7 at 2:12
  • Oh lol, yeah I totally misread what you meant then. :D – Micah Cowan Jun 7 at 22:27

This is fairly interesting because I finally couldn't find any example as "入れ物". 乗る in 乗り物 take "に" but it won't take "を" as 入れる does. Verbs inside 贈り物(gifts), 売り物(items for sale), 置き物(figurines), 届け物(deliveries) can take both に and を naturally but those indicate objects connected after "を" not "に". They NEVER indicate givees, importers, saucers, and mailboxes respectively.
So in my observation 入れ物 is an exclusive exception among the rule.
(As @henreetee mentioned, as a different rule we have many samples assembled as attributive verbs like 生き物 living-thing, 光り物 glittering-thing, 回り物 transiting-thing as well as 書き物 written-thing, 編み物 knitted-thing, and 忘れ物 forgotten-thing)

I guess that's because we hardly need to mention something to put, but frequently have to talk about something to put in. (In fact it's very easy to imagine a case that we need a bag) The practicality may have won the grammatical rule in this case.

So I could suggest the rule below.

(1) A thing used along with attributive verbs like 生き物, 光り物, 書き物
(2) A thing to achieve the purpose of its verb like 食べ物, 飲み物, 入れ物, 乗り物
Basically in the case(2) the most obvious object is supposed to be taken. If it's not obvious, the object connected after を is choosed basically, except 入れ物.

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