I noticed that most compound verbs take the stem form of a verb and attach it to another verb. When I saw 引っ込む, I just took it as a compound of 引く and 込む... until I found 引き込む which is closer in meaning to the stem form of the verb 引く and has a different meaning altogether. This also reminded me of this question except that both 引っ込む and 引き込む are still in common use. When did this divergence take place? Also, are there other examples of two compound verbs that have the same origin yet have very different meanings?


From the standpoint of meaning, the first part of compound verb can be categorized into three kinds.

  1. what represents its own meaning as a verb e.g. 引き寄せる
  2. fossilized in older times without contraction, but only has generalized (bleached) vague meaning e.g. 引き受ける
  3. fossilized more lately with contraction, whose meaning reduced to indicate the certain manner of the action e.g. 引っかける

#1 and #2 can share the same form (e.g. 引き起こす "raise somebody up" or "cause to happen"), and #3 may have developed from #1 (引っ裂く < 引き裂く) or #2 (引っ越す < 引き越す) or even from nothing (引っぱたく < はたく). Thus unfortunately there are no clear rules to predict whether a word form exists and has a certain meaning, but there is a tendency that contracted form would have "lighter" contribution to the verb's meaning than the full form. For example, 引き込む "draw/pull in" literally means 引く "pull" + 込む "go inside", but 引っ込む "fall/stand back" is more like 込む with 引っ "with a jerk".

  • synonymous pairs except the contracted is more vernacular or slangy


  • pairs (partially) with different meanings

    吹きかける "blow breath on" / 吹っかける "overcharge"
    引きつける "attract" / 引っつける "stick on"
    突き立つ "be thrust in, stick out" / 突っ立つ "stand idly"

  • no pairing

    引ったくる "snatch" < × 引きたくる
    踏ん張【ば】る "brace legs" < × 踏み張【は】る
    引きこもる "shut oneself inside" > × 引っこもる

A short list of verbal prefixes is included in this paper: 現代日本語の接頭辞について (pp. 25-26).

  • 1
    Thank you so much brocs! You answered my question and even went to the extra mile to provide a resource to verbal prefixes which I would otherwise have not found. I'm still trying to understand the three kinds of compound verbs. This classification is based on how close the meaning of the compound verb is to the "main verb" (i.e., the verb that comes first in the compound), isn't it? Also, I remember, 入(はい)る came from a compound verb, right? – rebuuilt Jul 5 '20 at 0:17
  • 1
    @rebuuilt Yes, that is what I mean. For 入る, yes, it comes from はいいる (sneak in). – broken laptop Jul 5 '20 at 2:31

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