I encountered the following multiple-choice question in an unofficial JLPT N3 vocabulary practice test:

先週、スイカの種を植えたばかりなのに、今朝見たら、もう芽が(   )いた。

1 なって  2 出て  3 散って  4 生えて

I chose 「4 生えて」, but the answer given is 「2 出て」.

I looked up example sentences on the weblio 英和辞典. 「芽{め}が出る{でる}」 and 「芽{め}を出す{だす}」 both return many results, whereas 「× 芽{め}が生える{はえる}」 did not appear at all. However, there is a word 「芽生える{めばえる}」.

  • What are the differences and nuances between 芽{め}が出る{でる}, 芽{め}を出す{だす}, and 芽生える{めばえる}? Do they all mean "to germinate, to bud"? (I cannot sense much of a transitive/intransitive distinction here.)

  • It appears that × 芽{め}が生える{はえる} is not valid. Is there a reason why 芽生える{めばえる} is a valid word, whereas × 芽{め}が生える{はえる} is not used?

1 Answer 1


芽が生える is acceptable, but just much less common than 芽が出る. Shonagon returns 6 results for the former, 186 for the latter. So, 2 is the best choice, but 4 is not wrong.

For the differences:

  • When speaking of plants or trees, all three mean mostly the same. 芽生える sounds somewhat literary.
  • In terms of syntax, 芽を出す or 芽生える works like an intransitive verb (as a whole) while 芽が出る by itself is a sentence. Roughly 植物芽を出す/芽生える = 植物芽が出る.

The biggest difference is their collocations/metaphorical meaning.

  • 芽が出る can be used in the sense that some chances open up: 幸運が巡ってきて、成功の糸口が開ける。目が出る。「長い下積みを経てやっと―◦出る」
  • 芽生える can mean (friendship, love, etc.) to start growing: 物事が起こりはじめる。きざす。「愛情が―・える」

芽を出す is usually used literally for plants.

  • Clear and comprehensive answer! I will leave a bit of time before accepting the answer. Side note: my first encounter with the word 芽生える was in the lyrics of the opening theme of Death Note: 愛した故に芽生えた悪の花, which illustrates both its literal and figurative meanings nicely.
    – L. F.
    Jul 24, 2022 at 11:32

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