Three great Japanese verbs about the mind: 覚える(oboeru), 思い出す(omoidasu), and 思いつく(omoitsuku)

By | June 9, 2014

For this post I’ve chosen three Japanese verbs which I think will be very useful for the beginner Japanese student. All of them relate to thought and/or memory in some way.

覚える (おぼえる)is a verb which can be used to mean  ‘to learn’, or ‘to remember’, depending on the context.

One of the most common ways to use this verb is when you want to talk about remembering something specific. To that you use the ~ている form.

  • 彼の名前を覚えてる
  • I remember his name.
  • 車の色を覚えてない
  • I don’t remember the color of the car.

As you might expect, you use the particle を after the thing you remember.

To use 覚える in the sense of ‘to learn’, you usually use it in the dictionary form (as it is).

  • 学校で覚えることがいろいろあります。
  • There are various things which you learn at school.

Another important usage is when you want to request that someone remembers something, or when you want to express that someone will remember something in the future. This is typically done using the 〜ておく form, which gives the nuance of ‘doing something for later’.

  • これを覚えといてください。     (a common abbreviation of 「これを覚えておいてください」)
  • Please remember this.
  • ぜったい覚えとくよ!
  • I’ll definitely remember!

On to the next word: 思い出す(おもいだす).  This is a compound word coming from 思い which means “think or feel” and 出す which has many meanings including “let out” and “take out”.

This word also means “remember” but in a different sense than 覚える because the act of drawing forth the memory from your mind is emphasized, so it is better to think of 思い出す as “recall” which is better match to the Japanese nuance.

If you want to say you remembered a specific thing, you can just use the past tense of this word.

  • あ、しなければいけないことを思い出した
  • Oh, I just remembered something I have to do!

To use 思い出す in the negative sense, you usually say 思い出せない (“can’t remember”) rather than 思い出さない (“won’t remember”)

  • 単語をどうしても思い出せません
  • I can’t remember the word no matter how hard I try.

Because you are using the potential form, you can substitute が for を here.

If you want to express trying to remember something, you can use the 〜しようとする form.

  • ちょっと待って, いま思い出そうとしてる。
  • Wait a second, I’m trying to remember now.

The final word for today’s post is 思いつく, which is also a compound word that contains the same 思い as in 思い出す. The second part of the compound, つく is a word that is difficult to translate and has many meanings (see here for all 16), but you can think of it simply as “to stick” or “to turn on”. In both cases the thing being turned on or stuck is the subject, not the object, as in ”ライトがついた” which means “the light turned on”.

While 思いつく can mean “to remember”, it is more commonly used to mean “think of” in the sense that a new idea came to mind.

  • いい名前を思いついた
  • I just thought of a good name.

If you are trying to say something came to you that you had learned before, you use 思い出す, but if it’s a new thought (creative or otherwise) you should use 思いつく。

I’ll end with a sentence using one of these words. Do you understand it’s meaning?


 Related words

  • 思い出 (おもいで)- (specific) memory (i.e. “いい思い出”, “good memory”)
  • 記憶(きおく)    – (specific) memory
  • 記憶する  – to remember, similar to 覚える but more formal
  • 記憶力 (きおくりょく) – memory ability (i.e. “記憶力がいいね”, “you have a good memory”)






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