“Becoming” in Japanese: the many uses of なる (naru)

By | January 22, 2014

なる is one of those super useful Japanese verbs that has many common uses, even for beginners to the language.

This verb generally means “to become” and is used in the following pattern:

  • [object] が [condition] に なる

where the [object] here will become (turn into, change into, progress into) the [condition].

Let’s start with a simple example that you can use with your study buddies.

  • 日本語が上手になったね!
  • You’ve gotten better at Japanese!

This statement literally means “Japanese has improved”, but in this case from the context it’s clear you are talking about the listeners ability, and the “ね” ending particle makes this even more clear (with a mild sense of “right?”).

If you want to talk about a desire you can use the “-たい” form with なる, which becomes (no pun intended) なりたい。

  • 僕、もっと日本語が上手になりたい
  • I want to become better at Japanese.

I have also seen the form  ” [skill or language]上手になりたい”  used before, but it’s much less common.

なる can also be used to express wanting to “become” something in the sense of a job or position.

  • 僕は将来、消防士になりたいです
  • When I grow up I want to be a firefighter.   (said by a child)

Now lets look at an expression using なる that is used to express growth of an ability.

  • [potential form of verb、ex: できる ] ようになる

This means something along the lines of  “become/learn such that I can do so-and-so”.

Let’s use it in an example sentence.

  • 日本語がもっと上手に話せるようになりたいです
  • I want to learn to speak Japanese better. (lit: I want to become such that I am able to speak better in Japanese)

You can also use ようになった with the normal form of a verb (する, etc.) to express something has changed.

  • 最近、日本に行きたいと思うようになりました。
  • Recently I’ve become interested in going to Japan (lit: Recently it’s become such that I though I wanted to go to Japan)

なる means something just “becomes” without you necessarily having direct control. There can be a sense of things “occurring”, as in this example.

  • どうしていつもこうなるんだろう
  • I wonder why this always happens.

Another important expression is ~ことになる(なった) which can express some thing has been officially decided.

  • 会社の都合で引っ越すことになったよ
  • I have to move for my company. (lit: It’s been decided that I will move for the convenience of my company)

You can see the omission of “僕の” here to describe the speakers company. Saying just “company” implies “my company”. (See this article for more on omission in Japanese)

Finally, here are some other common expressions that use なる:

  • なるほど      indeed, I see
  • なるべく   as much as possible
  • そうなると   when that happens
  • なりきる       to completely become something (said for an actor about a certain part)

なる used for the meaning “to become” is sometimes written in kanji as 成る, but I’ve seen in more frequently written in hiragana. Another meaning for なる is to ring (like a phone), and this can be written as 鳴る to differentiate the two.

I’ll end with a question for you to think about. What could this phrase mean?  (Imagine seeing it on a billboard in Japan)


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