Japanese verb suffix 〜きる (~kiru)

By | March 9, 2015

In Japanese there are many verbs which can be as a suffix to another verb in order to enhance the other verb’s meaning. The verb which is being enhanced comes first and is always in the pre-masu form (i.e. たべる→たべ or のむ→のみ). The suffix which does the modification can be conjugated like a normal verb into the negative, past, or some other tense.

In this post I’d like to talk about the verb きる (切る) which by itself means “to cut”, although as a suffix it means to do something completely.  (きる can also mean “to wear” (着る), but that is unrelated)

  • (pre masu form of a verb) + 〜きる (〜切る)= to do that verb’s action completely.

Though you can technically use this suffix with any verb, in practice there are few verbs it is used with commonly. I’ll show example sentences for some of those here.

  • そりゃ分かりきったこと。
  • That’s obvious.

Here きる is used with “分かる” (to understand) to mean “completely understand”, which in natural English translates to something like “obvious”.

  • 食べ物が多くて食べきれない
  • There is a lot of food and I can’t finish it.

Here きる is conjugated to きれない which is the negative potential form and modifies the previous verb to mean “not able to completely do”. In this case the verb is the pre-masu form of 食べる (to eat), and so the resultant meaning is “not able to completely eat”.

  • 今日、朝から運動をして疲れきった
  • Today I exercised since morning and am exhausted.

Here the effect of 〜きる (conjugated in the past tense as きった) modifies 疲れる to mean “completely tired out”, or exhausted.

  • 時間がなくて説明しれきれなかった。
  • There was’t enough time to completely explain it.  (literally: “There was no time and it couldn’t be explained completely”)
  • 彼は大人になりきれなくて子供っぽい
  • He can’t grown up and acts like a child.
  • 旅行が楽しみ!待ちきれない
  • I’m looking forward to the trip! I can’t wait.

This use of 〜きる doesn’t exactly fit with the concept of “doing completely”, so it’s best to just remember “待ちきれない” as a phrase.

  • お父さんは思い切って日本に行くことに決めた。
  • My father completely made up his mind to go to Japan.

While 思う literally means “think” or “feel”, 思い切って is a set expression that means when someone has decided something with conviction, and can be translated as “take the plunge”. The verb 思い切る can also be used to mean “to give up”.

  • 張り切って頑張ろう!
  • Let’s do our best!

張り切る here is another set expression that means something like “to do with enthusiasm”. The verb 張る has many meanings including “to stretch”, “to strain”, or “to pull”. For the English translation, it’s a bit hard to capture the nuance so I just gave a generic phrase. Here is one more example using 張り切る。

  • 今日は張り切ってますね。
  • Today you seem filled with enthusiasm.

For our last phrase “やりきれない” there are two meanings. The first is what you would expect literally, which is “unable to finish doing something”. The other meaning is when something cannot be endured. Here’s a sample of the latter meaning.

  • 悲しくてやりきれない。
  • It’s so sad that I can’t bear it.
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21 thoughts on “Japanese verb suffix 〜きる (~kiru)

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Thats sort of a long story (: I think I talked about how I learned in some of my earlier posts, but I’ll write up a new post in the near future about how I study.

  1. Davide

    Hi, I just wanted to thank you for these articles. 😀 So insightful, and I always learn something new, something I couldn’t find anywhere else! One day I’m going to read and take notes from every single article of yours about grammar and vocab. So, thanks a lot!

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Thanks for the kind words! I’m glad you are finding my articles helpful. Please let me know if there are any topics you want me to cover.

  2. Davide

    One thing I found very little info about is kanji order in kanji compounds. I know kanji compounds tend to be head-final just like English compound words, but if such compounds describe processes or actions then the ‘verb kanji’ tends to come first: 握手, 拍手, 上京, 入市 etc.

    I think that some of these compounds were made in China and reflect the Chinese language and culture, while others were created in Japan based on Japanese language and culture ( 腹が立つ / 腹を立てる -> 立腹する, again with the ‘verb kanji’ coming first ).

    That’s pretty much the extent of my knowledge on kanji order in kanji compounds. It’s not much but it helps me remember compounds correctly (I would never write or say 手握 instead of 握手). An article fleshing out this topic, with occasional references to historical linguistics, would be very interesting for me! 😀 Maybe it’s a bit niche though.

    1. locksleyu Post author

      That’s a really interesting question. In over 20 years of studying Japanese I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it, nor have I read about it anywhere!

      My gut feeling is that there is really no hard-and-fast rule, and just taking a kanji like 手 you can see words like 手話 that seem to break the rule.

      This reminds me of the apparent rule for determining intransitive/transitive verbs that I found out is broken by many words.

      Nevertheless, I’ll think about this some more and maybe I can eventually write a post on it. Thanks!

      1. Davide

        I agree that there are no hard and fast rules. What I can tell you is that when I find a new compound that isn’t head final, it is *usually* an action or a process. So for me at least it works as a mnemonic aid.

        Actually I posted a question on Japan Reference about this a while back. According to the esteemed member Toritoribe-san, a pattern based on Chinese word order in sentences (Subject – Verb – Object) also plays a role here. I don’t know if I can post links, but, if you’re interested, you can find the thread by searching “word order in compound words” on Google.

        I’m happy I could find something interesting for you! I subscribed to the website so if you do decide to write about this, I’ll know! 😀

  3. Leah

    Thank you for this post – super helpful!
    I thiiink you may have a typo:

    “There is a lot of food and I can’t finish it.
    Here きる is conjugated to きれない which is the *past* potential form.”

    Shouldn’t this be *present* potential form?

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Hello, thanks for the comment!

      きれない is actually the *negative* present potential form. The past form would be きれなかった. So I believe what I have is correct.

      For a more simple example, ない is the negative form, whereas なかった is the negative past form.

      But let me know if I am not making sense.

      1. Leah

        Hi! I was confused because it’s written in paragraph 5 that “きれない is the *past* potential form” but really it is the present potential form.

        1. locksleyu Post author

          Oh, sorry about that! I just fixed that typo (:

  4. Michelle Wright

    I am finding many different meaning for the name Killua. Like good brother to a little sister, God of Lightning, assassin, to kill. Anyone know which it is? Or can you use different Kanji to change the meaning a bit?

    1. locksleyu Post author

      I guess “Killua” is the character from some manga series. I don’t think that is related to Japanese “Kiru”. Rather, I think this is a reference to the English word “kill”.

  5. Tom

    Hi! I can’t explain how useful this post is, it’s literally the answer to what I was looking for! I just have one question. If “きる” means “to do something completely”, can I use “きらない” to say “to actively not finish something/to drop what’s being done”?
    Also, when used as a suffix, should I write きる or 切る in any of its forms? Which one is more common?

      1. Tom

        Thanks for the clarification! I read the new article, so interesting.
        Regarding the content of this post, would you please tell me if my conclusions are correct? Here they are:

        Given that きれない means “not able to completely do” and both 〜ずに and 〜ないで are used to say “To do B without doing A”, if we combine both concepts we end up with きれないで / きれずに to say “I was not able to finish doing A, so I did B”.
        For examlpe, a literal translation I came up with for the sentence まだ溶けきれずに残った would be “(It) was not able to finish melting yet, so it remained (as it is)”.

        Am I right?

        1. locksleyu Post author

          I think your interpretation is mostly correct. The only difference is that the “so” (because) part is more implied than explicit. Like you can say “うるさくて耳が痛い” which literally means “it is loud and my ears hurt”, but you can interpret it as “It is loud so my ears hurt”.

          1. locksleyu Post author

            Sure, no problem! If you ever have any topic suggestions for articles, let me know, since I am always on the lookout for them.

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