Japanese word highlight: gureru (ぐれる)

By | September 19, 2018

When you get in an environment where you can start to speak Japanese daily with native (or at least fluent) speakers, you’ll surely discover words and expressions that are completely new to you, regardless of how much you have studied the language academically in the past.

In this article I’d like to focus on a word that I have heard in daily conversation on several occasions, yet for some reason have never come across in any media (novels, manga, movies, etc.)

The word is “gureru”, generally written in hiragana as ぐれる. This is one of the few verbs I have seen that does not have a kanji form (there are some common verbs that are generally written in hiragana, but do have kanji forms, for example なる / 成る).

You may have found that words you infer from context, as opposed to looking them up in a dictionary, stick better in your head. I managed to pick up this word from context after hearing it the first time (although it was quite long ago so I don’t remember if I had asked to explain the word in Japanese to confirm my understanding). I’ll try to give you the context so you can guess at the meaning yourself.

One person was saying how they had gone through some difficult experiences, and another person said (about the first person):

  • よくぐれなかったね  (yoku gurenakatta ne)

(By the way, if you are not familiar with using the word “yoku” to express surprise––it does not mean the typical meaning of “well” or “good” here––please check out this article of mine.)

After that conversation, I had some vague understanding that the word gureru meant “to rebel”, which turned out to be a good approximation for the meaning. One of my dictionaries has a few other attempts to express it in English:

  • “to go wrong”
  • “go to astray”
  • “fall into evil ways”

To be honest, I think most of these sound somewhat stiff or unnatural (with possibly the second option being the most natural), but they give you a good general feel for the word.

The same dictionary describes the word a few different ways in Japanese, with the simplest being “不良になる” (furyou ni naru), a phrase that literally means “to become a delinquent”.

It appears the word gureru is simply a verb form of the noun gure that means essentially the same thing: “straying from the path” or someone who has done that. The verb is a group 1 verb (sometimes called an iru/eru verb), so it conjugates as guretegureta, etc.

Like many Japanese verbs, it can be used as an adjective, as in the following phrase:

  • ぐれた男 (gureta otoko)

This, like the original example in this article, is a little difficult to translate into natural English. Depending on the context, I think you could just say “rebel” or “delinquent (man)”. Other (near) synonyms such as “punk” or “criminal” could fit, depending on the context.

As for the original example sentence, I’ll make an attempt at a natural translation:

  • よくぐれなかったね  (yoku gurenakatta ne)
  • I’m surprised you didn’t loose your mind.

While “loose your mind” is literally not the same thing as “stray from the path”, it’s close enough and, at least to me, sounds natural.


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