Tricky Japanese verb pair: 預ける / 預かる (azukeru / azukaru)

By | January 8, 2019

In Japanese, there are many transitive/intransitive verb pairs, whereas in English we use often word order to describe whether an action is transitive or intransitive. Masting these pairs is an important step in becoming fluent in Japanese.

As a simple example, let’s take つける (tsukeru), a transitive verb with a bunch of meanings, but for our purposes you can think of it as simply “to turn on”. A “transitive” verb means it takes a direct object, and generally in Japanese that is expressed with the particle を (wo). For example:

  • 彼は電気をつけた (kare wa denki wo tsuketa)
  • He turned on the light.

The intransitive counterpart of this verb is つく (tsuku), which generally doesn’t use an object or use を. The subject will take は (wa) or が (ga) depending on the situation and nuance. For example,

  • 電気がついた (denki ga tsuita)
  • The light turned on.

Note that this phrase has the nuance that the light turned on by itself. (To emphasize it was turned on “by someone”, you could use the passive of つける, which is つけられる)

There are other transitive/intransitive verb pairs that work in a similar fashion (ex: かける、かかる). However in this article I want to focus on 預ける (azukeru) and 預かる (azukaru), which sound like transitive/intransitive pairs but are actually not.

預ける means “to leave or entrust”, and is often used in the context of checking in luggage at a place like a hotel or airport. For example,

  • ホテルのフロントに荷物を預けた。 (hoteru no furonto ni nimotsu wo azuketa)
  • (I) left (my) luggage at the hotel’s front desk.

However, the verb 預かる, which sounds very much like an intransitive version, is “opposite” in a different sense: it is actually also a transitive verb, but refers to the act of taking care of something.

  • スーツケースを預かりましょうか? (suutsukeesu wo azukarimashou ka?)
  • May I take your suitcase?

By the way, people in the service industry in Japan (like hotel employees) often speak with very polite language. So perhaps more common than 預かりましょうか would be the politer お預かりしましょうか (oazukari shimashou ka) or the even politer お預かりいたしましょうか (oazukari itashimashou ka).

As a final note, if you wanted to talk about luggage in an intransitive way (where the luggage is the subject), you could still use the ~てある pattern.

  • ここには荷物たくさん預けてあります。 (koko ni wa nimotsu ga takusan azukete arimasu)
  • Here, many (pieces of) luggage are being kept.

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