The Japanese language has a small number of verb tenses, but in place of those are various combinations of words that can be tricky to understand and translate. In this article I’d like to go over the phrase 疲れにくくなる(tsukare nikuku naru) that combines three words to create one idea.
First I’d like to review the word 疲れる(tsukareru) which means “to become tired”. This differs from English because “tired” is generally an adjective, whereas in Japanese we would use different forms of this verb for different purposes. For example “疲れてる” (in the state of being tired) or “疲れた” (become tired).
It’s important to understand that 疲れる has the connotation of being physically exhausted (imagine you hauled heavy crates all day) as opposed to being sleepy, which is often expressed via the adjective 眠い (nemui).
Next we have the word にくい（sometimes written in kanji as 難い） which an I-adjective that is commonly used in the following pattern:
- (a verb in the pre-masu form) + にくい = difficult to do [verb]
For a simple example let’s use the verb やる, “to do”. We take the pre-masu form (やり) and add にくい to get やりにくい (yarinikui). This means something along the lines of “difficult to do” and this phrase itself can be considered an I-adjective.
Using this pattern we can see that 疲れにくい means “difficult to become tired”. But while you may intuitively understand what this means, it doesn’t sound very natural in English.
To finish this phrase we need one more grammar pattern that is used to combine words, which is as follows:
- (adverbial form of an I-adjective) + なる = to become [adjective]
A simple example of this would be:
- あつくなる (atsuku naru)
- It will become hot.
(Note: the adverbial form of any I-adjective is easily obtained by replacing the ending い with a く)
By the way, the reason this form is so important is that Japanese doesn’t have an explicit future tense (like “will” in English), so this pattern allows to emphasize something will become a certain state in the future as opposed to being that way now. The verb なる can be conjugated like any regular verb (あつくなった、あつくなっていた, etc.)
If we put together everything we end up with something like this:
- To become so that it is hard to get tired.
While you may have a vague understanding of what it means “to become so that it is hard to get tired”, it’s hard to get a complete understanding, especially if you are thinking in terms of English. Now let’s look at a longer example involving this phrase in order to get a better understanding:
- ちゃんと栄養をとってると、疲れにくくなる (chanto eiyou wo totte iru to, tsukare nikuku naru)
- If you are getting proper nutrition, it becomes hard to get tired.
After seeing this example, you probably have a better idea of what 疲れにくくなる means. The “hard to get tired” part in this context means that it may take a longer period of time to get tired, or maybe it will require more exercise before you get tired. One reason this sounds awkward in English is that when we say “hard to” it typically refers to something we actively try to do that is difficult (ex: “It is hard to get straight As”). Another way to think of 疲れにくい in English is “to not get tired easily”, but 疲れにくくなる then becomes “become so that you are not tired easily” which is still awkward-sounding.
So how can we translate this into English? It’s a little tricky to translate using natural wording, but here is one attempt that should also help you understand the meaning of original Japanese phrase:
- If you are getting proper nutrition, you’ll have more energy.
In order to express what is almost a double negative (“hard to get tired”) we use the idea of “energy” that yields a much more natural translation. I think you’ll agree that having more energy means you won’t get tired as quickly. Depending on the situation, you might be able to use other phrases such as “you’ll feel stronger” or “you’ll have much more endurance”, the latter more closely matching the original meaning.
Recently there was a situation regarding a phrase where a word was involved and I had to try to interpret it in English. As you can guess, I had some trouble explaining it succinctly in real-time. This goes to show that just because you understand something doesn’t mean you can easily explain it in another language.
(Note: photo of person lifting a weight taken from Pexels.com)