Although we wrote this article so that even beginning speakers of Japanese can learn something, to really get the most out of it you'll need a couple of prerequisites. First, you should be able to read hiragana. Second, you should have at least a beginner's understanding of Japanese grammar. Having both will take you a long way, and you'll learn the basics of 込む compound verbs. At this level, actually using them may pose a challenge. But that's fine! On that fateful day when a 込む compound verb appears, you'll be more than ready for it. If you have an intermediate level of Japanese grammar or higher, you'll be able to understand the concepts and many of the example sentences. Plus, you'll be able to utilize 込む compound verbs with your Japanese right away.
- to be crowded; to be packed
Whether you've been studying Japanese for a few years or a few months, there's a good chance you've come across the Japanese verb komu 込む. By itself, 込む means "to be crowded; to be packed" (jisho). If you know what a verb is (and I certainly hope you do), you may not find that to be very interesting in and of itself. Stick with it, though, and the Japanese verb 込む actually becomes quite interesting.
An example of this is what are known as "compound verbs." Basically, compound verbs are the result of mashing multiple words together to form a new verb. In English, words like "babysit" and "double-click" are examples of this. In Japanese, compound verbs tend to be a verb turned into a noun using its stem form (we'll call this "V1" from now on), plus another verb ("V2"). In this article, that V2 verb is always going to be 込む, bringing us to an equation that looks like this: V1+込む.
- XX込む Category 1: With (Physical) Movement
- XX込む Category 2: Without (Physical) Movement
- It's Time to 覚え込む!
A quick refresher on "stem form"
To change a verb to stem form, all you need to do is take the ます form of a verb and remove the ます. The stem form of たべます, for example, is たべ. I simply removed the ます from たべます. In this article, all the V1 verbs will be stem form, which, in all our examples, essentially changes them into nouns (or at least things that are noun-like).
Japanese has a lot of compound verbs, but 込む is by far the most common. According to 複合動詞レキシコン (Compound Verb Lexicon), 255 compound verbs use 込む. Yet once you've learned a handful of them, you'll come to realize that 込む's effect on V1 isn't consistent. I had hoped that with a litter of research, perhaps I could find a couple of patterns I could distill into something simple for Japanese learners.
I can only claim partial success.
Firstly, 込む compound verbs can be broken up into two larger categories: "movement" and "non-movement." Then, these can be broken down into two more subcategories each. Finally, we end up with four subcategories you need to learn about in order to understsand 込む compound verbs. Not an insane number, but not just a single rule like I originally hoped. They are:
- Non-inward action becomes inward
- Inward action gets even deeper
- Action gets enriched
- Action repeats until satisfaction is reached
We will go through each of these, identifying them as "movement" or "non-movement." Each will include the three E's: explanations, example sentences, and exceptions. But, you should come away with the confidence to identify a 込む compound verb in the wild, assuming you know the meaning of V1.
Are you ready to dive in? Well, that's very appropriate. You'll see why in a moment.
XX込む Category 1: With (Physical) Movement
We'll start with the movement category. By "movement" I mean that all the verbs will have physical movement from one place into another. Things like diving into a pool or Mario jumping into a pipe would both count. As always, it's going to be much easier to see it in action, so let's go straight to the first subcategory of "Movement."
1.1 The "Non-inward Action Becomes Inward" 込む Group
Here, the V1 is a verb that has no intrinsic "inward movement" in its meaning. By adding 込む to it, you're adding an inward movement to that verb.
The first "movement" group subcategory is the most straightforward of the four you'll be learning. Here, the V1 is a verb that has no intrinsic "inward movement" in its meaning. By adding 込む to it, you're adding an inward movement to that verb.
Take the verb 飛ぶ: by itself, it means "to jump" or "to fly." But the verb has no "inward" movement associated with it. Yet if you add 込む to it (remember to first change 飛ぶ to 飛び, its stem form), it suddenly gains an inward nuance. The verb "to jump" becomes "to jump into (something)." Consider this example sentence:
- I jumped into the pool with everyone.
Let's just take a look at the 「プールに飛び込んだ」 portion. This means "I jumped into the pool." The moving inward portion (the "into" in English) comes from the 込む. If the 込む wasn't there (プールに飛んだ), it would mean "I jumped to the pool." You're just jumping to the pool, not necessarily into it.
Here's another example.
- It started raining, so I rushed into a tent.
In this sentence, the V1 is 駆ける, which means "to dash." This alone has no inward nuance. But by adding 込む, "dash" changes to "dash into." In this case, you are dashing into a tent. Without the 込む, you would merely be dashing to a tent (without necessarily going inside). It's the same for boarding a train:
- Please refrain from dashing into a train, it is dangerous.
The phrase 「駆け込み乗車」 means "a train you dashed into." In this case, you dashed not only to the train, but inside it, too.
- Who poured milk into the ear of sleeping Koichi?
First of all, I'd like to know who poured milk into my ear! Secondly, 「耳に牛乳を流し込んだ」 takes the V1 verb 流す (which just means "to pour") and adds 込む to it, which changes the meaning to "pour into." On its own, the action of pouring doesn't necessarily have to be about pouring into something (especially a hole, like an ear). But with 込む, this very much becomes about pouring liquid (milk) into something (Koichi's ear).
By this point, you're probably starting to get it: a verb with no inward nuance becomes inward nuanced when you add 込む. A few more example sentences before moving onto the "exceptions to everything I just said" category. (Don't worry, it's not that bad!)
- Like this, please really rub salt and pepper into the meat.
擦る is "to rub." With 込む you're still rubbing, but now you're really rubbing something into something else.
- Koichi sent Viet into a rival company.
「に送る」would just be "send to." With 込む, he is being sent into the rival company.
- Hey! Don’t cut in line!
割る means to "divide" or "break up." 割り込む means "to cut in (line)" or "to interrupt." I'm not sure if you noticed, but "to cut in line" and "to interrupt" aren't exactly a one-to-one transfer of meaning from the original V1 verb 割る.
That brings up an important point: there are idiomatic 込む compound verbs too, and this particular subcategory has a lot of them. The XX込む definition can significantly differ from the V1 definition. In cases like these, you'll just have to straight-up remember them or make up a mnemonic. I won't go into a lot of detail on these—you can just tackle them as you run into them. But I'll leave you a few more examples.
申す = to say, to speak (humble form)
申し込む = to apply to
暴れる = to act violently
暴れ込む = to enter someplace suddenly and violently
怒鳴る = to shout, to yell
怒鳴り込む = to storm into a place in a rage
殴る = to hit, to strike, to punch
殴り込む = to make a raid on (someplace)
誘う = to invite
誘い込む = to lure in
丸める = to make into a ball
丸め込む = to sweet-talk, to con
As you study these, you'll notice a few logical threads tying the V1 verb to the XX込む compound verb. Some are more obvious than others, but they're always there. 申す is "to say" in humble form. 申し込む is "to apply to," which kind of makes sense in a roundabout Japanese sort of way. You never want to elevate yourself, and always want to be humble. So you "put in something you are saying (about yourself) in a very humble way." That's a long way to say "résumé" or "job application."
誘う is "to invite," but 誘い込む is "to lure in." When you're invited into something rather than just to something, you get a kind of luring vibe, right? (I do, at least.)
Finally, 丸める means "to make into a ball," but 丸め込む means "to sweet-talk" or "to con." It makes sense if you think about it: when you sweet-talk someone, you're essentially rolling them around in your hands until they're the perfect shape. Any lumps (objections) to your sweet-talking have been smoothed out.
Now it's time to move onto the next subcategory!
1.2 The "Inward Action Gets Even Deeper" 込む Group
When you add 込む to verbs that already have an inward movement/nuance, that inward movement/nuance becomes extra deep. That is, extra inward.
In the previous subcategory V1 didn't have any inward movement or nuance. Now we're going to look at V1 verbs that already have inward movement and nuance, and add 込む to them. Based on what you've already learned, want to hazard a guess what happens?
Here's the answer: when you add 込む to verbs that already have an inward movement/nuance, that inward movement/nuance becomes extra deep. That is, extra inward.
For example, in origami instructions, you will often see 切り込む. 切る just means "to cut," and the action of cutting something already has an inward moving feeling to it (cutting, by definition, has to go into something). But, when you say 切り込む, you're saying "to cut deep." In origami, that usually means you cut all the way to the end of the paper (without cutting it into two separate pieces).
- Please cut deeply here.
Although 切り込む is straightforward, I need to mention something else here. XX込む words in this subcategory often (but not always) have a kind of negative "you're not supposed to be doing that" feel to them. You could be breaking a rule, or you could be just doing something frowned upon by society. For example:
- To tell the truth, he was a spy who got into Tofugu.
入る means "to enter." 入り込む adds a feeling that you got in really deep. Too deep. And maybe you weren't supposed to be there. 入り込む often has a feeling of a spy or someone sneaking into someplace they shouldn't have been. If a burglar got into your house, you'd also use 入り込む (e.g. 泥棒が入り込んだ), which may get translated to something like, "the thief broke in/sneaked in." Those words have more of a "breaking the rules" feel to them, whereas "to enter" doesn't.
Let's look at another example.
- It seems Viet managed to sneak into the enemy camp.
By itself, 潜る means "to dive in" or "to get in." It already has inward movement associated with it. When we add 込む, this sentence gets translated as "to sneak into." Viet is getting into a place he's not really supposed to—or further inside than he's supposed to.
- “Five more minutes!” said WaniKani as he dove deeper into the blankets.
In this case, WaniKani-san is burrowing deeper into his blankets. As suggested by his request, "Five more minutes!" he isn't supposed to be sleeping more—which adds that rule-breaking, not-supposed-to-be-doing-this feeling we often see in this 込む subcategory.
- Koichi stayed at the office to write this article.
泊り込む is an interesting and useful example. When you 泊まる (stay over), you're staying somewhere you're supposed to stay over: a hotel room you paid for, a friend's house who invited you. But when you 泊り込む, it adds the feeling that you're staying over someplace that you shouldn't be. It's frowned upon to stay over at the office, for example, which is why it gets the 泊り込む treatment here. You may also use it when you stay over at a friend's place uninvited—where you're causing an inconvenience. Wherever it is, remember that you're staying someplace where you shouldn't/wouldn't normally stay.
So far, these two subcategories have been somewhat straightforward. 込む adds inward movement to the V1 verb, whether it's "new inward" movement or "extra inward" movement. Although there are some exceptions and abnormalities, it makes sense. Mostly. Yet all goods things come to an end, and now it's time to move on to the next main category.
XX込む Category 2: Without (Physical) Movement
The second big group is all about 込む without physical movement. In the first "movement" category, you had things like 飛び込む (jump into), 入り込む (to go deep into), and more. Something moved from one place to another. In the second category, things get a little fuzzier. As always, it's much easier to understand when we break things down into subcategories and look at examples.
2.1 The "Action Gets Enriched" 込む Group
In this subcategory, we see 込む emphasizing/deepening the V1 action and/or "setting" it—that is, fixing it in place or making it last longer.
Let's start with a couple of examples:
The verb 話す means simply "to talk." 話し込む, however, could mean "to talk for a long time," "to be absorbed in talking," or "to have a deep discussion."
- We didn’t mean to talk this long, but were into our chat for a while.
The verb 眠る means "to sleep," but 眠り込む means "to fall asleep for a good while" or "to sleep deeply."
- I fell asleep before I knew it.
In this subcategory, we see 込む emphasizing/deepening the V1 action and/or "setting" it—that is, fixing it in place or making it last longer.
With both of these words (話し込む and 眠り込む), notice one thing in particular: there is no physical movement from one place to another. Speaking, of course, is just about talking, which you can't really move someplace. (You could be talking and walking at the same time, but the walking has nothing to do with the talking.) With sleeping, you could move deeper into your sleep, to be sure, but that doesn't count here as physical movement, so stop being a smart aleck.
That being said, the lines will be blurring from here, so please be gentle!
Bottom line: in this subcategory, actions just become even more V1. You're essentially enriching those actions to reflect a stronger version of themselves.
- What are you doing sitting around in such a place?
座る is just "to sit." 座り込む has the feeling that someone is sitting somewhere for a while. It also conveys the feeling of loitering, like delinquent kids squatting outside a Japanese convenience store.
- Wow, you got really old, huh?
老ける is "to age/grow old." 老け込む is just an enriched version of that, meaning "to be aged a lot" or "to really get old." You wouldn't want to say this to someone unless you're good friends, and it was okay to tease them about their age. Here's a similar example:
- You got really bald, too!
禿げる is "to get bald." 禿げこむ is "to get really bald." It's a good pair (with the previous example) for you to use at your thirty-year class reunion.
When you hear these comments, you may think:
- I can’t stay depressed forever.
Actually, this is an example of a word that could fit in two subcategories. 落ち込む, when used in a physical sense, means "to fall in/cave in." But, in the non-movement category, it means "to be depressed." You fall in on yourself, so to speak, but then you keep falling in more and more. If that's not a good explanation of depression, I don't know what is.
- I totally believed that Tofugu was a blowfish.
信じる is "to believe," and 信じ込む is even deeper—something like "to believe 100%" (or maybe even 110%). One thing we all believe together is that 地球が平らであると信じ込んでいる. Actually, that's wrong. We live in an inside-out Earth and the government is using Flat Earth Theory to keep us distracted from the truth! 信じ込みたい, AmIRight??
Sorry. Where were we?
At this point, you're learning that there are XX込む compound verbs that fit into multiple groups. How do you know which is which? It depends on context, which you have to figure out. The more you see XX込む words in context, the more you'll be able to place their meaning. Experience will guide you. Eventually you'll get there, as long as you keep learning. Do your studying over and over and over and over again until…oh, that reminds me: let's look at the final subcategory!
2.2 The "Action Repeats Until Satisfaction is Reached" 込む Group
The XX込む pattern makes the V1 action into a repeating action you do of your own will, which only ends when the amount is "sufficient or satisfactory."
The last group of XX込む compound verbs is the "repeating action" group. The XX込む pattern makes the V1 action into a repeating action you do of your own will, which only ends when the amount is "sufficient or satisfactory." Depending on the word and its context, this can be anything, but in the end you'll need to be able to define what "satisfactory" is.
For example, take the word 走り込む which gets translated to a couple things:
- To run into
- To go for long training runs
As you may have noticed, the first definition fits into the first subcategory. It takes the verb "to run" and gives it inward nuance (to run into). The second definition fits this fourth subcategory. It means not just "to run," but to run more repetitively, repeatedly, continuously, thoroughly, etc., until you think it's good enough. That's why one Japanese dictionary translates it so awkwardly as "to go for long training runs." This is only one example, but you'll end up seeing XX込む compound verbs of this subcategory being used in association with some kind of training (though it can be used in plenty of other situations as well).
- I heard that that pitcher throws 500 balls before going to school.
投げる means "to throw," and 投げ込む means "to throw repeatedly until a satisfactory result has been met." The satisfactory result, in this case, is 500 times—a number that was decided by someone ahead of time. A coach, perhaps.
One thing to note: 投げ込む could also refer to the act of throwing into something. That's subcategory 1, but because of its context, we know that this is the repeating action version of XX込む. This is revealed by the inclusion of the number 500.
It doesn't have to be so specific, though:
- I wore these shoes a lot, so they are worn out.
履く is "to wear (shoes)." 履き込む is "to wear (shoes) a lot." The implication here is that you're wearing these shoes repeatedly and a lot, and because of that they became ボロボロ (worn out). Although there's no specific number of times you wore the shoes, you wore them repeatedly until they sufficiently reached "worn out" status.
Here's another example:
- You improved a lot. Did you practice playing this song a lot?
You play a song over and over until you reach a point where you've "improved a lot," which is the satisfactory result.
- I read this poetry book a lot when I was kid, so I can still recite some of it.
Same with this example: you read a book so many times that you reach the point where you can recite parts of it. The assumption is that you repeated this action many times. The "satisfactory end" is to the point where you can recite some of it still, in the future.
- My friend keeps recommending WaniKani to me very persistently.
売る is "to sell" and 売り込む is like "to promote" or "to sell" (in a marketing sense). In this example, someone is repeatedly (we can assume) trying to sell/promote WaniKani to their friend. (It wasn't me, I swear!)
It's Time to 覚え込む!
I hope you were able to 読み込む (read a lot) this article to the point that you were able to 覚え込む (really deeply remember) it all. Unfortunately, the subcategories I laid out are not so cut-and-dried, so it's likely you might get confused. Still, I hope they help you to categorize compound verbs and think of 込む as something with some predictability to it. At the very least, I bet you can narrow it down to a couple possibilities.
With this general knowledge, as well as your innate human ability to detect context clues, you'll be able to become pretty good at using XX込む compound verbs in your Japanese. Every time you see them in your studies or in real life, take a moment to figure out what they mean, and which subcategory they belong to. If you do this, you'll build a large XX込む database in your brain that you can pull from later. Eventually, this data will organize itself into a statistical framework, and you'll be able to understand the meaning correctly almost every time. You just need experience.
Need help with practice? We made a spreadsheet with 284 込む Compound Verbs. It includes the V1 and its meaning in one column, and V1+込む plus its meaning in another. Study it, add it to your SRS, or just ignore it and change not from how you currently are. The choice is yours!
Whatever your level, I hope you try to insert a little bit of XX込む into your Japanese. Like Japan's vast collection of onomatopoeia, if you can use XX込む patterns in your day-to-day writing and conversation, your Japanese will feel and sound more native and fluent. This grammar pattern を使い込んで下さい!
We also recorded a podcast about 込む Compound Verbs! The Tofugu crew asked annoyingly detailed questions about how the XX込む pattern works (and doesn't work), often going way deeper and more niche than the article you just read. Subscribe to the Tofugu Podcast on X, Y, and Z (or wherever you get your podcasts), and improve your understanding of Japan and Japanese while on the go (or in the shower).