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Monday, March 06, 2017

Oyobu - Oyobanai: the Idea of Reach in Japanese


oyobu (to reach), oyobanai (to not reach) - important words in Japanese.

oyobu 及ぶ in Japanese is a verb that means "to reach to," "to extend as far as," "to go as far as." and has pretty much the same pattern of use in Japanese as those phrases do in English, but with a few extra useful ones that we will look at here.

oyobu can be used in the context of time and space to express reach in literal terms of length and distance. For example, "A commute that takes as long as two hours" can be expressed 二時間に及ぶ通勤 ni jikan ni oyobu tsuukin. Note the addition of "as long as" in the English sentence, which is what the use of oyobu in the Japanese emphasizes. Or, "Distribution that goes as far as Hokkaido" would be 北海道に及ぶ流通 Hokkaido ni oyobu ryuutsuu (taking "distribution" [ryuutsuu] here to mean distribution of a product, as opposed to distribution of a population, for example.)

oyobu can also be used to express the idea of to "match/touch/have something on someone," i.e., be as good as someone else at something - but usually in the negative: 及ばない oyobanai. For example,"I can't match his ability to memorize things" would be 暗記では彼に及ばない anki de wa kare ni oyobanai - or, literally "when it comes to memorization, [I] don't reach him." An even more powerful (and abject!) way of saying this is 暗記では足元にも及ばない anki de wa ashimoto ni mo oyobanai or, literally, "When it comes to memorization, [I] don't even reach up to his feet."

This meaning goes for things as well as people. For example, something so terrible may have been done that it is now "beyond even regret" or, in Japanese, 悔やんでも及ばない kuyande mo oyobanai - or, literally, "even if [you] rue [something], that doesn't go far enough." A similar, but more positive example can be found in the Japanese for "a result far beyond expectations": 期待も及ばない結果 kitai mo oyobanai kekka - literally, "a result that expectations were unable to reach."

及ばない oyobanai can simply mean "unnecessary" as in the phrase:
泣くには及ばない naku ni wa oyobanai "There is no need to cry."

A few other useful phrases using oyobu, or, more commonly, the negative oyobanai, are as follows:

是非に及ばす zehi ni oyobazu literally means "not going as far as the pros and cons (rights and wrongs)," meaning "unvoidable," "inevitable," "can't be helped," "of necessity" - the idea being that in the case of something unavoidable, the whole question of the finer points (pros and cons) is moot. A simple example would be:
gomen nasai, kashite moratta kasa wa wasuremono shichatta
A "I'm sorry, but I went and lost the umbrella you lent me."
zehi ni oyobazu
B "Can't be helped."

言うに及ばない yu ni oyobanai means "It goes without saying."

及ばずながら oyobazu nagara literally means "while not going far [enough]" and is used to apologize for one's own shortcomings. It can be used in somewhat formal situations, for example in the following set phrase:
oyobazu nagara jinryoku shimasu
I'll do what little I can do to help.

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