Japanese Grammar: Different Ways of Using やる (yaru) and する (suru)

  • September 11, 2017 / Lily Cernak / 0 Comment

Suru” and “yaru” both loosely mean “to do,” but their usage and nuances in Japanese grammar are slightly different. This article will explain when to use yaru and suru, and the additional meanings each of the two verbs can have aside from “to do.”

In general, in situations where “suru” and “yaru” are interchangeable. Keep in mind that “yaru” tends to sound more casual. Depending on how it’s used, “yaru” can even sound somewhat rude compared with “suru.”

Because of this, when speaking formally or even just politely, “suru” is more useful than “yaru.” Both “suru” and “yaru” can be used to ask “what are you doing?”. But “suru” is the better choice if you are speaking to someone you don’t know well or someone you want to sound more respectful towards.

The question “what will you do today?” is usually “suru,” and not “yaru.”

 

when to Use “Suru”

Though “suru” and “yaru” can be used interchangeably in quite a few situations, there are also many situations where either “suru” or “yaru” is the norm. Or where one simply cannot be substituted for the other. 

First we will look at situations that are only/primarily for “suru,” and then situations only/primarily for “yaru.”

 

1.When choosing an item

“Suru” is the word that is used when indicating a chosen item at a store, on a menu, or simply when choosing between multiple options. For example, which dress to wear to a party:

 

この赤いドレスにします。Kono akai doresu ni shimasu

(I’ll pick/buy this red dress).

 

You cannot use “Yaru” instead of “suru” when selecting an item in this way.

2. When wearing an item

You use “Suru” when putting on or wearing certain accessories. These are items like neckties, gloves, or piercings.

You can use “Yaru” for some of these. But using “suru” to describe wearing is more common and sounds more polite than “yaru.” 

Note:

Neither are usually used for putting on or wearing glasses, however (for glasses, かける (kakeru) is used.

 

Japanese Grammar: Different Ways on When to Use Yaru and Suru

 

3. When talking formally

“Suru” is used in Keigo (formal Japanese) to create humble sentences. These are sentences used when speaking politely about oneself.

Be careful:

while “yaru” can be substituted for “suru” in some cases, doing so often makes the sentence feel more casual; and thus this substitution cannot be done with Keigo sentences! For more on “suru” in Keigo, please see our Keigo article here.

4. When using senses

Describing things that are perceived with the senses is often a “suru” task (and a “suru”-only task). For example, “suru” could not be changed out for “yaru” in either of the following phrases:

 

彼はパーティーに来ないようない気がします。Kare wa party ni konai you na ki ga shimasu (I have a feeling he will not come to the party).

変な匂いがします。Hen na nioi ga shimasu (There is a weird smell).

 

Note: 

Take care when using 気がします (ki ga shimasu) that you do not use 気にします (ki ni shimasu) instead, which is also a “suru”-only expression but has a very different meaning.

While “ki ga shimasu” can mean “I have a feeling that…” or “It feels like…,” “ki ni shimasu” means that “…is bothering me” or “…is on my mind.”

 

5. “Suru” as an Auxiliary Verb

“Suru” can also be attached directly to particular nouns to turn them into actions. The list of nouns that can be “suru”-ed is quite lengthy. Some of the most common examples of “suru” verbs are 勉強する (benkyou suru, to study), 予約する (yoyaku suru, to reserve), and 運動する (undou suru, to work out). Generally speaking, “yaru” cannot be substituted for “suru” to make these verbs.

 

When to Use “Yaru”

Because “yaru” can have a much more casual and rougher sound than “suru,” it should be used with care in situations where either verb is an option. However, there are also situations in which “yaru” is the only applicable verb of the two, and in those cases you may use “yaru” with no compunctions!

1. When giving something

One of the ways “yaru” is most useful is to mean “to give.” For “give” situations, “suru” cannot be used in “yaru”’s place.

“Yaru” as “to give” is similar to the verb あげる (ageru) in that it is typically used to describe oneself giving to someone else, or to describe two people who are both unrelated to you giving between each other (and is not used to describe either you or your family receiving something).

Also similarly to “ageru,” “yaru” can be used either by itself or attached to a -te form verb. (For more on -te form verbs, see our -te form article!)

For example:

Japanese Grammar: Different Ways on When to Use Yaru and Suru

 

 

猫にえさをやりました。Neko ni esa o yarimashita

(I gave food to the cat).

 

妹に晩ご飯を作ってやりました。Imouto ni bangohan o tsukutte yarimashita

(I made dinner for my little sister).

 

However, “yaru” differs in that it can only be used when giving something to a person who is significantly younger than you (usually a child), or when giving something to a pet or animal. If giving something to someone your age or older, you should use “ageru” instead.

 

“Yaru” can also mean “to give” in a somewhat ironic sense, not unlike the “give” in the English phrase “I’m going to give them a piece of my mind.” For example,

 

打ん殴ってやる! Bunnagutte yaru! (I’m gonna give him/her a punch!)

 

This is a phrase you may hear often if you watch shonen anime.

2. When describing feelings

Another common place you may run across “yaru” is in the phrase やる気がありません (yaruki ga arimasen, I have no motivation); used in lamentation by students and employees everywhere. Because 気 (ki) means “mind, feeling, will, heart” and etc (the same 気 as in the “suru” expressions “ki ga shimasu” and “ki ni shimasu” discussed above!), “yaruki” is literally “will to do” or “feeling to do.”

Because 気 (ki) means “mind, feeling, will, heart” and etc (the same 気 as in the “suru” expressions “ki ga shimasu” and “ki ni shimasu” discussed above!), “yaruki” is literally “will to do” or “feeling to do.”

 

In specific contexts, “yaru” can have a few additional unique meanings, including “to kill” or “to do in.” This is another instance where “suru” cannot be used instead.

 

Japanese Grammar: Different Ways on When to Use Yaru and Suru

 

3. When describing expression

Last but not least, there is the expression やった! (Yatta!), meaning “I did it!” in a proud or celebratory way. If you watched the American TV series “Heroes,” or if you watch Japanese TV, you will definitely have heard this expression before! “Yatta” is simply the short/casual past tense conjugation for “yaru,” and is probably one of the most popular everyday uses of “yaru.”

“Yatta” is simply the short/casual past tense conjugation for “yaru,” and is probably one of the most popular everyday uses of “yaru.”

 

The uses for “suru” and “yaru” are boundless, and there are certainly more that we did not have room to cover in this article; but hopefully we have given you a good idea of the most important differences between these two verbs. If you have any questions, or if there is a particular “suru” or “yaru” usage that you would like covered in the future, leave us a comment below and let us know!

 

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