The –zu suffix on verbs is one that - once you know enough Japanese, but perhaps not quite enough yet - can be rather difficult to grasp the gist of. Because it is not used that much, it can seem difficult. But despite its obscurity, in terms of meaning it is actually very simple.
-zu means “without doing”. It is basically the same as the more commonly heard –naide, but could be said to have a stronger nuance of having failed to do, or missed out on doing, something before doing something else, or for something not happening that would otherwise normally be expected to happen.
Suffixing -zu to verbs takes a bit of getting used to. For example, suffixed to the verb suru, or to do, changes it to sezu: “without doing”. This is an irregular one, but one of the most common, so let’s look at a couple of examples of it first.
(NB For the sake of clarity, the English translations of the following example sentences follow the Japanese sentence structure, even if often at the expense of sounding natural.)
Example of sezu (used with the phrase aisatsu suru [to greet] and sara arai o suru [to do the dishes])
Aisatsu o sezu ni, heya ni haitta.
Without greeting [anyone], [s/he] came into the room.
Sara arai o sezu ni dekaketa.
Without doing the dishes, [s/he] went out.
(Incidentally, the ni following -zu has an adverbial function.)
For all other verbs, -zu is suffixed as follows:
For verbs ending in –ku, -ku changes to –kazu
Verb: migaku (to polish, to brush [one’s teeth])
Ha o migakazu ni, haisha ni itta.
Without brushing [his/her] teeth, [s/he] went to the dentist.
For verbs ending in –tsu, -tsu changes to –tazu.
Verb: tatsu (to stand [up])
Tatazu ni, kyaku o uketsuketa.
Without standing up, [s/he] received the guests .
For verbs ending in –mu, -mu changes to –mazu.
Verb: sumu (to inhabit, to live [somewhere])
Soko ni sumazu ni, kanri o shite iru.
Without living there, [s/he] looks after [the place].
For verbs ending in –ru, -ru changes to –razu.
Verb: furu (to rain)
Ame ga furazu ni, ichinichi ga sugita.
Without raining, the day passed.
(The above sentence is a very good example of the use of -zu, as it suggests an unfulfilled expectation: here probably a faulty weather forecast.)
For verbs ending in –eru, -eru changes to –ezu.
Verb: kakeru (to spinkle on, to sprinkle over)
Shio o kakezu ni, yakizakana o tabeta.
Without sprinkling [any] salt [on it], [s/he] ate the baked fish.
For verbs ending in –gu, -gu changes to –gazu.
Verb: matagu (to make it over [something], to straddle [something])
Gehto o matagazu ni, butsukatta.
Without making it over the gate, [s/he] collided with it.
For verbs ending in –u, -u changes to –wazu.
Verb: suu (to smoke [something], to suck [something])
Tabako o suwazu ni, neta.
Without having a cigarette, [s/he] went to bed.
For verbs ending in –su, -su changes to –sazu.
Verb: korosu (to kill)
Hae o korosazu ni, nigaseta.
Without killing it, [s/he] let the fly out.
For verbs ending in –bu, -bu changes to –bazu.
Verb: manabu (to learn)
Nani mo manabazu ni, gakko ni ikitsuzukeru.
Without learning [anything], [s/he] continues to go to school.
For the sole Japanese verb ending in –nu, -nu changes to –nazu.
Verb: shinu (to die)
Shinazu ni, chokusetsu, “Go” o yorazu ni, tengoku ni agatta.
Without dying, [and] without passing Go, [s/he] went straight to heaven.
And let’s stop on that double banger!
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