Putting on your clothes was never so hard!

We really take the verb, “to wear” for granted and you never realize how much until you try to say the same thing in Japanese. 「着る」(きる) is the verb meaning “to wear” in Japanese and is pretty simple to use as you can see by the examples below.

シャツを着る。- Wear shirt.
ジャケットを着ています。- Wearing jacket.

Awesome. So we’re done right?


If things were that simple, I wouldn’t be writing this. You will appreciate how flexible and awesome the English verb “to wear” is compared to 「着る」. It’s like Superman vs Steve Erkel (forget that one episode where Steve Erkel was Superman). We can wear hats, pants, gloves, scarves, shoes, accessories, just about anything that sticks to your body. Unfortunately, you cannot use 「着る」 with any of these items. The only thing you can use with 「着る」 are things that cover your upper-body such as shirts and jackets. Things that extend from your upper-body down past your waist such as overcoats and dresses also use this verb as well. So what about everything else? Well, I prepared a wonderful list for you to study. 「など」 means “etc”. Have fun!

Things you wear and their respective verbs

  1. 着る 【き・る】- to wear
    Clothes that cover your-upper body and more (シャツ、ブラウス、ジャケット、ドレスなど)
  2. 履く 【は・く】- to wear
    Clothes for your lower-body and feet (ずぼん、ジーンズ、靴下、ブーツ、靴など)
  3. 被る 【かぶ・る】 – to cover
    Items that go over such as hats (帽子など)
  4. かける – to hang
    Items that hang such as glasses and sunglasses (メガネ、サングラス)
  5. 巻く 【ま・く】 – to wrap
    Items that wrap around such as scarves (スカーフ、マフラーなど)
  6. 締める 【し・める】 – to tie
    Items that fasten such as neckties and belts (ネクタイ、ベルト、帯など)
  7. 着ける 【つけ・る】
    Items that attach such as wigs and earrings (かつら、イヤリング、ピアスなど)
  8. はめる – to insert
    Items you stick your finger into such as rings (指輪)
  9. する – to do
    A generic term for things like gloves, earrings, necklaces (手袋、イヤリング、ネックレス)

And don’t forget that these verbs are just for the actually act of donning the item. You must use the 「~ている」 progressive tense for when somebody is in the state of wearing them. I’m tired so I won’t even go into the words for taking things off. You can go with just 脱ぐ(ぬぐ) for clothing and 外す(はず・す) for accessories.

I have to confess that I’m not exactly a fashion guru so do feel free to add types of apparel I missed in the comments.

15 thoughts on “Putting on your clothes was never so hard!

  1. Don’t forget はめる (嵌める) for rings and gloves and other things something goes through/into the middle of! Also I think you can 纏う a cape, although sadly I imagine most people won’t get much chance to use that.

    I was pretty intimidated by all this when I started learning but I decided not to worry about it and in the end I absorbed it without really noticing somewhere along the way, like how a lot of tricky parts of Japanese seem to work themselves out eventually. I have confused 巻く and 締める a couple of times, though.

    • I was concerned until I realised I would mostly need to remember to describe the action rather than use a generalised verb ‘to wear’. Quite a good way to learn some useful verbs.
      thank tae kim

  2. I don’t know how often it’s used, but I’ve read or heard 羽織る a few times before for wearing overcoat like things.

  3. Yeah, I’m definitely putting all those into my spaced repetition system.

    I’m conjecturing, based on the examples given, that the difference between “attached” items and “fastened” items (these are synonyms in my book) is whether they attach to the wearer directly or only to themselves. Is that right?

    BTW, Yukio mentioned how easy to remember the English word ‘wear’ is in an episode of the ECC Eikaiwa podcast a while back. But he doesn’t provide nearly as much detail about the corresponding Japanese verbs.

    The complexity here almost makes you want to kana-bastardize the English verb (ウェールる?) and press it into service. Do they apply native conjugation to katakana words like that, though? Most of the katakana words I’ve seen thus far are nouns, I think.

  4. I found out that する is also used for make-up (though it’s not exactly clothing, we also ‘wear’ it).

    化粧をしている - Wearing make-up.

  5. You have a joker: ~を 身に つける


  6. what about to wear a bikini, or bathing suit? Would that fall under tops or bottoms.

    • If you know the kanji for kimono (着物) I believe it is pretty obvious which verb to use. The etymology helps because the kimono is literally “a thing you wear”.

      A kimono isn’t a dress or a jacket but is closer to that than any of the other items anyway so you should use 着る.

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