780 - ~ようとする

JLPT N4: ~ようとする (just when [I was] about to...; try to...)

The word "try" is fairly versatile.

It can carry the nuance of testing something out: "Let's try that new restaurant across the street."

Or it can carry the nuance of attempting to accomplish some kind of action: "I'm trying to lose weight."

Japanese expressions that overlap with the concept of "trying" in English are versatile, too... though in varying ways.

For the sense of trying something out — like a new item on a menu, for instance — we can use ~てみる, which we saw in an earlier N4 lesson: [NDL #616] - JLPT N4: ~てみる.

When talking about trying (hard) to accomplish something, however, you should use ~ようとする.

Like this:


小さい子供がドアを開けようとしていますが、重くて開けられません。
ちいさい こども が ドア を あけようとしています が、 おもくて あけられません。
A small child is trying to open the door, but it’s too heavy for him [her].
Literally: “small + child + が + door + を + let’s open + と + is doing + が (=but), + heavy (and) + cannot open.”

Why does "let's open is doing" mean "is trying to open"...?

That, my friend, is one of the mysteries of the Japanese language.

I suppose it does kind of make sense, though, when we consider that ~ようcan be used when saying "I think I'll (VERB)," which we saw in these lessons:
- [NDL #775] - JLPT N4: ~よう (I think I'll...)
- [NDL #779] - JLPT N4: ~ようと思う(~ようとおもう)《I think I'll...》

"I think I'll open と is doing" → "is trying to open"

By the way, we talked about both ~てみる and ~ようとする in one of our earliest NDLs: [NDL #57] - Try Doing VS Try to Do.


Here's another sentence in which ~ようとする is being used to mean "to try..."


アリがドーナツのかけらを一生懸命持ち上げようとしています
アリ が ドーナツ の かけら を いっしょうけんめい もちあげようとしています。
An ant is trying really hard to carry away a piece of a donut.
Literally: “ant + が + donut + の + fragment / (broken-off) piece + を + very hard / with all one’s might + let’s pick up + と + is doing.”




😿 Construction Cat 😿

V ようとする

Another example:

今日1日ファスティングをようとしましたが、我慢できずに食べてしまいました。
きょう いちにち ファスティング を しようとしました が、 がまん できず に たべて しまいました。
I’d been trying to fast all day today, but I couldn’t endure it, and I ended up eating something.
Literally: “today + one day + fasting + を + let’s do + と + did + が (=but), + patience / endurance / perseverance + cannot do + に + ended up eating.”




Not quite finished, yo.

~ようとする has another meaning, as well.

In some sentences, ~ようとする will mean "just when (I was) about to," as in this sentence:

出かけようとした、雪が降り始めた。
でかけようとした とき、 ゆき が ふりはじめた。
Just when I was about to step out, it started snowing.
Literally: “let’s go out / let’s set out + と + did + time / when, + snow + が + started to fall.”



When this is the meaning of ~ようとする, you'll find that it often (1) has する in the plain past tense (=した) and (2) is followed by the word 時 (とき // time; when).

"let's go out [step out] と did when" → "just when I was about to go out [step out]"

Here's another example of this:


会計をたのもうとした、財布を忘れたことに気が付いた。
かいけい を たのもうとした とき、 さいふ を わすれた こと に きがついた。
Just when I was about to ask for the check, I realized that I’d forgotten my wallet.
Literally: “check / bill + を + let’s request + と + did + time / when, + wallet + を + forgot + こと + に + realized.”


Both of the uses of ~ようとする that we saw in this lesson are common and useful.

You (I hope):


覚えようとしています
おぼえようとしています!
I'm trying to learn [memorize] them!
Literally: "let's memorize + と + am doing!"






Noticed any typos we've missed or other issues?
Report them here at this link.

Have questions about something in this lesson? Something not quite clicking yet? Join our discord community and discuss any questions / comments with us and fellow students.
You can join by heading to this link.