Late last year, my French husband told me he had been discussing what are considered the essential virtues of Japanese culture with the 偉い人 (erai hito, bigwigs) at his company. The one skill they all agreed on was やり抜く力 (yarinuku chikara), the ability to persevere and complete a task despite any challenges involved.

Grammatically speaking, the term やり抜く力 is an example of one of many Japanese compound verbs. Some simple ones you may already know are 食べ始める (tabehajimeru, to start eating) and 食べ終わる (tabeowaru, to finish eating). In these two examples, 始める (hajimeru, to start) and 終わる (owaru, to end) are used as auxiliary verbs that modify the main verb 食べる (taberu, to eat), which precedes them.

Say you’re at a restaurant. If the food of the person you are with comes first, you can tell them, “どうぞ先に食べ始めてください” (Dōzo saki ni tabehajimete kudasai, Please start eating). If you’d like your server to clear the table, tell them, “もう食べ終わったので、食器をさげてください” (Mō tabeowatta no de, shokki o sagete kudasai, I’ve already finished eating, please take away the dishes).