(Makanu tane wa haenu; “Unsown seeds don’t sprout”)
Nothing happens without a reason for it to happen. Nothing comes of nothing. Plants don’t grow without seeds. Alternately, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Nothing comes without effort. If you want seeds to grow into plants and produce flowers or fruit, you must plant them.
We begin with the verb 蒔く (maku), “to sow seeds.” It appears in imperfective form, with negative suffix ず (zu) in prenominal form so that the verb can attach to and modify the noun 種 (tane), “seed.” This noun is marked by the particle は (wa) as the topic of discussion, with an implicit contrast that sets it apart from seeds that have been sown. Finally, the main part of the sentence consists of a single verb, 生える (haeru), “to grow,” “to sprout,” again with a negative suffix.
In classical-grammar terms the final verb is properly 生ふ (hau) and the form it would take here would be 生ひず (haizu), with the suffix in sentence-final form. However, today’s phrase is of no greater antiquity than the Edo era. While the ぬ suffixes feel old-fashioned from a contemporary perspective, there is about twice as much time between the phrase’s origin and the Tale of Genji as between its origin and this blog post.
This is the ma entry in the Kyoto iroha karuta set.
This saying is attributed to Matsue Shigeyori’s 1645 haiku collection 毛吹草 (Kefukigusa).
A synonymous saying asserts that 打たぬ鐘は鳴らぬ (Utanu kane wa naranu), “An un-struck bell doesn’t ring.”
(“Ken-chan, geemu wa mou yamete eigo no benkyou shinasai. Makanu tane wa haenu to iu deshou. Benkyou shinai to, Eigo, jouzu ni naranai wa yo.”)
[“Ken, stop playing video games and study your English already. They say seeds that aren’t planted can’t grow, right? If you don’t study it, you’ll never get good.”]