Japanese verbs

These pages present a brief explanation of the grammar of the classical Japanese language, ie. the language of the Heian (794 - 1185) and Kamakura periods.

Of course there were significant changes in the usage of the language during these centuries, so eg. the language of the Ise and Genji monogatari is the not the same as the language of Saigyou and Ryokan, but at this stage you can ignore these differences.

Verbs and adjectives can take many suffices, just as in modern japanese. Before we discuss these suffices, it is important to understand the framework how they are attached to the verb.

Verbs can have 6 different stem forms, and suffices are attached to one of these. Actually, modern Japanese is just like that: take the verb yomu (to read). It has different stem forms, like yoma-, yome- and yomi-. Eg. the -masu suffix must be attached to the yomi- stem: to obtain the polite form yomimasu. The -nakatta suffix comes with the yoma- stem: so we obtain yomanakatta ( did not read ). And to form the conditional yomeba ( if [I] read ), you add the -ba suffix to the yome- stem.

For many verbs, some of the six stem forms are identical; actually there are only two verbs for which all the six forms differ: shinu ( to die ), and inu ( to leave, to go away ).

The six stem forms of classical Japanese are:

  • Izenkei - roughly corresponds to the yoma form: suffices that express negation are added to this stem. The izenkei of shinu is shina- Eg. shinazu ( does not die ).
  • Renyoukei - roughly corresponds to the yomi form. For shinu, the renyoukei is shini-. Eg. the -tari suffix, expressing past tense, is added to the renyoukei: shinitari.
  • Shuushikei - this is the dictionary form of verbs: shinu. It is used typically at the end of the sentence, hence the name.
  • Rentaikei - this form is used when a verb is set before a noun as an adjectival modifier. For shinu, the rentaikei is shinuru, so for example "the person who dies" would be shinuru hito. Note that in modern Japanese we would use the shuushikei instead: shinu hito.
  • Izenkei - For shinu, the izenkei is shinure-. A common suffix that is added to the izenkei is -domo, which roughly corresponds to -keredo in modern Japanese. shinuredomo would be shindakeredo in modern Japanese, meaning "although [he] died..."
  • Meireikei - expresses the imperative.
    shine - "drop dead!"
  • To summarize the six forms of shinuand inu(called the Na-column irregular verbs):
    mizenkei shina- ina-
    renyoukei shini- ini-
    shuushikei shinu inu
    rentaikei shinuru inuru
    izenkei shinure- inure-
    meireikei shine ine
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