Bungo Nyūmon

A Brief Introduction to Classical Japanese


There are two principal copulas in CJ: nari (a contraction of “ni ari”) and tari (a contraction of “to ari”). These take the place of the MJ “da/desu/de aru.” Typically, only nari appears in the sentence-final location.

In apposatives, nari is used to indicate a permanent or natural state, while tari indicates a temprorary state. “Ware taishō taru toki” is “the time when I was a general” but “Ware taishō nari” is “I am a general.”

Because these are both contractions, one must be especially careful to determine whether the particle “to” or “ni” in a sentence is in fact a quotative or marking particle, or in fact the ren'yōkei of the copula.

Also, because they are contractions, they may be used where the full phrase would appear (e.g., “Kyō naru tera” = “a temple in the capital”).

Of course, the word gozaru (a yodan verb) serves both as a polite copula and a polite version of the more common ra-hen verb ari. It may take either the particle ni or the particle de before it.

One must also be careful to make certain that the appositive “naru” is in fact the copula “ni ari” and not the verb “naru” (=to become).


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