Bungo Nyūmon


Stem Elements 

Verbs and adjectives can take many suffices to modify or enhance their context and meaning, just as in Modern Japanese.

There are six different stem forms, and the suffices—depending on which ones—are attached to one or another of them. Sometimes the suffices are even layered (as in Modern Japanese, “ikanakatta” is a combination of iku + nai + ta, and “atsukunakatta” is a combination of atsui + nai + ta).

The adding of suffix elements is like Modern Japanese. Consider the verb yomu (to read). There are several different stem forms (viz. yoma-yome- and yomi-). The so-called pre-masu form is the stem to the yomi- and thus -masu can only be added to it, producing the polite form yomimasu. The -nai suffix joins the pre-nai stem (i.e., yoma-) producing yomanai ([I]do not read ). The conditional yomeba (if [I] read), has -ba added to the stem yome-. Suffices are stem-specific: one cannot randomly add a suffix to any random form (e.g., if you add -ba to the pre-masu stem to get “yomiba,” you are creating gibberish).

In a similar manner, the various suffices of Classical Japanese are added to the appropriate stem forms of the verbs. There are six stem forms, and eight different conjugations (depending on the “type” of verb).

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

The six forms, in their traditionally listed order, are:

  • Mizenkei — (“Unfinished form”)
    Corresponds generally to the pre-nai form. Primarily takes suffices that express negation (although there are others, especially those indicating conjecture, presumption, and “imperfect” or incomplete status, as well).

  • Ren’yōkei — (“Continuing form”)
    Corresponds roughly to the pre-masu form. Past tense and continuative suffices (indicating aspect) are common with this stem.

  • Shūshikei — (“Final form”)
    This is the dictionary form of the verb (unless you are using the extremely eccentric Iwanami kogo jiten, which uses the ren’yōkei as its dictionary form), for want of a better concept. This is the terminal form of the verb in sentences, hence the name. It also indicates habitual states, and is the CJ “historical present.”

  • Rentaikei — (“Apposative form”)
    This is the form used when a verb is set in apposition to a noun (e.g., “tatsu hito” = “the person that stands”). MJ rentaikei form is identical to shūshikei. It can appear in sentence-final position, however, when certain specific vocabulary markers are used in the sentence for emphasis; this is called kakari musubi.

  • Izenkei — (“Incomplete form”)
    Generally expresses perfective sense, but it is often the carrier for a suffix indicating the concessive “although —” or “because —”.

  • Meireikei — (“Imperative form”)
    This is the form used in issuing orders or commands.

     Adjectives likewise have the same six stems, to which are attached appropriate suffices.


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