Early Middle Japanese

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Early Middle Japanese
The oldest cursive kana written in early Heian period, indicating the birth of hiragana from Man'yōgana.
EraEvolved into Late Middle Japanese at the end of the 12th century
Early form
Hiragana, Katakana, and Han
Language codes
ISO 639-3ojp (Old Japanese)
ojp Described as "The ancestor of modern Japanese. 7th–10th centuries AD." The more usual date for the change from Old Japanese to Middle Japanese is ca. 800 (end of the Nara era).
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

The Early Middle Japanese (中古日本語, Chūko-Nihongo)[1] is a stage of the Japanese language between 794 and 1185, which is known as the Heian Period(平安時代). The successor to Old Japanese(上代日本語), it is also known as Late Old Japanese. However, the term "Early Middle Japanese" is preferred, as it is closer to Late Middle Japanese (中世日本語, after A.D. 1185) than to Old Japanese (before A.D. 794).


Old Japanese had borrowed and adapted the Chinese script to write Japanese. In Early Middle Japanese, two new scripts emerged: the kana scripts hiragana and katakana. That development simplified writing and brought about a new age in literature with many classics such as The Tale of Genji, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, and The Tales of Ise.

Writing system[edit]

Early Middle Japanese was written in three different ways. It was first recorded in Man'yōgana (万葉仮名), literally "ten thousand leaves borrowed labels", in reference to the Man'yōshū poetry anthology and the "borrowing" of the kanji characters as "labels" for the sounds of Japanese. Certain Chinese characters were borrowed to phonetically spell out Japanese sounds. Cursive handwriting gradually gave rise to the hiragana (平仮名, "flat/simple borrowed labels") and Buddhist shorthand practices of using pieces of kanji to denote the sounds then developed into the katakana (片仮名, "partial/piece borrowed labels").

Phoneme and Kana of Early Middle Japanese

Man'yō, hira, kata

カ行 /s/
タ行 /n/
/k/ /g/ /t/ /d/
/ka/ /ga/ /sa/
/ta/ /da/ /na/
加、か、カ 太、た、タ
/ki/ /gi/ /si/
/ti/ /di/ /ni/
Ø /ri/
幾、き、キ 知、ち、チ
/ku/ /gu/ /su/
/tu/ /du/ /nu/
久、く、ク 川、つ、ツ
衣、()、Unicode Japanese Katakana Old E.png
/ke/ /ge/ /se/
/te/ /de/ /ne/
江、Hiragana Ye.png、エ
計、け、ケ 天、て、テ
/ko/ /go/ /so/
/to/ /do/ /no/
已、こ、コ 止、と、ト

Note that the man'yōgana in each cell only indicates one possible option for spelling each Japanese mora – in the table above, each chosen character is the direct origin of the corresponding modern hiragana. See also Hentaigana for a fuller description of how multiple hiragana could be used to spell a single sound. Also note that hiragana forms were not standardized at that time.[2]

Although man'yōgana specify different kanji to represent voiced phonemes versus unvoiced phonemes, but strangely it is not until the Meiji period that we see standardized usage of the dakuten diacritic to explicitly mark voicing for hiragana and katakana.

Japan officially adopted simplified shinjitai (新字体, "new character forms") in 1946 as part of a round of orthographic reforms intended to improve literacy rates. The so-called kyūjitai (旧字体, "old character forms") are equivalent to Traditional Chinese characters, and these forms were the ones used in historical man'yōgana. Modern transcriptions of classical texts are predominantly written in shinjitai. To avoid unnecessary ambiguity, the following quotes from classical texts would be written in kyūjitai.

Additionally, there are many spelling differences between Modern Japanese and Early Middle Japanese even for the same word. For example, 万葉集 is spelled in modern Japanese hiragana as まんようしゅう (man'yōshū), while in Early Middle Japanese, this would have been まんえふしふ (man'yefushifu). For details on the spelling rules, please refer to the "Historical kana usage" section of the Classical Japanese article.



Major phonological changes were characteristic of the period.

The most prominent difference was the loss of certain spelling distinctions found in the Jōdai Tokushu Kanazukai ("Ancient Special Kana Usage"), which distinguished two types of /i/, /e/, and /o/. While these distinctions begin to blur already at the end of the Old Japanese stage, they were completely lost in Early Middle Japanese. The final distinction to be lost was /ko1, go1/ vs. /ko2, go2/.[3] For example, around the year 800 in very early Early Middle Japanese, in the same text /ko1/ was still represented by cursive 「」, while /ko2/ was represented by cursive 「」.[4]

In the 10th century, /e/ and /je/ progressively merged into /e/, and /o/ and /wo/ had merged into /wo/ by the 11th century.[5][6][7]

An increase in Chinese loanwords had a number of phonological effects:

The development of the uvular nasal and geminated consonants occurred late in the Heian period and brought about the introduction of closed syllables (CVC).[10]



  • /a/: [a]
  • /i/: [i]
  • /u/: [u]
  • /e/: [je][5][6][7]
  • /o/: [wo]


Consonant phonemes
Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar
Nasal m n
Stop (p) b t d k ɡ
Fricative ɸ s z
Liquid r
Approximant j w

Phonetic Realization[edit]

/s, z/[edit]

Theories for the realization of /s, z/ include [s, z], [ts, dz], and [ɕ, ʑ]. It may have varied depending on the following vowel, like in Modern Japanese.[citation needed]


By the 11th century, /ɸ/ had merged with /w/ between vowels.[11]


Syntactically, Early Middle Japanese was an subject-object-verb language with a topic-comment structure. Morphologically, it was an agglutinative language.


A paragraph of Early Middle Japanese can be divided into the following units from large to small.

  • Sentence ( (ぶん)) :A series of meaningful words divided from a paragraph by 「。」(period) .
今は (むかし) (たけ) (とり) (おきな)といふ (もの)ありけり。
(from The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter)
Romanization: ima wa mukasi, taketori no okina to ifu mono arikeri.
Modern Japanese translation:今からみるともう昔のことだが、竹取の翁という者がいた。
English translation: Long ago from now, it's said that there's someone called old man of bamboo cutter.
Noted that the noun「 (むかし)」("long past") is actually a predicate (means "is long past"). Predicate is not necessarily a verb in Early Middle Japanese.
  • Phrase ( (ぶん) (せつ)): A smallest unit naturally divided from a sentence by its meaning.
The function of auxiliary particle」is to highlight the noun「」(now), which can't separately explain, so they should be in the same phrase. Similarly the particle 「 」 represents the relation between the modifier「竹取」("bamboo cutter", a compound noun) and modified noun 「」(old man), like the preposition "of". Additionally, particle 「」 connects the called name 「」(modified by 「竹取」) to the verb「いふ」( "call" ), just like a preposition. As for auxiliary verbけり」, it further clarifies the content that the verb「あり」( "be, exist" ) describes is a rumor about past, but no a direct experience (i.e. (かん) (せつ) () ()), so it should be included in the same phrase of 「あり」. In contrast, even if the verb「いふ」 does modify the noun「」( "someone" ) , we still can naturally realize its meaning without any help from other words.
  • Word ( (たん) ()): A smallest grammatical units.
Although 「竹取」is a combination of the noun 「 (たけ)」and the verb 「 ()」("get", infinitive), any compound noun, verb and adjective should be considered as a single grammatical unit.

Classes of words[edit]

Words were classified as following:

  • Can't stand alone as phrase
    • (Auxiliary) particle ( (じょ) ()): Without inflection. Has various function like emphasis, acting like postposition, hinting the subject or expressing interrogative mood.
    • Auxiliary verb ( (じょ) (どう) ()): With inflection. Describe additional information of Yougen like tense, aspect, mood, voice, and polarity. There's other translation like grammaticalized verbs or Verb-like ending.
  • Can stand alone as phrase
    • Without inflection
      • Can't be subject
        • Adverb( (ふく) ()): mainly modifies Yougen.
        • Conjunction( (せつ) (ぞく) ())
        • Interjection( (かん) (どう) ())
        • Rentaisi ( (れん) (たい) ()): mainly modifies Taigen.
      • Can be subject: Taigen ( (たい) (げん), the words that are the main body of the sentence)
        • Noun( (めい) ())
        • Pronoun( (だい) (めい) ())
        • Number( (すう) ())
    • With inflection: Yougen ( (よう) (げん), the words to predicate or to "use" other words)
      • Verb ( (どう) ())
      • Adjective ( (けい) (よう) ()): acutually the stative verbs.
      • Adjective verb ( (けい) (よう) (どう) ()): other kind of "adjective", which derived from noun. Therefore, it's also called adjectival noun in englsih.

Auxiliary Particle[edit]

(Auxiliary) Particles had various functions, and they can be classified as following

Class of Particle Functions Example

(Particle is labeled in red.)

Case Particles
(かく) (じょ) ()
indicating the relationship between its phrase and its following phrase.

(i.e. not limited to the nouns, so slightly differs from the "case" in English)

(The Tale of Genji)
In which escaping direction has gone (the bird)?

(The verb 「罷る」 is the polite form, i.e.「丁寧語」, of the verb 「 ()」"go")

Conjunctive Particles
(せつ) (ぞく) (じょ) ()
indicating the relationship between clauses. (ふみ) ()きてやれども (かへ) (こと)もせず。(The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter)
Even though文を書きてやれ」, but返り事もせず」.
(「ども」has to be preceded by realis , i.e. 「やれ」is realis of the verb「やる」,

to express such kind of meaning.)

Adverbial Particles
(ふく) (じょ) ()
mainly modifying its following yougen. ただ浪の (しろ)のみ ()ゆる (Tosa Nikki)
...can only see (exactly) the white wave (actually, 「のみ」 limits the expressing range of 「見ゆる」)
(The verb 「見ゆ」is "bound" by the binding particle 「」, so it occurs as attributive「見ゆる」.)
Binding particles
(かかり) (じょ) ()
emphasizing on or give a question about its phrase, and limiting the inflection

form of the ending yougen or auxiliary verb.


In which escaping direction has gone (the bird)?
(The perfect auxiliary verb「」is "bound" by the binding particle 「」 , so it occurs as attributive 「ぬる」.)
Final Particles
(しゅ) (じょ) ()
mainly in the end of sentence, indicating many kind of moods

(e.g. question mood, emotive assertion)

(われ)はこの (ごろ) (わろ)かし(Sarashina Nikki)
At that time I'm exactly not good!
(Although the binding particle 「」 is in the end of sentence, it still requires its preceding words is attributive.)
Interjectory particles
(かん) (とう) (じょ) ()
similar to final particle, but has freer occurrence, and is often

used as a short stop between sentences.

() (そん)。さやうの () ()だに (ひろ) (The Tale of Genji)
(Yugiri) Ason! At least pick these kind of falling leaves up!

Case Particle[edit]

  • (ga) and 「」 (no) : "of, ...'s". It hints the present of subject, relation of modification between phrases or nouns.
  • (wo) (accusative). Optional.
  • (ni) (dative/locative).It had a wide range of functions ('to' or 'for' a person; 'by' an agent'; 'at' or 'to' a place; 'at' a time), and in some uses, especially when indicating time, it was optional.
  • より」(yori) (ablative).
  • まで(made) (terminative: 'until'; 'as far as').
  • 」(to) (comitative: 'with'; essive 'as').
  • (fe) (allative: 'to'). 「」 was derived from the noun「 ()」'vicinity; direction', which 「」 occasionally found in the location noun structure Noun + 「」 + Location Noun to mean 'near', or in the noun-deriving suffix 「」 (< 「のへ」) in such words as (みづ) 'beside the water' .

The nominative function was marked by the absence of a particle in main clauses and by the genitive particles in subordinate clauses. The dative/locative particle -ni was homophonous with the simple infinitive form of the copula -ni, with verbal suffixes supplies more complex case markers -ni-te ('at' a place) and -ni si-te or -ni-te ('by means of'). A number of particle + verb + -te sequences provided other case functions: -ni yori-te 'due to' (from yor- 'depend'), -ni tuki-te 'about, concerning' (from tuk- 'be attached'), and -to si-te 'as' (from se- 'do'). More complex structures were derived from genitive particle + Location Noun + appropriate case particle (typically locative -ni) and were used particularly to express spatial and temporal relations. Major location nouns were mafe 'front' (Noun-no mafe-ni 'in front of Noun'), ufe 'top' (Noun-no ufe-ni 'on top of Noun' ~ 'above Noun'), sita 'under' (Noun-no sita-ni 'under Noun), saki 'ahead' (Noun-no saki-ni 'ahead of Noun)', etc.

Conjunctive Particle[edit]

  • Infinitive + 「」(te): 'and (then/so), when, because'. It usually expressed a close sequential link between the predicates that it connects. The subjects of the two verbs connected by「」 were usually the same.
  • Realis + 「」(ba): 'and (then/so), when, because'. It usually expressed a looser sequential link between the predicates that it connected. The subject of both verbs connected by 「」 was usually different.
  • Irrealis + 「」(ba): 'if...', It usually expressed a unreal condition.
  • Irrealis + 「」(de):[12] negative 'and', 'without ... ing', 'rather than ... ', derived from old infinitive of negative auxiliary verb「」(i.e. 「」) + the particle 「」with sound change.
  • Various forms + 「と/とも(do / domo): 'even if, even though'. Most yougens and auxiliary verbs took the conclusive form, bigrade verbs take the infinitive in earlier texts, r-irregular verbs took the attributive form ,and some auxiliary verbs inflecting like adjective and negative auxiliary verbs「」also took the attributive.
  • Infinitive + 「つつ」 (tutu): 'while (at the same time)'.
  • Infinitive of verb / stem of adjective + 「ながら(nagara): 'while, while still' or 'despite'.

Binding particle[edit]

There was some special particles that limiting the inflectional form of yougen or auxiliary verb in the end of a sentence. These particles are called binding particles( (かかり) (じょ) ()). These limitation is called as binding rule( (かか) (むす)びの (ほう) (そく)).

binding particle meaning Ending form example
emphasis on its phrase attributive ふるさとは花 (むかし) (かおり) (にほ)ける (Kokin Wakashū, 42th)

attributive of「けり」(Auxiliary verb of unwitnessed past or emotive assertion)

なむ もと光る (たけ)なむ (ひと) (すぢ)ありける (The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter)

attributive of「けり

や(やは) question, or rhetorical question (はる)ときおそきと聞きわかむ (Kokin Wakashū, 10th)

attributive of adjectives「 ()」and「 (おそ)

か(かは) 生きとし生けるもの いづれ歌を ()まざりける (Kokin Wakashū, Kana preface)

attributive of「けり

こそ strong emphasis on its phrase realis 男はこの女をこそ ()と思ふ (The Tales of Ise)

realis of modal auxiliary verb「

Noted that the case particle「」has the function to indicates a preceding quote, and a quote should be considered as an independent sentence to use the linking rule.

Susumu Ōno assumed that these binding particles was originally final particle.[13] For example:

Man'yōgana: 苦毛 零 (from Man'yōshū, 265th)

Modern Transliteration: (くる)しくも  () () (あめ)

Notice that 「来る」 is attributive(Due to the modification to the noun 「」). According to Susumu Ōno's assumption, if we want to emphasize the questioned noun(i.e.「」), we can invert the whole sentence as the following:


Obviously, this gives birth to the binding rule. Since other binding particles can also consider as final particle in Old Japanese, this assumption is reasonable.


Early Middle Japanese verb inflection was agglutinative. Most verbs were conjugated in a 6 forms and could be combined with auxiliary verbs to express tense, aspect, mood, voice, and polarity. Several of the auxiliary verbs could be combined in a string, and each component determined the choice of form of the preceding component.

In Japanese there are many different yougens with the same pronunciation, or the same yougen has various meanings. To distinguish, modern transliteration uses Kanji to highlight these difference. For example, the Upper bigrade verbs「 ()」means "get used to", but its also means "become familiar" which is represented by「 ()」. Meanwhile, the quadrigrade verb「 ()」has the same pronunciation with 「 ()」but it actually means "become".


Early Middle Japanese inherited all eight verbal conjugations class from Old Japanese and added new one: Lower Monograde, but there's only 「 ()」("kick by foot") classified as Lower Monograde in Early Middle Japanese.

Early Middle Japanese Verbs were divided into 5 class of regular conjugations:

Quadrigrade (四段, yodan), Upper monograde (上一段, kami ichidan), Lower monograde (下一段, shimo ichidan), Upper bigrade (上二段, kami nidan), Lower bigrade (下二段, shimo nidan).

There were also 4 "irregular" (変格) conjugations:

K-irregular (カ変, kahen), S-irregular (サ変, sahen), N-irregular (ナ変, nahen), R-irregular (ラ変, rahen).

The conjugation of each is divided into 6 Inflectional forms( (かつ) (よう) (けい)):

  • Irrealis (未然形, mizenkei, "imperfect form")
  • Infinitive (連用形, ren'yōkei, "form linking to Yougen")
  • Conclusive (終止形, shūshikei, "form to end [a sentence]")
  • Attributive (連体形, rentaikei, "form linking to Taigen")
  • Realis (已然形, izenkei, "perfect form")
  • Imperative (命令形, meireikei,"form to give order")

The English names for the irrealis and the realis differ from author to author, including negative and evidential, imperfective and perfective, or irrealis and realis.

In following table, red part means stem, while blue part means Inflectional suffix.

  • Inflectional form = (stem) + Inflectional suffix ( (かつ) (よう) (けい) = () (かん) + 活用 () ())
  • Inflectional suffix = root consonant + real suffix (root consonant is unique to every verb.)
Inflectional Class
Inflectional form
() (-a) (-i) (-u) (-e) 'hear'
Upper Monograde
- (-i) () (-iru) みれ (-ire) みよ (-i[yo]) 'see'
(もち) もち もちゐる もちゐれ もちゐよ 'use'
Lower Monograde
- (-e) () (-eru) けれ (-ere) けよ (-e[yo]) 'kick'
Upper Bigrade
() (-i) (-u) ぐる (-uru) ぐれ (-ure) ぎよ (-iyo) 'pass'
Lower Bigrade
() (-e) (-u) くる (-uru) くれ (-ure) けよ (-e[yo]) 'receive'
- (-o) (-i) () (-u) くる (-uru) くれ (-ure) (-o) 'come'
- (-e) (-i) () (-u) する (-uru) すれ (-ure) せよ (-e[yo]) 'do'
() する すれ せよ 'set the date' *
() (-a) (-i) (-u) ぬる (-uru) ぬれ (-ure) (-e) 'die'
() (-a) (-i) (-u) (-e) 'be, exist'

*Noted that most S-irregular is the combination of a noun and 「 ()」, for example, 「 ()」 is a combination of the noun 「 ()」 ('date') and 「 ()」.

The 「」 at the end of the imperative forms is optional, although exceedingly common.

The system of 9 conjugation classes appears to be complex. However, all nine conjugations can be subsumed into variations of two groups:

  • the consonant-root verbs (quadrigrade, N-irregular and R-irregular verbs)
  • the vowel-root verbs (others)

The irregularity of N-irregular verbs occurred only in the conclusive and the attributive, and as there are no quadrigrade verbs with n-roots, quadrigrade and N-irregular verb patterns may be treated as being in complementary distribution.[14] Vowel-root verbs consist of bigrade verbs (the majority), a few monograde verbs (especially () 'see' and () 'sit'), the K-irregular verb () 'come', and the S-irregular verb se- 'do' (or -ze- in some compounds).[15] The difference between 'upper' and 'lower' bigrade or monograde verbs is whether the vowel at the end of the root was i or e. The difference between bigrade and monograde was whether in the conclusive, attributive and realis the initial u of the ending elided the vowel of the root or the vowel of the roots elides the initial u of the ending.

There are some questions about this arrangement of forms:[16]

  • The irrealis doesn't have an independent existence.
  • The classical passive auxiliary verb 「」(「」in Old Japanese) is required to add after Irrealis with -a ending (i.e. quadrigrade, N-irregular and R-irregular), while the other classical passive auxiliary verbs 「らる」(「らゆ」in Old Japanese) requires irrealis without -a ending(i.e. other classes). This raises the assumption that this -a ending appears to be part of auxiliary verb, but not part of verb conjugation(The causative auxiliary verbs 「」 and 「さす」have same kind of requirement). According to this assumption, some scholars like Nicolas Tranter‬ doesn't agree with the existence of irrealis (they think it just a more primitive "stem" + -a ending from other words). But this assumption can't explain irrealis + the particle 「」("if") represents a unreal condition(i.e. Subjunctive mood) in classical Japanese.[17] Actually, the term 「未然形」 literally means "imperfect form", and it's named after this kind of usage. Additionally, this assumption can't explain the modal auxiliary verb 「」("as someone though it should/could...") is also required to occur after irrealis.[18]
    ex. Quadrigrade verb: (もの) (おそ)るる (ここ) ()して (The Tale of Genji)
    Quadrigrade verb: ()にし ()いざ (こと) () (Kokin Wakashū, 411th)
    Lower Bigrade: (しうと) ()らるる婿 (むこ) (The Pillow Book)
    K-irregular: (つき) (みやこ) (ひと)まうで () ()らへさせむ (The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter)
    Noted that auxiliary verbs has its own inflection, for example, 「るる」 is the attributive of 「」, while「らるる」 is the attributive of 「らる」. Additionally, both of their inflection are classified as lower bigrade.
  • The infinitive had two functions, a linking function with another Yougen or auxiliary verb and a nominal function as a verb-noun, but these two functions have different pitch patterns.
  • Generally, The Yougen or auxiliary verb occurred before conjunction particle「とも」 ("even if") in the form of conclusive, but in some case of Old Japanese upper monograde verbs 「 ()」 appears as infinitive before「とも」:[19]

Man'yōgana: 之婆之婆等母 安加無伎禰加毛 (Man'yōshū, 4503th)

Modern Transliteration: しばしば ()とも ()かむ (きみ)かも

Probably, the monograde verb form that was used before 「とも」 was the earlier true conclusive form

  • Additionally, before auxiliary verb 「べし」("should/could") generally the yougens should use the conclusive, while R-irregular verbs use the attributive instead (「あり」'be' at the end of a sentence but 「あるべし」'should be').[20] With endings such as 「べし」, there is strong evidence that they were originally the adverb 「 (うべ)」("certainly")[21] and probably that a fusion of the root of the verb with the u-sound of the ending (* ()m + (うべ) ()べし) has been interpreted as conclusive () +「べし」. This suggests that the apparently-anomalous u in 「あるべし」was part of the ending, not of the verb form.

Auxiliary Verbs[edit]

Auxiliary verbs are attached to the various forms of yougen, and a yougen could be followed by several such endings in a string. Auxiliary verbs are classified into many inflectional class like verbs.

Generally, To learn how to use a Auxiliary verb, we need to know (1)its inflection, (2)required forms of its preceding word, and (3) various function. The following is a detail example about 「」and 「らる」.

Inflectional Class
Lower Bigrade
(-e) (-u) るる (-uru) るれ (-ure) れよ (-u[yo])
られ (-e) らる (-u) らるる (-uru) らるれ (-ure) られよ (-u[yo])

」 requires to be preceded by irrealis with -a ending (i.e. quadrigrade, N-irregular and R-irregular), while 「らる」requires irrealis without -a ending(i.e. other classes).

They have 4 different functions.

  1. Representing passive mood:
    (ひと)あなづらるるもの (The Pillow Book)
    translation: thing that is despised by people
  2. Representing slight respect to someone (by means of passive mood):
    母の (かな)しがらるること (Tosa Nikki)
    translation: the thing that make the mother (author's wife) sad (i.e. representing slight respect to his own wife)
  3. Expressing possibility or potential.
    (ゆみ) ()して ()られ (The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter)
    translation: It doesn't seem bow and arrow can shoot (it down). (Noted that 「」is a modal auxiliary verb that requires to be preceded by irrealis)
  4. Representing a spontaneous voice(i.e. without volitional control).
    (かぜ) (おと) (おどろ)ぬる (Kokin Wakashū, 169th)
    translation: the sound of wind (exactly) has made me startled.
    (Noted that「ぬる」is attributive of perfect auxiliary verb「」. Since it's "bound" by binding particle」, it has to occur as attributive.)

Rough Classification[edit]

Voice: 'passive' and 'causative':

  • Consonant-stem verbs + 「」, vowel-stem verbs + 「らる」 (lower bigrade): passive voice; spontaneous voice (expressing lack of volitional control); honorific; potential ('can').
  • Consonant-stem verbs + 「」, vowel-stem verbs + 「さす」 (lower bigrade): causative; honorific.
  • Any verb + 「しむ」 (lower bigrade): causative; honorific. It often occurs in Kanbun.


  • Irrealis +「」 (R-irregular): progressive or perfect aspect. Only attached to quadrigrade or S-irregular verbs.
  • Infinitive + 「たり」 (R-irregular): progressive or perfect aspect. Attached to any verbs.
  • Infinitive + 「」 (N-irregular): perfective aspect.
  • Infinitive + 「」 (lower bigrade): perfective aspect.
  • Infinitive + 「」(unique conjugation): witnessed past tense.
  • Infinitive + 「けり」 (R-irregular): unwitnessed past tense, or emotive assertion.
  • Irrealis + 「まし」 (unique conjugation): counterfactual ('would have ... ed'). The combination 「ましか」(Irrealis + ) expresses a counterfactual condition ('if ... had ... ed').


  • 」 (quadrigrade): tentative mood, expressing among other functions uncertainty ('maybe', 'shall I?'), intention ('I shall'), and hortative ('let's').
  • べし」 (siku-adjective): debitive mood, expressing 'can', 'should', or 'must'.
  • なり」 (R-irregular): hearsay mood.


  • 」(unique conjugation): negative.
  • 」 (uninflected): negative of the tentative mood (not seem...).
  • まじ」(siku-adjective): negative of the debitive mood.


There were two types of adjectives: regular adjectives and adjectival nouns.

The regular adjective was subdivided into two types: those for which the adverbial form ended in 「-」(-ku) and those that ended in 「-しく」(-siku).

Class of


subclass stem




(たか) (たか / たか) たか (-ku) たか (-si) たか (-ki) たかけれ (-kere)   'be high'


たかから (-kara) たかかり (-kari) たかかる (-karu)   たかかれ (-kare)




(うつく) (うつくしく / うつくしけ) うつくしく (-siku) うつく (-si) うつくしき (-siki) うつくしけれ (-sikere)   'be beautiful'


うつくしから (-sikara) うつくしかり (-sikari) うつくしかる (-sikaru)   うつくしかれ (-sikare)

The class of siku-adjectives included a few adjectives that had 「-」(-z), rather than 「-」:

Class of


subclass stem




(おな) (-じく) -じく - -じき -じけれ   'be the same'


-じから -じかり -じかる   -じかれ

They usually had 「-」 rather than 「-じき」 in its attributive form.

The -kar- and -sikar- forms (カリ活用) were derived from the verb 「 ()」"be, exists.":

Man'yōgana: 可奈之久安里家牟 (Man'yōshū, 4333th)

Modern Transliteration: (かな)くありけむ

Since the axiliary verb of pass tentative mood「けむ」needs to be preceded by infinitive, 「あり」is in infinitive form. And then naturally, the adjective 「 (かな)」links to 「あり」 by infinitive (連用形). In Man'yōshū there's also example of 「-かり」.

Man'yōgana: 加奈之可利家理 (Man'yōshū, 793th)

Modern Transliteration: (かな)かりけり

Since the auxiliary verb of unwitnessed past「けり」needs to be preceded by infinitive, 「 (かな)」is in infinitive form.

So It's reasonable to assume that the infinitive suffix「-かり」is derived from 「-くあり」that had lost its initial u-sound(i.e. sound change of infinitive suffix + 「あり」). There's also similar example about other forms in Man'yōshū.[26]

From above paragraph, we can realize that kari inflection is generally used to link to a auxiliary verbs(so it's also called 「 () (じょ) (かつ) (よう)」, "complement and auxiliary inflection"), but there's a example show that the imperative form of kari inflection is an exception of this rule:

はげしかれとは (Senzai Wakashū, 708th)

That is, the imperative form of kari inflection is independently used without linking to any auxiliary verb.(However, it actually expresses a wish but not a order.)

Adjectival noun[edit]

Class of




(しづ) しづなら(-nara) しづなり(-nari) しづなり(-nari) しづなる(-naru) しづなれ(-nare) 'be static'


(せう) (ぜん)* 悄然たら(-tara) 悄然たり(-tari) 悄然たり(-tari) 悄然たる(-taru) 悄然たれ(-tare) ''be quiet, soft"

*Actually 「悄然」(reconstructed pronunciation /tsʰjɑu nʑǐɛn/)[27] is a chinese word mean "quietly, softly". Just like「 (せう) (ぜん)たり」, most of tari-adjectival nouns are derived from chinese word.

The nari and tari inflections shared a similar etymology. The nari form was a contraction of the case particle「」and the r-irregular verb「 ()」"be, exist":「」+ 「あり」 → 「なり」, while the tari inflection was a contraction of the case particle「」and「 ()」:「」+ 「あり」→ 「たり」.

Yougen in auxiliary form[edit]

  • ()」 (R-irregular): progressive aspect. 'sit; live; be'.
  • ()」 (Upper monograde): progressive aspect. 'continue, …ing'.
  • ()」 (Quadrigrade): preparative aspect, expressing an action performed in readiness for some future action. 'put'.
  • ()」(Upper monograde): speculative aspect, expressing an action performed experimentally, to 'see' what it is like. 'see'.

Special Inflection[edit]



See also[edit]


  1. ^ Martin (1987:77)
  2. ^ "大辞林 特別ページ 日本語の世界 平仮名". daijirin.dual-d.net. Retrieved 2022-05-28.
  3. ^ Yoshida, 2001: 64
  4. ^ "大辞林 特別ページ 日本語の世界 片仮名". daijirin.dual-d.net. Retrieved 2022-05-17.
  5. ^ a b Kondō (2005:67-71)
  6. ^ a b Yamaguchi (1997:43-45)
  7. ^ a b Frellesvig (1995:73)
  8. ^ Labrune 2012, p. 89: "Consonantal palatalization is not original in Japanese. It is generally considered to have appeared in the language under the influence of Chinese loans. Indeed, palatalizations are particularly frequent in Sino-Japanese morphemes. They occasionally occur in Yamato words like kyou ‘today’, but this is always the result of a secondary development".
  9. ^ Labrune 2012, p. 91: "Moras of the CwV shape (called gôyôon 合拗音 in the traditional terminology) existed up until recently in certain Sino-Japanese words, for example okwashi お菓子 ‘cake’, gwaikoku 外国 ‘foreign country’. They reflect the presence of a labial glide in the Chinese original forms. Old Chinese accepted /w/ after a large variety of consonants, but, apart from a small number of exceptions attested in documents of the Heian period, it is only after the velar consonants /k/ and /g/ that /w/ could be found in Japanese. Although the combinations /kwa/, /gwa/, /kwe/, /gwe/, /kwi/, and /gwi/ all existed, only /kwa/ and /gwa/ have been maintained until the middle or end of the nineteenth century, and still exist nowadays in certain dialects, mainly in the Tôhoku or Kyûshû areas."
  10. ^ Nakata (1972:26-29)
  11. ^ Vovin 2002, pp. 14–15
  12. ^ "での意味 - 古文辞書 - Weblio古語辞典". kobun.weblio.jp. Retrieved 2022-05-15.
  13. ^ Ōno, Susumu; 大野晋 (1993). Kakarimusubi no kenkyū. Tōkyō: Iwanami Shoten. ISBN 4-00-002805-7. OCLC 28969016.
  14. ^ Vovin, Alexander (2003). A Reference Grammar of Classical Japanese Prose. London: RoutledgeCurzon. pp. 169–170. ISBN 0-7007-1716-1.
  15. ^ A Reference Grammar of Classical Japanese Prose. pp. 170–172.
  16. ^ Tranter, Nicolas (2012). The Languages of Japan and Korea. London & New York: Routledge. p. 223. ISBN 978-0-415-46287-7.
  17. ^ "ばの意味 - 古文辞書 - Weblio古語辞典". kobun.weblio.jp. Retrieved 2022-05-14.
  18. ^ "むの意味 - 古文辞書 - Weblio古語辞典". kobun.weblio.jp. Retrieved 2022-05-14.
  19. ^ "ともの意味 - 古文辞書 - Weblio古語辞典". kobun.weblio.jp. Retrieved 2022-05-13.
  20. ^ "べしの意味 - 古文辞書 - Weblio古語辞典". kobun.weblio.jp. Retrieved 2022-05-13.
  21. ^ 日本国語大辞典, デジタル大辞泉,精選版. "べしとは". コトバンク (in Japanese). Retrieved 2022-05-13.
  22. ^ a b A Reference Grammar of Classical Japanese. pp. 271–323.
  23. ^ The Languages of Japan and Korea. pp. 230–233.
  24. ^ The Languages of Japan and Korea. pp. 234–235.
  25. ^ The Languages of Japan and Korea. p. 233.
  26. ^ 龍子, 木村. "「萬葉集に於ける所謂形容詞のカリ活用について」 : 人麿作歌及び人麿歌集歌を中心として" (in Japanese). {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  27. ^ "小學堂中古音". xiaoxue.iis.sinica.edu.tw. Retrieved 2022-05-15.