Bungo Nyûmon
A Brief Introduction to Classical Japanese

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:

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

This page was last updated on 3/22/04.

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