Class. Irregular Verbs I

第010課: Irregular Verbs I: サ変 & カ変

     The verbs する and 来る have always been irregular. The first thing to know is that they were once す and 来 respectively. Their meaning have changed little, so we don’t have to worry about much semantic change. 


     The primary verb in this irregular verbal class is す. Its bases are by no means normal, and it can be used in both transitive and intransitive contexts. As a transitive verb, it’s like “to do”. In intransitive contexts, it’s like “to exist” or “to occur”. 

     The other verb in this class is おはす, which is a very honorific verb meaning “to be/go/come”. Like in Modern Japanese, す may attach to (Sino-)Japanese nouns to create ‘new’ verbs. At times, it may be voiced as ず. When the 終止形 and 連体形 became the same for verbs, ずる and じる became possible 終止形 for these “ず-すverbs”. The verbs that end in -っする when する attaches to a (Sino-)Japanese word ending in する may also have つ contracted in Classical Japanese. However, it is debatable when the contraction started to reflect in the spoken language.

     Originally, す was the only サ変 verb. As it is such a dynamic word, it just had to be added to other words to create even more verbs. So, when did す become する? This change started to take place as early as the end of the 平安時代; both す and する hence began being used as interchangeable 終止形. The bases for サ変  verbs are: 

 未然形 連用形 終止形 連体形 已然形 命令形
 せ し す する すれ せよ

Bases Notes:

1. The alternative 未然形 and 命令形 that are present in Modern Japanese are due to the evolution of the bases.
2. As you can see, the 連用形, 連体形, and 已然形 are the same. When the 未然形 became し, it caused the 命令形 to take the form of しろ, which is essentially like the 命令形 of an 一段 verb. せい comes from the contraction of せよ itself. 


1. 京にのぼりて宮仕みやづかへをせよ。
    Go to the capital and serve for the imperial court!
From the 大和物語.

2. 昔、惟喬これたか親王みこまうす親王おはしましけり。
  Long ago, there was a prince named Prince Koretaka.
From the 伊勢物語.

3. 昔の人のそでぞする。
    It had the scent of the sleeve of a person from the past (whom I knew very well).
From the 古今和歌集.

4. 死なむ藥も何かはせむ。
    What would I do with death preventing medicine?
From the 竹取物語.

5. おにのやうなるものて殺さむとしき。
    Things that looked like demons came out and tried to kill us.
From the 竹取物語.

6. いとどあはれとごらんじて。
    (The emperor) looked with increasing pity (on the Kiritsubo consort).
From the 源氏物語.

7. 人々あまたこゑしてなり。
    It sounds as if a lot of people are coming and raising their voices.
From the 宇治拾遺物語.

Grammar Note: The auxiliary verb ~なり shows aural supposition in this example.

8. 妻戸つまどをやはらかいはなつ音すなり。
    It sounds like (someone) quietly opened up the chamber doors.
From the 堤中納言物語.

9. 秋の野に人松ひとまつむしの聲すなり。
    You can hear the voice of the pine cricket while waiting for someone in the autumn fields.
From the 古今和歌集.

Grammar Note: It is common to have two homophonous words intended at the same time. This is the case with the word まつ in the above example sentence.

10. われあさごとゆふごとに見るたけの中におはするにて知りぬ。
       I know because she was inside the bamboo I had looked at each and every morning and evening.
From the 竹取物語.

11. 镸雨ながあめ、例の年よりもいたくして。
      The long rains were more intense than in usual years.
From the 源氏物語.


     The only verb throughout the history of the Japanese language that has been a カ変 verb is 来る. In Classical Japanese, its 終止形 was 来. For the most part, its translation is on the lines of “to come” or “to visit”. The bases for 来 are:

 未然形 連用形 終止形 連体形 已然形 命令形
 こ き く くる くれ こ(よ)

     The bases for the most part are very similar to what they are in Modern Japanese. The contraction of 来よ, of course, lead to the modern 来い-命令形.

12. かの唐船もろこしぶねけり。  
      That Chinese boat came.
From the 竹取物語.

13. 春ればかりかへるなり。
      Since spring has come, I hear the wild geese returning.
From the 古今和歌集.

14. ひとびとたえずとぶらひにく。
      People endlessly came to visit.

Grammar Note: You may have noticed that the 終止形 can be used to represent the past tense. This is actually also so in Modern Japanese, although the practice is not that common outside of literature. So long as the context has temporal words that suggest anything but the present or future tense, auxiliary verbs are not necessary to show the preterit.

15. 山の方より人あまた來る音す。
      A sound was made from many people coming from the direction of the mountain.
From the 更級日記.

16. 秋風吹かむをりぞむとする。
      I’ll come when the autumn winds blow.
From the 枕草子.

17. 「そのこちよ。」
      Bring that kid here!
From the 大和物語.

18. たつくびの取りえずはかへな。
      If you are unable to obtain the jewel from the dragon’s neck, do not come back home!
From the 竹取物語.

Grammar Note: ~ずは is like しないなら and may also be seen as ~ずば or ~ずんば. 

19. かた時のあひだとて、かのくによりまうでしかども 
      Thinking that it would be but for a short time, I came from that country, but…
From the 竹取物語.

20. 春過而 夏来良之
      It seems that spring has passed and summer has come.
From the 万葉集.

21. 世にある物ならば、この國にも持てまうでなまし。
      If it were something that existed in the world, they would’ve brought it and come to this country also.
From the 竹取物語.

Grammar Note: ~まし, which follows the 未然形, shows counter-factual speculation in this example. 


1. Compare and contrast the bases of す and する.

2. Compare and contrast the bases of 来 and 来る.

3. What would 信じる be in Classical Japanese and what would its bases be?

4. True or False: The す-終止形 and する were interchangeable from as early as the 奈良時代.

5. Conjugate the following verbs into their bases.

愛す 拝す おはす 来 音す 

6. True or False: す and する are only limited to being attached to Sino-Japanese nouns to create ‘new’ verbs.

7. Create a simple sentence with す. You may model your sentence after any of the examples given in this lesson.

8. Why has the verb “to do” been so dynamic throughout the history of the Japanese language? Is this not also the case in other languages?

9. What are the conditions needed to use the 終止形 as the preterite?

10. Conjugate す and 来 with the auxiliary verbs -む, -て, and -べし.