The negative of Potential

Discussion in '日本語 (Japanese)' started by guyper, Jun 20, 2008.

  1. guyper Senior Member

    French Creole
    Is the negative of oyogeru/oyogemasu, oyogenai/oyogemasen? Is it the same case for irregular verbs?

    Thank you
  2. Steve Hamilton New Member

    Hi Guyper,

    Short answer: yes.

    Steve H.
  3. Flaminius

    Flaminius coclea mod

    capita Iaponiae
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    There is always a glitch in a short answer. :) Let me complement Steve Hamilton's reply (Welcome to the WordReference fora, Steve!).

    The pair kor.eru and kor.enai are the colloquial affirmative and negative forms of the potential "able to come." As I have marked the morpheme boundaries by a dot (.), they are formed more or less in the same way as the potential forms for "able to swim." There are longer forms still in use: ko.rareru and ko.rarenai. The colloquial forms are very frequent in conversations and making inroads to the written varieties. Still, there are people who feel strongly against them especially in written language.

    [Note that I analysed the longer potentials as having a vowel-ending verb stem; different from the shorter ones. Comparing other verb paradigms, -rareru turns out to be the potential suffix for vowel-ending stems and -reru for consonant-ending stems.]

    The other irregular verb, suru, do not have potential forms morphologically related to the dictionary form. Dekiru and dekinai, provided by suppletion, are "able to do."
  4. Steve Hamilton New Member

    Hi again,

    Flaminius is indeed correct that there's more to the creation of "potential" forms than a mere "yes" will explain. But perhaps I misunderstood the question. I took it to mean, narrowly, how the negative of potential forms is indicated. In other words, with the "regular" (active) form, the verb stem vowel (loosely speaking) appears to change befofe a negative

    oyogu >> oyoga-nai

    but not before the potential form

    oyoge-ru >> oyoge-nai

    And the question was, does this always happen, or are there cases where, like the active form, you need to change the vowel before the negative ending?

    And the answer to that question is, No. In other words (in the context of your original question), "yes" the negative takes the same stem. If you know the postive potential form, then to form the negative, all you need to do is change -ru or -masu (etc.) to -nai or masen (etc.). So, a few more examples,

    kaku >> kaka-nai . . . but kake-ru >> kake-nai
    utau >> utawa-nai . . . but utae-ru >> utae-nai
    kuru >> ko-nai . . . but kore-ru >> kore-nai
    suru >> shi-nai . . . but sare-ru >> sare-nai

    And so on. As Flaminius points in his (? -- sorry if I mistake you here, F, but it is a second declension masculine!) post, there are sometimes difficulties (and differences of opinion) on what counts as a valid potential form, but once you know that form, there is never any change in the vowel before the positive ru/masu ending and the nai/masen negative.

    As to koreru vs. korareru etc., this is a long standing issue in Japanese "school" grammar. The problem comes from the holdover of the old potential verb ending ("gobi") ru/raru, which was used to form the potential/passive in classical Japanese, and still has limited use to express passive and "respect" forms in modern Japanese. With the later development of the simple potential ("kateikei") forms for consonant-stem verbs, this form became restricted to the "irregular" vowel-stem verbs, where it continues to do double duty as potential and passive. In other words, for consonant stems, there are now two separate forms, one for potential and one for passive (+honorific, whether potential, passive, or active), but only one form for the vowels stems:

    kaku -- he writes
    kakeru -- he can write
    kakareru -- he writes (honorific) or "it is written" (passive)


    kuru -- he comes
    korarareu -- he can come, but also "he comes" (honorific) . . . and the passive (if it made sense with this verb)

    shiru -- he knows
    shirareru -- he can know, but also "he knows" (honorific) and "he/it is known" (passive)

    and so on.

    The problem, of course, is that with the vowel stems, there's no distinction where in the consonsonant there is. So, quite naturally, people have started to form new "potential" forms for the verbal stems by analogy:

    koreru -- he can come (in distinction with "korareru" the honorific)
    shireru -- he can know (in distinction with "shirareru" the honorific/passive)

    Technically, there's no precedent for this development in "correct" classical grammar, and so the usage is frowned on by teachers and language mavens. But ask a linguist and the linguist will say, plus ca change . . .

    Anyway, there is one valid point to be made about "koreru" and "mireru" and like forms. In polite conversation, it will always be better to use the "correct" traditional forms "korareru" and "mirareru" and so on, not because they really are more correct as indicating "potential," but because they are also the polite (honorific form). In other words, if you want to ask your teacher if she (let's say she) can come to the party, you're better off using

    Sensei, koraremasuka?


    Sensei, koremasuka?

    The second is no less correct in the modern language in terms of indicating potential, but it is definitely incorrect in terms of politeness. Japanese speakers usually cut gaijin plenty of slack when it comes to polite usage, but because the koreru/korareru split is a linguistic "flashpoint" among traditionalists, this one really does stick out. The Japanese rule-of-thumb: when in doubt, be polite.

    But yes, the potential verb stem is always the same, positive or negative.

    Hope that's useful.

    Steve H.


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