Some old Japanese grammar I never saw before

I’m reading a 1903 travel guide to Japan from They have a pretty good vocabulary and grammar guide for tourists. Some of the expressions are naturally archaic (e.g. at night it tells you how to ask for a candle) but what caught my eye was a form of grammar I’ve never seen before – the “improbable future” conjugation.

For example consider the plain form of the verb, “come.” Here are the various conjugations explained, most just the way I learned them:

  • present / certain future: kuru (I come, I will come)
  • past: kita (I came)
  • probable future: koyou (I shall probably come)
  • gerund: kite (coming, having come)
  • negative present: konai (I do not or shall not come)
  • negative past: konakatta (I did not come)
  • desirable adjective: kitai (I want to come)
  • negative adjective: kitakunai (I don’t want to come)
All those are fine. Then there is this form I never heard of before:
  • improbable future: kimai (I shall probably not come)
I asked a Japanese friend and he never heard of that form either. Has anybody heard of it before? There were other examples too: arumai (there probably will not be); ikumai (I probably shall not go); shimai (I probably shall not do).
I wonder why and when that form fell out of use. It seems useful.



Some old Japanese grammar I never saw before — 3 Comments

  1. I’ve been taught the “mai” verb ending, to mean “probably won’t/not,” and I’ve encountered it once or twice while translating. I don’t think it’s archaic. It’s the negative of でしょう. However, it follows the dictionary form of the verb, and 来る is often an irregular verb anyway.

    The mai form is explained on p. 207 of 日本語文法ハンドブック (intermediate and advanced edition)

  2. Interesting. Thanks, Geoff. So you think it’s not archaic, but just not common?


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