Euphonic changes (音便 onbin)

Modern pronunciation is a result of a long history of phonemic drift that can be traced back to written records of the thirteenth century, and possibly earlier. However, it was only in 1946 that the Japanese ministry of education modified existing kana usage to conform to the standard dialect (共通語 kyōtsūgo). All earlier texts used the archaic orthography, now referred to as historical kana usage. The adjoining table is an exhaustive early list of these spelling changes. As mentioned above, conjugations of some verbs and adjectives differ from the prescribed formation rules because of euphonic changes. Nearly all of these euphonic changes are themselves regular. For verbs the exceptions are all in the ending of the continuative form of group 1when the following auxiliary has a ta-sound,i.e., た (ta), て (te), たり (tari), etc.

あ+う (a + u)

あ+ふ (a + fu)

おう (ō)
い+う (i + u)

い+ふ (i + fu)

ゆう (yū)*
う+ふ (u + fu)うう (ū)
え+う (e + u)

え+ふ (e + fu)

よう (yō)
お+ふ (o + fu)

お+を (o + wo)

おう (ō)
medial or final は (ha)わ (wa)
medial or final ひ (hi), へ (he), ほ (ho)[/P]い (i), え (e), お (o) (via wi, we, wo, see below)
any ゐ (wi), ゑ (we), を (wo)い (i), え (e), お (o)

* usu. not reflected in spelling

Continuative endingchanges toexample
い, ち or り*買いて *kaite → 買って katte

*打ちて *uchite → 打って utte

*知りて *shirite → 知って shitte

び, み or にん, with the following タ sound voiced*遊びて *asobite → 遊んで asonde

*住みて *sumite → 住んで sunde

*死にて *shinite → 死んで shinde

*書きて *kakite → 書いて kaite
い, with the following タ sound voiced*泳ぎて *oyogite → 泳いで oyoide

There is one other irregular change: 行く iku (to go), for which there is an exceptional continuative form:行き iki + て te → 行って itte, 行きiki + た ta → 行った itta, etc.

The continuative form of proper adjectives, when followed by polite forms such as ございます(gozaimasu, to be) or 存じます (zonjimasu, to know), undergo a transformation.

Continuative endingdescriptionexamples
[not し] + くう, possibly also combining with the previous syllable according to the spelling reform chart*寒くございます *samuku gozaimasu → 寒うございます samū gozaimasu

*おはやくございます ohayaku gozaimasu → おはようございます ohayō gozaimasu

しくしゅう*涼しくございます *suzushiku gozaimasu → 涼しゅうございます suzushuu gozaimasu

Respectful verbs such as くださる (kudasaru, to get), なさる (nasaru,to do), ござる (gozaru, to be), いらっしゃる (irassharu,to be/come/go), おっしゃる (ossharu, to say), etc. behave like group 1 verbs, except in the continuative and imperative forms.

continuativeーり changed to ーい*ござります *gozarimasu → ございます gozaimasu

*いらっしゃりませ *irassharimase → いらっしゃいませ irasshaimase

imperativeーれ changed to ーい*くだされ *kudasare → ください kudasai

*なされ *nasare → なさい nasai

In a speech, typical combinations of conjugation and auxiliary verbs are contracted in a fairly regular manner.

Colloquial contractions

full formcolloquialexample

-te shimau



group 1

負けてしまう (makete shimau, lose) → 負けちゃう (makechau)

死んでしまう (shinde shimau, die) → 死んじゃう (shinjau)


-te wa



食べてはいけない (tabete wa ikenai, must not eat) → 食べちゃいけない (tabecha ikenai)

-te iru



group 2b

寝ている (nete iru, is sleeping) → 寝てる (neteru)

-te oku



group 1

しておく (shite oku, will do it so) → しとく (shitoku)

-te iku



group 1

出て行け (dete ike, get out!) → 出てけ (deteke)

-ru no



何しているの (nani shite iru no, what are you doing?) → 何してんの (nani shitenno)

Japanese Grammar Contents

  • Part 1: Textual classifications; nouns, pronouns, and other deictics
  • Part 2: Conjugable words: verbs
  • Part 3: Conjugable words: adjectives
  • Part 4: Conjugable words: the copula だ da
  • Part 5: Euphonic changes, colloquial contractions
  • Part 6: Adverbs, sound symbolism, conjunctions and interjections
  • Part 7: Particles
  • Part 8: Auxiliary verbs