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たとえば looks like it should be the ば form of a verb, but is that true? I know of the word 例える, but the ば form of this would be 例えれば. The phrase 例えるなら also exists, which would be a cousin if it were really based on some ば form. It's really hard to search for information about this because たとえば is ubiquitous in its use. Grammatically it seems that ば verbs could be used in this way with no problem, so everything in my mind tells me that this is the case. But ultimately I have no real proof of that.

Is たとえば based on a ば verb etymologically, or did it come about by some other mechanism? Is there a たとう from which it originally came?

Note: This question originally suggested for some reason that there was no verb "たとう," a statement that turned out to be completely false.

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

As far as I can tell there is no "たとう" that would give rise to たとえば.

Actually, there is たと・う. たとえば used to be たとへば. It's been around for a while as there are examples from 徒然草 and 平家物語, etc.

If you want to get into details, it has them here:


As you can see is a 接続助詞.

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I'm now absolutely baffled as to how I convinced myself that there was no たとう. I swore I checked, like with 100% conviction was sure that I looked, and yet there it is. I feel really dumb now but I'll edit the question such that it can still hopefully be interesting for others! – ssb Mar 6 '13 at 10:21
Close, but not quite correct. Rather than the 四段, this is actually the 下二段 verb. -ba is attaching to the 未然形 rather than the 已然形. The link that you provided is explaining the grammar of the verb form tato[w]eba, which is not this one. – Dono Mar 6 '13 at 12:24
@Dono: Ah, yes thank you for the correction, my grammar skills are definitely lacking. – Jesse Good Mar 6 '13 at 17:50
@dainichi Please realize that -ba originally could attach to either 未然形 or 已然形. There was a semantic differance: when attaching to 未然形 it expressed "if", when attaching to 已然形 if expressed "when". Hence the names: 未だに然らず形 (form in which something has not yet happened) and 已に然かり形 (form in which something has already happened). During Middle Japanese, the semantics of 已然形 shifted to conditional and was renamed 仮定形. With this change, the need to attach -ba to 未然形 lessens while -ba continues to attach to 仮定形 (former 已然形). – Dono Mar 11 '13 at 13:07
@dainichi (Continued) Note that 未然形 -ba still survives in some modern forms such as sore nara-ba, mosi~ nara-ba, ara-ba and a few others. The beginnings of 一段化 (the change from 二段 to 一段) may be found in Heian period. It continues through Kamakura and Muromachi periods, but the major turning point is during Edo period. – Dono Mar 11 '13 at 13:08

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