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Are there any rules or guidelines as to when to pronounce 行く as いく or ゆく?

I looked it up on jisho.org, and the two pronunciations have the exact same definition. I tend to hear ゆく more often in songs, but that is just anecdotal.

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I've always wondered why lyrics often say いく in kana even when the singer clearly sings ゆく... –  snailboat Jul 28 '13 at 22:45
    
ゆく is for songs and train destinations. –  oldergod Jul 29 '13 at 1:30
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I'm not confident enough to put this as an answer, but 行く is pretty much always いく, except for specific exceptions. In addition to train destinations and songs, there's 行方不明{ゆくえふめい}, for example. –  Questioner Jul 29 '13 at 6:27
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Something interesting I've seen. ゆく and いく are considered a distinct separate readings of 行く, and not just some kind of dialectical pronunciation or euphonic change (音便). When I lived in Japan, I was watching one of those "variety" shows. They were talking about the kanji(s) with the most readings (the most being I believe). Anyway, the contestants had to collectively produce all the readings for each one. When doing , they left out ゆく and were surprised to learn that いく and ゆく were in fact different. –  istrasci Jul 29 '13 at 15:20

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The explanation in my dictionary is:

「いく」の語形も上代からみられ、平安時代以降は「ゆく」と併用される。「ゆく」「いく」はほとんど意味は同じであるが、古くは「ゆく」のほうがより広く使われ、特に訓点資料•和歌(「生く」との掛け詞の場合を除き)では、ほとんどすべてが「ゆく」である。現在では「ゆく」に比べて「いく」のほうが話し言葉的な感じをもち、したがって、「過ぎ行く」「散り行く」など、文章語的な語の場合には「ゆく」となるのが普通である。なお、「ゆきて」のイ音便形「ゆいて」も用いられたが、現在は一般的でなく、促音便形は「ゆく」のほうは用いられず、「いく」を用いて「いって」「いった」となる。

My translation / synopsis is as follows:

いく has been seen from ancient times but from the Heian period both have been in use.  いく has almost exactly the same meaning as ゆく but in olden time, ゆく was used more widely: Putting the use of double entendres and word play based on 生く aside, then the use of 行く in Japanese poetry (waka/tanka) or symbolism can almost always read as ゆく. As a result, when expressions such as 「過ぎ行く」「散り行く」are used stylistically in written language they are normally read as ゆく. However forms such as ゆきて have have stopped being used in favour of forms derived from いく such as いって and いった.

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ゆく is both more formal and more poetic that いく, so you'll hear ゆく in public announcements, song lyrics, formal letters. In every day life, いく is what you'll hear.

These kinds of couplets are very common in Japanese, and you'll frequently find near-synonyms like 参加する・来る / 逮捕【たいほ】する・捕【つか】まえる / 拝見【はいけん】する・見る / 消失【しょうしつ】する・消える or 包含【ほうがん】する・含める. The general trend behind all of this is that Sino-Japanese words are usually more literary and formal than their native counterparts. ゆく, as a mostly obsolete form of いく, a retains the sense of a literary tradition, like most Sino-Japanese words, that for its difficulty was prestigious in earlier Japanese history, and still carries a degree of prestige today.

As you can see in Earthliŋ's comment, よい and いい are also good examples of this principle.

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参加する and 来る for me have completely different meanings... –  Earthliŋ Dec 24 '14 at 10:16
    
So when your friend asks you 「飲み会にくる?」 she's saying something completely different than your teacher's 「飲み会に参加しますか。」? This is the only usage of 「参加」 that I've heard frequently over here, and it is directly parallel to 「来る」. I don't mean to say that they're perfect synonyms, and yeah, 「参加」 can be used for other stuff too -- but the biggest perceivable difference in the day to day is that one of them is formal and literary, and the other is casual and colloquial. –  YsAdamsson Dec 24 '14 at 10:41
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I think of 参加する as to participate and of 来る as to come, which in general are not synonymous, although they may be near-interchangeable in some contexts. I can see where you're coming from, I just thought the analogy with いく・ゆく is not very good, since いく・ゆく are the same word and 来る・参加する are decidedly not. (The pair いい・良い【よい】 would be a better analogy.) –  Earthliŋ Dec 24 '14 at 10:51

They both mean the same of course, and there is plenty of info you can find explaining that ゆく is an older version. In addition, I have found that while ゆく tends to be a somewhat casual version of いく. いく is easier to pronounce than ゆく. Also, FWIW, I think いく is used more often than ゆく in conversation.

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「ゆく tends to be a more informal version of いく」>>>逆だと思います。「ゆく is also easier to pronounce than いく」>>>逆だと思います。「ゆく is used more often than いく in conversation」>>>逆だと思います。「ゆく」と「いく」を取り違えられたんですかね・・・? –  Choko Dec 22 '14 at 13:21
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I meant the opposite! –  LaunLaun Dec 23 '14 at 6:42
    
あ、やっぱり?www・・・・・ –  Choko Dec 24 '14 at 8:03

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