Take the 2-minute tour ×
Japanese Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Japanese language. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I would like to know a bit more about the "ねば" grammatical construction. Every now and then, I hear people say sentences like

東京に行かねばならぬ

粘々丼を食べねば倒れる

なんとかせねばいい

It's quite clear that ねば means the same as なければ, but

  • Is it a shorten form of なければ, or a different construction?
  • Is it an old form, or something that has been around for 20 years or so?
  • Is its usage limited to some regions? ages? social classes?
  • How (in)formal is it?
  • Is it like なきゃ and なくちゃ? (as far as usage is concerned, not nuances)
share|improve this question
2  
This isn't a complete answer, so I'm only commenting, but する in this form is せねば, not しねば. (I suppose this also suggests that it's not just a shortened form of なければ, as that uses し and not せ...) –  Hyperworm Sep 8 '11 at 3:37
    
@hyperworm: I saw on google some "しねば" that were certainly not 死ぬ (precisely "なんとかしねば"), and thus I inferred that しねば was a possible form for する. It would be possible, since する has せろ/しよ too. –  Axioplase Sep 8 '11 at 3:42
    
せねば is the standard form, but I think that しねば is used in some dialects. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Sep 8 '11 at 13:29
add comment

1 Answer

up vote 7 down vote accepted

ねば can be divided into two parts:

  • ね, the 已然形 (realis) form of the Classical Japanese auxiliary verb ず
  • ば, basically the same as modern ば

So to answer your questions in detail (great format, by the way!):

  • It is a different construction -- actually なければ is a reinvention of the same concept (已然形 + ば) using modern parts!
  • It is a very old form, here it is in the Manyoshu: "... 君が目見ねば苦しかりけり" ("... Not seeing you (lit. your eyes), I suffer." -- note the use of the 已然形 was a bit different back then. This changed a few hundred years ago (IIRC) to something more like our usage)
  • I don't think its usage is especially limited except insofar as it is a bit of an archaism. (Note that the first two examples include ならぬ and 倒る, also archaisms.) I think most people would recognize it, but few would use it except for intentional effect (intentionally overformal speech as joke, etc.). However, this kind of pseudo-archaic talk is quite popular among certain internet circles, so it might be more common and "normal" there, and might have seeped out into real life from that point. I hope that someone else will be able to provide better info on this point.
  • As above, it is a bit of an archaism and so while not informal as such, it might be considered inappropriate or unusual in a case where standard Japanese was expected.
  • なきゃ and なくちゃ are normal standard Japanese, just informal (as you know of course), so it is not like them.
share|improve this answer
    
Thanks! Great informative reply! I just want to say that the examples are mine. I chose "ならぬ" for fun, but I didn't know that 倒る was archaic! I don't know any other way to say "faint/collapse/fall down" :) –  Axioplase Sep 8 '11 at 8:09
    
@Axioplase: The modern verb is 倒れる — note the okurigana! –  Zhen Lin Sep 8 '11 at 11:38
    
Yeah, たおる is archaic (and maybe survives in some dialects? not sure), たおれる is the modern standard form. –  Matt Sep 8 '11 at 12:30
    
@Matt: My bad, I somehow wrongly came to using たおる instead of たおれる, without noticing it :) –  Axioplase Sep 9 '11 at 2:37
    
@Axioplase: Ah, a typo! Well, that explains it. (Certainly was fortuitous!) –  Matt Sep 9 '11 at 3:10
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.