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I was taught ages ago that the volitional form of a verb means "let's" do something. For example, if you take 行{い}く and change it to 行{い}こう, you get "let's go".

However, I feel like I can use the same form to express "I want to". For example:

行{い}こうかなと思{おも}っている ("[I'm] thinking maybe I'll go")

Am I wrong that it can be used this way?

If it's true that it can mean that, what is the difference between the sentence I have above and this one:


My understandng of the plain form is that it can be used to imply future tense, and if so, maybe it also implies intention. If so, then the two sentences mean the same thing, don't they?

Perhaps I'm thinking too much in English, though, where "will go" can be both intention and future tense?

So, my questions in summary are:

Does 行{い}こう mean "will go" as well as "let's go"?

Can 行{い}こう and 行{い}く both be used to mean future tense and/or intention?

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for me volitional is an overly technical linguistic term (-: –  hippietrail May 8 at 11:57
@hippietrail, that note about linguistic terminology was at a time in the evolution of JLU where there was a lot more highly technical terms being thrown around. It's not really an issue now, so I'll remove it. –  Dave M G May 8 at 13:40
You should really add a tag wiki to volitional though so that people can try to use it properly. I don't know the term well enough to do so myself. –  hippietrail May 9 at 2:45
@hippietrail, isn't the "volitional" form of verbs just the form that conveys will or intent? I hope so, because that's how I've been using it. In any case, I don't really know anything about tag wikis. I've never had cause to use them in the time I've been on JLU. –  Dave M G May 9 at 5:41
Sorry dave I thought I deleted that comment just after I wrote it. I haven't go to the volitional yet but I saw it here a lot and made the tag myself at some point with no tag wiki. The furigana does seem to be working for me though. Try doing a forced refresh of your browser cache. That's usual CTRL + F5 –  hippietrail May 9 at 6:54

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Japanese has a clearer distinction between volitional-future and simple-future than English.

"I think I will go" can be parsed in two ways, one involving volition, and one without.

私は行こうと思う (Volitional future)

私は行くと思う (Simple future)

"Will" being interpreted without volition when used in the first-person can be a little counter-intuitive. So here's one way I look at it:

"Tomorrow will be Saturday" - Clearly no volition is involved. It is this sense of "will" that is used when talking about simple-future.

This is easy to see since there is nothing that can exert volition.

Now let's bring in something that can exert volition:

"Because I did not study, I will fail the test".

 x 勉強しなかったから、試験に落ちよう

 O 勉強しなかったから、試験に落ちる

Although there is something that can exert volition, it is however still not volitional since the person is not intentionally exerting his will to fail the test. This is simple-future.

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Am I wrong that it can be used this way?

No. This grammatical form is standard in monologue situations, just like your example: "Hum, should I go?" (undecided).

The other example translates rather like "I wonder if I'll go" (answer unknown).

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