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What is the correct te-form of 問う? Is it 問って or 問うて or both?

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Another one is 請う. –  Pacerier May 31 '12 at 19:44

2 Answers 2

up vote 9 down vote accepted

While 「問って」 may seem the logical conjugation, 「問う」 is actually irregular (see the Wikipedia entry for 不規則動詞). According to this article, 「問って」 is "almost never used". It appears therefore that 「問うて」 is correct in modern Japanese.

In case you are wondering why, the author of the latter article hypothesizes that this irregular conjugation makes the dictionary form of this verb more obvious when using its te-form in speech (as well as others, such as 「乞う」).

One contributing factor is that the pronunciation of the dictionary form (問う) can be thought of as one long vowel syllable (トー), so conjugating it as 「問って」 (トッテ) would result in the modification of that identifying first syllable.

Of course, this reason alone would not normally be sufficient justification for this irregularity. The author adds that due to frequent substitution of 「問う」 with 「頼む」 in modern Japanese, 「問う」 is now less common and thus requires extra disambiguation when used in the te-form.

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My two cents: I am personally not convinced by the primary reason hypothesized in the linked article because, as I understand it, a “long vowel” in Japanese is really just two vowels which happen to be the same. But of course I am not arguing about it with you…. –  Tsuyoshi Ito May 31 '12 at 22:45
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Most, if not all, Hyojungo speakers pronounce 問う differently from say 塔 (the former as 2 vowels). But in either case, that doesn't seem to be a useful rule of thumb, since it's 負って, 付きまとって, 争って etc. –  dainichi Jun 1 '12 at 0:15
    
@TsuyoshiIto Indeed. It could make some sense to me though that in the past, the need to vocally disambiguate the te-form of this verb could have prompted a trend to preserve its dictionary form when conjugating, simply because it is so easily pronounced? –  con5013d Jun 1 '12 at 1:06
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I think that the very first sentence of this answer is strange. “問って” is an incorrect form which would be correct if 問う were a regular verb. In a strictly grammatical sense, this does not change; “問って” is still an incorrect form which would be correct if 問う were a regular verb. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 1 '12 at 3:31
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I'd just like to note that "this unusual conjunction came about" is a bit misleading; this is a perfectly normal conjunction in much of (modern) Western Japan, and you can trace the split back to how the onbin changes worked out in medieval times. The question is really why the premodern/western-dialect form was retained/adopted as an irregular form in what eventually became Standard Japanese for just a few verbs (問う, 乞う, etc.) –  Matt Jun 1 '12 at 4:46

問う has a hidden sound "w" at the end of the verb stem, which does not arise at the surface in nonpast forms due to a phonological rule that deletes "w" in front of vowels other than "a". 買う is another such verb:

tow-u → tou
kaw-u → kau

So for the te-form, you would expect gemination, which happens with other verbs ending in "w". However, as written in the wikipedia link that con5013d cites, This verb is irregular, and the form toute (← towute) is used.

kaw-te → katte
* tow-te → totte

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Does the perfective (ta-form) display the same irregularity? Are there other verbs that behave the same way? –  user763305 May 31 '12 at 17:57
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@sawa Btw in English, stuff like "goed" (went) looks like 100% wrong but "breaked" (broke) looks like only 90% wrong, in the case of 問う, I was wondering how "wrong" will 問って appear to be? –  Pacerier May 31 '12 at 18:42
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@user763305 Yes. 問うた. –  sawa May 31 '12 at 20:46
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@Pacerier 100% wrong in Tokyo dialect. I am not sure about other dialects. –  sawa May 31 '12 at 20:47
    
@sawa Cool, thanks for the reply =) –  Pacerier May 31 '12 at 21:38

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