In the sentence "nanika osagashi desu ka?" (Are you looking for something), in which tense is "osagashi"? Why is it not osagashimasu?

  • Does this help: japanese.stackexchange.com/a/54417/9831 "For some verbs you could also use 「ご・お~~だ/です」, eg お待ちだ, お帰りです, ご立腹だ, ご到着です"
    – chocolate
    Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 15:14
  • @Chocolate that simply shows that one can join a bare i-stem to です rather than completing the conjugation with ます. It doesn't explain why this is allowed, what it means, or why one would choose one way over the other. Commented Jun 22, 2023 at 12:32

2 Answers 2


“Osagasi” in this sentence is noun so it’s irrelevant to tense. I think the sentence is more like “Are you in search of something?” The verb in this sentence is “desu(ka)”, which is present tense.

  • しかし「このゲームお探しですか?」とかも言えますよね?
    – Angelos
    Commented Jun 20, 2023 at 17:42
  • はい。言えます。「お探し」は動詞の「探す」から派生したから目的語をとれるのですかね。 Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 2:39
  • 形容動詞 (na-adjective) と名詞+だ と動詞の連用形+だ は、区別や説明が難しいですね。 Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 2:42

First off: it seems that by "tense" you really mean conjugation - the complete set of changes (inflections) made to a verb in order to indicate tense (past/present/future), aspect (finished/ongoing/repeatedly occurring/etc.), mood (active/passive/hypothetical/command/etc.), etc. I don't think you are really confused about whether the sentence refers to past, present or future, but simply about why there is no "masu" ending.

The sentence does mean "Are you searching for something?" although of course the "you" is implied. (We could also suppose that the implied subject is, e.g., "the thing that you're doing".) In a hyper-literal translation - to show how the grammar works - we might say something like "do [you] exist in the state of searching for something?". It means this because "desu" is a copula (one of the functions that the verb "to be" has in English), and "osagashi" is essentially "searching" in a noun-like way (like, the state/condition of searching), thus "osagashi" + "desu" forms a verb that means something like "to be searching".

In case you feel like digging in to way more gory details than are actually needed in order to understand it:

The verb [お]{o}[探]{saga}[す]{su} means to search for something1 (the "o" is just an honorific here2), and [お]{o}[探]{saga}[し]{shi} is its i-stem, or "masu-stem". However, the i-stem is not a proper conjugation of a verb by itself. Rather, in general it's something more like a gerund (i.e., an abstract noun that describes some event) in English.3 This is noun-like, but has more limited uses than ordinary nouns.

Forms like this can go before [で]{de}[す]{su} - however, these cases don't work quite the same way (from an English perspective) as putting an ordinary noun before [で]{de}[す]{su}. [探]{saga}[し]{shi}[で]{de}[す]{su} isn't "is (equal to/an instance of) searching (the act, as an abstract concept)", but rather "is (exists) searching (a description of the current condition of the subject)".

This happens because Japanese doesn't really have a direct equivalent of the English "is" (which is highly ambiguous). [で]{de}[す]{su} is a contraction of [で]{de} (the particle) + [あ]{a}[り]{ri}[ま]{ma}[す]{su} (polite form of [あ]{a}[る]{ru}). That is, the underlying verb is really "to exist", and then we describe where or how the subject exists, using a で-marked indirect object. Alternately, we can say that this で is a connector that can convert a gerund (noun-like) into a gerundive4 (adjective/adverb-like) and then join it to the following verb.

We could instead attach the "masu" ending5 like you describe, and get roughly the same meaning. However, that then has to be the final verb; we can't put "desu" after that (it would be sort of like saying "are you be looking for something?").

1In English, "to search for" is a phrasal verb; we think of the "for" as being part of the verb itself. When we "search" in English, the direct object is the place (especially a container) where we search, and the indirect object is what we hope to find. "for" functions as a marker for indirect objects, and in English we can't just skip direct objects for transitive verbs. However, "search for" lets us swap the objects around (and now we need something like "in" to mark a place for the search). The Japanese verb most commonly works like "search for", rather than like "search", although my dictionary suggests it can work both ways with a bit of finagling.

2However, maybe you misheard a particle-を before the verb? There should be one, since [何]{nani}[か]{ka} is the direct object here - per the previous footnote.

3In certain limited cases, this form also becomes a separate, ordinary noun - for example [呼]{よ}び meaning "call" as a noun (an invitation, act of calling, etc.) derived from 呼ぶ (the verb "to call"). Anyway, I don't want to say that it actually is a gerund, because European grammatical terms were designed for European languages.

4Again, this is an approximation; I don't want to assert that it's correct to use terms like this.

5Getting really pedantic, [ま]{ma}[す]{su} (or sometimes [い]{i}[ま]{ma}[す]{su}) isn't a "conjugation" in the way that "-ing" or "-ed" is in English; it's an actual auxiliary verb. In modern Japanese it would basically never be used on its own, but it commonly gets attached to i-stems of other verbs. The reason we don't use [で]{de} here is because the meaning of the verb is more like "do" than "exist", so we modify it with a description of what is done rather than how. This is similar to how "suru verbs" work.

  • 1
    If I recall correctly, there isn't actually a consensus about です being a contraction of であります.
    – Kaskade
    Commented Jun 22, 2023 at 13:12
  • 1
    I definitely agree that it's useful for such a model of understanding. It was just a small nitpick as I find it important to distinguish between a good model and what the actual language evolution looked like.
    – Kaskade
    Commented Jun 22, 2023 at 13:33
  • 4
    The honorific prefixes お and ご attach to nouns, but they don't attach to verbs -- so there is no verb お探【さが】す, there is just 探【さが】す. :) Commented Jun 22, 2023 at 15:57
  • 1
    The aru in de aru is similar to "is" in English. There is an arguable sense of "to exist", but it's simpler than that -- just as aru is simpler than sonzai suru. :) Separately, I recall reading second-hand that some linguists (possibly Frellesvig?) lay out a case for two ancient copulae - one root //n-//, the other root //t-//. The "N" series gave rise to なる "to become", -ぬ completion-aspect marker (unintentional, natural), に and の particles. に might well be analyzable as the 連用形 and の as the 連体形. Combo にて might thus just be the continuative "-te" form of the underlying copula. Commented Jun 22, 2023 at 22:14
  • 1
    One of articles on that topic is "A Common Korean and Japanese Copula" (Bjarke Frellesvig, 2001): academia.edu/83805128/A_Common_Korean_and_Japanese_Copula
    – Arfrever
    Commented Jun 22, 2023 at 22:27

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