What is the difference between 美しき and 麗しき and what is the difference between 美しい and 美しき?

I know that both 美しい女性 and 美しき女性 are correct. But what is the difference between these two?


Adjective Endings い and き

All the modern い adjectives used to have the following endings (more at the JA Wikipedia article, for those who can read Japanese):

  • 未然形{みぜんけい} (imperfective): く
  • 連用形{れんようけい} (adverbial): く
  • 終止形{しゅうしけい} (terminal): し
  • 連体形{れんようけい} (adnominal): き
  • 已然形{いぜんけい} (perfective): けれ
  • 命令形{めいれいけい} (imperative): -

The 未然形 and 連用形 are the same in modern Japanese, still ending in く. The 連体形 ending in classical Japanese was き instead of い, and folks still use that to sound old-fashioned and/or literary. So too for the 終止形 ending of し, still seen in literary use or in set phrases like よし (classical terminal form of modern 良{よ}い).

As for where the き > い shift came from, there was a time around the Muromachi period when the interstitial -k- fell out entirely for some speakers, producing forms like はやい for the 連体形 and はやう for the 連用形. This う adverbial form produced modern terms like おはよう (from 早{はや}い: はやく > はやう > はよう) or おめでとう (from 愛{め}でる: めでたく > めでたう > めでとう).

For reasons left unclear, the general population ultimately accepted the き > い shift for the 連体形, but rejected the く > う shift for the 連用形. The 連体形 and the 終止形 then merged, much as they did for verbs, leading to the disappearance of the し ending.

TL;DR: き is old-fashioned and fancified.

  • 2
    Kansai still uses う rather than く for everything...like はよう for 早く in all contexts etc. Preserving く was a Kantō thing.
    – ithisa
    May 31 '14 at 1:45
  • 1
    Yeah, I would very much bet that the mismatch between -i and -ku has to do with the move of the government to Edo and the subsequent shift of the prestige dialect from Kyouto to Edo.
    – Sjiveru
    May 31 '14 at 2:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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