In another question we established that Japanese is an agglutinating language (more here), if only in its verb system.

Since it is not traditional in Japanese grammar or teaching to go into this aspect of the language most of the information must be in scholarly linguistics publications somewhere.

My question is what are the "slots" used in the Japanese verb? This means in which specific rigid order can the various types of suffixes be built up?

If the answer for Japanese is complex a pointer to a website or publication is also a good answer.

(This article on another language includes a small example comparing to Japanese for those who are not used to looking at Japanese this way. It analyses the Japanese word "tabesaserareta")

  • 1
    I do not know most of the linguistic terms in the question (and I am not very interested to learn them right now), but for example, it is hard to imagine changing the order of suffixes in 食べさせられていたくありません (to eat + causative + passive + progressive + want to + polite negation). Commented Jul 3, 2011 at 21:05
  • Slots do not define agglutination. An agglutinating language is just a language that has many inflections but isn't fusional.
    – ithisa
    Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 15:42

1 Answer 1


The example you point to is not analyzing tabe-sase-rare-ta. It is analyzing tabe-sase-rare-takatta. In traditional grammar, takatta is considered the past form of the adjectival affix tai 'want', and the link you point to analyzes it as such. But if you look at it in more detail, it is actually the contracted form of:

(1) tabe-sase-rare-ta-ku at-ta
    `wanted to be forced to eat'

In actual usage, you will not see the string (1) as is because contraction is obligatory. However, once contraction is blocked by some phrase, you will notice that the structure seen in (1) is actually there:

(2) tabe-sase-rare-ta-ku sae/mo at-ta

In Japanese, the affixational morphological slots on verbs, if any, are not as elaborated as you see in Chuckchee mentioned in the link. All you can see in (2) is that particular morphemes select particular category to attach to.

tabe-  A verbal stem
-sase- A verbal affix to a verb
-rare- A verbal affix to a verb
-ta- An adjectival affixal root to a verb
-ku  An infinitival affix to an adjective root
ar-  A verbal stem selecting an infinitive (Turns into at- by gemination)
-ta The past tense affix to a verb

From these selectional properties, the ordering of these morphemes is pretty much limited. Further notice that, in this case, the following alternative ordering, if possible at all, will have a different meaning.

(3) tabe-rare-sase-takat-ta
    `wanted to be forced into being eaten'

In this case, syntax is playing an important role.

The general topic you are asking is much more complicated than what can be explained in a webpage or two.

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    It's starting to appear to me that Japanese is more like English in the way you can add derivational suffixes onto each other (organize -ation -al -ly) rather than being truly agglutinative with a fixed maximum number of slots in a fixed order and that it's being shoehorned into lists of agglutinative languages to make the lists more impressive. Or the example I found was bad. Or there is a kind of agglutination different to that in Basque, Hungarian, Finnish, Turkish. I await the linguistics.SE ... Commented Jul 4, 2011 at 6:37
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    (3) tabe-rare-sase-takat-ta `wanted to be forced into being eaten' I think you mean "wanted to force into being eaten"
    – dainichi
    Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 6:19
  • @hippietrail Of the synthetic languages, English is certainly one of the "least synthetic"--its inflections are very loose, and allow a great deal of "mix-and-match" as your example shows. Like Japanese, English has two languages it borrows significantly from as well--Greek and Latin, which are where most of the compound words come from. Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 20:06

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