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As I understand, 〜ます should only be used in the ending verb while others inside the sentence should be in basic form. How come, then, that the polite past negative tense is made using 〜ませんでした, which contains polite conjugation in the beginning 〜ません as well as in subsequent でした, which I learned is polite form of です (I presume it is a contraction of でありました similarly to です itself)?

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  • Thanks for the link, some things are clearer, but what I asked is a bit different thing - why mas- is two times there (one in masen, one in contracted dearimasita), when there should only be one in last verb. Was this version (as the answer shows there was a race between three versions) just selected "as one" so no one seemed to have problem with two mas- as they were not seen as separate? Or would it be strange to drop the mas- part in the actual verb and have something like "nai desita" (as it wasn't in any of the versions it probably is a bit strange).
    – herby
    Oct 1, 2014 at 18:05
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    @herby From what I gathered from Dono's answer was "this is just how it happened", in that there were a number of competing choices of how to represent the "past polite negative", and we just happened to end up with 〜ませんでした, where 〜でした is not actually acting as the copula but instead just acting as a [+past] similar to how 〜です acts as [+polite] with i-adjectives (rather than as the copula). Of course take note that there is 〜なかったです, but it doesn't feel "as formal" as 〜ませんでした, probably due to the lack of 〜ます. Oct 1, 2014 at 19:29
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    @herby Unpacking some of my points which help alleviate your confusion: (1) I don't think anyone thinks of です as a literal contraction of であります -- although that is (possibly) its etymology, it is treated completely differently; (2) I do not think anyone treats ませんでした as syntactically [○が○を○ませんでした]でした, but rather as a single unit ませんでした, where the でした is not acting as the copula but as a [+past] modifier of ません. Oct 1, 2014 at 19:47

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