My knowledge about ren'youkei is limited to "tabe is the ren'youkei of taberu". I would like to know what the meaning of ren'youkei is, what linguistic idea lies behind this term and for what it is actually used in everyday usage.

2 Answers 2


The 連用形{れんようけい} ("continuative form") is one of the various 活用形{かつようけい} ("inflected forms") for 用言{ようげん} ("inflectable words") in Japanese.

The way I like to explain this is somewhat non-standard, but I think more coherent than how it is usually explained. I will connect this explanation back to the standard way at the end.

I think there are two things worth discussing:

  1. The -I Form
  2. The Continuative Form

The -I Form

The -I form is stem-I: the stem of an inflectable word plus the -I morpheme.

-I definition:

  • Vowel-stem verb:
  • Consonant-stem verb: i
  • i-adjective:


  • Consonant-stem verb 思う: omow-I -> omo(w)-i -> 思い
  • Consonant-stem verb 行く: ik-I -> ik-i -> 行き
  • i-adjective 熱い: atsu-I -> atsu-∅ -> 熱
  • Vowel-stem verb 食べる: tabe-I -> tabe-∅ -> 食べ

The -I form feels a lot like a noun.


  • The continuative form
    • See later for examples.
  • -sou and -sugi-
    • そう
    • 行きそう
    • すぎる
    • 食べすぎる
  • Compounding
    • 起き
  • Stand-alone nouns (I can only think of verbs here)
    • 思い
    • 考え
    • 感じ

The Continuative Form

The continuative form (a.k.a., 連用形) is stem-I-CONT: the stem of an inflectable word, plus the -I morpheme, plus the -CONT morpheme.

-CONT definition:

  • Verbs:
  • i-adjectives: ku


  • Consonant-stem verb 思う: omow-I-CONT -> omo(w)-i-∅ -> 思い
  • Consonant-stem verb 行く: ik-I-CONT -> ik-i-∅ -> 行き
  • i-adjective 熱い: atsu-I-CONT -> atsu-∅-ku -> 熱く
  • Vowel-stem verb 食べる: tabe-I-CONT -> tabe-∅-∅ -> 食べ


  • Adjuncts:
    • 間違いなく怒っている。
    • 優しく抱きしめる。
    • 君のことを思い、彼を許した。
  • Conjunction (this form is known as the 中止形):
    • 外へ行き、マスコミに話す。
    • 空は青く、地面は茶色。
  • -te:
    • 熱く
    • 食べ
    • 思って (omo(w)-i-te after euphonic changes, namely 促音便)
  • Various auxiliaries, e.g.:
    • -mas-: 行きます
    • -tutu-: 直りつつ

While this is hardly complete, maybe it helps give an idea of what the 連用形 is. The way this stuff is usually taught, I think the -i form is often conflated with the 連用形, because the surface form is the same for verbs, but I think it makes more sense to split it out like this.

  • So, you're pretty much categorizing adjective stems under "i-form"? Interesting. Also, there are a couple of standalone nouns (doubling as adverbs) that come from 連用形 of i-adj, like 多く, 近く, 遠く, and 早く Oct 9, 2014 at 10:31
  • What does "surface form" mean? And do verbs that have a su ending have a shi added to their stem form via continuative form?
    – Toyu_Frey
    Mar 10, 2019 at 18:23
  • @Toyu_Frey “Surface form” is in contrast to “underlying form”. The underlying form is stuff like ik-PLAIN, where the surface form is iku. When you presupose morphemes that have null surface forms (like I do in this post) it’s very easy to have a surface form which has an ambiguous parsing into underlying representations. Mar 11, 2019 at 20:26
  • Also, your second question isn’t precise enough to give a short answer without reexplaining some of the concepts in this post. Try again? (If you’d like.) Mar 11, 2019 at 20:27

Japanese has two main categories for standalone terms: 用言{ようげん} and 体言{たいげん}.

  • 用言 inflect: this category includes verbs, -i adjectives, and -na adjectives.
  • 体言 don't inflect, and this category includes nouns, pronouns, and numbers.

These two terms form the basis of the terms for two different conjugations: the 連用形{れんようけい} and the 連体形{れんたいけい}.

  • 連用形 literally breaks down as 連 "goes with / attaches to" + 用 short for 用言 + 形 "form" -- this is the form of the word (conjugation) that attaches to other words that also conjugates.
    So when combining verbs into a compound verb, you use the 連用形. Or when using an adjective (a part of speech that inflects) to modify another adjective or a verb (which also inflects), you use the 連用形. Since this form (and the meaning of the underlying term) continues into the following inflected term, this is often glossed in English as the "continuative form".
  • 連体形 literally breaks down as 連 "goes with / attaches to" + 体 short for 体言 + 形 "form" -- this is the form of the word (conjugation) that attaches to other words that don't conjugate.
    So when modifying a noun or other non-inflected term with a verb or adjective, you use the 連体形. Since this form is used to describe an attribute of the following uninflected term, this is often glossed in English as the "attributive form".

Notably, the 連用形 for verbs is sometimes used as a noun: for instance, 替{か}わり is the 連用形 for 替{か}わる, and it is also a noun meaning "replacement, alternative".

Also, the 連体形 and the 終止形{しゅうしけい} (literally "terminal form", the form to use when an inflected word is at the end of a sentence) used to be distinct, but these have become the same thing in modern Japanese (except for -na adjectives -- these use な for the 連体形 and だ for the 終止形).

For more about Japanese conjugation forms, see the Wikipedia article on Japanese grammar, particularly the bit on Conjugable words.

For more about older Japanese where these two forms were still distinct, see the Wikipedia articles on Classical Japanese language and Early Middle Japanese.

  • 1
    I like your answer in paritucar for mentioning 体言 and 用言 but I think there is a little typo: 蓮 (as in 蓮根) instead of 連 sometimes. Mar 4, 2016 at 22:37
  • あら、変換ミス!すぐ修正します。 Mar 4, 2016 at 22:38

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