Japanese verbs can take the suffix -tai, which attaches to the ren'youkei form and turns the verb into an -i adjective, expressing desire to do what the verb says. I have recently wondered where this suffix comes from. Is it known? I mean, do we know where the -tai suffix in question comes from? Someone proposed it might be from -te + ai, love, as a comparison with how "oi", to love, means also to want in Hakka. Could that be?


According to this article in Japanese WP, -たい is the descendant of Middle Japanese -たし (-tasi), which ultimately traces back to Old Japanese (or Proto-Japonic) いたし (itasi; "sore, acute").

A paper referred by that page argues that this form has changed its meaning taking the path of "painful" → "sorely felt" → "of physiological necessity" → "of emotional necessity" → "desire".

Someone proposed it might be from -te + ai, love...

It's unlikely to be true considering the oldest attested form of this word ended in -asi, not -ai. Additionally, if Japanese speakers want to incorporate Chinese words in such a way, they never use te-form but append them directly to word stem or 連用形. For instance, -そう in 「雨{あめ}が降{ふ}りそう」 is said to originate from 相{そう} ("appearance").

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  • If ai is a Chinese loanword, what would the "indigenous", "original" Japanese word for love be? Perhaps koi? – MickG Apr 27 '15 at 5:09
  • And "ame ga orisou"... "looks like it's raining / going to rain"? – MickG Apr 27 '15 at 5:12
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    (1) Yes, the indigenous word for love should be "koi" (lit. "yearning"). "Ai" for "love" is relatively new, being an outcome of modern translation from Western languages. (2) It's "furisou"... I think I'd put furiganas on it. Your translation is correct. – broccoli facemask - cloth Apr 27 '15 at 5:30
  • Stupid Google Translate had me miscorrecting my transliteration :). – MickG Apr 27 '15 at 6:39

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