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When might 選る be used over 選ぶ?

Also is there an additional fossilised morpheme deriving one from the other (i.e. is 選ぶ er-ab-u), and if so, what does it mean?

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The verbs 選{えら}ぶ, 選{えら}む and 選{よ}る are thought to be derived from the original verb 選{え}る.

Here's what 日本国語大辞典 has to say about the etymology of 選ぶ:

動詞「える(選)」の未然形に、継続を表わす「ふ」の付いたもの。万葉仮名により、上代では、「ふ」は清音であったと考えられる。

Of course, this dictionary is using the traditional analysis where words are segmented on kana boundaries, in which the continuative/repetitive auxiliary ふ attached to the irrealis form えら. That would mean it was e-ra-pu.

Less traditionally, we can segment it er-ap-u, with the continuative auxiliary -ap- attached to the verb er-. At some point the /p/ voiced to /b/, so it became er-ab-u, as you wrote above. This must have happened early on, as although /p/ is indicated in the earliest writing, it was already indicated as /b/ in 栄花物語 (circa 1028). The form with /m/ is recorded in 観智院本『類聚名義抄』 (1241).

In most other words containing this auxiliary the /p/ didn't voice, and so they underwent regular sound change, for example in 戦う tatak-a(w)-u < 戦ふ tatak-ap-u, which is built on the root 叩く tatak-u.


In Modern Japanese, 選{えら}ぶ is much more common than 選{よ}る/選{え}る. I don't think there's a really big difference in meaning today despite the presence of the continuative morpheme in 選ぶ. In general, you should probably use 選ぶ rather than 選る.

One exception might be compound forms like 選り好む, where you'll use 選る and not 選ぶ. In this case, it's possible to read 選り好む as より or えり, but in general I think えり sounds more archaic and より more modern. But this sort of usage isn't very common.

Another exception is in set phrases like よりによって, which is usually written in kana but actually contains the verb we're discussing. In kanji, it would be 選りに選って. In this sort of use, 選る is still a common word.


An unrelated verb, すぐる, can also be written 選る. What's more, none of すぐる・える・よる are included as readings on the 常用漢字表. So to avoid confusion, you may want to write all of these in kana. Otherwise, people might not be able to figure out what 選り選る is :-)

  • snailboat: What a well-researched answer. Are there any other modern verbs with the -ap- morpheme in them apart from 戦う? – jogloran Sep 4 '15 at 19:27
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    @jogloran There are a bunch! For example, 向かう, 住まう, and 語らう. – snailboat Sep 5 '15 at 2:09
  • @snailboat: I'm curious about your morpheme analysis, which appears to make the mizenkei vanish. Whose work is this based on? Are there any online (non-paywalled :) ) papers you could point me to? From my own understanding of how OJP fits together, the mizenkei is a vital feature of the language (vital both in terms of "important" and in terms of "full of life" → "productive"). I'm very curious how and why this verb form would be discounted. – Eiríkr Útlendi Oct 1 '15 at 17:33
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    @jogloran: Many (most?) modern verbs ending in -au can be traced to this construction pattern, where the -au is clearly not just 合う stuck on the end as a compound verb (like in 向き合う), and instead is attached right onto the verb root (like in 向かう). Have fun! Japanese is full of interesting connections like this. – Eiríkr Útlendi Oct 1 '15 at 17:37
  • @EiríkrÚtlendi It's an artifact of the traditional grammarians not being able to split kana. Note that the 未然形 never appears on its own and has no meaning―what do passives, causatives, negatives, tentatives, honorifics, repetitives, etc. have in common semantically? Claiming the 未然形 exists doesn't really do anything useful aside from letting you analyze Japanese on kana boundaries. Anyway, this view is pretty widespread outside traditional grammar, although it's certainly not universal. For a free online explanation? Maybe see Alexander Vovin's message on Google Groups: goo.gl/ZvxB3K – snailboat Oct 1 '15 at 22:02

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