In 大辞林, the definition of さまよえる as in さまよえるオランダ人 is


while the (primary) definition of さまよう is


What's the difference between the two words, and other similar pairs such as 狂える as in 狂えるオルランド and 狂う?

Is it related to the use of 可能動詞, e.g. 笑える泣ける, for involuntary actions?

3 Answers 3

  • [彷徨]{さまよ}[へ]{え}: the 命令形 (imperative form) of さまよふ, which is the archaic version of さまよう
  • [狂]{くる}[へ]{え}: the 命令形 of くるふ, the archaic version of 狂う
  • : the 連体形 (attributive form) of , which is an archaic auxiliary verb similar in purpose to た/だ (perfective) or ている/でいる in modern Japanese. It takes the "imperative" form for whatever reason.

So さまよえるオランダ人 is just the archaic version of さまよっているオランダ人, and 狂えるオルランド is the archaic version of 狂ったオルランド or 狂っているオルランド. The archaic languages are used for aesthetic purposes.

Another example:

  • 眠れ森の美女 Sleeping Beauty
  • 古語の助動詞「り」の接続というのは活用表上の方便なので、単に samayo(f)-eru とした方がすっきりすると思います。語源的には「さまよひ (連体形) + ある」の縮約なので… Jul 22, 2016 at 13:47
  • @broccoliforest すみませんその辺の事情は全然分からないので「学校文法」的で…。リンクされたページにも「助動詞として認めたものである」とかあってどっかで聞いた話だな~とは思ったんですけど、詳しくは理解していないです。
    – naruto
    Jul 24, 2016 at 11:49

Since I'm an etymology geek, and I enjoy diving into the history of where things come from, I add this as an addendum to naruto's explanation.

Translated from Shogakukan's monolingual 大国語辞典【だいこくごじてん】:

  • -り:
    Verb ending / suffix. Classed as a 助動詞【じょどうし】 (auxiliary verb).
    Developed from fusion of classical あり with the preceding verb stem.
    1. Indicates continuation or progression of the action of the main verb. Equivalent to modern -ている・-てある.
    2. Indicates ongoing state as a result of the action of the main verb. Equivalent to modern -た・-ている・-てある.
    3. Indicates a sense of confirming that the action of the main verb has completed.

For conjugation purposes, this -り was previously analyzed as attaching to the 已然形【いぜんけい】 (realis) stem of regular 四段活用【よだんかつよう】 (quadrigrade conjugation) verbs, the -e ending corresponding to the modern 仮定形【かていけい】 (hypothetical or conditional), or to the 未然形【みぜんけい】 (irrealis or incomplete form) of the irregular "s" verbs (such as modern する), which also ended in -e.

However, further research into ancient kana usage (上代特殊仮名遣い, or in English, "ancient special kana usage") revealed that there were two kinds of -e vowels, called 甲類【こうるい】 and 乙類【おつるい】 in Japanese and usually subscripted as "1" and "2" in English. It was also revealed that the -り ending attached to the 甲類 version of -e, that is, the verb stem ending in -e1, which is the 命令形【めいれいけい】 or imperative form, rather than the 已然形【いぜんけい】 or realis that ended in -e2 in Old Japanese.

Still further research into the vowel values of Old Japanese (OJP) suggests that these two "flavors" of the e vowel may have arisen through the fusion of earlier vowel sounds, much as we see even in modern Japanese in words like takai or sugoi becoming takē or sugē in informal speech.

From this, and from oddities in how the -り ending attached to different verb classes (such as the "s" class, or 上一段【かみいちだん】 (upper monograde) verbs with "k" stems, where the 命令形 ending is -kiyo, but the stem becomes -ke before -り), the growing consensus view appears to be that this -り is really just あり attaching to the normal 連用形【れんようけい】 or conjoining form. For most verb classes, this ends in -i, and this then combined with the a- in あり as a kind of contraction, something like:

  • -i ari-yari-yeri → OJP -e1ri → classical -eri

So in classical and modern Japanese, the conjugation to use the -り ending seems very irregular: attaching to the imperative for yodan verbs, the irrealis for "s" verbs, and a completely irregular -ke ending for kami ichdan verbs. But if you dig back, it turns out it might actually be very regular indeed, with just a couple millenia of contraction obscuring the origins.


彷徨ふ(文語) 彷徨える(口語) って対応関係でしょう。これといっしょかと。 https://mainichi-kotoba.jp/photo-20161128

  • 2
    Welcome to JLSE! 明鏡国語辞典, デジタル大辞泉 and 大辞林 carry うれえる, and うれう as its 文語形, but さまよえる is not listed in 明鏡国語辞典 or デジタル大辞泉 (大辞林 carries さまよえる as a 連語, saying 「る」は、助動詞「り」の連体形), while all these dictionaries carry さまよう.
    – chocolate
    Nov 16, 2018 at 6:47

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