When English speakers try to make a text sound old (like in historical dramas), they for example use "thou" together with the "-st" verb ending.

What's the equivalent in Japanese, i.e. what kind of old fashioned grammar and vocabulary are used in works of historical fiction, irrespective of whether they are actually accurate?

What immediately comes to my mind is the use of が instead of の, as well as old-fashioned personal pronouns like [身]{み}. Furthermore, usage of ござる seems to be a characteristic of ninja-like speech.

  • 候(そうろう) is used in old days but it seems to be used in only literary style. It is placed end of a sentence. Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 0:52

4 Answers 4


The words and phrases vary by time, by occasion, and even by class. Just top of the mind, even the simplest words like “I” and “you” can be expressed in dozens of different ways in old-style Japanese, according to the status of the speaker, situations, by profession, by sex, and by time.

For instance in Edo-era “I” was expressed as

  • [俺]{おれ}、[儂]{わし}、[手前]{てまえ}、[奴枯]{やつがれ}、こちとら

    in commoners class.

  • 身ども、[拙者]{せっしゃ}、それがし, [吾輩]{わがはい}、[乃公]{だいこう}

    in Samurai class.

  • [予]{よ}

    in Noble’s class.

"You" was expressed as

  • お前、[手前]{てめえ}、うぬ

    in commoners class.

  • [貴様]{きさま}、[貴殿]{きでん}、お[主]{ぬし}、ご[同輩]{どうはい}

    in Samurai class,

  • そなた、そこ[許]{もと}、[汝]{なんじ}、おのれ

    in the noble’s class.

One instance shows all the rest. I don’t think there is a universal way and simplistic method to express things in old style. You need to learn expressions one by one by reading /studying classic Japanese literature of each period.

  • I know 忝い is 有り難い. So you know old words of showa, please write them to answer. Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 23:41
  • Using archaic personal pronouns: For example, それがし and 拙者 are the two typical samurai-sh first person pronouns widely used by fictional samurai/ninja characters. And 汝 is a common and pompous pronoun which may be used in place of "thou". You can easily find the list of such pronouns elsewhere.
  • Using archaic vocabulary: There is a dedicated dictionary for archaic Japanese words. If you seriously simulate old Japanese, almost no one would be able to understand it. But picking one or two archaic words might add the desired atmosphere.
  • Using archaic grammar: You know that in modern Japanese, た is to form the past tense or perfect aspect, よう is to express a volition, etc. In archaic Japanese, these were quite different. For example, 彷徨った can be rendered into 彷徨える, 行こう into 行かん, and so on, to make them sound archaic. You may typically see these in modern works of fantasy. Unfortunately it's more complicated than simple "you are → thou art" transformation, but here's a starter.

Note that the Japanese language is full of stereotypical "role expressions", so even in fiction, old noble people, samurai and ordinary people speak quite differently.


There are already good answers, so I’d like to just introduce a couple of easy words that make a sentence sound old.



If る is added after ます, the sentence becomes old-fashioned. For example,

「聞こえます。」 - modern

「聞こえます。」 - old

“(I) hear (it).”


「致しかねます。」 - modern

「致しかねます。」 - old

“(I) couldn’t do (something).”



Using ぬ in a negative sentence also sounds old-fashioned. For example,

「そうは思わない。」 - modern

「そうは思わ。」 - old

“(I) don’t think so.”


「存じません。」 - modern

「存じませ。」 - old

“(I) don’t know.”

This kind of ぬ was actually used a lot by various class of people in old periods, and it’s easy for today’s people to understand the old-fashioned taste and the meaning, so ぬ-sentences commonly appear in almost all of Japanese historical fictions.




  • 3
    @Takahiro Waki. "忝(かたじけな)い" means "Thank You very much" as used in "このようなお申し出を頂いて忝い- I'm thankful for your offering such proposition", 貴重なものを頂いて忝い-Thank you very much for your giving such a valuable thing." It shouldn't be used for implying "I regret," and "I'm sorry for not doing” as used in your answer. Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 9:24
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    「こたえる」はハ行活用「答へる」だったはずです…。 Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 11:36
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    @YoichiOishi いえ、旧仮名遣いの話です Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 12:26
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    @broccoli forest. The first "答えぬのも" in Takahiro's answer should be spelt as ”答へぬのも.” But the second one, " 答えない” that he intended to be the translation of the first sentence (though it doesn't make sense) is alright, as it is current Japanese. Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 12:39
  • 1
    @Takahiro Waki. You have freedom to believe in wrong usage. Please adhare to misconception. But why don't you consult any Japanese language dictionaries once. If you want to insist on your own view, Please do it. It's not my business whether you'll be laughed at by educated people or not. Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 13:20

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