1. The noun はなし can be written 話 or 話し.
  2. In colloquial contexts, you can omit 「を」 from 話{はなし}をする, making it 話{はなし}する.
  3. There is also a 五段 verb, 話す{はなす}.
  4. The continuative (連用形) form of both 話する and 話す can look like 話し.

The problem

From the facts, you can collect 3 words that look exactly the same but have a different meaning (grammatical function). You can probably rule out the noun 話し with the help of context, but you still have either 話し{はなしし} or 話{はな}し.

The question

How can I know when which one is meant? Or does it make such a big difference that I should even care?

Some examples:

  • 話しながら…
  • 何人に話した?
  • 明日お話します。← This must be する because of お-?
  • 彼は大声で話した。
  • 1
    All your examples look like 話す to me except the 3rd.
    – Blavius
    Apr 11 '17 at 0:10

In modern standard Japanese, はなし as a noun is always written as 話, without し. This rule is taught at school today and is fairly strict, although you may see exceptions in old documents. As a verb, はなす is written with okurigana.

話 is not a suru-verb. You usually need a direct object marker を when it's used with する.

シンデレラの話【はなし】する。 (話 is a noun)

はなしして and はなしした can appear in two situations:

  1. When はなし is a noun and the following を is omitted because it's a casual sentence.

    ママ、シンデレラの話【はなし】して! (話 is a noun)

  2. As part of a humble expression お + masu-stem + する.


To distinguish, first note that omission of を after 話 can appear only in fairly casual conversations. And looking at the modifiers will usually tell whether it's used as a noun or a verb. Unless 話 is clearly modified by an adjectival expression in a casual conversational sentence, you can assume 話して/話した is a verb. In your examples, 「話しながら」「何人に話した」「彼は大声で話した」 are theoretically ambiguous, but you can usually assume these はなし are verbs.

  • 先生が楽しい話【はなし】してるよ! (a noun follows after 楽しい)
  • 先生は楽しく話【はな】している。 (a verb follows after 楽しく)

Humble おはなしします should be written as お話しします, because 話す is a verb in this construction (cf. お預かりします, お持ちしましょう). That means your third expression is grammatically wrong, although this mistake is found even among native speakers.

  • Oh. So there were actually 4 situations where you could see 話し. 話し(n, old), 話し(v5, cont.), 話し(col. を omission, n+suru) and 話し(misspelling; v5, cont. + suru in teineigo, cont.). No wonder why I was confused.
    – siikamiika
    Apr 11 '17 at 6:27

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