There are four distinct cases of 未然形+う: intention, plus three of irrealis moods: hortative, dubitative, presumptive, . Very often Japanese grammar books refer to all of them as volitional form. Linguistic volition is defined semantically or syntactically, or combination of the two. So, 未然形+う is clearly morphological phenomena and therefore cannot be called volitional. If one must call it that way the actual term should be volitive (one of the irrealis moods), but it cannot be called such because it does not correspond to the usage of 未然形+う.

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    Mostly for backward compatibility i.e. tradition. There are another term "potential form", while "potential" in the WP article is... – broccoli forest May 3 '17 at 12:29
  • I am sure you aware that potential is a totally different case: 未然形+られる for 一段 verbs (れら for 五段 verbs in classical Japanese) – user1602 May 3 '17 at 22:07
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    I guess you're talking about mismatch between general term and language-specific term in this question, right? – broccoli forest May 4 '17 at 4:47
  • Can you explain with examples what the hortative, dubitative, and presumptive moods are in Japanese? – Brian Chandler May 6 '17 at 3:14
  • Hortative: Let's go 行きましょう, Dubitative: Shall we go? 行きましょうか。Presumptive: He is probably a teacher 多分先生でしょう。 – user1602 May 6 '17 at 15:07

I would say probably because such a piece of grammar doesn't exist in English in the exact same way it does in Japanese, therefore there is no one word to describe it perfectly. You could explain it more precisely, but that would in tern make it more complex. Normally something more complex wouldn't be taught until later on in the learning of the language, but, this grammar being so common and integral in basic speech patterns, has to be somewhat simplified just to help people get their foot in the door. The same way that the usage of だ/です is in reality much more complicated than it's normally explained; you can't jump right into something like that. And really, for all intents and purposes, it's fine without going so deep.

  • My point is that analogical grammatical constructions exist in English, namely hortative, dubitative, and presumptive. What call it volitional - this is completely wrong. – user1602 May 3 '17 at 18:07
  • Well, I don't believe there is anything known as the volitional form for the English language (as far as I'm aware). There are words, or grammatical constructs which express volition, but no "volitional form". This seems to be an English description used only for Japanese grammar. So, the Japanese grammar it is describing may not be best described as only expressing volition, but if we all agree that the term "volitional form" means the same thing in effect as 未然形, then I don't think there's a problem. I don't know that volitional can be said to be wrong, since it is only used to describe 未然形. – rgolden May 4 '17 at 4:35
  • I do see what you're saying though. There may be better words to use to describe it, but it is also still a subjective thing (at least to a certain extent). – rgolden May 4 '17 at 5:04
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    @uset1602 I'm not sure if you are a native English speaker but "hortative" and "dubitative" are not in the common vernacular and most speakers would not know what they mean. "Volition" on the other hand, while not commonly used, would be understood by most. That is probably the reason. – G-Cam May 4 '17 at 11:45
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    行きましょう or やりましょう etc. These do right? – rgolden May 5 '17 at 1:06

I think @rgolden has a very good point about simplifying a complex grammatical concept for beginners. If the authors of a Japanese grammar book are linguists (and I assume you are specifically referring to books where the intended audience speak English as a primary or secondary language), using technical terms to describe differences that many native English speakers cannot readily identify would not be very helpful. If the authors are not linguists, then it's possible they are just misinformed.

In the end, the result is the same: The learner is introduced to a common grammatical construction in a way that they can readily understand and apply. If the learner is interested in going deeper, they will eventually need to consult Japanese grammar books written for Japanese speakers.

  • The problem with using an incorrect term for referring to any phenomena (linguistic or non-linguistic) is that it only makes more difficult to understand the phenomena. It makes it even more confusing when different authors use different terminology for the same concept. In this case the term "volitional" is completely misleading. Ask a random native English speaker what comes to their mind when they hear term "volitional" and judge by yourself if this term was chosen correctly to refer to three irrealis cases in Japanese. – user1602 May 3 '17 at 22:02
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    @user1602 You're right, in the long run, it may make learning the language more difficult, but in the short run at least the learner can get a basic idea of the grammar and start trying to express themselves. I think you have to strike a balance. In the early years of (American) English education for native speakers, they learn "rules" that are not actually true, but generalize and simplify English grammar. Two examples: (1) Sentences cannot start with a conjunction (2) Always use complete sentences. These are not rules, but they are taught as such because you have to start with the basics. – aonophoenix May 4 '17 at 3:52

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