Here are a few grammatical words that use 然 according to jisho.org:

  • 然し(しかし)
    • however; but
  • 然して(そして)
    • and; and then; thus; and now; and finally
  • 然うして(そうして)
    • and; like that​
  • 然も(しかも)
    • (1) moreover; furthermore​
    • (2) nevertheless; and yet​
  • 然も(さも)
    • (1) really; extremely​
    • (2) in that way​ (Archaism)
  • 然う(そう)
    • (1) in that way; thus; such
    • (2) so (agreement)
    • (3) so? (doubt)
  • 然るべき(しかるべき)
    • proper; appropriate; due; suitable

According to jisho.org, the meanings of 然 are:

sort of thing, so, if so, in that case, well

The relationship between all these different words and 然 is vague and hard to understand. Can you offer a logical analysis of why/how 然 is used in such expressions?


How I see it, 然 has the same meaning in all cases, but with the different words and particles added after, it get different nuances. Below are my thoughts about it, but this is in no way a "scientific" explanation. Feel free to comment...

然 has the meaning of そう、その通り, "so"/"like this"/"like that"

然して is a contraction of 然うして, which is why they have very similar meanings today, although slight different nuances (然うして is more like "Like this the result is", whereas 然して is more of a continuation "and then", but they are often interchangeable)

然し is a contraction of 然しながら. This 然{しか} still has the meaning of "so"/"like this", whereas the ながら (in this case) is a contrastive conjunction like けれども. It thus means, "like this, but ..." or simply put, "however".

然{しか}も and 然{さ}も combine the word with the particle も, and means something like "like this, and also ...", or simply, "furthermore"/その上.

然るべき adds べき to the word, adding the meaning of "should", so, "should like this", or simply, "appropriate".

For etymological research, I find this resource quite good: https://kobun.weblio.jp

  • relating everything to そう indeed seems to make sense, even if we suppose that it's not scientific. Maybe 然る(さる) itself could also be seen as a contraction of そう+ある? – Nicolas Louis Guillemot Sep 18 '18 at 20:32
  • 2
    @NicolasLouisGuillemot: 然【さ】る is the 連体形【れんたいけい】 (attributive form) of 然【さ】り, which I find in my dictionaries explained as さ (stem of さう, modern そう) + あり, the classical copula and earlier form of modern verb ある. So you're on the right track. :) – Eiríkr Útlendi Sep 18 '18 at 21:32

Usually, we don't use the Kanji 然 to write しかし,そして,そうして,しかも,さも,そう,しかるべき.You should use Hiragana instead.

When you search 然し(しかし)in a Japanese Dictionary,


the symbol ▽ will appear.

▽ means that the Kanji-reading is not in the 常用漢字表 (regularly-used Kanji table). Japanese people will not learn these Kanji-reading in their compulsory education and thus should not be used regularly.

However, the Kanji 然 means "so" in Chinese, so these usages probably came from there.

  • It's definitely true that the kanji is not normally used, but that doesn't explain why it is assigned to those words. – Nicolas Louis Guillemot Sep 18 '18 at 18:58
  • Yeah I was curious too, so I did a search on it. The word 然 is an ideograph consisting of 3 characters. The top left is a depiction of a cut meat (切った肉), top right is a dog that is listening (耳を立てた犬), and the bottom is the flame (燃え立つ炎). It was originally meant to mean "burn" (もやす) but was used as a phonetic symbol for しかり, しかも, and そして source. It sounds weird, but I couldn't find any reliable source. – haruishi Sep 18 '18 at 19:19
  • @haruishi The phonetic resemblance is more likely to be found in Old or Middle Chinese; and the bits that don't have to do with flame are almost certainly indicating the way the character was pronounced in Old Chinese. – Sjiveru Sep 18 '18 at 23:02
  • 然 was the original character for 燃. 然 is comprised of phonetic 肰 (meaning dog meat) and semantic 火 (灬). The meaning so, like, ... used the character 然 as a phonetic loan since very early on in Chinese, and the kun’yomi vocabulary given in this question is a Japanese inheritance of this Chinese usage of 然 as a phonetic loan. Actually Old Chinese reconstructions of 肰 and 然 are identical, but I don’t know enough of how these reconstructions were achieved to comment further; 肰 was also sometimes used to represent words written with 然 now. – droooze Sep 18 '18 at 23:37

According to the site below, 然 means to "to burn dog meat with fire "

Apparently dog meat was offered as sacrifice in some kind of religious ceremony, probably in ancient China.

The kanji 然 is used as 当て字 in words like 然り(しかり), 然も(しかも), 然うして(そうして).
An 当て字 is simply a phonetic equivalent, it has nothing to do with the meaning. It is just that the sound of the kanji is similar to certain kanas, so it is used for those kanas.

  • While it doesn't really answer the question, this is true. 然 is the original character of 燃. – jogloran Sep 19 '18 at 21:59

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