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It appears the [未然形]{mizenkei} of verbs comes up a lot in modern Japanese conjugations:

  • Negation is formed as 未然形 + ない.
  • The presumptive is a contraction of 未然形 + (よ)う.
  • The causative/passive forms, 未然形 + (さ)せる and (ら)れる.

In textbooks, i-adjectives also have a 未然形, such as 高い → 高かろ. But it appears to be very rare:

Is this 高かろ form used for anything else, or is it somewhat an artifact of the past?

Bonus musings: would it be fair to say that 「高か is the 未然形 of 高い」 is an over-analysis based on 高かろう alone? Because I believe 高かろう is formed as a contracted 高か + arou, and I believe there is a sense in which you can consider 高か the true 未然形 of 高い. Maybe there are no hard answers here, and 未然形 of i-adjectives is a nebulous concept anyway.

  • I'm not competent to answer this, but here's a link: kokugobunpou.com/%E7%94%A8%E8%A8%80/… – virmaior May 22 at 12:09
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    @virmaior Right, that's one of the sources where I found かろ listed as the 未然形 of i-adjectives. But it only demonstrates its use in the 高かろう form… Hence my confusion: Japanese-language learning material on Japanese grammar seems to pretend this form is common, but native speakers say it really isn't. Maybe it's a, "it's taught that way in schools out of a tradition that isn't actually obeyed in real life" sort of situation? Like English teachers parroting “don't end a sentence in a preposition” :) – Lynn May 22 at 12:19
  • I will admit that I'm fairly sure the answer to my question is basically “nope!”, but I'm asking this question because it took me some digging to figure out what's up with this かろ form, and it would be nice to have a Google-able authoritative reference on Japanese.SE. – Lynn May 22 at 12:23
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    I've heard なかろうか in speech, but I think it was a facetious way of speaking, much like a native English speaker might deliberately use an archaic phrase and say "Thou art an angel" or something to that effect. – kandyman May 22 at 13:04
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    @kandyman なかろう is not that rare because you can't substitute ないだろう for あろうが なかろうが (whether there is or not). – user4092 May 23 at 0:30
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It's important to recognize a few things about the purported 未然形 of ~い adjectives.

  • All of the ~か~ forms are derived by contraction of ~く as the basic adverbial form + あ~ from あり (modern ある). This is sometimes called the カリ活用 (kari conjugation) pattern.
    よく + あった → よかった
  • As such, any 未然形 of an ~い adjective is actually the 未然形 of あり, which is あら.

Looking more specifically at the ~かろ form in your question:

  • This isn't actually the 未然形 of anything. This is a later development, and is specific to the volitional.
    The か derives from the same ~く + あ~ as above.
    The ろう in the volitional ending is a contraction of らむ: む shifted to う, then the //a// in ら and the //u// combined into //ɔː// (like English awww) by the early 1600s, as evidenced in the 1603 Nippo Jisho. Then that //ɔː// sound merged with //oː// to produce modern ろう.
    So the ろ in ~かろ is a weird kind of not-quite-stem.

If you can read enough Japanese to get around the page, the 古典日本語の形容詞の活用 (conjugation of adjectives in Classical Japanese) section of the 形容詞 page on the Japanese Wikipedia provides a conjugation stem chart. As you can see there, the 未然形 of the kari conjugation is から, not かろ.

The chart also shows the endings for the regular conjugation pattern, also called the ク活用 (ku conjugation) pattern. Educational grammars describe the ~く ending as the 未然形, since this is the conjugation stem used to generate the negative. However, I'd argue that there isn't a 未然形 for the ku conjugation pattern -- the ~く ending is simply an adverbial, and this can be used to modify pretty much any other verb or adjective -- including the negation adjective ない. I think this analysis is bolstered by the fact that the ~く ending cannot take various other auxiliaries that otherwise attach to the 未然形, such as ず or む. In fact, I've read in a couple places that the カリ活用 arose precisely because these auxiliaries couldn't attach directly to the adjective, requiring a verb with a proper 未然形 in the form of あり → あら.

Answers to core questions

Does the 未然形 of i-adjectives show up in today's Japanese?

Assuming you mean specifically the ~かろ ending, only rarely, as described in naruto's other post.

If you mean the ~から ending, then no, I can't say as I've ever encountered it outside of classical Japanese.

Bonus musings: would it be fair to say that 「高か is the 未然形 of 高い」 is an over-analysis based on 高かろう alone?

Yes, as above -- you're correct when you state: ...there is a sense in which you can consider 高か the true 未然形 of 高い.

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    This is an excellent writeup! Thanks for pointing me to "カリ活用". – Lynn May 22 at 23:07

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