I have come across the two following sentences:

ことは犯罪です | Playing is a crime

は終わりだ。 | Fun and games are over (lit. playing is ending)

Why is 遊ぶ in plain/dictionary form in the first, and then ます form in the second? Also what are the difference when they are in each of these forms?

This question goes with any verb.


  • 2
    Related: japanese.stackexchange.com/a/32311/7944 Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 12:16
  • 4
    I would personally not call the form that 遊び is in the ます form, but rather the ます stem form. The stem that ます can attach to. And the ます form would be the form with ます attached. 遊びます. Are you using a resource that calls something like 遊び the ます form?
    – Leebo
    Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 13:33

2 Answers 2


First, 遊び is actually a noun, not a verb. It is formed from the verbal root. There is a group of nouns in Japanese which is derived from the root and uses this form (continuative form) as a standalone noun. It seems more common in the godan verb category. Some common examples are:

休み (a rest) from 休む (rest)
違い (a difference, a discrepancy) from 違う (differ)
育ち (upbringing, growth) from 育つ (grow)
狙い (an aim) from 狙う (aim)
泳ぎ (swimming) from 泳ぐ (swim)

As for the difference between plain forms and masu forms, masu forms are usually used in situations which require a degree of politeness or formality. They are typically used between people who do not know each either well or in situations which require formality. This is not an exhaustive list of when to use that form.

Explaining the spectrum of uses for the plain form would require a very in-depth answer, but in general, it is used in casual forms of Japanese, in relative clauses, in modifying phrases, with nominalizers (as in your example), among others.

Finally, as to the question of the difference between using 遊び and 遊ぶこと, this is actually quite a philosophical question. In language, when do you use a verbal phrase instead of noun phrase if both are possible? One answer is that it is somewhat of a stylistic difference. You could argue that there may be semantic differences between the two, but it's not always easy to distinguish. For example, in English, would you say "playing video games is fun" or "gaming is fun"? Are they different? Why choose one over the other? Likewise, someone might prefer to use 遊ぶこと if they want to emphasize the action of the verb, or vice versa if they want to stress the 'thing' that is 遊び. Having said that, they are not interchangeable because of how they interact syntactically with other phrases. For example, the sentence 計算に違いがある is acceptable but 計算に違うことがある is unnatural (when intending the meaning "there is a discrepancy in the calculation"). So, in my opinion, the choice between 遊ぶことor 遊び is based on either stylistic or syntactic considerations, possibly on semantic considerations if there are clear differences between the phrases.

  • While the latter half of your answer (beginning with "As for the difference") is both accurate and informative, I feel like it's unrelated to the actually intended question - why 遊ぶこと in the first instance, and 遊び in the second. In both cases the verb is being nominalized/"noun-ified". Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 22:07
  • Fair point. I will add an edit to clarify.
    – kandyman
    Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 22:13

As others have pointed out, please don't refer to 遊び as "ます form" - it's not that if it doesn't actually end in ます.

Both 遊び and 遊ぶこと/遊ぶの are noun forms of 遊ぶ, and in most cases both can even be translated as "playing".

I have never been taught this, but the "feel" I have for things like 遊び versus 遊ぶこと, is that the former speaks more often to what results from playing - or the "thing you play" - as opposed to the act itself. This idea may or not be useful - it is definitely not always true.

According to this heuristic, 考え is the thought(s) I have,

  • 考えること is "to think". 遊び is the games I play or the fun I have, while 遊ぶこと is "to play" or "playing".
  • 終わり and (お)しまい are ends or "the end"; 終わること and しまうこと are "to end" or "ending".
  • 感じ is "my/your feeling", 感じること is the act of "feeling".
  • 20キロ走り is "a 20-kilo run", 20キロ走ること is "running 20 kilos"

Another way of thinking about it is, "can I put an article (a/an/the) before it"? The masu-stem ones, generally you can; the こと ones, generally you don't.

But as I said, this idea also doesn't hold everywhere. 作り isn't "a creation". You don't use 描き for "a drawing". Food isn't 食べ, 食べ物 is.

Also note that this stem form doesn't always indicate a noun. It's also used to combine verbs, like 走り回る, "to run around". And sometimes it just means "and" (mostly in the written language): 山本博士は、知恵があり, 素敵な人間なの. "Professor Yamamoto is a fine specimen of humanity, brimming with wisdom."

  • About your sentence at the end, why did you use “あり” and not “ある”? And is this the same with “人気がある”?
    – batv1
    Commented Jun 6, 2020 at 11:45
  • I used あり because I was specifically trying to showcase how that form can be used sometimes to mean "and" (and in general, the whole answer was about ます stem-form), or anyway to connect it to the following clause. If I used ある, it would work better with a period than with a comma (ある does get used before a comma, but usually in situations where it's less closely connected to the statement that follows). Commented Jun 7, 2020 at 0:28

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