I am reading through Shirane Haruo's Classical Japanese: A Grammar, and I've come across what I think is a discrepancy.

The example given for ナ変 verbs is 死ぬ:

Mizenkei: 死なば一所で死なん. SHINA-ba issho de SHINA-n.

If we are going to die (shina-ba), let us die (shina-n) in one place (issho). (Heike, Hōjūji kassen, vol. 8, NKBT 33:158) (Shina-ba is the mizenkei of shinu, "to die," and the conjunctive particle ba, indicating a hypothetical condition. Shina-n is the mizenkei of shinu and the shūseiki of the auxiliary verb mu, indicating intention. N is a nasalized sound change from mu.)

Izenkei: 又かく死ぬれば… Mata kaku SHINURE-ba...

Furthermore (mata), since I am going to die (shinure-ba) like this (kaku)... (Ochikubo, book 4, NKBT 13:208) (Shinure-ba is the izenkei of shinu plus the conjunctive particle ba.)

(Classical Japanese: A Grammar, SHIRANE Haruo, pp. 37-38)

If I understand correctly, 未然形 is the "imperfective" form and 已然形 is the "perfective." Why, then, is the example sentence for 已然形 seemingly interpreted as though the verb is imperfective ("going to die" as opposed to "have died")? Is this a quirk of translating between Japanese and English? Or am I not understanding how the 已然形 is used?

  • 2
    It seems to me you may be confusing aspect and tense.
    – sbkgs4686
    Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 2:40
  • Maybe but my question remains: why do they use the same translation ("going to die") for both examples? Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 2:41
  • Neither verb is in the past tense; I don't see why the translation should be in the past tense. Maybe it would behoove you to look up these two verb forms using the terms "irrealis" and "realis".
    – sbkgs4686
    Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 2:47
  • I've done a bit of looking and I think you're right, in that I seem to have greatly misunderstood what exactly the perfective aspect is. I'll have to read more when I can string multiple thoughts together Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 2:56

1 Answer 1


未然形 + ば is ~たら/なら/(れ)ば, and 已然形 + ば is ~(な)ので/~(だ)から in modern Japanese. The difference between 死なば and 死ぬれば is the difference between "if I (will) die" and "since I (will) die". In your first example, the future death was hypothetical, whereas in your second example, 死ぬれば is more natural because the speaker's death was imminent and inevitable at that point. That's what 已然 refers to.

已然形 does not show the perfect aspect on its own. You need たり or ぬ to describe the perfect aspect; "if [someone] has died" is 死にたらば, and "since [someone] has died" is 死にたれば.

(I'm not very good at 古語 and my answer may contain mistakes. Corrections are welcome.)

  • 1
    Thanks for the answer! This seems to track with @sbkgs4686 and my follow up readings mentioned with respect to the realis/irrealis moods(?) Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 5:33

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