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I'm a bit confused about the ます form for る(u), I assumed it's just the [stem form]+ます。

For the verb 召し上がる, the ます form was 召し上がります. But for いらっしゃる, the ます form was いらっしゃいます?

What's the rule deciding which ます form is it? Is the stem form of いらっしゃる also just いらっしゃい?

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The simple answer is that いらっしゃる is an irregular verb, so treating it as a regular verb (which is obviously the right thing to do without other knowledge!) leads to your totally natural confusion. Your thought that ます-form is just the [stem form]+ます is correct, it's just that いらっしゃる's stem-form is irregularly いらっしゃい.

To be more specific, いらっしゃる is one of the five polite "ある special class" verbs:

いらっしゃる・いらっしゃいます

おっしゃる・おっしゃいます

くださる・くださいます

ござる・ございます

なさる・なさいます

These all behave in the same way: the る does not turn into り/れ for ます-stem (aka continuative form, 連用形) / imperative stem (aka 命令形) respectively, but rather い for both the same. This pattern is seen with/"explains" how we get ください as an imperative form of くださる.

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    But they do turn into り for the 連用形. この機会を与えてくださ[り]{L}、ありがとうございます。More examples
    – istrasci
    Aug 6 at 21:32
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    Ah, yes, but only specifically the "suspended (continuative) form" 連用中止形, I think? Which I suppose is by definition almost always the same as 連用形, but not here...?!
    – henreetee
    Aug 6 at 21:43
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    おっしゃりました, くださりました and いらっしゃりました are still sometimes used in modern courteous speech, although they may sound pompous. But they are "mostly irregular", anyway.
    – naruto
    Aug 7 at 0:45
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It's important, when dealing with verbs, for you to recognize which ones are regular and irregular. For regular verbs, there are patterns you can follow to conjugate them, what you call "rules". For irregular verbs, there is not such patterns.

The verb 召し上がる (meshiagaru) is a regular verb. To be precise, an u-dropping verb, also called u verbs. They're called u-dropping verbs because the first step to conjugate such verbs require you to drop the syllable u (meshiagar) and add something else. In this case, います.

Now, why います and not just ます? That's the pattern for u-dropping verbs that end in る. Nothing fancy: if its an u-dropping verb and it ends in る, drop u and add います to conjugate the verb to masu form.

Another way to look at this, as you've pointed out, just add ます to the stem form, also called pre-masu form. However, you would need to know the stem of the verb in advance.

The verb いらっしゃる (irassharu) is an irregular verb and, as I said, there's no pattern at all, like in english you have the verb sing, whose past form is sang instead of "singed". You just have to learn them off by heart! In short, there's no rule for you to follow.

Here's a table which exemplifies the conjugation patterns for regular verbs:

img1

Recovered from Practice Makes Perfect Complete Japanese Grammar Book by Eriko Sato, page 39.

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    One issue is that "Japanese only has two irregular verbs, する and くる" gets repeated a lot, despite not being true. Even some common verbs beginners know have irregular conjugations.
    – Leebo
    Aug 7 at 7:29
  • @Leebo Especially interesting how です doesn't show up in the irregular verb list...
    – frog
    Aug 7 at 15:40
  • @Leebo Yes, I just wanted to show the conjugation patterns of regular verbs.
    – Nameless
    Aug 7 at 17:07

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