Excluding vocabulary items which are entirely new or have fallen into disuse, what are some ways in which Japanese syntax itself has changed between the 1950s and today?

(I would also like to exclude phenomena such as the semi-productivity of terms like ググる, since I'd argue these are new vocabulary and not fully productive ways of deriving new words.)

  • This is a very interesting question, and I'd like to see good answers to it. +1 But I think save academic sources it may be hard to solicit good answers because of the sheer complexity of the issue. I think it's safe to say English syntax in use has changed quite a bit since the 1950s (I'd say even since the early 2000s)
    – Eddie Kal
    May 23, 2022 at 20:43
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    Syntax ≠ vocabulary. See also en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syntax. May 23, 2022 at 21:38
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    @sundowner Consider constructions like "Have you any money?" or "I shall tell him tomorrow, lest he invite the whole family." English syntax has changed, at least when it comes to the conversational register.
    – jogloran
    May 23, 2022 at 21:53
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    This may be of interest. My impression is that it hasn't changed a lot in terms of ("pure") constructions. One thing that comes to my mind is the expression/construction used e.g. by a waitress at ファミレス: Xでよろしかったでしょうか? which got common since some time in 2000s(?).
    – sundowner
    May 23, 2022 at 22:05
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    @sundowner I wanted to respond to your question about why some of us claim English syntax has changed: if a native speaker of American English in their 50s were to pay careful attention to how American teens speak these days, I imagine they'd find it highly irregular. I think there are some very noticeable tendencies, like article dropping. IMHO the English(es) spoken by native speakers in the UK and the US are being influenced heavily by non-native speakers, during virtual interaction online becoming the social norm. A lot of non-native speakers are highly fluent with native sounding accents.
    – Eddie Kal
    Jun 4, 2022 at 18:30

2 Answers 2


言文一致 and the shift to modern kana orthography (1946) happened shortly before this period, and they were undoubtedly much more fundamental than anything that happened after 1950. But I'll focus on the change of modern 口語 here. The list is far from complete; I just wrote down things that came to mind.

  • Decline of ましょう as a way to express future inference.


    This was common in weather forecast until the 1970's, but we never hear this today. See: https://ameblo.jp/heppokomental/entry-12527905042.html

  • Decline of some "heavy" keigo patterns (でございます, でありました, くださいませ, ...)

  • Continued decline of ぬ as a negation marker (ありませぬ, 分からぬ, ...)

  • Decline of many gender-specific sentence endings (かしら, だわ, ...), although many remain in fictional works as part of お嬢様言葉

  • Decline of most iteration marks (ゝ, , ...) except 々. (If I understand correctly, these symbols have never been officially standardized nor banned by the government.)

  • Increased acceptance of ら抜き of ichidan potential forms (食べれる, 見れる, ...)

  • Increased acceptance of i-adjective + です (嬉しいです, よかったです, ...) and the decline of ~うございます. See: Conjugating present and past negative i-adjectives

  • One of the things I noticed in Japanese textbooks is a lot of new books or new editions ditched ません/ませんでした and ではありません/ではありませんでした in favor of ないです/なかったです and じゃないです/じゃなかったです. The first edition of Genki still only taught ません/ませんでした IIRC.
    – Eddie Kal
    May 24, 2022 at 2:16
  • @EddieKal Really? I remember learning about ません/ませんでした and ではありません in Genki I third edition.
    – Jimmy Yang
    May 24, 2022 at 2:27
  • @JimmyYang I'm sure it's discussed but like I said, Genki I first edition doesn't even explain ないです. And that's one of the major changes the second edition included.
    – Eddie Kal
    May 24, 2022 at 2:28
  • @EddieKal Perhaps you're talking about 嬉しく(は)ありませんでした vs 嬉しくなかったです, for example? The latter still sounds "unsophisticated in formal written documents" to me, but I understand it's better as a starter for learners.
    – naruto
    May 24, 2022 at 2:30
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    @JimmyYang I can't find the 3rd edition online, but here's how the 1st and 2nd editions differ: (1) 1st ed. pp 37-38: やまださんはがくせいじゃありません and that's the only form taught. 2rd ed. pp 65-66: やまださんはがくせいじゃないです The 2nd ed. only mentions じゃありません・ではありません in passing later. (2) 1st ed. p80 the past tense of XはYです is taught as present tense じゃありません/past tense じゃありませんでした and makes sure to mention ではありません・ではありませんでした. 2rd ed. p110 the form taught is じゃないです・じゃなかったです. And じゃありません・じゃありませんでした etc. are footnoted. (3) for verbs the 2nd edition mentions なかったです: 帰らなかったです while the 1st doesn't have that part.
    – Eddie Kal
    May 24, 2022 at 17:00

If you mean by "syntax" basic structures of the language and fundamental rules of how you construct a sentence (like the subject-object-verb order), I'd say nothing has changed. Most languages don't change at the fundamental level in 70 years, or in the lifetime of a person.

That said, which grammatical words and constructions are preferred have changed in some cases, especially in spoken Japanese. Off the top of my head, in negation constructions, ないです is a much more acceptable alternative to ありません than it was, and -ぬ (as in 足らぬ) became less preferred over -ない (as in 足りない). You hear less いかに and いかなる for "how" and "what", more どう/どのように and どんな. I'm sure there are many more examples like these. The old words like these can still be spoken, and maybe part of set phrases in some cases, but they generally add an old-fashioned tone to how you speak. (Not too unlike how "thou" and "thee" may sound in English, I think.)

There is a famous song starting with 兎追いしかの山. This would be 兎を追ったあの山 ("the mountain where I chased after rabbits") in today's Japanese. Children learn this song in school and may misunderstand 追いし as 美味し(い), because the 追いし form of the verb 追う is simply not used any more.

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    Furusato may not be a good example here. It is a song written in 文語 in 1914, and there was a fundamental change in how people write Japanese at that time.
    – naruto
    May 24, 2022 at 8:36
  • Perhaps. I admit I don't know how children in 1950 would have perceived the lyrics, although I imagine people's familiarity with 文語 would have gradually decreased over time, including the period between 1950 and now. May 24, 2022 at 9:48

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