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I've found a couple of times while reading novels the grammar patterns

Verb stem + はしまいか/はすまいか

and

Verb て + いはしまいか/いはすまいか

However, I googled these patterns, but I couldn't find any website explaining them.

Could you please tell me about their meaning and give me an example of how are they used (if possible, I would like to see some any other sentence to have it as reference)?

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It's not a fixed pattern with an idiomatic meaning, but a combination of simple rules. Taking 食べる as an example verb, 食べはすまい is just 食べはする with まい (negative inference) and か (question marker) attached. 食べていはする is 食べていはする with まい and か.

  • 食べはする and so on are ways of attaching は (contrastive), も ("also/even") and すら ("even") to a verb. For example, 食べる + は becomes 食べはする ("eat at least"), 食べる + も becomes 食べもする ("also eat"), 食べる + すら + ない becomes 食べすらしない ("not even eat"). See also: What's the grammatical breakdown of "知りもしないわ"?
  • 食べはしまい (or 食べはすまい, 食べはするまい) is a negative inference version of 食べはする. しまい, すまい and するまい are interchangeable. It means 食べはしないだろう. For details, see this question.
  • か is a question marker.

Therefore, 食べはしまいか is roughly the same as 食べはしないだろうか or 食べないだろうか ("Won't he eat it?", "I'm afraid that he will eat it").

If there's also a progressive meaning, just replace 食べる to 食べている and follow the same pattern:

  • 食べている: is eating
  • 食べていはする: is eating (at least)
  • 食べていはしまい: it's not likely that he is eating
  • 食べていはしまいか: isn't it likely that he is eating?

食べていはしまいか is roughly the same as 食べていはしないだろうか or 食べていないだろうか ("I wonder if he's eating?", "I'm afraid that he may be eating it").

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  • Are すまい and しまい the same here? I would otherwise expect しまい in this position to be 仕舞い. Mar 7, 2023 at 1:53
  • @KarlKnechtel I've explained it in my answer. See the second bullet. まい has nothing to do with (-て)しまう.
    – naruto
    Mar 7, 2023 at 1:55
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    Ah, an unfortunate phonetic overlap, then. する seems to cause a lot of problems like that. Mar 7, 2023 at 1:56
  • @naruto Thank you very much for your answer. Your breakdown of the structures helped me a lot to understand how are they formed and their meaning. :)
    – Rick
    Mar 7, 2023 at 12:48
  • @naruto Is this common today, or perhaps a bit dated? I don’t think I’ve encountered it in speech or in literature.
    – jogloran
    Mar 7, 2023 at 15:52

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