Mismatch 1: morphosyntax: passive

Mismatch 2: word class: verb/adjective

Mismatch 11
Applied to a transitive verb, the passive suffix -(r)are- forms a 'normal' passive (with object promotion and subject demotion):

direct passive
Pat-ga Max-o nagut-ta Max-ga Pat-ni nagu-rare-ta
'Pat hit Max.' 'Max was hit by Pat.'
(Oshima forthcoming)

as well some constructions which alter the argument structure in a different way. The indirect and possessive passive both involve demotion of the agent to a dative argument, though they are still able to take an accusative object. The nominative subject is construed as being affected in some way by the verb's action:

indirect passive
possessive passive
Max-ga Pat-ni John-o nagu-rare-ta Max-ga Pat-ni musuko-o nagu-rare-ta
'Pat hit John on Max.' 'Max had his son hit by Pat.

There is, however, another construction involving -(r)are- which does not alter the argument structure at all, and so can be regarded as a mismatch, in as much as the expected agent demotion does not occur. Passive verbs are also one of the strategies used for marking 'subject honorific', i.e. where respect is shown to the grammatical subject:

Sensei-ga hon-o kat-ta Sensei-ga hon-o kaw-are-ta
teacher-NOM book-ACC scold-PST teacher-NOM book-ACC buy-PASS-PST
'The teacher bought a book.' 'The teacher bought a book.'
(Oshima forthcoming)

This way of marking subject honorific is productive (though little used in the Tokyo dialect); for a few verbs there is an additional strategy, namely the use of a distinct honorific verb, e.g. honorific meshiagaru 'eat' alonside non-honorific taberu (Iwasaki 2002: 295-296).

Mismatch 2
The plain (i.e. non-honorific) negative form of verbs is morphologically an adjective. The formal differences are shown below:

verb 'eat'
adjective 'red'
positive negative
present tabe-ru tabe-na-i aka-i
gerund tabe-te tebe-na-kute,
past tabe-ta tabe-na-katta aka-katta
conditional I tabe-tara tabe-na-kattara aka-kattara
conditional II tabe-reba tabe-na-kereba aka-kereba
hortative tabe-yoo
imperative tabe-ro
(Spencer ms.)

Negative verbs and adjectives share the same distinct endings, as well as the same gaps in the paradigm: while positive verbs have a hortative and imperative, negative verbs and adjectives lack these forms. In the case of negative verbs, these values may be constructed periphrastically: (i) a negative imperative may be formed with the present tense form plus the particle na 'don't', e.g. taberu na 'don't eat' (Martin 1975: 966), and (ii) there are several different possible paraphrases of the hortative (Martin 1975: 611).

Note that the morphological correspondence is not absolute. The accentual pattern of negative verbs is distinct from that of adjectives (Backhouse 2004: 52), and negative verbs have a gerund in -naide (called the naide-conjuctive by Backhouse 2004: 53), found neither in positive verbs nor in adjectives.

Syntactically, negative verbs pattern with their positive counterparts in some respects. Thus, valence patterns are maintained under negation, with transitives taking an accusative object:

A ga B o yob-u A ga B o yobu-na-i
'A calls B.' 'A doesn't call B.'.
(Martin 1975: 374)

With adjectives, accusative objects are found only rarely, alongside nominative objects (Backhouse 2004: 53). Another thing that positive and negative verbs share is their participation in constructions with yooni 'so that, lest', which is not used with adjectives (Backhouse 2004: 56).

On the other hand there are a few constructions peculiar to adjectives and negative verbs, as opposed to positive verbs. For example, either can be a complement of naru 'become', while positive verbs must first be made into adjectives:

negative verb
hi ga naga-ku nar-u deki-na-ku nar-u
day NOM long-CONJ become-NPST can.do-NEG-CONJ become-NPST
'The days grow longer [as the summer comes.]' 'become unable to do (it)'.

positive verb
deki-ru yoo ni nar-u
can.do-NPST ADJLZR be:CONJ become-NPST
'become able to do (it)'
Backhouse 2004: 54-55

Other shared features include use of the auxiliary aru in certain constructions (positive verbs take a different auxiliary, suru), and the fact that in a construction with hoo ga ii 'in is better to do/be', adjectives and negative verbs occur in the nonpast form, while positive verbs occur in the past tense form (without having a past tense meaning) (Backhouse 2004: 55).


1 Thanks to Jonathan Bobaljik for drawing our attention to this phenomenon.

2 Negative verbs have two types of gerund. The one in -naide is distinct both from the adjectival gerund and the normal verbal gerund; see Spencer (ms) and references therein.


Backhouse, Anthony E. 2004. Inflected and uninflected adjectives in Japanese. In: R. M. W. Dixon and Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald (eds) Adjective classes: a cross-linguistic typology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 50-73.

Martin, Samuel. 1975. A reference grammar of Japanese. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Oshima, David Y. Forthcoming. Semantic divergence of -(r)are: from a different perspective. To appear in Japanese/Korean Linguistics 13 . Available at: http://www.stanford.edu/~davidyo/publications.htm.

Spencer, Andrew. Ms. Paradigm-based lexicalism: negation in Japanese. Available at: http://privatewww.essex.ac.uk/~spena/publications.htm.