|Kanji in this term|
The ぬ (nu) ending historically had an irregular conjugation pattern, shared only by now-obsolete verb 往ぬ, 去ぬ (inu, “go away; pass; disappear”) and auxiliary verb ぬ (nu, indicating completion, generally reserved for non-intentional, spontaneous, or intransitive actions). The ぬ (nu) in verb 死ぬ was viewed as identical to the auxiliary, and the verb 死ぬ initially was thus never conjugated with this auxiliary as an additional suffix.
The auxiliary itself may have derived from the verb 往ぬ, 去ぬ (inu, “go away; pass; disappear”), raising the possibility that the verb 死ぬ may have derived from a fusion of 死 (shi, “death”) + 往ぬ, 去ぬ (inu, “go away; pass; disappear”).
The transition from the ナ行変格活用 (na henkaku katsuyō, “na irregular conjugation”) pattern to the regular 四段活用 (yodan katsuyō, “quadrigrade conjugation”) appears in texts from the Muromachi period (1336–1573). The na irregular pattern persisted in increasingly limited use until the Meiji period (1868–1929).
- to die
- shinitai hodo kurushii
- so excruciating one wishes to die
- daiji na hito ni shinareru
- to have someone important die on you → to lose someone important
- to become lifeless, to lack vitality, to show a lack of vigor
- me ga shinda yō na hito
- a person with dead eyes
This Japanese verb denotes an instantaneous action. The -te / -de + iru grammatical form is usually described in English as equivalent to the present progressive. However, for Japanese instantaneous verbs, this -te / -de + iru grammatical form instead more commonly indicates that the action of the verb has completed, and the result of the verb is the new current state.
For instance, shinu specifically denotes the instantaneous action of dying, whereas the English verb die denotes more of a process. To express the idea of someone is now in the process of transitioning from alive to dead, English speakers would use the present continuous construction, someone is dying. However, the similar grammatical construction in Japanese, 誰かは死んでいる (dare ka wa shinde iru), instead means that someone is dead. To express the process in Japanese, speakers use the alternative constructions 死んでいるところだ (shinde iru tokoro da, literally “it is the moment of dying”) or 死にかけている (shinikakete iru, literally “starting to die”).
- See Thesaurus:死ぬ
死ぬ is the only modern Japanese verb which ends in ぬ (an older example is 去ぬ (inu, “to go, to leave”), which is now archaic). Accordingly, it is often used in textbooks to illustrate the conjugation pattern for 〜ぬ verbs.
- ^ c. 759, Man'yōshū (book 5, poem 889), text here
- 1988, 国語大辞典（新装版） (Kokugo Dai Jiten, Revised Edition) (in Japanese), Tōkyō: Shogakukan
- 2006, 大辞林 (Daijirin), Third Edition (in Japanese), Tōkyō: Sanseidō, →ISBN
- 1995, 大辞泉 (Daijisen) (in Japanese), Tōkyō: Shogakukan, →ISBN
- ^ 1998, NHK日本語発音アクセント辞典 (NHK Japanese Pronunciation Accent Dictionary) (in Japanese), Tōkyō: NHK, →ISBN
- 1997, 新明解国語辞典 (Shin Meikai Kokugo Jiten), Fifth Edition (in Japanese), Tōkyō: Sanseidō, →ISBN