Honorification and light verbs in Japanese

Adrian Ivana, Hiromu Sakai*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


This paper deals with the syntactic structure of subject-honorific and object-honorific constructions in Japanese through a detailed examination of the morphological make-up of the so-called honorific form of verbs. The main claim is that the honorific form of verbs actually consists of separate morphemes, which include honorific prefixes, verb stems, nominalisation suffixes, and light verbs. We further argue that the honorific prefix o-, which has been generally disregarded in previous literature, is a functional category which heads its own projection. The proposed analysis solves a long-standing problem in the investigation of Japanese honorific constructions, as to why honorific verbs cannot be separated from light verbs, originally pointed out by Harada (1976). Furthermore, this analysis shows how the syntactic distinction between the light verbs naru and suru leads to the meaning difference between the subject-honorific and object-honorific constructions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-191
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of East Asian Linguistics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2007 Sept
Externally publishedYes


  • Agreement
  • Honorifics
  • Japanese
  • Light verb

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • History and Philosophy of Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Honorification and light verbs in Japanese'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this