Friday, November 8, 2019


In Japanese, u-onbin ウ音便 is a change in pronunciation where a kana 仮名 becomes u う.

For example: arigatai 有り難, "unlikely," "thankful," becoming arigatou 有り難 in arigatou-gozaimasu 有難御座います.

キミコ よろしゅうござあます。
Game: Gyakuten Saiban 2 逆転裁判2


The u-onbin is often seen in the ren'youkei 連用形 form of words.

This can happen with i-adjectives and with verbs.

Both cases are extremely traditional and not really common in modern Japanese. They're also relatively more common in the kansai 関西 region of Japan, as opposed to around Tokyo, for example.

In anime, if a character speaks using u-onbin, it's probably because they're extremely traditional or anachronistic. There's a chance they're from kansai, but it's more likely that they just don't speak casual, modern Japanese at all.

The above applies only to u-onbin used with random words. Some expressions, like arigatou-gozaimasu, are used commonly through Japan, and wouldn't imply anything in particular about the person using the word.


For i-adjectives, the ren'youkei form is the adverbial form, and is used when the adjective modifies a verb, instead of a noun.
  • hayai hito
    An early person.
    A quick person.
    • This is the rentaikei 連体形.
  • hayaku okiru
    To wake up early.
    • This is the ren'youkei 連用形.

When this ren'youkei form comes before the verbs gozaimasu ございます, "to be," and zonjimasu 存じます, "to think," the u-onbin happens.
  • mada hayai desu
    [It's] still early,
  • mada hayou gozaimasu
    (same meaning.)
  • mada hayou zonjimasu
    [I] think [it] is still early.

Note that the change in pronunciation extends beyond the okurigana. The word was hayaiい, it became hayouう. Even the ya や changed into yo よ in this case.

Some examples of this change in pronunciation in common Japanese expressions include:
  • ohayou gozaimasu
    Good morning.
  • arigatou gozaimasu
    Thank you.
    • arigatai
      Difficult to have. Unlikely to obtain. (compound adjective.)
      Something which you're grateful for getting.
    • aru 有る
      To have. To possess.
    • ~gatai ~難い
      Hard to.
  • omedetou gozaimasu
    • medetai
      Auspicious. Something that should be celebrated.

Beyond the above, you aren't dealing with normal Japanese anymore. You're dealing with some very formal Japanese, or archaic Japanese, or some dialect of Japanese.

Nevertheless, there are grammatical rules to how words are affected by u-onbin.

Adjectives that end in ~oi and ~ai become ~ou. Adjectives that end in ~ii and ~ui become ~uu.
  • omoshiroi 面白い
    omoshirou 面白う
    Entertaining. Funny.
  • nagai 長い
    nagou 長う
  • karui 軽い
    karuu 軽う
  • utsukushii 美しい
    utsukushuu 美しゅう

There are a few things worth nothing about this.

The hojo-doushi 補助動詞 gozaimasu has a number of variants, like gozaamasu ござあます, zaamasu ざあます, zamasu ざます, and zansu ざんす. All of such words elicit u-onbin, too.

キミコ 交通事故の死者は思念が強うござあますから、
Game: Gyakuten Saiban 2 逆転裁判2
  • Kimiko
    (character name.)
  • koutsuu jiko no shisha wa
    shinen ga tsuyou gozaamasu kara,

    Since the dead of traffic accidents have powerful feelings,

Japanese has a number of adjectives that end in ~shii ~しい. They become ~shuu ~しゅう through u-onbin.

キミコ よろしゅうござあます。
Game: Gyakuten Saiban 2 逆転裁判2
  • Kimiko
    (character name.)
  • yoroshuu gozaamasu.
    (...same as...)
    • yoroshii
      Very well.
      That's fine.
      It's alright.

When nai ない is affected by u-onbin, it becomes nou のう, which sounds seriously weird, to be completely honest.

キミコ みっとものうござあますよ。
Game: Gyakuten Saiban 2 逆転裁判2
  • Kimiko
    (character name.)
  • mittomonou gozaamasu yo.
    (...same as...)
    • mittomonai yo
      [It] is shameful, disgraceful, unsightly.

Similarly, the ~tai ~たい suffix would become ~tou ~とう.
  • tabetou gozaimasu
    (...same as...)
    • tabetai
      [I] want to eat [it].


In the ren'youkei form of verbs, u-onbin replaces ku く, gu ぐ, hi ひ, bi び, mi み, and so on.

Note: in modern Japanese, verbs that conjugate to ~hi ~ひ probably don't exist anymore, but such verbs existed in the past. They're the so-called ha-row yodan verbs. Nowadays, such verbs would be godan verbs instead.

For example, omofu 思ふ, "to feel," is an yodan verb and archaic variant of omou 思う.

If you conjugated omofu 思ふ to ren'youkei, it would become omohi 思ひ, then adding the tejodoushi 助動詞, omohi-te 思ひて, and after u-onbin: omoute 思うて.

This sort of u-onbin seems to be over one thousand years old, so it's mostly studied when dealing with reading literature from the Heian 平安 period (794–1185), and stuff like that.

Despite this, it seems to be still in use in kansai 関西, for some reason, so it's not like it's completely obsolete yet.

Note that for verbs ending in ~bu ~ぶ and ~mu ~む, the te-form would gets dakuten 濁点. This is true both in the past as well as in the present.
  • yobu
    To call.
  • yonde
    (usual te-form.)
  • youde
  • tanomu
    To entrust. To request. To ask.
  • tanonde
    (usual te-form.)
  • tanoude

Other Words

Some words were originally pronounced in a certain way, but due to u-onbin are pronounced with an u う in modern times.

A pair of good examples are imouto and otouto. Both words originally ended in hito ひと, "person." But due to u-onbin the hi ひ ended up being pronounced as u う, hence the ~uto うと in both words.


Changes in Pronunciation

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