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When is “来” pronounced “ko”?

Can somebody please explain when the “ko” reading applies for “来”? It trips me up every time I’m listening to an easy Japanese passage that was recorded using text-to-speech. I am very familiar with the “kuru” and “kimasu” constructions, but not “ko”. When I hear “ko”, I’m always thinking it should be “ki”.

私は来る watashi wa kuru

私は来ます watashi wa kimasu

来ない ko nai ???

June 2, 2017



来る, unfortunately, is pretty irregular. (Fortunately, there are very few irregular Japanese verbs. Just 来る and する, I think).

When polite, (来ます, 来ません, 来ました, etc.), 来 is read "ki."

With the informal conjugations, that system falls apart. It's irregular, so there isn't really a reason for it. It just happens.

Informal positive non-past (来る) is read "kuru."

Informal positive past (来た) is read "kita."

Informal negative non-past (来ない) is read "konai."

Informal negative past (来なかった) is read "konakatta."

You just kinda need to memorize these special cases. Hope this helps!


You are right; modern Japanese has only irregular する・くる. In classical Japanese (文語, bungo) there were nine types, some were major (regular) and some minor (irregular). くる was already irregular in classical Japanese.

The hard memorizing way is こ・き・くる・くる・くれ・こい for modern Japanese.

  • こない。Do not come.

  • きます。[Polite] Come.

  • くる。Come.

  • くるとき。When something comes.

  • くれば。If he comes.

  • こい!Come! As in the lyrics みんな出て こいこいこい Everybody go out, come, come, come!


私は来る: watashi wa kuru => This sentence is written with V-る form. V-る is the basic form of verb (likely Verb bare infinitive in English). It is used with informal case . I mean you use this when you talk with friends or someone who is the same age with you or who is younger than you

私は来ます: watashi wa kimasu (formal)

来ない: ko nai => This is informal form of 来ません (kimasen). Unlikely other verbs, when you transfer 来ます to V-な form, it will be こ, not き.

During learning Japanese, you will encounter some kinds of verbs like that, V る、V て、V な. And it also depends on groups of verbs (3 groups).


I know this is a late response, but let me just add one more thing that I haven't seen mentioned. One other instance where it's read as "ko" is the informal volitional form 来よう.

Example: いつかここにまた来よう = Let's come here again someday.

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