What is okurigana?

Okurigana (送り仮名) are kana characters accompanying kanji which show the grammatical functions of the word. For example, if a verb such as tsukau is written in kanji as 使う, the final u () kana is okurigana. Okurigana can be used for various purposes such as showing verb and adjective conjugations. They also help the reader to distinguish between various kun-yomi for the same kanji (see Why do have several different pronunciations?). Okurigana are normally written in hiragana.

What okurigana to use with what kanji is fixed by certain rules of disambiguation, explained in the Japanese government's official rules. For example, the verb pair nogareru and nogasu are written as 逃れる and 逃す, but the verb pair nigeru and nogasu are written as 逃げる and 逃がす.

According to these rules, vowel-stem verbs (see What are group I and group II (also consonant and vowel) verbs?) must be written with the vowel-stem kana visible, thus taberu, "to eat", is written 食べる with a visible べ, rather than 食る×

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