Fundamentals of Japanese – Part 4: Verbs and Adjectives

In Part 3 I discussed the very basics of Japanese grammar with particles and the “to be” verb です(desu). Today I’ll be moving up to the next step in grammar fundamentals with the conjugation of Japanese verbs and adjectives…


Verbs

In many ways, Japanese verbs are actually easier to conjugate than English verbs. Japanese verbs always occur at the end of the sentence and they do not change for person, number, gender, or whatever the subject of the sentence may be. Also, there are only two irregular Japanese verbs and only a handful of irregular conjugations in other verbs.
Japanese verbs have many conjugated forms, but they are usually defined by their Dictionary form (which is how they are listed in the dictionary). In their Dictionary form, all verbs end with an う(u) sound which is the part, or base, that is conjugated (and written in hiragana.) The first part, or stem, holds the real meaning of the verb and does not change in conjugation (and is written in kanji).

Japanese verbs are generally classified into three different categories: Yodan, Ichidan, or Irregular. Yodan verbs (sometimes called Regular 1 verbs) end with one of the following bases in their Dictionary form: う(u), く(ku), ぐ(gu), す(su), つ(tsu), る(ru), む(mu), ぬ(nu), or ぶ(bu). Ichidan verbs (sometimes called Regular 2 verbs) end with either いる(iru) or える(eru) for their Dictionary form bases. As for Irregular verbs, there are only two: 来る/kuru(come) and する/suru(do). They’re called irregular because they don’t conjugate like other る(ru) verbs.


Yodan Verbs

All Yodan verbs follow the same pattern, which you’ll notice as you read through their different conjugations below. You’ll also notice that the bases of the first five conjugation forms follow the order of the Japanese vowel sounds(あ/a, い/i, う/u, え/e, お/o), so that makes them a bit easier to memorize. Again, I use “I” for the subject in all the examples, but it could be replaced with any noun. Also, don’t forget to look at the footnotes at the end of the Verb section =)

(ku) Verbs
sample verb: 書く(kaku) = write

*Negative form: 書(ない) – kaka(nai) = I don’t write
**Conjunctive form: 書(ます/ました) – kaki(masu/mashita) = I write/wrote (polite)
Dictionary form: 書 – kaku = I write (casual)
***Conditional form: 書(ば) – kake(ba) = If I write…
Volitional form: 書こう – Kakou = Let’s write
TE form: 書いて – kaite = I write and…(indicates another verb will follow)
TA form: 書いた – kaita = I wrote (casual)

く verbs to practice: 歩くaruku (walk), 聞くkiku (listen), 泣くnaku (cry)

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(gu) Verbs
sample verb: 泳ぐ(oyogu) = swim

*Negative form: 泳(ない) – oyoga(nai) = I don’t swim
**Conjunctive form: 泳(ます/ました) – oyogi(masu/mashita) = I swim/swam (polite)
Dictionary form: 泳 – oyogu = I swim (casual)
***Conditional form: 泳(ば) – oyoge(ba) = If I swim…
Volitional form: 泳ごう – oyogou = Let’s swim
TE form: 泳いで – oyoide = I swim and…(indicates another verb will follow)
TA form: 泳いだ – oyoida = I swam (casual)

ぐ verbs to practice: 急ぐisogu (hurry), 脱ぐnugu (take off clothes)

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(su) Verbs
sample verb: 話す(hanasu) = speak

*Negative form: 話(ない) – hanasa(nai) = I don’t speak
**Conjunctive form: 話(ます/ました) – hanashi(masu/mashita) = I speak/spoke (polite)
Dictionary form: 話 – hanasu = I speak (casual)
***Conditional form: 話(ば) – hanase(ba) = If I speak…
Volitional form: 話そう – hanasou = Let’s speak
TE form: 話して – hanashite = I speak and…(indicates another verb will follow)
TA form: 話した – hanashita = I spoke (casual)

す verbs to practice: 消すkesu (erase), 探すsagasu (search), 返すkaesu (return something)

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(tsu) Verbs
sample verb: 待つ(matsu) = wait

*Negative form: 待(ない) – mata(nai) = I don’t wait
**Conjunctive form: 待(ます/ました) – machi(masu/mashita) = I wait/waited (polite)
Dictionary form: 待 – matsu = I wait (casual)
***Conditional form: 待(ば) – mate(ba) = If I wait…
Volitional form: 待とう – matou = Let’s wait
TE form: 待って – matte = I wait and…(indicates another verb will follow)
TA form: 待った – matta = I waited (casual)

つ verbs to practice: 立つtatsu (stand), 持つmotsu (hold), 勝つkatsu (win)

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(nu) Verbs
sample verb: 死ぬ(shinu) = die
(死ぬ is the only ぬ verb)

*Negative form: 死(ない) – shina(nai) = I don’t die
**Conjunctive form: 死(ます/ました) – shini(masu/mashita) = I die/died (polite)
Dictionary form: 死 – shinu = I die (casual)
***Conditional form: 死(ば) – shine(ba) = If I die…
Volitional form: 死のう – shinou = Let’s die
TE form: 死んで – shinde = I die and…(indicates another verb will follow)
TA form: 死んだ – shinda = I died (casual)

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(bu) Verbs
sample verb: 呼ぶ(yobu) = call (as in call out to someone)

*Negative form: 呼(ない) – yoba(nai) = I don’t call
**Conjunctive form: 呼(ます/ました) – yobi(masu/mashita) = I call/called (polite)
Dictionary form: 呼 – yobu = I call (casual)
***Conditional form: 呼(ば) – yobe(ba) = If I call…
Volitional form: 呼ぼう – yobou = Let’s call
TE form: 呼んで – yonde = I call and…(indicates another verb will follow)
TA form: 呼んだ – yonda = I called (casual)

ぶ verbs to practice: 遊ぶasobu (play), 運ぶhakobu (carry), 飛ぶtobu (jump, fly)

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(mu) Verbs
sample verb: 休む(yasumu) = rest (or take a break/time off)

*Negative form: 休(ない) – yasuma(nai) = I don’t rest
**Conjunctive form: 休(ます/ました) – yasumi(masu/mashita) = I rest/rested (polite)
Dictionary form: 休 – yasumu = I rest (casual)
***Conditional form: 休(ば) – yasume(ba) = If I rest…
Volitional form: 休もう – yasumou = Let’s rest
TE form: 休んで – yasunde = I rest and…(indicates another verb will follow)
TA form: 休んだ – yasunda = I rested (casual)

む verbs to practice: 読むyomu (read), 飲むnomu (drink), 生むumu (give birth)

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(ru) Verbs
sample verb: 乗る(noru) = ride

*Negative form: 乗(ない) – nora(nai) = I don’t ride
**Conjunctive form: 乗(ます/ました) – nori(masu/mashita) = I ride/rode (polite)
Dictionary form: 乗 – noru = I ride (casual)
***Conditional form: 乗(ば) – nore(ba) = If I ride…
Volitional form: 乗ろう – norou = Let’s ride
TE form: 乗って – notte = I ride and…(indicates another verb will follow)
TA form: 乗った – notta = I rode (casual)

る verbs to practice: 帰るkaeru (go home), 入るhairu (enter), 頑張るganbaru (do your best)

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(u) Verbs
sample verb: 買う(kau) = buy

*Negative form: 買(ない) – kawa(nai) = I don’t buy
**Conjunctive form: 買(ます/ました) – kai(masu/mashita) = I buy/bought (polite)
Dictionary form: 買 – kau = I buy (casual)
***Conditional form: 買(ば) – kae(ba) = If I buy…
Volitional form: 買おう – kaou = Let’s buy
TE form: 買って – katte = I buy and…(indicates another verb will follow)
TA form: 買った – katta = I bought (casual)

う verbs to practice: 歌うutau (sing), 笑うwarau (smile), 習うnarau (learn)


Ichidan Verbs

Ichidan verbs conjugate differently than Yodan verbs. A big difference is that there’s no base for their Negative and Conjunctive forms. Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate them from る(ru) verbs so be careful.

いる(iru) Verbs
sample verb: 見る(miru) = see, watch

*Negative form: 見(ない) – mi(nai) = I don’t see
**Conjunctive form: 見(ます/ました) – mi(masu/mashita) = I see/saw (polite)
Dictionary form: 見 – miru = I see (casual)
Conditional form: 見(ば) – mire(ba) = If I see…
Volitional form: 見ろ/よ – miro/yo = Let’s see
TE form: 見 – mite = I see and…(indicates another verb will follow)
TA form: 見 – mita = I saw (casual)

いる verbs to practice: 信じるshinjiru (believe), 借りるkariru (borrow)

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える(eru) Verbs
sample verb: 上げる(ageru) = give

*Negative form: 上(ない) – age(nai) = I don’t give
**Conjunctive form: 上(ます/ました) – age(masu/mashita) = I give/gave (polite)
Dictionary form: 上 – ageru = I give (casual)
Conditional form: 上(ば) – agere(ba) = If I give…
Volitional form: 上ろ/よ – agero/yo = Let’s give
TE form: 上 – agete = I give and…(indicates another verb will follow)
TA form: 上 – ageta = I gave (casual)

える verbs to practice: 食べるtaberu (eat), 寝るneru (sleep)


Irregular Verbs

A few verbs have irregular conjugations, but these two are the only ones where all their conjugations are irregular.

来る(kuru) = come
*Negative form: 来(ない) – ko(nai) = I don’t come
**Conjunctive form: 来(ます/ました) – ki(masu/mashita) = I come/came (polite)
Dictionary form: 来 – kuru = I come (casual)
Conditional form: 来ば – kure(ba) = If I come…
Volitional form: 来よう – koyou = Let’s come
TE form: 来 – kite = I come and…(indicates another verb will follow)
TA form: 来 – kita = I came (casual)

する(suru) = do
(a kanji base for する/suru isn’t used)
*Negative form: し(ない) – shi(nai) = I don’t do
**Conjunctive form: し(ます/ました) – shi(masu/mashita) = I do/did (polite)
Dictionary form: す – suru = I do (casual)
Conditional form: すば – sure(ba) = If I do…
Volitional form: しよう – shiyou = Let’s do
TE form: し – shite = I do and…(indicates another verb will follow)
TA form: し – shita = I did (casual)

Verb footnotes

* – The Negative form of verbs is typically followed by ない(nai) or one of its conjugated forms to create a verb in the negative. For example, 乗らない(noranai) means “(I) don’t ride” but ない(nai) itself can be conjugated in other ways. For example, 乗らなかった(noranakatta) means “(I) didn’t ride” (negative past tense) and 乗らないで(noranaide) is the negative TE form.
** – The Conjunctive form of verbs is typically followed by ます(masu) or one of its conjugated forms to create the polite form of verbs. For example, 待つ(matsu) and 待ちます(machimasu) mean the same thing, “(I) wait,” except the latter is more polite. Like ない(nai), ます(masu) conjugates on its own. 待ちました(machimashita) would be the polite past tense, “(I) waited,” and 待ちましょう(machimashou) would be the polite volitional tense, “Let’s wait.”
*** – The Conditional form of verbs is typically followed by ば(ba) to create the clause “If (I)…” Without the ば(ba) however, it becomes an abrupt, impolite command for Yodan verbs. For example, 休め(yasume) would mean “Rest” as in commanding someone to rest. It’s usually only used by men in very casual situations.


Adjectives

There are two kinds of Japanese adjectives: い(i) adjectives and な(na) adjectives. Like verbs, the first part, or stem, of Japanese adjectives is written in kanji, and the ending, or base that’s conjugated, is written in hiragana. Below I’ve shown how each of the two kinds of adjectives is conjugated and used in a simple sentence. The stem is in plain text and the base is in bold. I use 木/ki (tree) as the subject of the sentences, but just like the verbs, you can use any subject you want and it won’t change the conjugations.

(i) Adjectives
sample adjective: 大きい(ookii) = big

*in the case of sentences ending with い(i) adjectives, the です(desu) at the end can be removed to create informal speech. Having です raises the politeness level but is not necessary in all situations*

Present affirmative: あの木は大きです。
Ano ki wa ookii desu.
That tree is big.

Present negative: あの木は大きくないです。
Ano ki wa ookikunai desu.
That tree is not big.

Past affirmative: あの木は大きかったです。
Ano ki wa ookikatta desu.
That tree was big.

Past negative: あの木は大きくなかったです。
Ano ki wa ookikunakatta desu.
That tree was not big.

Modifying the noun: あれは大き木です。
Are wa ookii ki desu.
That’s a big tree.

い adjectives to practice: 小さいchiisai (small), 暑いatsui (hot), 安いyasui (cheap)

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(na) Adjectives
sample adjective: 綺麗な(kireina) = pretty, clean

*to conjugate な(na) adjectives, you simply drop the な ending and conjugate です(desu) instead. The only time you’ll include the な ending is when the adjective is modifying a noun*

Present affirmative: あの木は綺麗です。
Ano ki wa kirei desu.
That tree is pretty.

Present negative: あの木は綺麗ではありません。
Ano ki wa kirei dewa arimasen.
That tree is not pretty.

Past affirmative: あの木は綺麗でした。
Ano ki wa kirei deshita.
That tree was pretty.

Past negative: あの木は綺麗ではありませんでした。
Ano ki wa kirei dewa arimasen deshita.
That tree was not pretty.

Modifying the noun: あれは綺麗な木です。
Are wa kireina ki desu.
That’s a pretty tree.

な adjectives to practice: 上手なjouzuna (skilled), 静かなshizukana (quiet), 元気なgenkina (well)

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There’s really a ton more to say about Japanese verbs, adjectives, and all their different conjugations. There are many conjugations I didn’t discuss and more can be said about the ones I did. But that’s all beyond my goal here of only covering the very basics. I hope this section wasn’t too complicated and that I made everything clear =)

—–On to Part 5: Speech Levels
—–Back to Part 4: Particles

12 Comments… read them or add your own.

  1. Mushyrulez says:

    Wow, this was really comprehensive! I can’t express how much the a/i/u/e/o mnemonic will help me learn Japanese, lol; for all this time, I kept on thinking the verb conjugations were mumbo jumbo, and now… thanks!

    I’d recommend separating this post into two separate posts or at least flipping their order (since we just learned desu, which has a lot to do with -i adjectives), but it really doesn’t matter since nobody told anybody that you can’t read a post in two sittings.

    • Yumeka says:

      Glad I was able to make verb conjugations more comprehensive for you ^_^

      I was considering putting adjectives on a separate section but because I didn’t have that much to say about them, it wasn’t long enough to warrant its own post. But now that you mention it, adjectives are simpler than verbs so I could have put them first here too.

  2. Salion says:

    The adjectives section helps, as I’ve found them confusing.

    One critique: is it supposed to read “Ano ki wa kieri desu.” or “Ano ki wa kirei desu.”?

    • Yumeka says:

      Glad you found the section helpful, and yes, that was a typo – it should be “kirei” like the other sentences. I went and fixed it. Thanks for pointing it out!

  3. Cytrus says:

    Notably, i-adjectives are predicates – they carry information about the tense and don’t require a verb or copula to create a sentence.

    “Ano inu, urusai.” – That dog is being noisy.

    or even

    “Itai!” – That hurts!

    But all of Yumeka’s examples end in “desu”. Why is that? Well, “desu” carries two things: “tense information” and “+1 politeness”. With i-adjectives, it’s reduced to just the politeness upgrade.

    “Mijikakatta.” – It was short.
    “Mijikakatta desu.” – It was short. (same meaning, polite form)

    You’ll also notice that negative form (-nai form) verbs (and -tai form verbs, too) end with “-i”, just like i-adjectives. Conveniently, you can conjugate those verb forms the same way you do i-adjectives, so there’s no need to learn the rules twice. (e.g. +katta, +kereba).

    • Yumeka says:

      Thanks for the additional info ^_^

      Ah, and I totally should have mentioned that “desu” can be removed for -i adjectives to create informal speech. I’m gonna add a note about that in the post because I think it’s important. Thanks for bringing it up!

    • Salion says:

      “+1 politeness”

      Hah! That’s the perfect way to remember it. I’m going to use that from now on :P

  4. Kal says:

    That’s interesting. Something else I can try to listen for. Thanks for the interesting info!

  5. chikorita157 says:

    Needless to say, verb conjugations are a bit tricky at first since I’m not used to them. The only way to get them is practice, which I got used to in a matter of weeks. Once you know them, they are a piece of cake, especially since the てform conjugates similarly to the short past forms, except it uses a た. Thankfully, some of the grammar builds on top of it, making it less difficult once a person gets a grasp on the basics.

    • Yumeka says:

      Yeah, it just takes a lot of practice. Thankfully unlike English, Japanese verbs and adjectives follow the rules most of the time so you don’t have to memorize a ton of exceptions to the rules in addition to the rules themselves.

  6. Cris says:

    Here is a helpful video on making Japanese adjectives negative:

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