Learn Japanese Verbs

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Verb Forms

masu form

This is the "formal form" and it is suitable in a wide range of circumstances.
The part of the verb without masu, is the stem.

In Japanese, verbs are not affected by their subject. In other words, whether the subject is singular or plural, first person or second person, the verbs do not change their form. Concerning verb tenses, there are only two divisions of time; non-past (present tense and future tense) and past. Present and future tenses are the same.

  Affirmative Negative
Non-past -masu -masen
Past -mashita -masendeshita

Plain form

The basic forms of Japanese verb are root form, nai form, ta form and nakatta form. We call these four forms "Plain Form".

The plain form can be used instead of masu form in casual situations.
Sentences that end with the plain form are less formal and each form refers to affirmative, negative and tense. In this usage, the plain form is also called the casual form.

However, the plain form is not limited to the casual form. In Japanese, language functions such as conditional (if), ability (can do) or obligation (must do) are expressed by using a "Functional Pattern". Most Functional Patterns follow not the masu form but the plain form even in formal sentences.

  Affirmative Negative + Functional Pattern
Non-past root form nai form
Past ta form nakatta form

Plain - Root form (dictionary form)

This form is the most basic form of verb and Japanese dictionaries use this form.
When you search for ikimasu in a dictionary, you need to look up not ikimasu, but iku.
So, this form is also called the dictionary form.
This form is used as the non-past affirmative instead of -masu in casual speech, and is used with various functional patterns.

Plain - nai form

This form is used as the non-past negative form in casual speech, and is used with various functional patterns as well as the root form.

In casual speech, the nai form is often used to invite someone like -masen ka? or -mashoo ka? with a raised tone.

Koohii o nomimasen ka? Migiya Koohii o nomanai?
Hiru-gohan ni ikimashoo ka? Migiya Hiru-gohan ni ikanai?

Plain - ta form

The verb ta form is used as the past affirmative form in casual speech but this form, grammatically, indicates a completion of an action.
So it is used with the several patterns to express something in the future.

ex. Ashita ame ga futta-ra, uchi de hon o yomimasu.
If it rains tomorrow, I will read a book at my home.
Ashita byooin ni itta ato de, kaisha ni ikimasu.
I will go to the office after going to the clinic tomorrow.

Plain - nakatta form

This form is used as the past negative form in casual speech.
To make the nakatta form, change the -nai ending of the nai form to -nakatta.

Te form

The te form by itself is used to combine two or more sentences or is used to indicate a cause or a means.
This form is also used with various functional patterns.
The te form is made in the same way the ta form is made. Just change the ending -ta to -te.

Conditional form (ba form)

This form makes the conditional clause meaning "If", "when" or "in case", and this conditional pattern is called the ba conditional because the conditional form ends with ba, like tabereba or mireba.
This form is not the only one used to express a conditional in Japanese. Conditional clauses are also made by the ta form + ra (-tara), root form + to and root form + nara.

Potential form

This form means "be able to do" or "can do".
The potential form of a Group 2 verb is the same as its passive form.

Imperative form

This form expresses a command or order meaning "Do!" or "Don't do!".
Although this form is not used in ordinary conversation, it is used to quote an order or request, or is used in road signs, slogans or notices.

ex. Tomare!
Stop!
Gomi o suteruna.
Do not litter.

The imperative form of unintentional verbs expresses the speaker's hope or wish.

ex. Ame ga fure!

Fure is the imperative form of furimasu / furu which is an intransitive verb and it does not express any intention of the subject.
The subject of this verb is usually an inanimate thing such as ame "rain" or yuki "snow".
But if you use the imperative fure, ame ga fure, it means you strongly hope that it rains.

Volitional form

The verb volitional form expresses the speaker's intention like the verb stem + mashoo.
The stem + mashoo is formal and the volitional form is casual.
The volitional form is frequently used among friends and colleagues.

ex. A : Nani o tabeyoo ka?
B : Pasuta o tabeyoo.
A : What shall we eat?
B : Let's eat some pasta.

The verb volitional form + to omoimasu or to omotte imasu are used to express the speaker's intention meaning "I'm planning to do".

ex. Natsu-yasumi tomodachi to ryokoo shiyoo to omotte imasu.
I plan to go on a trip with my friend in the summer vacation.

Passive form

The passive form is used for a passive sentence. It is especially common to express passivity in situations like the following.

1) When a person experiences damage or nuisance by other person.

ex. Watashi wa otoko ni nagurareta.
I was punched by a man.

Also the passive form is applied when expressing positive feelings.

ex. Watashi wa sensei ni homerareta.
I was praised by my teacher.

2) When talking about historical facts or social matters.

ex. Orinpikku wa rainen hirakareru.
The Olympics will be hosted next year.

Causative form

This form means "to make someone do something" or "let someone do something".

ex. Sensei wa seito o tataseta.
The teacher made a student stand up.
Watashi wa kodomo ni sooji o saseta.
I made the child clean (the room).

Causative sentences are often used in polite speech as a humble expression.

ex. A : Tanaka-san kara denwa ga hoshii-n desu ga...
B : Wakarimashita. Tanaka ga modottara, denwa sasemasu.
A : I would like Tanaka to give me a call.
B : OK. I will have him call you when he returns.

Causative Passive form

The causative form conjugates as Group 2 verbs and forms the causative passive form.

ex. Tanaka-san wa watashi o mataseta. Causative sentence
Watashi wa Tanaka-san ni matasareta. Causative passive sentence
Tanaka kept me waiting.
I was kept waiting by Tanaka.

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