Guide to Japanese Verbs 

By Anastasia and Joshua | March 3, 2021

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    Fun fact about the Japanese language: there is no Future tense! Wait, what? What does it mean? How can I say, "I will eat ramen with my friend tomorrow?" To begin with, in the Japanese language, there is only Present tense (Non-past) and Past tense. There are a few ways to emphasize Japanese verbs in Present and Future tenses. Although there is no way to communicate future tense directly, there are ways to get around this. Learn the easiest way to start from zero and more in our Guide to Japanese verbs.

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    Japanese verbs: What Should I Learn First?

    Tenses in Japanese Language

    As I had already said before, there are only two tenses in the Japanese language: Present tense and Past tense. In some textbooks, you can find such terms as Non-past and Past tenses. Non-past (or Present-Future) tense in Japanese reflects Present and Future tenses. Here is some example of the past tense, たべました (tabemashita) can be translated as "ate." Example for Non-past tense: たべます (tabemasu) can be translated as "will eat" and "eating."

    As you can see, it can be very confusing to understand whether たべます (tabemasu) is in Present or Future tense. Usually, Japanese speakers would emphasize the context by adding the time words (e.g., now, tomorrow, or 2 pm) or through grammatical construction. Here are some  sentence examples:

    1.  あしたにスーパにいきます。

    (ashita ni su-pa ni ikimasu)

      I will go to a supermarket tomorrow.


    (bangohan wo tabe owattara, su-pa ni ikimasu)

    When I finish dinner, I will go to a supermarket.

    3. いま、ラーメンをたべます。

    (ima ra-men wo tabemasu)

    I am eating ramen now.

    4. まいにちテレビばんぐみをみます。

    (mainichi terebi bangumi wo mimasu)

    I watch TV programs everyday.

    As you can see from examples 1 and 2, both sentences are showing the Future tense, where sentences 3 and 4 are in Present tense. 

    Japanese Verbs Categories

    Japanese verbs are classified into three groups: Group 1 (-いる and - えるverbs), Group 2 (-る verbs) and lastly Group 3 (irregular verbs. All these three groups are differentiated by the ending of the verb. 

    Group 1 Japanese Verbs (or Ichidan Verbs)

    Verbs in this group are ended by -いる and - える. 



    to borrow 



    to eat

    Group 2 Japanese Verbs (or Godan Verbs)

    The group 2 verbs are ended by the う syllables: く(ku), ぐ(gu), す(su), む (mu), ぬ (nu),ぶ(bu), う(u), つ(tsu), る(ru). Here is the list of example verbs:



    to listen



    to swim



    to talk 



    to drink



    to die



    to call



    to speak



    to carry



    to take

    Group 3 Japanese verbs (Irregular verbs)

    Group 3 has only two verbs that are considered to be exceptions and should be memorized. These two verbs are:



    to do



    to come


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    What Forms of Japanese Verbs Should I Learn First?

    First, for beginner learners, you have to know what is plain form, 〜ます-form, 〜て-form, and past form. Also, you might want to know how to negate in Non-past and Past tenses! 

     Plain Form

    To begin with, plain form or basic form is the form that you can find in a dictionary (かくkaku、たべる taberu). That's why some textbooks can use such terms as the dictionary form. You have to know what is the plain form because all conjugation forms of verbs are based on it. Let's move further.


    Next, 〜ます-form of verbs is the most used conjugation of Japanese verbs. 〜ます-form is an auxiliary verb that emphasizes politeness. Like 〜です, 〜ます always comes at the end of the sentence and never stands inside of a sentence. Check out these examples: かんがえます (kangaemasu/ to think)、かきます (kakimasu/ to write), します (shimasu/ to do). Further, I will explain how to conjugate 〜ます-form according to each group later in the article.


    In addition, this is continuous tense in English. It is showing the -ing form of the verb. This form is very important to know because it can emphasize the acts you do at the moment. As you remember, in the Japanese language, the Non-past tense shows the present and future tenses. Also, another way to show the present tense is to use 〜て-form. Check out these two examples:

    1. わたしはたべます。

    (watashi wa tabemasu)

    I am eating OR I will eat.

    2. わたしはたべています。

    (watashi wa tabeteimasu)

    I am eating.

    As you can see, the first sentence is in 〜ます-form, and it can show the present and future time, while the second sentence is in 〜て-form and it emphasizes the present continuous. In the first sentence, of course, you can add time words (like now or tomorrow) to indicate the tense of happening. Moreover, there are many ways how to use 〜て-form. It is very useful if you use 〜て-form in your conversation.

    Past Tense 

    Next, everyone has a past, and you will probably want to talk about your old story one day. You will need to know the past form or 〜ました-form. Also, did you notice some similarities with 〜ます-form? Well, that’s because it is 〜ます-form, but in the Past tense. In addition, it also shows politeness and is always used at the end of the sentence. Some examples are みました(mimashita/ saw) 、しました(shimashita/ did )、たべました (tabemashita/ ate).

    Furthermore, I am going to explain how to use 〜ます-form, 〜て-form, and 〜ました- form depending on the verb group. Also, I will explain to you how to negate Non-past and Past tenses!

    Want to know more about tips on learning Japanese? Also, check out on Japan Switch: 

    Top 15 Vocabulary Tips 
    Ultimate Guide to Beginner Japanese

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    Conjugating Japanese Verbs Group 1 (Ichidan Verbs)


    Conjugating verbs from the second group is much easier than from the first group. You will see it in further steps: 




    to eat/ I eat



    to see/I see

    You should remove the る-ending and insert ます. It cannot be simpler than this! Here are more examples:

    A: あさごはんになにをたべますか?

            (asa gohan ni nani wo tabemasu ka)

           What do you eat for breakfast?

    B: パンをたべます。

       (pan wo tabemasu).

       I eat bread. 

    〜ません as Negative State of 〜ます-form 

    In order to make a sentence into the negative form, instead of using ます, you should use ません.




    to not eat/ I do not eat



    to not see/ I do not see


    In order to conjugate る-verbs into 〜て-form, simply drop the る at the end of the verb and add て:



    ( taberu →tabete)

    to eat/eating


    ( miru→mite)

     to see/seeing

    That's not all! To make the sentence in Continuous tense, you have two add います to the 〜て-form. Check out these examples:


    (tabete imasu)

    I am eating.


    (mite imasu)

    I am seeing.

    As can be seen, the second part of the verb ( います verb) is also 〜ます-form of the verb. Earlier you had studied how to make negative sentences with 〜ます-form. Well, it is the same for the 〜て-form! Have a look at this structure: 



    (tabete imasen)

    I am not eating


    (mite imasen)

    I am not seeing

    Past Tense

    In addition, the 〜ます-form in the Past tense will be 〜ました. It is very simple to use this form. It follows the same rules as for 〜ます-form. Also, it follows the same rules for the negative state as well(ませんでした). I will provide some examples below: 

    とまる (tomaru)

    to stop


    tomari mashita


    tomari masen deshita

    2nd box = stopped

    3rd box = did not stop

    わかる (wakaru)

    to understand


    wakari mashita


    wakari masen deshita

    2nd box = understood

    3rd box = did not understand

    こたえる (kotaeru)

    to answer


    kotae mashita


    kotae masen deshita

    2nd box = answered

    3rd box = did not answer

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    Explore Japanese verb conjugation

    Conjugating Japanese Verbs Group 2 (Godan Verbs) 


    Next is the second group of Japanese verbs that end on う-syllabus. To make it into 〜ます-form you have to change う-syllabus into い-syllabus. Have a look at this structure:



    Easy, right? You can follow the same rule for the rest of the Category I verbs. Also, check out the list of the Japanese verbs Category I:

              かく kaku

    かきます kakimasu

    to write 

           みがく migaku    

    みがきます migakimasu

    to brush 

    むぐ nugu

    ぬぎます nugimasu

    to take off 

             かす kasu


    to lend

         たのむ tanomu

    たのみます tanomimasu

    to request 

    Check the dialog example using 〜ます-form:

    A: いちにちになんかいはをみがきますか?

        (ichinichi ni nankai ha wo migakimasuka)

           How many times do you brush your teeth in a day?

    B:  さんかいみがきます。

          (san kai migakimasu)

          I brush it three times.

     〜ません as a negative state of 〜ます-form 

    Additionally, making negative sentences with 〜ます-form is very easy. Instead of using 〜ます-form, use  〜ません. Check out this structure with some examples:



    かく kaku

    かきません kakimasen

    to not write 

    みがく migaku

    みがきません migakimasen

    to not brush 

    むぐ nugu

    ぬぎません nugimasen

    to not take off 

    かす kasu

    かしません kashimasen

    to not lend

    たのむ tanomu

    たのみません tanomimasen 

    to not request 


    Next, conjugating stem verbs from Category I into 〜て-form can be confusing. There are different endings (って、いて、して、んで、いで)depending on the verb’s ending. Check out below:


    やく yaku

    やいて yaite

    to burn



    もつ motsu

    つかって tsukatte

    もって motte

    to use 

    to carry


    およぐ oyogu

    およいで oyoide

    to swim


    しめす shimesu

    しめして shimeshite

    to show


    しぬ shinu

    よぶ yobu

    のむ nomu

    しんで shinde

    よんで yonde

    のんで nonde 

    to die

    to call

    to drink 

    As you can see, depending on the endings of the stem verb, there are different endings. It can be hard to memorize Japanese verbs but follow the structure above, and it will be much easier! Also, try to practice more! 

    To make a sentence for 〜て-form, you should add います, as I explained earlier with the first group of Japanese verbs:



    (orenji jyu-su wo nonde imasu)

    I am drinking orange juice.


    (umi de oyoide imasu)

    I am swimming in the sea. 

    Negation of  〜て-form is the same as for the first group of Japanese verbs. Follow this instruction:


    Here are some examples:


    (nonde imasen)

    I am not drinking.


    (oyoide imasen)

    I am not swimming. 

    Past tense 

    Finally, you will use the same 〜ました-form just like you learned above! It follows the same rules as the first group of Japanese verbs follows!




    kaki mashita


    kaki masen deshita

    2nd box = wrote

    3rd box = to not write




    migaki mashita


    migaki masen deshita

    2nd box = brushed

    3rd box = to not brush 




    nugi mashita

    ぬぎません でした

    nugi masen deshita

    2nd box = took off

    3rd box = to not take off 




    kashi mashita


    kashi masen deshita

    2nd box = lent

    3rd box = to not lend




    tanomi mashita


    tanomi masen deshita

    2nd box = requested

    3rd box = to not request

    Conjugating Japanese Verbs Group 3 (Irregular Verbs)

    As shown above, there are only two irregular verbs: する(suru)  and くる (kuru). Unfortunately, you have to memorize how these verbs are conjugated. Here is the complete table of Group 3 conjugation:



    to do






    do/does not do






    not doing





    shimasen deshita

    did not do



    to come






    do/does not come





    kite imasen

    not coming






    did not come

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    What Should I Learn Next?

    You have learned the survival kit of Japanese verbs! Congratulations! Now you might have dozens of questions: How do I remember all the forms? How do I use them in daily life? What should I learn next? and so on. Well, I have got all of your questions answered! Check out these points below:

    Learning Japanese Verbs Hack

    At this point, if you do not have enough vocabulary knowledge, you can try to use Katakana words (words taken from English) and add する (suru). For example,

    1. ファイトする (faito suru/ to fight)
    2. サッカする (sakka suru/ to play soccer)
    3. ジョギングする (jyogingu suru/ to jog)
    4. アップする (appu suru/ to upload)
    5. ガイドする (gaido suru/ to guide)

    Furthermore, you can try to use these Katakana verbs taken from English, but be aware that some Japanese people might not understand some words' meanings. Older people or people living outside of big cities like Tokyo or Osaka might not understand some terms. The reason is that words keep changing and new word trends mainly come from social media, like Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Usually, some English loaned words would be considered slang words, so be careful when you talk to your boss.

    Broaden your vocabulary 

    Beware, do not try to learn super hard vocabulary if you are at the beginner level. You should know essential basic verbs that you will be able to articulate in your daily conversation. There is a perfect book for you called, "600 Basic Japanese Verbs," written by the Hiro Japanese center. You can purchase it on Amazon.

    Also, if you want to know new ways to learn Japanese words, read our Top 15 Japanese Vocabulary Tips. You will find the best tips on how to study fast and efficiently!

    Learn  antonyms for Japanese Verbs

    Lastly, another way to learn Japanese verbs is to learn through antonyms or words that have opposite meanings to each other.  You can make flashcards with the antonyms of Japanese verbs. Also, you can download these flashcards below and print them out!

    Japanese noboru kudaru
    hajimaru overaru Japanese verbs
    Kiru Nugu Japanese flashcards
    iku kuru japanese language
    Kau Uru Japanese verbs flashcards
    Au wakareru Japanese verbs

    If you are ever unsure what the antonym is feel free to ask Japanese people,

    (insert word) のはんたいはなんですか?

    (insert word)  no hantai wa nandesuka? 

    It means "What is the opposite of (insert word)?". Most Japanese people would kindly reply to you.

    Learn different types of conjugations

    All things considered, now you know basic conjugations. Once you master using them, consider learning the short form (informal) of ますand ました. You will need it when you make a conversation with your Japanese friend! Also, there are volitional and conditional forms that you would also want to learn later. If you become intermediate level, consider learning causative, passive, and potential forms. There is a full list of Japanese verb conjugations here (if you are still hungry for more). Here is also an amazing list from Tae Kim on Japanese verbs.

    Learn Japanese verbs with songs

    Finally, some people memorize much faster if they see and listen at the same time. Try to find what is the best way to memorize verbs more efficiently. You can try to listen to Japanese songs, they will get stuck in your mind!



    You can start practicing your Japanese language with your Japanese friends. It is essential to practice speaking to build your confidence in speaking a foreign language. However, it can be also hard to have Japanese friends. Read our:
    Top 15 Japanese Conversation Tips
    Top 15 Tips to Make Japanese Friends

    Final Remarks

    Learning Japanese verbs can be easy if you follow this guide! For the beginner level, you have to know the most common conjugation forms like ます、ました, て- form, and plain form. Moreover, you would need to know how to make verbs in a negative state. For having conversations, you would want to broaden your vocabulary. If you have trouble remembering the verbs, you can watch the song videos that I provided above in this article. Lastly, it would be best if you considered practicing your Japanese language with a native speaker. That's one of the best ways to enhance your speaking. If you do not have any Japanese friends, you can consider taking Japanese classes at Japan Switch!

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