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Guide to Japanese Verbs

Guide to Japanese Verbs 

By Anastasia | March 3, 2021

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?" Well, in the Japanese language, there is only Present tense (Non-past) and Past tense. There are 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.


    2.ばんごはんをたべおわったら、スーパにいきます。

    (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. 

    かりる

    kariru 

    to borrow 

    たべる

    taberu

    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:

    きく

    kiku

    to listen

    およぐ

    oyogu

    to swim

    はなす

    hanasu

    to talk 

    のむ

    nomu

    to drink

    しぬ

    shinu

    to die

    よぶ

    yobu

    to call

    いう

    iu

    to speak

    もつ

    motsu

    to carry

    とる

    toru

    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:

    する

    suru

    to do

    くる

    kuru

    to come

     

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    What Forms of Japanese VerbsShould I Learn 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

    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.

     〜ます-form

    〜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. 

     〜て-form

    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. 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 eat. 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 

    Well, everyone has a past, and probably you will want to talk about your old story one day. You will need to know past form or 〜ました-form. Did you notice some similarities with 〜ます-form? Well, that’s because it is 〜ます-form, but in the Past tense. It is also showing politeness and 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). 

    Further, 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: 

    -Guide to Japanese Adjectives

    -Top 15 Vocabulary Tips 

    -Top 15 Japanese Conversation Tips

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    Conjugating Japanese Verbs Group 1 (Godan Verbs)

    〜ます-form

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

     V+ます→Vます

    たべ→たべます

    (taberu→tabemasu)

    to eat/ I eat


    みる→みます

    (miru→mimasu)

    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 

    To make sentence in negative form, instead of using ます you should use ません.

    V+ません→Vません


    たべ→たべません

    (taberu→tabemasen)

    to eat/ I do not eat


    みる→みません

    (miru/mimasen)

    to see/ I do not see

     〜て-form

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

    V+て→V


    たべ→たべて

    ( taberu / tabete)

    to eat / eating


    →みて

    ( 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:

    たべています

    (tabeteimasu)

    I am eating.


    みています

    (miteimasu)

    I am seeing.

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

    V-て+いません


    たべていません

    (tabeteimasen)

    I am not eating


    みていません

    (miteimasen)

    I am not seeing

    Past Tense

    The 〜ます-form in Past tense will be 〜ました. It is very simple to use this form. It follows 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

    とまりました

    tomarimashita

    とまりませんでした

    tomarimasendeshita

    stopped/

    not stopped

    わかる wakaru

    to understand

    わかりました

    wakarimashita

    わかりませんでした

    wakarimasendeshita

    undertood/

    not understood

    こたえるkotaeru

    to answer

    こたえました

    kotaemashita

    こたえませんでした

    kotaemasendeshita

    answered/

    not answered


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    Conjugating Japanese Verbs Group 2 (Ichidan Verbs) 

    〜ます-form

    The second group of Japanese verbs is 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:

    V+き+ます→Vきます

    V+し+ます→Vします

    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 cloth off 

             かす kasu

    かしますkashimasu

    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がみがきますか?

        (ichinichi ni nankai ha ga migakimasuka)

           How many times do you brush teeth in a day?


    B:  3かいです。

          (san kai desu)

          Three times.

     〜ません as negative state of 〜ます-form 

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

    V+き+ません→Vきません

    V+し+ません→Vしません

    かく kaku

    かきません kakimasen

    not to write 

    みがく migaku

    みがきません migakimasen

    not to brush 

    むぐ nugu

    ぬぎません nugimasen

    not to take cloth off 

    かす kasu

    かしません kashimasen

    not to lend

    たのむ tanomu

    たのみません tanomimasen

    not to request 

    〜て-form

    Conjugating stem verb 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:

    VVいて

    やく yaku

    やいて yaite

    to burn

    VVVって

    つかうtsukau

    もつ motsu

    つかって tsukatte

    もって motte

    to use 

    to carry

    VVいで

    およぐ oyogu

    およいで oyoide

    to swim

    VVして

    しめす shimesu

    しめして shimeshite

    to show

    V・V・VVんで

    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, like I explained earlier with the first group of Japanese verbs:

    V-て+います


    オレンジジュースをのんでいます。

    (orenji jyu-su wo nonde imasu)

    I am drinking orange juice.


    うみでおよいでいます。

    (umi de oyoide imasu)

    I am swimming in the sea. 

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

    V-て+いません

    Here are some examples:

    のんでいません

    (nonde imasen)

    I was not drinking.


    およいでいません

    (oyoide imasen)

    I was not swimming. 

    Past tense 

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

    かく kaku

    かきましたkakimashita

    かきませんでしたkakimasendeshita

    wrote/

    not wrote

    みがくmigaku

    みがきましたmigakimashita

    みがきませんでしたmigakimasendeshita

    brushed/

    not brushed 

    むぐ nugu

    ぬぎましたnugimashita

    ぬぎません でしたnugimasendeshita

    took cloth off/

    not took cloth off 

    かす kasu

    かしましたkashimashita

    かしませんでした kashimasendeshita

    lent/

    not lent

    たのむtanomu

    たのみましたtanomimashita

    たのみませんでしたtanomimasendeshita

    requested/

    not requested

    Conjugating Japanese Verbs Group 3 (Irregular Verbs)

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

    する

    suru

    to do

    します

    shimasu

    do

    しません

    shimasen

    do/does not do

    して

    shite

    doing

    していません            

    shimasen

    not doing

    しました

    shimashita

    did

    しませんでした

    shimasen deshita

    did not do

    くる

     

    kuru

    to come

    きます

     

    kimasu

    come

    きません

     

    kimasen

    do/does not come

    きて

     

    kite

    coming

    きていません

     

    kite imasen

    not coming

    きました

     

    kimashita

    came

    きませんでした

     

    kimasendeshita

    did not come

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    What Should I Learn Next?

    Great job! 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  points below:

    Learning verbs hack

    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)

    You can try to use these Katakana verbs taken from English, but be aware that some Japanese people might not understand some words' meaning. 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 

    Japanese language level. Do not try to learn super hard vocabulary if you are at the beginner level. You will not memorize it. You should know essential basic verbs that you will be able to articulate in your daily conversation. There is a perfect book, "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 "Top 15 Japanese Vocabulary Tips". You will find the best tips on how to study fast and efficiently. 

    Learn  antonyms

    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

    Now you know only basic conjugations. Once you master using them, consider learning 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).

     Learn Japanese verbs with songs

    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!

     

    Time to practice with your friends! 

    Now you can make simple sentences in the Japanese language! You can start practicing your Japanese language with Japanese friends. It is essential to practice speaking to build your confidence in speaking a foreign language. Yet, it can be hard to have Japanese friends. You could also consider taking online or offline Japanese classes with a Japanese teacher.

    Final Remarks

    Learning Japanese verbs can be easy if you follow this guide! For the beginner level, you have to know 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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