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This article is in the series Teach Yourself Japanese

7.3. Verbs

7.3.1. Group I and Group II


Japanese verbs are divided into two groups with different inflexion styles. One group is called the Group I verbs, the -u verbs, the Godan verbs, the consonant verbs, and the strong verbs. The other is called the Group II verbs, the -ru verbs, the Ichidan verbs, the vowel verbs, and the weak verbs. I use the terms Group I and Group II here. Other than the two groups, the Japanese has two irregular verbs.

Japanese has two tenses - the nonpast tense, which is used for both present and future, and the past tense. All the Japanese verbs end with the vowel "u" when used in the nonpast tense. Group II verbs always end with either "-iru" or "-eru". The two irregular verbs are する "suru" and くる "kuru", which have different inflexion from each other.

A verb consists of a stem and a suffix. The stem never changes, but suffixes can change. In English, a verb's stem is its nonpast form, and you can make the past form with the suffix -ed, such as learn - learned. You can make the gerund with the suffix -ing, such as learn - learning.

The final "-u" in the nonpast form of a Group I verb is the suffix, and the rest is the stem. The stem of a Group I verb always ends with a consonant. The final "-ru" in the nonpast form of a Group II verb is the suffix, and the rest is the stem. The stem of a Group II verb always ends with either "i" or "e".

The first "s" is the stem of the irregular verb する "suru", and the first "k" is the stem of the irregular verb くる "kuru".

This is a table of nonpast form examples:

Group 1:

VerbStemSuffixMeaning
はなす
ha na su
hanas-uspeak
きく
ki ku
kik-ulisten to
およぐ
o yo gu
oyog-uswim
たつ
ta tu
tat-ustand up
うる
u ru
ur-usell
あらう
a ra u
araw*-uwash
しぬ
si nu
sin-udie
とぶ
to bu
tob-ufly
よむ
yo mu
yom-uread

Group 2:

VerbStemSuffixMeaning
むる
mi ru
mi-ruwatch
おちる
o ti ru
oti-rufall
ねる
ne ru
ne-rusleep
たべる
ta be ru
tabe-rueat

Suru:

VerbStemSuffixMeaning
する
su ru
s-urudo

Kuru:

VerbStemSuffixMeaning
くる
ku ru
k-urucome

* The last "w" guarantees that all Group I verbs have a stem that ends with a consonant. Since Japanese doesn't have "wi", "wu", "we", or "wo", these phonemes become "i", "u", "e", and "o" respectively. In this case, the stem "araw" and the suffix "u" makes "arau", not "arawu". Whenever you use a Group I verb which ends with a vowel and "u", assume the hidden "w" before the final "u". For example, the stem of the verb いう "iu" (means say) is "iw", not "i".

When you romanise a Japanese verb, do not use a circumflex for the suffix. For example, the Group I verb くう (eat) is Romanized as "kuu", not "".

All the Group II verbs end with either "-iru" or "-eru", but verbs which end with these suffixes are not necessarily Group II verbs. Some are Group I verbs, which end with "-u".

Here are examples of Group I verbs with the ending of "-iru" or "-eru":

VerbStemSuffixMeaning
しる
si ru
sir-uknow
はしる
ha si ru
hasir-urun
はいる
ha i ru
hair-uenter
かえる
ka e ru
kaer-ugo back, return
すべる
su be ru
suber-uslide, skate, ski
しゃべる
sya be ru
syaber-uchat

The verb する "suru" can combine with a noun to make a verb which is related to the noun.
Here is an example:

Kana:べんきょう
Romanization:be n kyô
Meaning:study (noun)

Kana:べんきょうする
Romanization:be n kyô su ru
Meaning:study (verb)

7.3.2. Polite forms


Japanese has a plain mode and a polite mode. To make a sentence polite, add the suffix ます "masu" to the verb at the end of the sentence. It is good to write it as "-(i)masu" to show how it is connected to a verb. If the stem of a verb ends with a vowel, add "-masu". If the stem ends with a consonant, add "-imasu" because Japanese doesn't allow a consonant that is not followed by a vowel. In other words, add "-masu" to Group II verbs, and add "-imasu" to Group I verbs, する "suru", and くる "kuru".

The suffix ます "masu" also works like a verb. For example, it has a past form. Its stem is "mas", and "-u" is the suffix for the nonpast form. It has irregular inflexion. It cannot be an independent verb, and it must be added to a verb.

Here are examples of polite forms:

Group 1:

Plain nonpast formPolite nonpast form
はなす
ha na su
はなします
ha na si ma su
きく
ki ku
ききます
ki ki ma su
およぐ
o yo gu
およぎます
o yo gi ma su
たつ
ta tu
たちます
ta ti ma su
うる
u ru
うります
u ri ma su
あらう
a ra u
あらります
a ra i ma su
しぬ
si nu
しにます
si ni ma su
とぶ
to bu
とびます
to bi ma su
よむ
yo mu
よみます
yo mi ma su

Group 2:

Plain nonpast formPolite nonpast form
むる
mi ru
むます
mi ma su
おちる
o ti ru
おちます
o ti ma su
ねる
ne ru
ねます
ne ma su
たべる
ta be ru
たべます
ta be ma su

Suru:

Plain nonpast formPolite nonpast form
する
su ru
します
si ma su

Kuru:

Plain nonpast formPolite nonpast form
くる
ku ru
きます
ki ma su

Please remember actual sounds are sometimes different from what you might expect from the spellings. The verb たつ has a pronunciation of "tatsu", and its polite form たちます has a pronunciation of "tachimasu". You can easily derive "tatimasu" from "tatu" and "-(i)masu", but it would be difficult to derive "tachimasu" from "tatsu" and "masu". This is why I use Kunrei Romanization on my site.

The polite mode is recommended when you talk or write to a person who is not so close or who has a higher position than you. The plain mode is better when you talk to people such as your family and close friends, and it is also better when you write text written for a general readership such as novels, articles, theses, etc. You cannot use both of the modes at the same time in a document. Once you begin writing, go on with the mode you use for the first sentence. Native Japanese speakers think in plain mode.

Please note that the polite form of a verb doesn't mean doing politely what the verb means. The polite form stands for the speaker's politeness to the addressee. (The speaker and the addressee are grammatical terms. A speaker is a person who sends a sentence, i.e. a person who speaks or writes. An addressee is a person who receives the sentence, such as a person the speaker is talking to. I will often use the terms in later chapters.)

You will learn relative clauses, but it is not allowed to use ます for verbs in relative clauses. It is only used for the last verb of sentences. I will explain it again later.

If at first, you find polite mode too complicated, use only plain mode until you are more advanced. But keep in mind using plain mode for people who are not so close is rude. To avoid this problem, form a sentence in plain form, then add the magic word です "desu" at the end of the sentence. It often produces grammatically incorrect sentences, but they will be understandable and still polite. I will explain how to use the word です properly in a later chapter.

7.3.3. Past forms


Adding the suffix た "ta" to a verb makes the past form. It is good to write it as "-(i)ta" to show how it connects to verbs. The meaning of the "(i)" is the same as that in "-(i)masu". So use "ta" for Group II verbs, and use "ita" for Group I verbs, する "suru", くる "kuru", and the polite suffix ます "masu".

For ease of pronunciation, Group I verbs change the phonemes when they are combined with た. The last phoneme of the stem determines how it changes the phonemes.

Nonpast form endingPast form endingDescription

-su
した
-shita
s + (i)ta = sita
(no change)

-ku
いた
-ita
k + (i)ta = kita,
then it is changed to ita

-gu
いだ
-ida
g + (i)ta = gita,
then it is changed to ida

-tu
った
-tta
t + (i)ta = tita,
then it is changed to tta

-ru
った
-tta
r + (i)ta = rita,
then it is changed to tta

-wu*
った
-tta
w + (i)ta = wita,
then it is changed to tta

-nu
んだ
-nda
n + (i)ta = nita,
then it is changed to nda

-bu
んだ
-nda
b + (i)ta = bita,
then it is changed to nda

-bu
んだ
-nda
m + (i)ta = mita,
then it is changed to nda

* Remember the hidden "w".

There is no other kana that can be the last one of Group I verbs. Note that only Group I verbs change the phonemes.

There is an exception to this table. The verb いく "iku" (means go) has a stem which ends with "k", so you may expect it to have いいた "iita" as the past form, but its past form is いった "itta".

Here are examples of past forms:

Group 1:

Nonpast formMeaningPast formMeaning
はなす
ha na su
speakはなした
ha na si ta
spoke
きく
ki ku
listen toきいた
ki i ta
listened to
およぐ
o yo gu
swimおよいた
o yo i da
swam
たつ
ta tu
stand upたった
ta t ta
stood up
うる
u ru
sellうった
u t ta
sold
あらう
a ra u
washあらった
a ra t ta
washed
しぬ
si nu
dieしんだ
si n da
died
とぶ
to bu
flyとんだ
to n da
flew
よむ
yo mu
readよんだ
yo n da
read

Group 2:

Nonpast formMeaningPast formMeaning
むる
mi ru
watchむた
mi ta
watched
おちる
o ti ru
fallおちた
o ti ta
fell
ねる
ne ru
sleepねた
ne ta
slept
たべる
ta be ru
eatたべた
ta be ta
ate

Suru:

Nonpast formMeaningPast formMeaning
する
su ru
doした
si ta
did
Kuru:

Nonpast formMeaningPast formMeaning
くる
ku ru
comeきた
ki ta
came
-masu:

Nonpast formMeaningPast formMeaning
ます
ma su
*ました
ma si ta
*

* This is not a verb but a verbal suffix for the polite mode.
When you want to make a polite past form, make a verb polite first, then change it to the past form. For instance, if you want the polite past form of the verb とぶ "tobu", change it to the polite form とびます "tobimasu", then change it to the past form とびました "tobimasita". This is because the politeness suffix ます "masu" has a past form but the past suffix た "ta" doesn't have a polite form.

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Takasugi
My name is TAKASUGI Shinji. TAKASUGI is my family name, and Shinji is my given name; a family name is placed before a given name in Japan, as in other Asian nations. My family name is capitalized to avoid misunderstanding.

I have been living in Yokohama since I was born. Yokohama is the second largest city in Japan, which is just 30 kilometers away from the biggest city Tôkyô. It takes 30 minutes to go by train from home to Shibuya, which is the hottest town now in Tôkyô.

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