Japanese Conjugation — Conjugating Different Types of Verbs

In this lesson, we’ll be talking about the Japanese verb conjugation. At some point, any person learning about the Japanese language is going to have to tackle the challenge of conjugation. In case you don’t exactly know what conjugation is or have never seen it defined, read on as we teach you all about Japanese conjugations.

Japanese Conjugation-min (1)

Japanese Conjugation

Conjugation is the alteration of a verb’s form for one reason or the other. Conjugations are used to express, more specifically, a context’s tense, aspect, mood, person, and so on. So when you want to tell your neighbor about the movie you saw yesterday, you’re going to need the powers of conjugation.

Japanese Verb Types

Before we begin to explain the system of Japanese Verb conjugation, it’s helpful to know a bit about Japanese verbs in general. They will be the topic of discussion, after all. To put it briefly, there are three types of Japanese Verbs: Ichidan (一段), Godan (五段), and irregular Japanese verbs.

While each of these types of Japanese verbs will behave differently depending on the conjugation, several conjugative forms can be applied to every verb. Moreover, as far as Japanese verb conjugation is concerned, the rules are the rules. The patterns that are put in place hold true pretty much all the time.

There are only a couple of irregular verbs (plus some weird exceptions), but even they follow their own irregular pattern for the most part! Wonderful… we know. For irregular Japanese verbs, it’s most important to be mindful of the verb stem in relation to the general Japanese verb conjugation rule.

While this article does not focus on the different verb types themselves, we’ll be referring to these Japanese verbs throughout the article. Each verb type will be used in the example sentences when explaining the Japanese Verb conjugation as well. You can learn about the different kinds of Japanese Verbs in this detailed article for a better understanding in that regard.

An Important Note: When explaining the conjugations, we’ll commonly refer to something known as the “kana” of the verb or word. This will look like a-kana, i-kana, u-kana, etc. Without going into too much detail, this just refers to the ending vowel sound connected to any given alphabet character. For example, the character し (shi) would be considered the i-kana (i sound) for the letter “S.” The character さ (sa) would be considered the a-kana for the same letter. そ (so) would be considered the o-kana, and so on and so forth.

So now, without further adieu, let’s begin our journey into the marvelous universe of Conjugations:

No Conjugation

One commonality between all three verb forms is that the base form always ends with the sound う (u). Ichidan verbs always end in る(ru). For other verbs, this can be preceded by a consonant, forming ending sounds such as む(mu), ぶ(bu),す(su), and so on.

Regardless of the verb, in the dictionary form, that final sound always remains the same. It is from this initial position that each verb will transform, so it’s the most important place to start. Here is 1 example of each type of verb in its base form (without conjugation):

  • Ichidan Verb — 食べる (taberu) – to eat
  • Godan Verb — 歩く (aruku) – to walk
  • Irregular — 来る (kuru) – to come

This form is used to represent the dictionary form or plain form of the verb. It’s used almost exclusively in a colloquial sense, so with friends or family members. It can be used to make simple declarative statements, such as “I read” or “they study.” Plus, you’ll find this form in generic articles and write-ups not necessarily declared to any one entity, such as within public newspapers, magazines, etc.

Lastly, it can be used in conjunction with other Japanese grammar points, as can many Japanese verb conjugation forms. But that’s a discussion for another time.

Dialogue:

お母さん:ゆうた!今仕事に行く

ゆうた:あ、そろそろ時間ですね。いってらっしゃい!

お母さん:いってきます!


Okaasan: yuuta! Ima shigoto ni iku

Yuuta: Ah, sorosoro jikan desu ne. Itterashai!

Okaasan: ittekimasu!

Note that in Japanese, there exist no future-tense verb conjugations whatsoever. Therefore, the forms we’ll cover (aside from the past tense forms) signify both the present and future tenses.

~ます(masu) Conjugation

The ~ます(masu) conjugation can be thought of as the polite form for all the Japanese verbs. That’s because it holds the same weight as the dictionary form, but it’s more polite. You’d use this conjugation form of a verb when you want to say something in the present or future as a polite affirmative.

It’s commonly used between strangers or when communicating with people who you are not close with. This Japanese verb conjugation is usually taught very early on to beginners due to its simple pattern and utility.

To accomplish this conjugation, just follow these rules:

  • Ichidan – simply add ます(masu) to the verb stem
  • Godan – change the final u-kana to an i-kana before adding ます(masu) to the end of the word
  • Irregular – simply add ます(masu) to the verb stem

Here is a simple Japanese verb conjugation chart for the ます (masu) form:

Ichidan Verbs

起きる → 起きます —(okiru – okimasu)

食べる → 食べます —(taberu – tabemasu)

Godan Verbs

読む → 読みます  — (yomu – yomimasu)

泳ぐ → 泳ぎます  — (oyogu – oyogimasu)

Irregular Verbs

する → します   — (suru – shimasu)

来る → 来ます   — (kuru – kimasu)

Dialogue:

小平:どうしますか

里美:ちょっとおなかがすいている。寿司を食べますか

小平:うん、食べます。寿司が大好きですよ。

里美:いいですね。


Kohei: Dou shimasuka?

Satomi: Chotto onaka ga suiteiru. sushi wo tabemasuka?

Kohei: un, tabemasu. Sushi ga daisuki desuyo.

Satomi: ii desu ne.

~ない(nai) Conjugation

The ~ない(nai) conjugation is a negative conjugation in the plain form that is used in the present tense. This is used to say what “doesn’t” happen or what “won’t” happen.

Japanese Conjugation - nai form

When we think about Japanese verbs and their conjugations, it’s best to consider whether or not the Plain form (form 1) or Dictionary form (form 2) is receiving the conjugation. This is mostly because, well, politeness is a big deal in Japanese culture. Once you know the circumstance, you can know which kind of verb should be used and proceed accordingly.

Here are the rules to follow to accomplish this effect:

  • Ichidan – add ない (nai) to the stem of the verb
  • Godan – replace the final u-kana with an a-kana before adding ない (nai) to the verb stem
  • Irregular – add ない (nai) to the stem of the verb

Here is a simple Japanese verb conjugation chart for the ない(nai)  form:

Ichidan Verbs

起きる → 起きない  — (ookiru – okinai)

食べる → 食べない  — (taberu – tabenai)

Godan Verbs

読む → 読まない  — (yomu – yomanai)

泳ぐ → 泳がない  — (oyogu – oyoganai)

Irregular Verbs

する → しない  — (suru – shinai)

来る → 来ない  — (kuru – konai)

Dialogue:

なつき:哲学コウスは今勉強する?

まい:ううん、違うよ。今なにも勉強しない。


Natsuki: tetsugaku kousu wa ima benkyousuru?

Mai: uun, chigau yo. Ima nanimo benkyoushinai.

~ません (masen) Conjugation

The ~ません (masen) conjugation is used for politely negating a verb or an action. This means this conjugation is a polite form.

~ません (masen) conjugation gets used in the exact same way as the previously discussed ~ない (nai) conjugation, except it is the informal equivalent.

Here are the rules for this Japanese verb conjugation:

  • Ichidan – add ません (masen) to the verb stem
  • Godan – change the final u-kana to an i-kana before adding ません (masen) to the end of the word
  • Irregular – add ません (masen) to the verb stem

Here is a simple Japanese verb conjugation chart for the ません (masen) form:

Ichidan Verbs

起きる → 起きません  — (okiru – okimasen)

食べる → 食べません  — (taberu – tabemasen)

Godan Verbs

読む → 読みません  — (yomu – yomimasen)

泳ぐ → 泳ぎません  — (oyogu – oyogimasen)

Irregular Verbs

する → しません  — (suru – shimasen)

来る → 来ません  — (kuru – kimasen)

Dialogue:

定員:今抹茶ラテがありません。すみますん!

えりか:そうなんですか。その場合はコーヒーを一枚ください。


Tenin/Teiin: ima maccha rate ga arimasen. sumimasen!

Erika: sounandesuka? sonobaaiwakouhii wo ichimai kudasai.

~た(ta) Conjugation

~た(ta) conjugation is a plain form used in the past tense. It is used when talking about things that happened in the past. You’ll need this form to tell your little brother that you ate his cookies.

The conjugation rules for Godan verbs get pretty tricky at this point, so pay close attention:

  • Ichidan – add た (ta) to the verb stem
  • Godan – If the verb ends in: す(su), the ending becomes した(shita)

う(u), つ(tsu),る(ru), the ending becomes った(tta)

く(Ku), the ending becomes いた(ita)

ぐ(Gu), the ending becomes いだ(ida)

ぶ(Bu), む(mu), ぬ(nu), the ending becomes んだ(nda)

  • Irregular – add た (ta) to the verb stem

Here’s a simple verb conjugation chart for the た (ta) form:

Ichidan Verbs

起きる → 起きた  — (okiru – okita)

食べる → 食べた  — (taberu – tabeta)

Godan Verbs

泳ぐ → 泳いだ  — (oyogu – oyoida)

作る → 作った  — (tsukuru – tsukutta)

話す → 話した  — (hanasu – hanashita)

頼む → 頼んだ  — (tanomu – tanonoda)

続く → 続いた  — (tsuzuku – tsuzuita)

Irregular Verbs

する → した  — (suru – shita)

来る → 来た  — (kuru – kita)

Dialogue:

:昼ご飯もう食べた?

ゆうた:うん、全部食べた!

:そしてあなたの皿は?

ゆうた:もう洗ったよ!

:いい子だね~


ane: hirugohan mou tabeta?

yuuta: un, zenbu tabeta!

ane: soshite anata no sara wa?

yuuta: mou arattayo!

ane: iiko da ne~

~なかった(nakatta) Conjugation

When negating verbs in the past tense plain form, the Japanese verb conjugation~なかった(nakatta) is used. It might be easier to imagine the negative plain form in present tense first (the ~な (na)  form), drop the final い(i), and add なかった (nakatta). The rules follow thusly:

  • Ichidan – add なかった (nakatta) to the verb stem
  • Godan – Replace the final u-kana with an a-kana before adding なかった (nakatta)

If the verb ends in an う(u), it becomes わ(wa) before adding なかった (nakatta)

  • Irregular – add なかった (nakatta) to the verb stem

Here’s a simple verb conjugation chart for this form:

Ichidan Verbs

食べる → 食べなかった  — (taberu – tabenakatta)

起きる → 起きなかった  — (okiru – okinakatta)

Godan Verbs

泳ぐ → 泳がなかった  — (oyogu – oyoganakatta)

歌う → 歌わなかった  — (utau – utawanakatta)

Irregular Verbs

する → しなかった  — (suru – shinakatta)

来る → 来なかった  — (kuru – konakatta)

Dialogue:

まい:昨日の夜カラオケに行っただろう?

なつき:そうけど歌をなんでも歌わなかった。緊張しただからよね!


Mai: kinou no yoru, karaoke ni itta darou?

Natsuki: Sou, kedo uta wo nandemo utawanakatta. Kinchoushita dakara yone!

~ました (mashita) Conjugation

The ~ました (mashita) conjugation is used for conjugating Japanese verbs in the past tense and in a polite form. This Japanese verb conjugation is also affirmative.

Japanese Conjugation - mashita

The rules for changing a verb into the polite past tense positive are as follows:

  • Ichidan – add ました (mashita) to the verb stem
  • Godan – change the final u-kana to an i-kana before adding ました (mashita) to the verb stem
  • Irregular – add ました (mashita) to the verb stem

Here’s a simple verb conjugation chart for the form:

Ichidan Verbs

食べる →食べました  — (taberu – tabemashita)

起きる → 起きました  — (okiru – okimashita)

Godan Verbs

泳ぐ → 泳ぎました  — (oyogu – oyogimashita)

行く → 行きました  — (iku – ikimashita)

Irregular Verbs

する → しました  — (suru – shimashita)

来る → 来ました  — (kuru – kimashita)

Dialogue:

小平:里美さん、先週何をしましたか

里美:先週家族に訪ねて友達と遊びました。小平は?

小平:俺はアルバイトしました。そした彼女と映画を見に行きました。ホラー映画を見ました。楽しかったです。

里美:楽しそうですね!


Kohei: Satomi San. Senshuu, nani wo shimashitaka?

Satomi: senshuu kazoku ni tazunete, tomodachi to asobimashita. Kohei wa?

Kohei: Ore wa arubaito shimashita. Soshite, kanojo to eiga wo mi ni ikimashita. Horaa no eiga wo mimashita. Tanoshikatta desu.

Satomi: Tanoshisou desu ne!

~ませんでした (masen deshita) Conjugation

The Japanese verb conjugation~ませんでした (masen deshita) is the past negative for the polite form. It is as simple and straightforward as the previous polite form inflections that we’ve practiced. In general, this tends to be the easier form to remember, which is great because its use is always accepted.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice a similar pattern between these conjugations. The past negative conjugation rules for the polite form are as follows:

  • Ichidan- add ませんでした (masen deshita) to the verb stem
  • Godan – replace the final u-kana with an i-kana before adding ませんでした (masen deshita) to the verb stem
  • Irregular – add ませんでした (masen deshita) to the verb stem

Here are some verb conjugation examples for this form:

Ichidan Verbs

食べる → 食べませんでした  — (taberu – tabemasen deshita)

起きる → 起きませんでした  — (okiru – okimasen deshita)

Godan Verbs

泳ぐ → 泳ぎませんでした  — (oyogu – oyogimasen deshita)

行く → 行きませんでした  — (iku – ikimasen deshita)

Irregular Verbs

する → しませんでした  — (suru – shimasen deshita)

来る → 来ませんでした  — (kuru – kimasen deshita)

Dialogue:

里美:たいてい一周三回に同僚と踊りますが水曜日に私は踊りませんでした。気分が悪いですから。

小平:え!?それは残念ですね。今元気ですか

里美:うん、もう元気になりました。ありがとうございます。


Satomi: taitei isshuu san kai ni douryou to odorimasu ga suiyoubini watashi wa odorimasendeshita. Kibun ga warukkata desu kara.

Kohei: eh?! Sore wa zannen desu ne. Ima genki desu ka?

Satomi: un, mou genki ni narimashita, arigatou gozaimasu.

~て (te) Conjugation

The ~て (te) conjugation is used to connect Japanese verbs to other actions or clauses within a sentence. It essentially translates as the “did this, and this (happened)” within a sentence. It also functions quite commonly as a cordial way to give a command.  Lastly, the te form is devoid of tense.

Here’s the conjugation rule for this form:

  • Ichidan – add て (te) to the stem of the verb
    • Godan –  If the verb ends in: す(su), the ending becomes して(shite)う(U), つ(tsu),る (ru), the ending becomes って(tte)

く(Ku), the ending becomes いて(ite)

ぐ(Gu), the ending becomes いで(ide)

ぶ(Bu), む(mu), ぬ(nu),  the ending becomes んで(nde)

  • Irregular – add て (te) to the stem of the verb

Here’s a verb conjugation chart for the て (te) form:

Ichidan Verbs

起きる → 起きて  — (Okiru – okite)

食べる → 食べて  — (taberu – tabete)

Godan Verbs

泳ぐ → 泳いで  — (oyogu – oyoide)

作る → 作って  — (tsukuru – tsukutte)

話す → 話して  — (hanasu – hanashite)

頼む → 頼んで  — (tanomu – tanonde)

続く → 続いて  — (tsuzuku – tsuzuite)

Irregular Verbs

する → し  — (suru – shite)

来る → 来て  — (kuru – kite)

Dialogue:

里美:今週の週末何をするつもりですか。

小平:私は買い物して弟とベイスボールを遊んで両親の家で晩ご飯を食べます。

お母さん:ゆうた、ここに来て。何か見せたいだよ

ゆうた:行くよ。。。何?

Satomi: konshuu no shuumatsu. nani wo suru tsumori desuka?

Kohei: watashi wa kaimonoshite, otouto to beisubouru wo asonde, ryoshin no ie de bangohan wo tabemasu.

Okaasan: Yuuta, koko ni kite. Nanika misetai da yo

Yuuta: iku yo… nani?

~なくて and ~ないで (nakute / naide) Conjugations

The ~なくて and ~ないで (nakute / naide) conjugations are other forms of connecting conjugations in Japanese. These are the negative forms of the ~て (te) conjugation. These are used when connecting verbs that did not happen with other verbs or clauses.

These are used to give commands not to do something as well. Oddly enough, this negative form has two variations that are used almost interchangeably but differ in subtly distinct ways.

These forms are なくて (nakute) and ないで . なくて (naide . nakute) lends itself to more of a cause-and-effect situation, whereas ないで (naide) can be used to connect unrelated statements.

Here’s the rule:

  • Ichidan – add なくて・ないで (nakute . naide) to the stem of the verb
  • Godan – replace the final u-kana with an a-kana before adding なくて・ないで (nakute . naide) to the end of the word
  • Irregular – add なくて・ないで (nakute . naide) to the stem of the verb

Here’s a verb conjugation chart for the なくて・ないで (nakute . naide) form:

Ichidan Verbs

食べる →食べなくて・食べないで  — (taberu – tabenakute ・ tabenaide)

起きる → 起きなくて・起きないで  — (okiru – okinakute ・ okinaide)

Godan Verbs

泳ぐ → 泳がなくて・泳がないで  — (oyogu – oyoganakute ・ oyoganaide)

頼む → 頼まなくて・頼まないで  — (tanomu – tanomanakute ・ tanomanaide)

Irregular Verbs

する → しなくて・しないで  — (suru – shinakute ・ shinaide)

来る → 来なくて・来ないで  — (kuru – konakute ・ konaide)

Dialogue:

お父さん:きょうクラブに行かないで家に帰ってください。

ゆうた:分かった。

Otousan: kyou kurabu ni ikanaide ie ni kaette kudasai

Yuuta: wakata.


まい:こんにちはって言わなくて真っ直ぐ机に向かった. 本当に怒っていた。

つき:すげいまいちゃん。。。

Mai: Konnichiwa tte iwanakute massugu tsukue ni ikimashita. Hontou ni okotteita.

Natsuki: Sugei Mai Chan…

Wrap Up

So there you have it. These are the most basic Japanese conjugations and a few Japanese words one should learn before taking on the more challenging stuff. The Japanese language can be a bit tricky and challenging to learn, but with enough practice, you’ll get a hang of this language, and you’ll be on par with native Japanese speakers in no time.

If you’re eager to learn Japanese sentence structure next, we have a separate article dedicated to that topic.

がんばってください (ganbatte kudasai)! ^^

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