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Conjugation of Japanese Verbs and Adjectives

Japanese is a language whose modified forms of verbs and adjectives are created by joining additional unit of meanings (called morphemes) as suffix of words. It makes Japanese easier to learn, as there are much less irregular forms, or exceptions, such as what demonstrates in a language like English.

It is called conjugation for modifying a word from its basic form.

To get the modified forms of a word, you need to learn how to identify the stem of the word. From there, morphemes with different meanings can be attached to the stem.

For example, if you want to say do not eat in Japanese, you need the stem of the verb eat (食べ) and then attach not (ない) at it as a suffix to make it 食べない. This applies to many other modified forms such as ate, did not eat, must eat, must not eat, want to eat, do not want to eat, etc.

Japanese Verb Classification

To study this grammar point, please make sure you understand the following:

A Japanese verb, with its stem mostly written in kanji, always has kana suffixes (called okurigana).

When the verb is in dictionary form (the form you can look up from a dictionary), its last kana is always in the う-column of the hiragana table.

Japanese verbs are generally classified into 2 main categories, namely う-verbs (u-verbs) and る-verbs (ru-verbs).

There are irregular verbs that do not belong to these categories, when the verbs are associated with する (meaning to do) and くる (meaning to come).

Like English, for example, goes is a modified form of go, Japanese verbs can be modified from their dictionary form.

It is very important to be able to distinguish between う-verbs and る-verbs, because they have different rules for their modified forms.

Learn this classification rule:

Japanese Verb Classification Rule

  1. Is the verb related to する or くる? (e.g. する, べんきょうする, 来る, もってくる)
  2. If yes, it is an irregular verb.
  3. Otherwise, look up the dictionary form of the verb, including its kanji stem.
  4. Is its last kana suffix る?
  5. If yes, its last suffix is る. Does it have a second-to-last kana suffix, and is it under い-column or え-column of the hiragana table?
  6. If yes, it is a る-verb, with some exceptions (which beginners can ignore).
  7. Otherwise, it is an う-verb, with some exceptions (and a few of them beginners should memorize. See Exceptions below).

If the rule seems long, here is an easy shortcut to identify most of the Japanese verbs:

If a verb in dictionary form does not end with る, then it must be an う-verb.

If it ends with る and has a second-to-last kana suffix under い or え-column, then it is most probably a る-verb.

Examples of る-verb

Writing Hiragana Pronunciations Definitions
食べる たべる /taberu/ to eat
起きる おきる /okiru/ to get up
教える おしえる /oshieru/ to teach

Examples of う-verb

Writing Hiragana Pronunciations Definitions
飲む のむ /nomu/ to drink
ある ある /aru/ to exist
書く かく /kaku/ to write

Exceptions to the Categorization Rule

The following are る-verbs, even they do not have second-to-last kana suffix.

For beginners:

  • 居る (いる) /iru/ to be, to exist
  • 見る (みる) /miru/ to see
  • 着る (きる) /kiru/ to wear
  • 寝る (ねる) /neru/ to sleep
  • 出る (でる) /deru/ to get out
  • 出来る (できる) /dekiru/ to be able to

For advanced learners:

  • 似る (にる) to be similar
  • 煮る (にる) to cook
  • 得る 獲る (える) to gain
  • 射る (いる) to shoot
  • 鋳る (いる) to mint
  • 経る (へる) to pass
  • 干る (ひる) to dry
  • 診る (みる) to examine
  • 時化る (しける) to be moist
  • 魂消る (たまげる) to be scared
  • 惚気る (のろける) to chat with trivia
  • 洒落る (しゃれる) to make jokes
  • 下卑る (げびる) to become vulgar
  • 不貞る (ふてる) to get mad

The followings are う-verbs, even they have their second-to-last kana suffixes under い-column or え-column of the hiragana table. You don’t have to worry about them unless you are an advanced learner.

  • 交じる 混じる 雑じる (まじる) to mix
  • 誉めちぎる (ほめちぎる) to praise
  • 脂ぎる (あぶらぎる) to look oily
  • しくじる (しくじる) to fail
  • つんのめる (つんのめる) to fall forward
  • 寝そべる (ねそべる) to sprawl
  • せびる (せびる) to nag
  • いびる (いびる) to tease
  • くねる (くねる) to be curvy
  • とちる (とちる) to make mistakes due to being nervous

Common Japanese Verbs

2010/05/27 Lapinski Japanese

To study this grammar point, please make sure you understand the following:

Vocabulary Lists

Here is a list of Japanese verbs for beginning learners:

Hiragana Pronunciation Definitions Common Writing Polite Form Category
いる /iru/ to be いる います る-verb
ある /aru/ to have; to exist ある あります う-verb
いく /iku/ to go 行く 行きます う-verb
あう /au/ to meet 会う 会います う-verb
かく /kaku/ to write 書く 書きます う-verb
きく /kiku/ to listen; to ask 聞く 聞きます う-verb
よむ /yomu/ to read 読む 読みます う-verb
たべる /taberu/ to eat 食べる 食べます る-verb
のむ /nomu/ to drink 飲む 飲みます う-verb
みる /miru/ to see 見る 見ます る-verb
しる /shiru/ to know 知る 知ります う-verb
すむ /sumu/ to live 住む 住みます う-verb
よぶ /yobu/ to call 呼ぶ 呼びます う-verb
でる /deru/ to leave 出る 出ます る-verb
かう /kau/ to buy 買う 買います う-verb
する /suru/ to do する します irregular
くる /kuru/ to come 来る 来ます(きます) irregular
かける /kakeru/ to make a phone call; to wear 掛ける 掛けます る-verb
つくる /tsukuru/ to make 作る 作ります う-verb
おくる /okuru/ to send 送る 送ります う-verb
はたらく /hataraku/ to work 働く 働きます う-verb
べんきょうする /benkyousuru/ to study 勉強する 勉強します irregular
もってくる /mottekuru/ to bring 持ってくる 持ってきます irregular

Negative Form of Japanese Verbs and ない-Form

To study this grammar point, please make sure you understand the following:

In English, you may simply use the word not to negate the meaning of a verb. But in Japanese, it is done by modifying the suffix of the verb.

Negative Plain Form of Japanese Verbs

To derive the negative plain form, you need to identify the ない-stem of the verb by identifying if it is a う-verb, る-verb, or an irregular verb.

ない-Stem of a Japanese Verb

  • る-verb: Remove る to get the stem
  • う-verb: If the last kana is う, change it to わ; Otherwise change the last kana from う-column (the 3rd column) to あ-column (the 1st column)
  • する-verb: The stem is し
  • くる-verb: The stem is こ

The negative plain form of a verb is to add ない at the end of the ない-stem.

There is one exception for the verb ある (to exist).

The negative plain form of the verb ある is simply ない.

Examples (more)

Plain Form ない-Stem Negative Plain Form
る-verbs 食べる 食べ 食べない
いる いない
起きる 起き 起きない
寝る 寝ない
う-verbs 行く 行か 行かない
飲む 飲ま 飲まない
書く 書か 書かない
買う 買わ 買わない
する-verb する しない
くる-verb 来る(くる) 来(こ) 来ない(こない)
Exception ある ない

Negative Polite Form of Japanese Verbs

See polite form of Japanese verbs.

Polite Form of Japanese Verbs and ます-Stem

When you look up a verb in a dictionary, it is written in plain form which you would say casually in your daily life.

In order to modify a Japanese verb from its dictionary form to polite form, you need to identify the ます-stem of the verb by identifying if it is a う-verb, る-verb, or an irregular verb.

ます-Stem of a Japanese Verb

  • る-verb: Remove る to get the stem
  • う-verb: Change the last kana from う-column (the 3rd column) to い-column (the 2nd column)
  • する-verb: the stem is し
  • くる-verb: the stem is き

Present Polite Form of Japanese Verbs

The present polite form of a verb is to add ます at the end of the ます-stem.


Past Polite Form of Japanese Verbs

The negative polite form of a verb is to add ました at the end of the ます-stem.


Negative Polite Form of Japanese Verbs

The negative polite form of a verb is to add ません at the end of the ます-stem.


Negative Past Polite Form of Japanese Verbs

The negative past polite form of a verb is to add ませんでした at the end of the ます-stem.


Warning: the suffix of polite negative past tense form of verbs is not ないでした.

Examples (more)

Plain Form ます-Stem Present Polite Negative Polite Past Polite Past Negative Polite
る-verbs 食べる 食べ 食べます 食べません 食べました 食べませんでした
いる います いません いました いませんでした
起きる 起き 起きます 起きません 起きました 起きませんでした
寝る 寝ます 寝ません 寝ました 寝ませんでした
う-verbs 行く 行き 行きます 行きません 行きました 行きませんでした
ある あり あります ありません ありました ありませんでした
飲む 飲み 飲みます 飲みません 飲みました 飲みませんでした
書く 書き 書きます 書きません 書きました 書きませんでした
買う 買い 買いません 買いません 買いました 買いませんでした
する-verb する します しません しました しませんでした
くる-verb 来る(くる) 来ます(きます) 来ません 来ました 来ませんでした

Compare the sentences of using the polite form and the casual way of saying the same meanings:


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