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

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