7.3. Verbs


7.3.1. Group I and Group II


Japanese verbs are divided into two groups with different inflection 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, 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 (su)(ru) "suru" and (ku)(ru) "kuru", which have different inflection 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 (su)(ru) "suru", and the first "k" is the stem of the irregular verb (ku)(ru) "kuru".

This is a table of nonpast form examples:

GroupVerbStemSuffixMeaning
Group I
(ha)(na)(su)
hanasu
hanas -u speak
(ki)(ku)
kiku
kik listen to
(o)(yo)(gu)
oyogu
oyog swim
(ta)(tu)
tatu
tat stand up
(u)(ru)
uru
ur sell
(a)(ra)(u)
arau
araw * wash
(si)(nu)
sinu
sin die
(to)(bu)
tobu
tob fly
(yo)(mu)
yomu
yom read
Group II
(mi)(ru)
miru
mi -ru watch
(o)(ti)(ru)
otiru
oti fall
(ne)(ru)
neru
ne sleep
(ta)(be)(ru)
taberu
tabe eat
suru
(su)(ru)
suru
s -uru do
kuru
(ku)(ru)
kuru
k -uru come

* 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 (i)(u) "iu" (means say) is "iw", not "i".


When you Romanize a Japanese verb, do not use a circumflex for the suffix. For example, the Group I verb (ku)(u) (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":

GroupVerbStemSuffixMeaning
Group I
(si)(ru)
siru
sir -u know
(ha)(si)(ru)
hasiru
hasir run
(ha)(i)(ru)
hairu
hair enter
(ka)(e)(ru)
kaeru
kaer go back, return
(su)(be)(ru)
suberu
suber slide, skate, ski
(si)(small ya)(be)(ru)
syaberu
syaber chat


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

Kana:(be)(n)(ki)(small yo)(u)
Romanization:benkyô
Meaning:study (noun)


Kana:(be)(n)(ki)(small yo)(u)(su)(ru)
Romanization:benkyôsuru
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 (ma)(su) "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, (su)(ru) "suru", and (ku)(ru) "kuru".

The suffix (ma)(su) "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 inflection. It cannot be an independent verb, and it must be added to a verb.

Here are examples of polite forms:

GroupPlain nonpast formPolite nonpast form
Group I
(ha)(na)(su)
hanasu
(ha)(na)(si)(ma)(su)
hanasimasu
(ki)(ku)
kiku
(ki)(ki)(ma)(su)
kikimasu
(o)(yo)(gu)
oyogu
(o)(yo)(gi)(ma)(su)
oyogimasu
(ta)(tu)
tatu
(ta)(ti)(ma)(su)
tatimasu
(u)(ru)
uru
(u)(ri)(ma)(su)
urimasu
(a)(ra)(u)
arau
(a)(ra)(i)(ma)(su)
araimasu
(si)(nu)
sinu
(si)(ni)(ma)(su)
sinimasu
(to)(bu)
tobu
(to)(bi)(ma)(su)
tobimasu
(yo)(mu)
yomu
(yo)(mi)(ma)(su)
yomimasu
Group II
(mi)(ru)
miru
(mi)(ma)(su)
mimasu
(o)(ti)(ru)
otiru
(o)(ti)(ma)(su)
otimasu
(ne)(ru)
neru
(ne)(ma)(su)
nemasu
(ta)(be)(ru)
taberu
(ta)(be)(ma)(su)
tabemasu
suru
(su)(ru)
suru
(si)(ma)(su)
simasu
kuru
(ku)(ru)
kuru
(ki)(ma)(su)
kimasu

Please remember actual sounds are sometimes different from what you might expect from the spellings. The verb (ta)(tu) has a pronunciation of "tatsu", and its polite form (ta)(ti)(ma)(su) 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 in my site.

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. 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. The speaker is a person who sends a sentence, i.e. a person who speaks or writes. The 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 (ma)(su) 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 difficult, 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 (de)(su) "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 (de)(su) properly in a later chapter.


7.3.3. Past forms


Adding the suffix (ta) "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, (su)(ru) "suru", (ku)(ru) "kuru", and the polite suffix (ma)(su) "masu".

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

Nonpast form
ending
Past form
ending
Description
(su)
-su
(si)(ta)
-sita
s + (i)ta = sita
(no change)
(ku)
-ku
(i)(ta)
-ita
k + (i)ta = kita,
then it is changed to ita
(gu)
-gu
(i)(da)
-ida
g + (i)ta = gita,
then it is changed to ida
(tu)
-tu
(small tu)(ta)
-tta
t + (i)ta = tita,
then it is changed to tta
(ru)
-ru
r + (i)ta = rita,
then it is changed to tta
(u)
-wu*
w + (i)ta = wita,
then it is changed to tta
(nu)
-nu
(n)(da)
-nda
n + (i)ta = nita,
then it is changed to nda
(bu)
-bu
b + (i)ta = bita,
then it is changed to nda
(mu)
-mu
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 (i)(ku) "iku" (means go) has a stem which ends with "k", so you may expect it to have (i)(i)(ta) "iita" as the past form, but actually its past form is (i)(small tu)(ta) "itta".

Here are examples of past forms:

GroupNonpast formPast form
VerbMeaningVerbMeaning
Group I
(ha)(na)(su)
hanasu
speak
(ha)(na)(si)(ta)
hanasita
spoke
(ki)(ku)
kiku
listen to
(ki)(i)(ta)
kiita
listened to
(o)(yo)(gu)
oyogu
swim
(o)(yo)(i)(da)
oyoida
swam
(ta)(tu)
tatu
stand up
(ta)(small tu)(ta)
tatta
stood up
(u)(ru)
uru
sell
(u)(small tu)(ta)
utta
sold
(a)(ra)(u)
arau
wash
(a)(ra)(small tu)(ta)
aratta
washed
(si)(nu)
sinu
die
(si)(n)(da)
sinda
died
(to)(bu)
tobu
fly
(to)(n)(da)
tonda
flew
(yo)(mu)
yomu
read
(yo)(n)(da)
yonda
read
Group II
(mi)(ru)
miru
watch
(mi)(ta)
mita
watched
(o)(ti)(ru)
otiru
fall
(o)(ti)(ta)
otita
fell
(ne)(ru)
neru
sleep
(ne)(ta)
neta
slept
(ta)(be)(ru)
taberu
eat
(ta)(be)(ta)
tabeta
ate
suru
(su)(ru)
suru
do
(si)(ta)
sita
did
kuru
(ku)(ru)
kuru
come
(ki)(ta)
kita
came
-masu
(ma)(su)
masu
*
(ma)(si)(ta)
masita
*

* This is not a verb but a verbal suffix for 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 (to)(bu) "tobu", change it to the polite form (to)(bi)(ma)(su) "tobimasu", then change it to the past form (to)(bi)(ma)(si)(ta) "tobimasita". This is because the politeness suffix (ma)(su) "masu" has a past form but the past suffix (ta) "ta" doesn't have a polite form.


Further readings:

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