Learn How to Conjugate Japanese Verbs

Helpful Charts to Guide Verb Conjugation in Romaji

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In this lesson, you will learn how to conjugate Japanese verbs in the present tense, past tense, present negative, and past negative. If you are not familiar with verbs yet, read "Japanese Verb Groups" first. Then, learn "The ~te form," which is a very useful form of the Japanese verb.

The "Dictionary" or Basic Form of Japanese Verbs

The basic form of all Japanese verbs ends with "u". This is the form listed in the dictionary, and is the informal, present affirmative form of the verb. This form is used among close friends and family in informal situations.

The ~ Masu Form (Formal Form)

The suffix "~ masu" is added to the dictionary form of the verbs to make sentence polite. Aside from changing the tone, it has no meaning. This form is used in situations requiring politeness or a degree of formality, and is more appropriate for general use.

Check out this chart of different groups of verbs and the accompanying ~ masu forms of the basic verbs.

Group 1

Take off the final ~u, and add ~ imasu

For example:

kaku --- kakimasu (to write)

nomu --- nomimasu (to drink)

Group 2

Take off the final ~ru, and add ~ masu
For example:

miru --- mimasu (to watch)

taberu --- tabemasu (to eat)

Group 3

For these verbs, the stem will change

For examples:

kuru --- kimasu (to come)

suru --- shimasu (to do)

Note that the ~ masu form minus "~ masu" is the stem of the verb. The verb stems are useful since many verb suffixes are attached to them. 

~ Masu Form The stem of the verb
kakimasu kaki
nomimasu nomi
mimasu mi
tabemasu tabe

Present Tense

Japanese verb forms have two main tenses, the present and the past. There is no future tense. The present tense is used for future and habitual action as well.

The informal form of the present tense is the same as the dictionary form. The ~ masu form is used in formal situations.

Past Tense

The past tense is used to express actions completed in the past (I saw, I bought etc.) and present perfect tense (I have read, I have done etc.). Forming the informal past tense is simpler for Group 2 verbs, but more complicated for Group 1 verbs.

The conjugation of Group 1 verbs varies depending on the consonant of the last syllable on the dictionary form. All Group 2 verbs have the same conjugation pattern. 

Group 1

Formal Replace ~ u with ~ imashita kaku --- kakimashita
nomu --- nomimashita
Informal (1) Verb ending with ~ ku:
replace ~ ku with ~ ita
kaku --- kaita
kiku (to listen) --- kiita
(2) Verb ending with ~ gu:
replace ~ gu with ~ ida
isogu (to hurry) --- isoida
oyogu (to swim) --- oyoida
(3) Verb ending with ~ u, ~tsu and ~ ru:
replace them with ~ tta
utau (to sing) --- utatta
matsu (to wait) --- matta
kaeru (to return) --- kaetta
(4) Verb ending with ~ nu, ~bu
and ~ mu:
replace them with ~ nda
shinu (to die) --- shinda
asobu (to play) --- asonda
nomu --- nonda
(5) Verb ending with ~ su:
replace ~ su with ~ shita
hanasu (to speak) --- hanashita
dasu --- dashita

Group 2 

Formal Take off ~ru, and add ~ mashita miru --- mimashita
taberu ---tabemashita
Informal Take off ~ru, and add ~ ta miru --- mita
taberu --- tabeta

Group 3 

Formal kuru --- kimashita, suru --- shimashita
Informal kuru --- kita, suru ---shita

Present Negative

To make sentence negative, verb endings are changed into negative forms with the ~ nai form.

Formal (All Groups) Replace ~ masu with ~ masen nomimasu --- nomimasen
tabemasu --- tabemasen
kimasu --- kimasen
shimasu --- shimasen
Informal Group 1 Replace the final ~ u with ~anai
(If verb ending is a vowel + ~ u,
replace with ~ wanai)
kiku --- kikanai
nomu --- nomanai
au --- awanai
Informal Group 2 Replace ~ ru with ~ nai miru --- minai
taberu --- tabenai
Informal Group 3 kuru --- konai, suru ---shinai

Past Negative 

Formal Add ~ deshita to
the formal present negative form
nomimasen --- nomimasen deshita
tabemasen --- tabemasen deshita
kimasen--- kimasen deshita
shimasen--- shimasen deshita
Informal Replace ~ nai
with ~ nakatta
nomanai --- nomanakatta
tabenai --- tabenakatta
konai --- konakatta
shinai ---shinakatta
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Abe, Namiko. "Learn How to Conjugate Japanese Verbs." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/how-to-conjugate-japanese-verbs-4058457. Abe, Namiko. (2020, August 26). Learn How to Conjugate Japanese Verbs. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-conjugate-japanese-verbs-4058457 Abe, Namiko. "Learn How to Conjugate Japanese Verbs." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-conjugate-japanese-verbs-4058457 (accessed March 22, 2023).