Master Japanese Verb Conjugation in One Article
Without a doubt, the key to becoming fluent in Japanese in no time is to grasp a really good understanding of Japanese verb conjugation early on. Verbs are the very foundation of the language. In fact, a sentence requires only a verb to be grammatically correct!
With knowing as little as a few basic verbs, you can already express yourself and get by in Japan.
Is It Difficult to Learn Japanese Verb Conjugation?
Learners often apprehend diving into Japanese grammar, anticipating that verbs will be somewhat challenging. But the truth is, Japanese verb conjugation is actually quite straightforward with hardly any exceptions. The few irregular verbs are even actually regular in their irregularities.
Unlike English, Japanese verbs do not conjugate with the subject. Once you’ve learned the verb 書く, to write, you’re set to say “I write”, “you write”, “they write” and so on. Said differently, you do not have to worry about the subject’s gender or number. One form says it all!
However, because Japanese verbs do conjugate based on their group, tenses and formality, you have to memorize their inflections. Luckily, the Japanese language has only 3 verb groups and 14 conjugation forms to have fun with.
How to Conjugate Verbs in Japanese
In order to know how to conjugate a verb in Japanese, you first must know which group it belongs to. Verbs in the same group obey the same rules when you conjugate them.
Knowing which group a verb belongs to helps you find its stem. In other words, the base of the verb to which you attach Japanese conjugation inflections.
Fear not, as Japanese verbs are divided into only three groups:
- The U-verbs, also known as V1 verbs or Godan verbs
- The Ru-verbs, also known as the V2 verbs or Ichidan verbs
- Irregular verbs / V3.
We will start with the irregular verbs, and you’ll see why very soon.
Japanese verb group: Irregular verbs / V3
Despite its name, the irregular verb group is very easy to learn, since only two verbs fall into this category: する (to do) and くる (to come). Their conjugation forms set them aside from the other verbs, but they’re so commonly used that you’ll memorize their forms in a flash.
A lot of verbs are made with する attached to nouns like
- 勉強する (studies + to do = to study)
- 散歩する (walk+to do = to take a walk)
Once you have memorized all the conjugation forms of する you can conjugate all these verbs too.
Japanese verb groups: Ru-Verbs / V2
Ru verbs or V2 verbs end in any kana in the い(i)/え(e) column + る(ru). This is why sometimes ru-verbs are also known as iru-verbs and eru-verbs.
Because the base of the verb stays the same when it’s conjugated, these verbs are called 一段動詞 (“one-form verb”).
Japanese verb groups: U-Verbs or V1 verbs
The U-verb group gathers all the verbs that end with a /u/ vowel sound, like 話す (to speak), 買う (to buy), 読む (to read), 飛ぶ (to fly) etc.
When you conjugate a u-verb, the stem’s final /u/ vowel changes to another vowel in the hiragana chart: /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/.
This is why these verbs are also called 五段動詞 (It literally means “five form verbs”) in Japanese.
A chart to summarize the three groups:
|Ru-verbs / V2||A kana from い/えcolumn +る||寝る(neru/to sleep)|
|U-verbs / V1||Most verbs ending in a u-kana and everything except V3 and V2||飲む(nomu/to drink)|
|死ぬ* (sinu/to die)|
*It is worth noting that 死ぬ is the only Japanese verb ending with ぬ.
Can a verb ending with る actually be a U-verb?
If the preceding hiragana vowel was /e/ like 答える or /i/ like できる, the verb is most likely a ru-verb. As you keep on learning, you will encounter a few deceiving verbs, but their number is very limited.
Japanese Verb Conjugation Forms: For Beginners
Now that you’re familiar with Japanese verb groups and you know how to find the stem of a verb, you’re set to delve deeper and learn the 14 Japanese verb conjugation forms, starting with the easiest form of all, the polite masu form.
Let’s start from some of the most frequently used, most basic Japanese verb conjugation:
- masu form – the “normal” form
- plain form – the “dictionary” form
- nai form – the plain negative form
- ta form – the plain past affirmative form
- nakatta form – the plain past negative form
- te form – the “naming a list” form
Masu Form and Its Derivatives
Without going too far ahead into advanced explanations, formality greatly influences Japanese language construction. The masu form, or 丁寧語 in Japanese, is the “normal” form native speakers use with people they’re not intimate with or with people that are socially higher.
Most methods of Japanese (including LingoDeer) teach beginners the masu form early on, because of how easy it is to memorize, but also so they can speak politely in their first encounters with Japanese people.
The ます (masu) form can translate both the English present and future tense, and as such, is said to be a state of “nonpast”. For more clarity, you can consider that it expresses the polite present affirmative. Time-related words and context will tell you whether the present or the future is intended by the speaker.
Japanese Verb Conjugation Chart: ます Form
Verb group Rule Example verb Example sentence
V1 Change the u-kana to the corresponding i-kana and attach ます to the verb stem 話す → 話します 教師と話します
I speak with the teacher
V2 Attach ます to the verb stem 食べる→ 食べます パンを食べます
I eat bread
V3 Attach ます to the verb stem 勉強する → 勉強します 日本語を勉強します
くる → きます I study Japanese
I go to school
The negative form is ません (masen), and like for the affirmative form, it can express both the present and the future. The conjugation is simple after you know how to conjugate the ます-form.
Simply replace ます with ません to conjugate the negative form:
- 絵を描きません = I don’t draw a picture or I won’t draw a picture
- 本を読みません = I don’t read a book (I won’t read a book)
- 宿題を しません = I don’t do my homework (I won’t do my homework)
Both the past affirmative ました and past negative of the masu form ませんでした are regular and easy to remember as well:
- 絵を描きました = I drew a picture
- 絵を描きませんでした = I didn’t draw a picture
- 本を読みました = I read a book
- 本を読みませんでした = I didn’t read a book
- 宿題を しました = I did my homework
- 宿題を しませんでした = I didn’t do my homework
The imperative & volitional conjugation forms also have a formal inflection. But to keep this introduction to Japanese verb conjugation clear, their formal forms will be introduced later on, with their plain counterparts.
Following the masu form, the most important inflections you must master to have a solid handle of Japanese verb conjugation are the four basic forms that are the plain form (present affirmative & future), the nai form (present negative & future), the ta form (past affirmative) and the nakatta form (past negative).
Beyond expressing tenses, those basic forms are the base for numerous grammatical constructions, hence you need to memorize them right.
The plain form is called dictionary form in Japanese (辞書形) because it is the form you find in dictionaries when you look up a verb. This form helps you find a verb’s group and stem. All Japanese verbs in plain form end with a hiragana from the /u/ row of the hiragana table.
Japanese Verb Conjugation Chart: Plain Form
U-verbs 吸う, 書く, 話す, 脱ぐ, 待つ, 死ぬ, 呼ぶ, 読む
Ru-verbs 食べる, 見る, できる etc.
する する, 勉強する, 料理する etc.
The plain form is colloquial, which means you should use this form only when interacting with familiar people such as family members, friends or a very close colleague. Also, you usually write in plain form unless it is written to a specific reader, like an email. Newspaper articles, academic papers, documents that give information and are not directly addressing the reader, are written in plain Japanese.
You use the plain form to make simple declarative statements such as “I write” (書く), “you speak”(話す) etc. Like with the masu form, the plain form can also express the future based on the context of your sentence:
- 絵を描く = I draw a picture (I will draw a picture)
- 本を読む = I read a book (I will read a book)
- 宿題を する = I do my homework (I will do my homework)
Nai form – The Plain Negative form
The nai form is the negative counterpart of the plain form. This is your go-to form when you want to make a negative statement such as “I don’t see” (見ない) or “you don’t smoke” (吸わない) and “I won’t see” or “you won’t smoke”.
Japanese Verb Conjugation Chart: Nai Form
|Verb group||Rule||Example verb||Example sentence|
|V1||Stem’s /u/ vowel changes to /a/.||話す → 話さない||教師と話さない|
|Verbs that ends with the hiragana う will change う to わ||吸う → 吸わない||I don’t speak with the teacher|
|I don’t smoke tobacco|
|V2||Attach ない to the verb stem||食べる → 食べない||パンを食べない|
|I don’t eat bread|
|V3||する becomes しない||勉強する → 勉強しない||勉強する → 日本語を勉強しない|
|くるbecomes こない||くる→こない||I don’t study Japanese|
|くる → 学校にこない*|
|I don’t come to school|
Ta form – The Plain Past Affirmative Form
The ta form, or plain past affirmative, expresses that an action was done in the past, like “I did my homework” (宿題をした) or “you ate bread” (パンを食べた).
The construction of the ta form is a little bit tricky when it comes to u-verbs depending on their last hiragana character, but the good news is that these exceptions are limited to a few verbs only!
- 絵を描いた = I drew a picture
- 本を読んだ= I read a book
- 宿題を した = I did my homework
Japanese Verb Conjugation Chart: Ta Form
|U-verbs||If the last hiragana is う,つ,る, add った to the verb stem||笑う → 笑った|
|If the last hiragana is む, ぶ, ぬ, add んだ||読む → 読んだ|
|If the last hiragana is く, add いた to the verb stem:||働く→ 働いた
|If the last hiragana is ぐ, add いだ to the verb stem||泳ぐ → 泳いだ|
|If the last hiragana is す, add した to the verb stem||隠す→ 隠した|
|Ru-verbs||Attach た to the verb stem||食べる → 食べた|
|する||Attach た to the verb stem||勉強する →勉強した|
|くる||くる → 来た|
Nakatta Form – The Plain Past Negative Form
A trick to remember how to conjugate the plain past negative form is start from the nai-form’s stem (/a/) and add “katta” to the verb. You can now casually express that action didn’t take place:
- 本を読まなかった = I didn’t read the book
- 夕飯を食べなかった = I didn’t eat dinner
- 宿題を しなかった = I didn’t do my homework
Japanese Verb Conjugation Chart: Nakatta Form
Verb Group Rules Examples
U-verbs Stem’s vowel /u/ changes to /a/ to which you add なかった: 話す → 教師と話さなかった
I didn’t speak with the teacher
⚠︎ Verbs that end with the hiragana う will change う to わ Ex: 笑う → 笑わなかった
I didn’t laugh
Ru-verbs Attach なかった to the verb stem 食べる → 食事を食べなかった
I didn’t eat my meal
－する Attach なかった to the verb stem 勉強する → 日本語を勉強しなかった
I didn’t study Japanese
－くる ⚠︎ Notice that the stem for くる’s past negative form is こ くる → 学校にこなかった
I didn’t come to school
Pillar of Japanese grammar, the te-form is the cement that helps connect clauses together to build more complex sentences. For example, you use the te-form to list success actions or to show causality between several events:
- 手を洗って、食事を食べた = I washed my hands and ate my meal
- 朝7時に起きて、運動して、仕事に行く = I wake up at 7, exercise and go to work.
- 時間がなくて、レポート書かなかった = I lacked the time and didn’t write my report.
In principle, a sentence with a te-form inflected verb is a subordinate clause that requires the main clause to be grammatically complete. However, when casually speaking, native speakers sometimes stop at a te-form verb clause, leaving the rest of the sentence implied.
- A: レポートは? = What about the report?
- B: 時間がなくて・・・ = I lacked time…
(implied sentence = レポート書かなかった “I didn’t write my report”)
The te-form is also used in a gazillion of grammatical expressions that you will progressively learn. The most common construction is to make a polite request.
- レポート を書いてください = Please write your report
- 手を洗ってください = Please wash your hands
For u-verbs, the affirmative te-form conjugates like the ta-form form – you just need to switch the vowel /a/ to /e/.
Japanese Verb Conjugation Chart: Affirmative Te Form
|U-verbs||Last hiragana is う,つ,る||吸う → 吸って|
|→ Add って to the verb stem|
|Last hiragana is む, ぶ, ぬ||読む → 読んで|
|→ Add んで|
|Last hiragana is く||書く(to write) → 書いて
行く(to go) → 行って（irregular*）
|→ Add いて to the verb stem|
|Last hiragana is ぐ||泳ぐ (to swim) → 泳いで|
|→ Add いで to the verb stem|
|Last hiragana is す||隠す (to hide) → 隠して|
|→ Add して to the verb stem|
|Ru-verbs||Attach て to the stem:||食べる → 食べて|
|する||Attach て to the stem:||勉強する → 日本語を勉強してください|
|くる||くる → 学校にきてください|
|Come to school|
Japanese Verb Conjugation Chart: Negative Te-Form
|U-verbs||Take for start base the negative plain form stem ない, drop the い and add なくて to the stem||話す→ 話さない → 話さなくて|
|Ru-verbs||Attach ないで to the stem||食べる → 食べないで|
|Don’t eat snacks.|
|Note: All verb groups have both ないで (Negative Te form) and ~なくて forms (and the rules are the same for both, per their group).|
|する||Attach ないで to the stem:||する → 音をしないでください|
|Don’t make noise|
|くる||Attach ないで to the stem: |
⚠︎ Notice that the stem for くる’s negative te-form is こ
|Don’t come to school|
*Please note the Negative Te Form does not just apply to the U and Ru verbs. When you use the Negative Te form, there is a simple rule: think of the negative plain form ending in ない, then simply replace ない with なくて or ないで. For example, 食べる → 食べない → 食べなくて/食べないで
Japanese Verb Conjugation Forms: For Intermediate
Good job! Now you have mastered the basic forms of Japanese verb conjugation, it is time to go level up and challenge the more complicated ones. Let’s start!
Conditional Form ba
Japanese verb conjugation has two forms to express the conditional and make hypothetical statements: ba form and tara form. With time, their nuances won’t have any secret for you and you will know when to use one or the other.
But for now, just remember that the ba-form is a general conditional that cannot express any form of intention, such as a command, a request, an invitation or a wish.
The ba-form is often used to ask for or to give advice, as well as to express regret for something in the past:
- どうすればいいですか = What should I do?
- 教師に聞いてみれば = Why don’t you ask the teacher?
- こうすればどうですか = What about doing like?
- 行けばよかったのに = I wish I had gone…
While the negative form exists, its usage is not common and doesn’t feel very natural outside of set idiomatic expressions such as なければならない “I cannot not do”:
- 勉強しなければならない = I have to do study (If I don’t study, something negative happens)
Like for the ta-form and the te-form, the stem of u-verbs will vary depending on their ending hiragana. The vowel /u/ changes to the corresponding hiragana with the vowel /e/.
Japanese Verb Conjugation Chart: Affirmative Ba Form
|U-verbs||Last hiragana is う,つ,る||吸う → 吸えば|
|→ Add えば to the verb stem|
|Last hiragana is む, ぶ, ぬ||読む → 読めば|
|→ Add めば|
|Last hiragana is く||行く(to go) → 行けば|
|→ Add けば to the verb stem|
|Last hiragana is ぐ||泳ぐ (to swim) → 泳げば|
|→ Add げば to the verb stem|
|Last hiragana is す||隠す (to hide) → 隠せば|
|→ Add せば to the verb stem|
|ru-verbs||Add れば to the verb stem||食べる → 食べれば|
|する||Add れば to the verb stem||こうする → こうすれば|
|⚠︎ Notice that the stem for する’s affirmative ba-form is す||If doing like this…|
|くる||Add れば to the verb stem||くる → これば|
|⚠︎ Notice that the stem for くる’s affirmative ba-form is こ||If going…|
Japanese Verb Conjugation Chart: Negative Ba Form
|U-verbs||Start from the negative plain form ない, drop the い and add ければ to the verb stem||話す → 話さない → 話さなければ|
|ru-verbs||Add なければ to the verb stem||食べる → 食べなければ|
|する||Add なければ to the verb stem||勉強する → 勉強しなければ|
|くる||Add なければ to the verb stem||くる → こなければ|
|⚠︎ Notice that the stem for くる’s negative ba-form is こ|
Conditional Form tara
The tara form is another way to express the conditional and translates the hypothetical “if” with a focus on what happens after the condition is realized or not.
- お金があったら、新しい パソコン を買う = If I have the money, I’ll buy a new computer
In that sense, tara is also a form you can use to express what will happen in the future if conditions are met.
- 冬休みがきたら、地元に戻る When the winter holidays come, I will go back to my hometown
The tara form is also the form you use when expressing an unrealistic proposition.
- 王様だったら、毎日を日曜日にするのになぁ = If I was the king, I would make every day to be Sundays…
Luckily, its conjugation is based on the plain past form for both the affirmative and negative and you just have to add “ra”.
Japanese Verb Conjugation Chart: Affirmative Tara Form
|U-verbs||Last hiragana is う,つ,る||笑う → 笑ったら|
|→ Add ったら to the verb stem|
|Last hiragana is む, ぶ, ぬ||読む → 読んだら|
|→ Add んだら|
|Last hiragana is く||行く(to go) → 行ったら|
|→ Add いたら to the verb stem|
|Last hiragana is ぐ||泳ぐ (to swim) → 泳いだら|
|→ Add いだら to the verb stem|
|Last hiragana is す||隠す (to hide) → 隠したら|
|→ Add したら to the verb stem|
|Ru-verbs||Add たら to the stem||食べる → 食べたら|
|する||Add たら to the stem||する → 料理したら|
|くる||Add たら to the stem||くる → きたら|
Japanese Verb Conjugation Chart: Negative Tara Form
|U-verbs||From the past negative plain form stem なかった add ら||話す→ 話さない → 話さなかったら|
|Ru-verbs||Add なかったら to the stem||食べる → 食べなかったら|
|する||Add なかったら to the stem||する → しなかったら|
|くる||くる → こなかったら|
Set a rule for yourself to avoid as much as possible using the imperative form, whether casually or formally. Considered quite rude by Japanese people, the form is mostly used by authority figures, such as the police or parents with their children, and on public road signs 止まれ (Stop!).
The imperative should be limited to extreme contexts where you are required to give an order and there’s no time to lose with politeness and formality.
Japanese Verb Conjugation Chart: Imperative Form
|U-verbs||The vowel /u/ becomes /e/||話す→ 話せ|
|Ru-verbs||The ending る becomes ろ||食べる → 食べろ|
|する||Add ろ to the stem for する||する → 勉強しろ|
|くる||くる has an irregular form||くる → こい|
While formal, imperative form なさい still has to be used with care not to offend anyone.
|U-verbs||Add なさい to the verb stem||話す→ 話しなさい|
|Ru-verbs||Add なさい to the verb stem||食べる → 食事を食べなさい|
|Eat your meal!|
|する||Add なさい to the verb stem||勉強する → 日本語を勉強しなさい|
|くる||Add なさい to the verb stem||くる → 学校にきなさい|
|come to school!|
Shortly speaking, the volitional form turns verbs into suggestions. This form expresses our intention to do an action and can be translated by “let’s” or “shall we”.
- 行こうか = Let’s go?
Beyond your intention, the volitional can also mark that you’re making an effort or an attempt to do something or that you planned to do something.
- やってみようと思う = I’d like to give it a try
- 今日勉強しようと決めた = I’ve decided to study today
Japanese Verb Conjugation Chart: Volitional Form
|U-verbs||The stem vowel /u/ becomes /o/ to which you add う||教師と話す→ 教師と話そう|
|Let’s speak with the teacher!|
|Ru-verbs||Add よう to the verb stem||食事を食べる → 食事を食べよう|
|Shall we eat our meal?|
|する||Add よう to the verb stem||勉強する → しよう|
|くる||Add よう to the verb stem||くる→ こよう|
|⚠︎ Notice that the stem for くる’s plain volitional form is こ|
Japanese Verb Conjugation Chart: Volitional Form
The formal volitional form is ましょう for all 3 verb groups.
|U-verbs||Add ましょう to the verb stem||話す→教師と話しましょう|
|Let’s speak to the teacher|
|Ru-verbs||Add ましょう to the verb stem||食べる→一緒に食べましょう|
|Let’s eat together|
|する||Add ましょう to the verb stem||勉強する → 日本語を勉強しましょう|
|くる||Add ましょう to the verb stem||くる → 皆さんも遊びに来ましょう|
|Everyone, please come to play!|
Unlike English, Japanese language doesn’t have a modal verb like “can” to express one’s ability to do something. Instead, you have a potential form inflection which will create a new ru-verb that can be conjugated too.
Like its name indicates, this particular conjugation allows you to express that the verb’s action is possible.
- 日本語が話せるようになった = I became able to speak Japanese
- 料理ができる = I can cook
- ピーナツ が食べられない = I cannot eat peanuts
Japanese Verb Conjugation Chart: Potential Form
Notice that the particle を becomes が with potential verbs.
|U-verbs||The vowel /u/ changes to /e/, to which you add る||日本語を話す→日本語が 話せる|
|I speak Japanese → I can speak Japanese|
|Ru-verbs||Add られる to the verb stem||肉を食べる → 肉が食べられる|
|I eat meat → I can eat meat|
|くる||⚠︎ Notice that the stem for くる’s potential form is こ||くる→ こられる|
You may have noticed that the potential form ending makes ru-verbs quite long to pronounce. Native speakers, when speaking casually, may shorten られる to れる, for example, 見られる becomes 見れる. However, that’s actually colloquial and not grammatically correct.
While the passive form isn’t hard to memorize in itself, it can take a while to wrap your mind around passive sentences. Don’t worry, you’ll get there!
Contrary to English and many roman languages, the passive form is commonly used in Japanese and not at all seen as a clumsy way of speaking. For Japanese native speakers, when the action “what is done”, or the consequences for the person, “what is done to you”, are more important than the subject, “who did it”, the passive form sounds more natural and is preferred. Speaking differently, it’s a matter of perspective.
Japanese people also use the passive form to speak more politely, as it tunes out the subject (you) making you sound modest. Another nuance of the passive voice is that
Like with the potential form, the passive inflection gives birth to new verbs that fall into the ru-verb groups and therefore, that can be conjugated.
Japanese Verb Conjugation Chart: Passive Form
|U-verbs||The stem vowel /u/ changes to /a/, to which you add れる||聞く→ 教師は答えを聞かれる|
|The teacher was asked the answer.|
|Ru-verbs||Add られる to the verb stem||食べる → パンが誰かに食べられた|
|The bread was eaten by someone|
|する||Add れる to する‘s stem||する → 部屋はよく掃除される|
|⚠︎ Notice that the stem for する’s passive form is される。||The room is cleaned well/often.|
|くる||Add られる to くる’s stem:||くる → ストーカーに家までこられる|
|⚠︎ Notice that the stem for くる’s passive form is こ||My home was visited by a stalker.|
Note that the passive form of ru-verbs is identical to their potential form. The context and grammatical particles will give you clues as to which form is intended.
Along with the passive form, the causative form can feel challenging to learn. This particular conjugation is used to express that you make someone do an action, let someone do an action or, on the contrary, you prevent someone from doing an action. In other words, you are the original cause for an action to take place or not and you speak from this very perspective.
A good way to remember the causative is to think with the verb “make” or “let”.
- 子供に タバコ を吸わせない = Kids are not allowed to smoke tobacco
- 母は私に野菜を食べさせる = I am made to eat vegetables by my mother
- 週末に子供を遊ばせる = I let my kid play on weekends
Japanese Verb Conjugation Chart: Causative Form
|U-verbs||The vowel /u/ changes to /a/, to which you add せる to the stem||話す→ 教師は生徒に事実を話させる|
|The teacher makes the student tell the truth.|
|Ru-verbs||Add させる to the verb stem||食べる → 父は子供に甘いものを食べさせる|
|The father let the kids eat sweets.|
|する||Add させる to the verb stem||する → 勉強させる|
|Let to study/made to study|
|くる||Add させる to the verb stem||くる → ウェイターをこさせる|
|⚠︎ Notice that the stem for くる’s causative form is こ||Call the waiter (make the waiter to come)|
Causative Passive Form
This ultimate form consists of adding the passive form to the causative form of a verb, making it extra long for sure, but not hard to conjugate. The newly created verb belongs to the ru-verb group and can be conjugated with all the other conjugation forms (as long as it sounds logical).
The action of making someone do, letting someone do or preventing someone to do was done to that person. Because the form is used to express something over which the speaker has no choice or control, the causative passive has a strong negative connotation. It’s conceptually very hard for Romance language speakers to understand, so simply remember that the causative passive form is primarily used with verbs such as “to recall”, “to feel”, “to conceive” or “to think”.
Japanese Verb Conjugation Chart: Causative Passive Form
|U-verbs||The stem vowel /u/ becomes /a/, to which you add せられる||思い出す→ 嫌な記憶を思い出させられる|
|I am made to recall a bad memory|
|Ru-verbs||Add させられる to the verb stem||見せる → 昔の写真を見させられる|
|I am made to show my old photos|
|する||Add させられる to the verb stem:||する → 上司に残業させられる|
|I’m made to do overtime by my boss.|
|くる||くる → 休日なのに会社に来させられる|
|Although it’s a day off, I’m made to go to my company|
While knowing all 14 Japanese conjugation forms is critical to reaching fluency, take your studies one day at a time and focus first on mastering the masu form, following up with the basic plain forms. As you progress in Japanese, the rest will naturally come in place.
Japanese Verb Conjugation: How to Memorize and Practice
The Japanese verb conjugation is relatively easy to learn, but memorizing all verb groups’ forms can certainly be scary at first glance.
Every time you feel overwhelmed by your Japanese studies, remember that learning a language is like having fun with a very big puzzle. Piece by piece, the puzzle will become clearer and easier to solve. This is what language learning with LingoDeer feels like, fun, easy, and effective.
Learn Japanese Verb Conjugation by Dictionary
The first good habit you must take is to look up every new verb you encounter in the dictionary. Be active with your learning and make a conscious effort to search for information.
Not only will you find the verb’s meaning(s), but you will also know its group, kanji, and usage. The act itself helps with memorization and to spot the verbs that have irregular conjugation forms. Keep notes of the newly learned verb as you go, on paper or in an app.
Learn Japanese Verb Conjugation by Checking the Verb Conjugator
You now have a good understanding of Japanese verb conjugation. Facing a new verb, trust yourself and try to conjugate on your own in the beginning. It’s very important that conjugated forms come to use naturally.
Use a verb conjugator to check that you got the forms correctly. It’s okay if some forms give you a harder time than others, learning a language is not a sprint, but a marathon. Depending on your learning style, writing them down or reading them at loud will help your memory.
Learn Japanese Verb Conjugation by Sentence Making
The key to actively learn a language will always be to see words used in a natural context. So take the time to write a series of sentences using new verbs you’ve just learned. This provides a good opportunity to review Japanese particles as well.
Don’t avoid the difficulties and challenge yourself with new vocabulary. Make your sentences sound fun too! Read your sentences out loud to practice your speaking skills and review them from time to time to refresh your memory.
If you worry about making mistakes, share your sentence on HiNative for feedback and help from native speakers. Once you’ve had your sentences checked out, you can make effective flashcards to remember your verbs.
Japanese Verb Conjugation: Self-study Resources
A good way to practice Japanese verb conjugation is to drill yourself regularly. You’ll find plenty of useful resources online. Many websites dedicated to Japanese language, starting with Genki Online and Marugoto Plus, offer some free exercises that you can do directly online, print or integrate with apps. For example, If you use Anki to study Japanese, you will find drilling decks developed by other learners to help you with your practice.
If you dread the thought of having to do (boring) and repetitive grammar exercises and need a fun break, LingoDeer Plus turned drilling conjugation into a cool game that you’ll help improve with no pain. The awesome team of LingoDeer developed original and enjoyable content to create an engaging learning experience that’ll make you happily practice Japanese verb conjugation.
- Genki-online: Verb/Adjective Conjugation Practice https://genki.japantimes.co.jp/self/verbadjective-conjugation-practice
- Japan Foundation’s official course Marugoto Plus https://marugotoweb.jp/en/
- Anki: flashcard tool for memorization https://apps.ankiweb.net
- LingoDeer https://lingodeer.com
Wow really great, clear and concise explanation.
Helpful thank you. I am trying to focus on verbs to up my Japanese. This article has a lot of good information. Was thrown off by the use of a more specialized kanji for teacher but it’s a small detail.
Put it into a chart format with links to the more detailed explinations
A great article! Verbs have been a sticking point for me. I’m not good with languages and the verb tables in the dictionary give me an instant headache! You’re article feels like a step by step that might get me off the starting block. I dont mind the lack of furigana for the kanji – thats my job to look up and try to learn in my own slow, unavoidable way. Thank you.
You mentioned 死ぬ but the Romaji says “shine” (which would be the imperative).
In the table for う-Verbs it is said that a verb ending in く will become いく, but the example given is the only exception to the rule, namely 行く, which becomes 行って instead of “行いて”.
Apart from that it’s a great article.
You did a great job trying to explain Japanese as clearly as possible. Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try to simplify it for everyone, most people will never be able to wrap their heads around these rules. Simply because these rules are inconsistent. For starters, traditional rules state that there are only 2 irregular verbs; when, in fact, there are a lot more. Let me give a few examples: IKU, DESU, all honorific verbs are irregular (gozaru, ossharu, irassharu, etc). The only way to explain Japanese verb conjugations in a truly easy to understand fashion is by breaking the mold and forgetting traditional rules all together.
Small amendment to be made, in the sentence talking about buying a new computer, an 「い」was left off 新しい
Very helpful guide on conjugation, really useful, thanks!
Please, why didn’t you provide the furigana—if we’re just learning the basics of verb conjugation, how could we possibly read all the kanji?
I really learned a lot from even just the first half of this, but I can’t read all the kanji since I’m a beginner. Would love the hiragana above or in parentheses after.
If somebody doesn’t know how to conjugate verbs, why do you expect them to be able to read kanji?
Thanks for your suggestion! We added romaji to assist with reading. Happy learning!
Hello, thank you for your kind reminder. We have modified the article to assist in reading. Much appreciated your attention.
Very helpful, a few concerns though.
On the Affirmative Ba Form chart, for く, should say replace it with けば not いけば. Easy mistake since all the other kana swaps (た / て / たら) add い for く ending. The example is correct.
On the Negative Te-Form Chart, the Negative Te form and the Special Negative Te form are shown as if they were for Ru and U verbs respectively. To be clear, all verb groups have both ~naide (Negative Te form) and ~nakute forms (and the rules are the same for both, per their group).
That said, this was very helpful どうもありがとう
You have an error here:
冬休（natsu yasu）みがきたら、地元（ji moto）に戻（modo）る
The furigana is wrong. 冬 is not natsu, it’s fuyu.
Thank you for pointing this out. We have revised the article.
This article is proving to be really helpful! but there’s one thing in particular that had me confused and forced me to go check other sources. When explaining verbs in past plain form, your example for godan verbs ending in く is the only irregular verb on that group, no further examples are provided, and the article says nothing about it. Later on, on another instance it does point out that 行く is irregular and you do provide an example of a verb that actually follows the rules, but that information should also be added to the plain past form examples. Otherwise it makes it seem like this article is wrong or contradicting itself at first glance. My only other complaint is that the romaji system used isn’t Hepburn, and to people learning japanese it makes way more sense to read “shukudai” than “syukudai”. I’d even say that writing it on hiragana is less confusing to learners than using that romaji system, but this was just a personal gripe I had. The 行く thing though really needs to be made clear. For everything else, thanks a lot! Verbs are finally starting to make sense to me.
You are using an old form of romaaji. “Shukudai” not “syukudai”.
Hi Jeremy, Thanks for you comment. Actually, what you mentioned is called Hepburn romanization, which is a very popular type of romaji, especially among Japanese learners. However, the other one we used in the article, Nihon-shiki romanization, is the most regular one and still widely used today. If you are learning Japanese, our suggestion is to learn kana and not rely too much on romaji, especially when it comes to pronunciation. Learn more about why from our previous article: https://blog.lingodeer.com/what-is-romaji/
The ba-form of くる is くれば, not これば.