Grammar detail: Japanese verbs and verb conjugation

Japanese verbs and verb conjugation
153 words
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Japanese verb conjugation is actually quite straightforward compared to some languages. There are only a small number of irregular verbs, relatively few conjugations, no cases (to indicate who is speaking, gender, singular/plural etc), and regular verbs follow fairly simple rules.
Verbs are classified into two main groups, and a verb's group determines how it is conjugated. The names of the groups actually tell you how to conjugate the verb - it's a lot simpler than it sounds! The two groups are:
  • 'Ichidan' (in Japanese
    , literally 'one level verbs'). 'Ichidan' verbs are also often known as 'る' form verbs, and sometimes as 'Group 2' verbs.
  • 'Godan' (
    , 'five level verbs'). 'Godan' verbs are often known as 'う' form verbs, and sometimes as 'Group 1' verbs.
We recommend you use the terms
- they are more descriptive, and they're the terms Japanese people use.

Ichidan 一段 (いちだん) 'る' form verbs

Ichidan verbs always end in る in their plain form, hence the name
(level). Each conjugated form is created by replacing the る with the appropriate (standard) ending.
べる (to eat) as an example:
negativeたべないdoesn't eat
conditionalたべればif I eat
passiveたべられるis eaten
potentialたべられるcan eat
volitionalたべましょうlet's eat
Note that the passive form and the potential form are identical, so the intended form must be determined from the context.
A small number of verbs end in る but are conjugated as
verbs - see Godan 五段(ごだん)'う' form verbs for details.

Godan 五段(ごだん)'う' form verbs

The most common five forms of godan verbs use each of the five Japanese vowel sounds (あ, い, う, え, お) - hence 'five' level - combined with whatever consonant begins the final sound of the plain form. Using
く (to write) as an example, the consonant is 'k' (from く):
Vowel soundFormExample
The following words are all examples of godan words. In each case, the dictionary form ends with the 'u' sound, but the kana used to form it varies based on the sound it is part of - う, く, ぐ etc.
いうto say言う inflections
かくto write書く inflections
およぐto swim泳ぐ inflections
だすto take out出す inflections
もつto hold持つ inflections
しぬto die死ぬ inflections
よむto read読む inflections
Godan exceptions
A small number of verbs ending in る are godan verbs even though their plain form appears to classify them as ichidan. (In other words,
る becomes
There is no rule which determines whether verbs ending in る are ichidan or godan, so it is best to memorize the exceptions below.
to enter
to run
to need
to return
to limit
to cut
to chatter
to know
to make

irregular verbs - 来る(くる) and する

There are only two key irregular verbs in Japanese: する (to do), and くる (to come). Both are very common - especially する, which can be used to turn any noun into a verb.

する to do

plain formするしない
masu formしますしません
past formしたしなかった
polite past formしましたしませんでした
te formしてしなくて
te stem form
potential formできるできない
passive formされるされない
causative formさせるさせない
causative passive formさせられるさせられない
conditional formすればしなければ
imperative formしろするな
volitional formしよう
The potential form of する is actually an entirely different verb, できる, which is used in its own right to mean 'to be able to'.

る to come

plain formくるこない
masu formきますきません
past formきたこなかった
polite past formきましたきませんでした
te formきてこなくて
te stem form
potential formこられるこられない
passive formこられるこられない
causative formこさせるこさせない
causative passive formこさせられるこさせられない
conditional formくればこなければ
imperative formこいくるな
volitional formこよう

Other exceptions

In addition to くる and する, one other verb, ある (meaning to be or to have) has two irregular forms - the plain negative (ない) and the plain past negative (なかった). All other forms of ある are regular, and ある is not considered an irregular verb.
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Kanji used in this grammar

イチ   イツ   ひと    ひと- one   
ダン    grade, step, stairs   
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ドウ   うご to move, to stir   うごかす to shift, to move   
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シ    part of speech, words, poetry   
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ゴ   いつ-    いつ five   
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