Overview of Verb Conjugation

Japanese verb conjugation is an essential part of mastering the language. Unlike English, where verbs conjugate primarily by changing their endings to indicate tense, person, and number, Japanese verbs undergo a series of transformations that can appear complex at first glance. This post aims to provide a general overview of how Japanese verb conjugation works, including the different types of conjugations and tenses, without delving too deeply into each aspect.

Types of Verbs in Japanese

Japanese verbs are primarily divided into three categories: Godan (五段, five-step) verbs, Ichidan (一段, one-step) verbs, and irregular verbs. The table below illustrates examples of each type:

Verb TypeExample VerbMeaning
Godan (U-verbs)かくTo Write
Ichidan (Ru-verbs)たべるTo Eat
Irregular verbsするTo Do
くるTo Come

Basic Verb Forms

Japanese verbs conjugate to express different tenses, moods, and aspects. The table below shows the basic forms of Japanese verb conjugation:

FormDescriptionかく (kaku)たべる (taberu)する (suru)
Dictionary FormBase form used in informal speech and dictionariesかくたべるする
Masu FormPolite formかきます たべますします
Te FormUsed to connect clauses, request something, or form the progressive tenseかいて たべてして


Japanese verbs conjugate to show various tenses. The primary tenses and their conjugations are shown in the table below:

Tenseかく (kaku)たべる (taberu)する (suru)
Past Negativeかかなかった たべなかった しなかった

Volitional and Potential Forms

In addition to basic tenses, Japanese also has forms to express volition, potential, and other nuances. The table below illustrates these forms:

Formかく (kaku)たべる (taberu)する (suru)
Volitionalかこう たべようしよう
Potential かけるたべられるできる

Conditional Forms

Japanese verbs also have conditional forms to indicate "if" scenarios. The table below shows these forms:

Conditional Formかく (kaku)たべる (taberu)する (suru)
Ba Formかけばたべれば すれば
Tara Formかいたらたべたら したら

Imperative and Prohibitive Forms

These forms are used for commands and prohibitions. The table below illustrates these forms:

Formかく (kaku)たべる (taberu)する (suru)
Imperativeかけたべろ しろ
Prohibitiveかくなたべるな するな

Examples and Usage

To illustrate these conjugations, let's look at some example sentences:

  • Dictionary Form:

まいにち にっき を かく。 - I write a diary every day.

まいあさ あさごはん を たべる。 - I eat breakfast every morning.

  • Masu Form:

きょう は レポート を かきます。 - I will write the report today.

ひるごはん を たべます。 - I will eat lunch.

  • Te Form:

レポート を かいて ていしゅつ します。 - I will write the report and submit it.

ともだち と はなして いる。 - I am talking with a friend.

  • Past Tense:

きのう てがみ を かいた。 - I wrote a letter yesterday.

さくばん すし を たべた。 - I ate sushi last night.

  • Negative Form:

きょう てがみ を かかない。 - I will not write a letter today.

こんばん すし を たべない。 - I will not eat sushi tonight.

Japanese verb conjugation might seem daunting at first, but understanding the basic forms and their usages can significantly simplify the learning process. By practicing these conjugations and observing their use in real-life contexts, learners can gradually become proficient in using Japanese verbs correctly and effectively. This overview provides a solid foundation, which can be built upon with more detailed study and practice. Happy learning!