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Dictionary form : Base of Japanese verbs you need to know

Written by Kaori sensei

Dictionary form in Japanese verb conjugation is the base of Japanese verbs. Native speakers learn from this form. So when you use a Japanese dictionary, you will look it up using this form.

We can divide Japanese verbs into 3 groups. If you are not yet confident in your grouping, check out this article first to see how to group them.

Japanese verb conjugation

Convert to Dictionary form

Anyway Japanese verb conjugations are first grouped, then the rules for each group are applied.

Step1. Divide verbs into groups

We can divide Japanese verbs into 3 groups. If you are not yet confident in your grouping, check out this article first to see how to group them.

U verbs / GroupⅠRu verbs / Group ⅡIrregular verb / Group Ⅲ
のむ : drinkたべる : eatする : do
あう : meetおきる : get upくる : come
きく : listenねる : sleep
およぐ : swimみる : watch
Japanese verb groups based on Dictionary form

Step2. Transform into Dictionary form

Today I will explain how to convert from Masu form to Dictionary form. Let’s look at Group II (or Ru verbs), III (Irregular verbs), and finally Group I (or U-verbs).

GroupⅡ/ Ru-verbs

たべ ます → たべ

ます remove, add る.

Group II is always easy! Say goodbye to ”Masu”and add ”Ru”.

Group Ⅲ / Irregular verbs

し ます → する


き ます → くる


Note that the kanji characters are the same as “来(き)ます” and “来(く)る”, but the readings are different.

Group Ⅰ / U-verbs

The problem is Group I. But it’s ok. Everyone, please think of the hiragana chart.

For example,

ます → あ

”ます”remove. And “い” that comes before “ます” changes to “う”.

ます → か

”ます”remove. And ”き” that comes before “ます” changes to “く”.
Dictionary form
Dictionary form Group Ⅰ

In Group I, there is always an “i-line” before “ます”. When making a dictionary form, it changes to “u-line”.

How to practice Dictionary form?

Step1. Proper understanding of rules

Surely, it seems obvious, doesn’t it? However, when different conjugations such as Negative form and Te form are introduced in the future, different rules will be used and many new verbs will be introduced. Therefore, it is important to firmly input “This is the rule for Dictionary form”.

Step2. Repeat until reflexive

In the beginning, You will think…”Which group is this verb?” ,and then if it is Group I, You will remind that “What is the letter before Masu…..?”.It is the right process. However, when it comes to real conversation, there is no time to think about it. You need to respond reflexively, i.e., within 1-2 seconds.

Definitely,if you want to be able to speak, this time lag can be a problem.So, for this kind of conjugate memorization, use flashcards.The recommended app is Anki. If you haven’t used it yet, please also read this article.

Dictionary form expressions for beginners

Especially, Te form is used in a variety of expressions learned in beginner’s grammar. Today we will introduce four important ones.

1. ~ことです (verb → noun)

: You can change the verb to the noun.

わたしの しゅみ は ピアノ を ひく こと です。

My hobby is playing the piano.

*ひきます → ひく (Group Ⅰ,U-verbs)

2. ~ことができます ( I can ~ )

: Talk about possibilities and capability.

わたしは フランス語(ご) を はなす こと ができます

I can speak French.

*はなします → はなす ( Group I , U-verbs)

3. ~とき ( when )

: Talk about when to take action.

ごはんを たべる とき、はし を つかいます。

When I eat rice, I use chopsticks.

*たべます → たべる ( Group Ⅱ , Ru-verbs)

4. ~まえ ( Before )

:  Talk about when to take action.

ともだち が くる まえ に そうじ します。

I’ll clean up before my friend comes over.

*きます → くる ( Group Ⅲ, Irregular verbs)

More about Japanese verbs

Additionlaly,if you want to master Japanese verbs, this is the book for you. Verbs are very important in any language. Let’s master them and learn to speak them!

600 Basic Japanese Verbs

About the author

Kaori sensei

Japanese online teacher, live in Kamakura, Japan. She is currently working as a language teacher and online Japanese experience host to introduce Japanese culture to the world. She originally worked as an engineer at a Japanese company, so she is familiar with Japanese business culture too.

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