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Japanese verb conjugation : Ultimate Beginner’s guide

Written by Kaori sensei

In Japanese, as in other languages, verb conjugation exists. But you need not fear. It has a kind of regularity and you will be able to understand it logically. If you can use Japanese verb conjugation freely, you will be able to communicate much more widely and smoothly.
However, some students may be confused by the way different Japanese textbooks and teachers explain conjugations. In this section, we will follow those information and explain Japanese conjugation in a way that is easy to understand for students studying with any textbook.

Things to master before studying Japanese verb conjugation

What you need to master before studying conjugation is the hiragana chart. It is not only about writing or reading Hiragana. It is to get that table sound and order completely in your head. This table is very logical, so it is the base of the utilization.

Practice Methods

Using the flashcards, the hiragana are shown randomly. For example, if you see “し[shi]”, you can answer “さしすせそ[sa shi su se so]”, and see “ご [go]”, you will answer “がぎぐげご[ga gi gu ge go]”. Practice until you can answer without thinking about which sound is in which line and column. The Anki app is recommended for this. And here you can also play simple quiz with using word wall to check.

How many Japanese verb conjugations are there?

Here,there are five main verb conjugations covered in most beginner textbooks (N5 in JLPT). This is the base for all of them. First of all, you must be able to use these five conjugations perfectly in order to move on to the next step. Of course, it is necessary to understand the rules, but once you understand the rules, all you can do is to practice them repeatedly. And there are six main verb conjugations that you will learn ont the next level (N4 in JLPT). And then, keigo (honorific paraphrase), a characteristic of the Japanese language, is also added.

In Japanese, tense, modality, or expression is added based on this conjugation.

N5 ( beginner’s level )N4 ( Pre-Intermediate level )
ます形 (Masu form)可能形 ( Potential form)
て形 (Te form)ば形 (ba / confitional form)
辞書形 (Dicitionary form)意向形 (Volitional form)
ナイ形 ( nai / negative form)命令形 (Imperative form)
タ形 ( Ta form)受身形 (Passive form)
使役形 (Causative form)
使役受身形 (Causative Passive form)
Japanese verb conjugation table

600 Basic Japanese Verbs: The Essential Reference Guide:

Which verb conjugation should I start first?

The order of conjugation that you learn depends on your teacher and Japanese textbooks. There are two main orders in which conjugations begin. They are the dictionary form or the masu form.

ます形(masu form)  vs  辞書形(dictionary form)

Politeness :  ます形(masu form)  >  辞書形(dictionary form)

Using dictionary :  辞書形(dictionary form)

Native speaker's step :  辞書形(dictionary form)  → ます形(masu form)

So,the reason for learning from the masu form is that it allows you to speak politely. There are several speech styles in Japanese, and in order not to be rude to someone you meet for the first time, you need to speak using masu form. Conversely, the dictionary form is a speech style used among friends and family, so it would be impolite to speak to a person you have just met.

What is your goal for Japanese?

Now,think about your Japanese learning goal and environment. If you live in Japan and have many opportunities to talk with people you don’t know, then study from the masu form. If you are a student, for example, and want to speak frankly with your classmates or understand anime, you may study from the dictionary form.

Learning goal

First step for Japanese verb conjugation : Group sort

The first step is to divide the verbs into three groups. Different textbooks call the groups by different names. Even though they are called differently, the content is the same.

  1. Ⅰ / U-verbs / Godan ・・・よみます(よむ),あいます(あう)
  2. Ⅱ / Ru-verbs / Ichidan・・・たべます(たべる),ねます(ねる)
  3. Ⅲ / Irregular verbs / Irregular verbs・・・きます(する),きます(くる)

– Reference textbook

  • Ⅰ・Ⅱ・Ⅲ ・・・ みんなの日本語, できる日本語
  • Ru・U・Irregular・・・ Genki
  • Godan・Ichidan ・・・Native Japanese speaker’s grammar book

Sort by ます形 (masu form) 

First, let’s sort based on masu form, use Groups I, II, and III.

  1. します・きます → Group Ⅲ
  2. If the vowel sound before ます is “e”, then Group Ⅱ.
  3. If the vowel sound before ます is “i”, then mainly Group Ⅰ.An exception exists in Group II.
Japanese verb conjugation GroupⅠ , Ⅱ
Japanese verb conjugation
Group Ⅰ

ます (ai | masu) / のます (nomi | masu) / かます (kaki | masu)

Group Ⅱ

たべます(tabe | masu) / ねます(ne | masu)

みます(mi | masu)* / おきます(oki | masu)* / います (i | masu)*

Group Ⅲ

します / きます

Sort by 辞書形: Dictionary form

Next, when sorting based on dictionary form, use U-verbs,Ru-verbs, and Irregular verbs.

  1. します・きます → Irregular verbs
  2. If the last sound is non-“る(ru)”, then U verbs.
    • Example. のむ (nomu)  → U verbs
  3. If the vowel before “る(ru)” is “a,u,o”, then U verbs.
    • Example. つくる (tsuku | ru)  → U verbs
  4. If the vowel before “る(ru)” is “i,e”,then mainly Ru verbs. An exception exists in U verbs. 
    • Example. たべる (tabe| ru) → Ru verbs
    • Example. ねる (ne | ru ) → Ru verbs
    • Example. かえる (kae| ru) → U verbs *
Japanese verb conjugation Ru / U verbs
Japanese verb conjugation
U verbs

(au) / の (nomu) / か (kaku)

つくる(tsukuru) / のぼる(noboru)

かえる(kaeru)* / きる(kiru)*

Ru verbs

たべる(taberu) / ねる(neru) / みる(miru) / おきる(okiru) / いる(iru)

Irregular verbs

する / くる

How to make each verb conjugation forms?

Finally, I will now explain how to make each of these different forms of utilization. Please click on the appropriate form for each and enrich it with a separate article.
Also, if you want all the conjugation tables with basic verbs, please download them here.

N5 (Beginner’s level)N4 (Pre-Intermediate level)
ます形 (Masu form)可能形 (Potential form)
て形 (Te form)ば形 (ba / confitional form
辞書形 (Dicitionary form)意向形 (Volitional form)
ナイ形 ( nai / negative form)命令形 (Imperative form)
タ形 ( Ta form)受身形 (Passive form)
使役形 (Causative form)
使役受身形 (Causative Passive form)
Japanese verb conjugation table

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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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