Wild Nihongo!
Japanese Grammar Primer

Japanese Grammar Primer

***This page details many of the concepts and terminology necessary to use Wild Nihongo to its full potential.***

 

The 3 Basic Japanese Verb Types

  • (1) Group 1 Verbs (otherwise known as U-Verbs or Godan Verbs)
    • The dictionary form of Group 1 Verbs words ends in an “OOH” sound, as in [To write], [To read], and [To die]. In romaji, these verbs would end with the letter U, as in “kaku“, “yomu“, and “shinu“, hence the nickname U-Verb.
    • Group 1 Verbs sometimes end in る, which makes them easily confusable with Group 2 Verbs. Luckily, there are only a handful of such verbs that are commonly used.
      • E.g. ある [To be]
      • E.g. [To ride]
      • E.g. はし [To run]
      • E.g. かえ [To return]
      • E.g. はい [To enter]
      • E.g. [To need]
      • E.g. [To cut]
      • E.g. しゃべる [To speak]
      • E.g. [To know]
    • The negative informal stem (i.e. the negative informal conjugation minus ない) of Group 1 Verbs always ends with an “Ah” sound. For example, the negative informal stem of く is か (i.e. kaka) and the negative informal stem of はしる is はしら (i.e. hashira).
  • (2) Group 2 Verbs (otherwise known as RU-Verbs or Ichidan Verbs)
    • The dictionary form of Group 2 verbs ends with either “iru” (e.g. [To see] and きる [To wake up]) or with “eru” (e.g. [To sleep] and べる [To eat]).
  • (3) Irregular Verbs
    • There are only two irregular verbs in Japanese that do not fall into the above two categories. These verbs are [To come] and する [To do]. Follow the hyperlinks for more details.

Group 1 Verb Conjugations

Dictionary Form (Informal Nonpast)Masu-Form
(Formal Nonpast)
Informal
Negative Nonpast
Informal PastInformal
Negative Past
Te-FormConditionalPassiveCausativePotentialImperativeVolitional
はな
[To speak]
はなしますはなさないはなした はなさなかったはなして はなせば はなされるはなさせるはなせるはなはなそう

[To go]
きますかないったかなかったってけば かれるかせるける こう

[To ride]
りますらないったらなかったってればられるらせるれるろう

[To call]
びますばないんだばなかったんでべばばれるばせるべるぼう

[To wait]
ちますたないったたなかったっててばたれるたせるてる待て待とう

[To read]
みますまないんだまなかったんでめばまれるませるめるもう

[To die]
にますなないんだななかったんでねばなれるなせるねるのう
およ
[To swim]
およぎますおよがないおよいだおよがなかったおよいでおよげばおよがれるおよがせるおよげるおよおよごう
…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..

Group 2 Verb Conjugations

Dictionary Form (Informal Nonpast)Masu-Form
(Formal Nonpast)
Informal Negative NonpastInformal PastInformal Negative PastTe-FormConditionalPassiveCausativePotentialImperativeVolitional

[To see]
ますないなかったればられるさせるられるよう
べる
[To eat]
べますべないべたべなかった べてべればべられる べさせる べられるべろべよう
…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..

Irregular Verb Conjugations

Dictionary Form (Informal Nonpast)Masu-Form (Formal Nonpast)Informal Negative NonpastInformal PastInformal Negative PastTe-FormConditionalPassiveCausativePotentialImperativeVolitional
する
[To do]
しますしないしたしなかったしてすればされるさせるできるしろしよう

[To come]
ますないなかったればられるさせるられるよう
…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..

The Two Japanese Adjective Types

  • (1) い-Adjectives
    • As the name suggests, い-Adjectives are adjectives that end with い, as in あお [Blue], おおきい [Big], and 面白おもしろ [Interesting]. い-Adjectives can be used pre-nominally or in the predicate position.
      • E.g. Pre-nominal い-Adjective: 面白おもしろ映画えいが [Interesting movie]
      • E.g. Predicate い-Adjective: あの映画えいが面白おもしろ [That movie is interesting.]
    • When used as a predicate, an い-Adjective may be followed by the formal copula です but NOT by the informal copula だ.
      • E.g. あの映画えいが面白おもしろいです。[That movie is interesting.]
      • E.g. *あの映画えいが面白おもしろいだ。[That movie is interesting.] い-Adjectives can not be followed by だ.
  • (2) な-Adjectives
    • な-Adjectives serve the same grammatical function as い-Adjectives (i.e. to modify nouns), but they behave slightly differently. Most な-Adjectives are derived from Chinese or from other non-Japanese sources.
    • When used pre-nominally, な-Adjective stems must be followed by な (hence the name な-Adjectives). It would be ungrammatical to directly affix a な-Adjective to a noun.
      • E.g. しずかなまち [Quiet town]
      • E.g. 有名ゆうめいひと [Famous person]
      • E.g. *しずまち [Quiet town] A な-Adjective must be followed by な when used pre-nominally (i.e. directly before a noun).
    • When used as predicates, な-Adjective may be followed either by the informal copula だ or by the formal copula です.
      • E.g. このまちしずかです。[This town is quiet.]
      • E.g. このまちしずかだ。[This town is quiet.]

い-Adjective Conjugations

Informal NonpastInformal Negative NonpastInformal PastInformal Negative PastConditionalTe-FormAdverbial FormPre-Nominal FormFormal NonpastFormal Negative NonpastFormal PastFormal Negative Past
おおきい
[Big]
おおきくないおおきかったおおきくなかったおおきければおおきくておおきくおおきいおおきいですおおきくないです / おおきくありませんおおきかったですおおきくなかったです / おおきくありませんでした
面白おもしろ
[Interesting]
面白おもしろくない面白おもしろかった面白おもしろくなかった面白おもしろければ面白おもしろくて面白おもしろ面白おもしろ面白おもしろいです面白おもしろくないです / 面白おもしろくありません面白おもしろかったです面白おもしろくなかったです / 面白おもしろくありませんでした                  
たか
[Expensive]
たかくないたかかったたかくなかったたかければたかければたかたかたかいですたかくないです / たかくありませんたかかったですたかくなかったです / たかくありませんでした
Exception:
いい
[Good]
よくないよかったよくなかったよければよくてよくいいいいですよくないです / よくありませんよかったですよくなかったです / よくありませんでした
…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..………………………………………………….…………………………..…………………………..

な-Adjective Conjugations

Informal NonpastInformal NonpastInformal PastInformal Negative PastConditionalTe-FormAdverbial FormPre-Nominal FormFormal NonpastFormal Negative NonpastFormal PastFormal Negative Past
しずかだ
[Quiet]
しずかじゃない / しずかではないしずかだったしずかじゃなかった / しずかではなかった    しずかなら(ば) / しずかであればしずかでしずかにしずかなしずかですしずかじゃありません / しずかではありませんしずかでしたしずかじゃありませんでした / しずかではありませんでした
有名ゆうめい
[Famous]
有名ゆうめいじゃない / 有名ゆうめいではない有名ゆうめいだった有名ゆうめいじゃなかった / 有名ゆうめいではなかった有名ゆうめいなら(ば) / 有名ゆうめいであれば有名ゆうめい有名ゆうめい有名ゆうめい有名ゆうめいです有名ゆうめいじゃありません / 有名ゆうめいではありません有名ゆうめいでした有名ゆうめいじゃありませんでした / 有名ゆうめいではありませんでした
…………………………..……………………………………….…………………………..…………………………………………………..……………………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………..…………………………………………………………..…………………………..……………………………………………………………………………

Useful Terminology

Agent: The living being who volitionally brings about the main action of a sentence. The subject and the agent are often one and the same (i.e. the subject of the sentence is often the one who performs the sentence’s main action), but there are special cases such as the passive voice in which the subject is NOT the agent of the main action.

Appositive Clause: A clause that is used to re-state a noun in different terms in order to provide further information or clarity about that noun. For example, in the sentence わたし日本にほん予定よていがあります [I have a plan to go to Japan], the clause 日本にほんく [Go to Japan] is an appositive clause that re-states the noun 予定よてい [Plan] and provides further clarity to the sentence.

Auxiliary Adjective: An adjective that attaches to the predicate of a clause or sentence in order to serve some special grammatical function. Auxiliary adjectives are dependent, meaning that they cannot be used on their own. Common examples of auxiliary adjectives include ~やすい, ~にくい, てほしい, and そうだ (Conjuncture).

Auxiliary Verb: A verb that attaches to the predicate of a clause or sentence in order to serve some special grammatical function. Auxiliary verbs are often special usages of ordinary verbs (e.g. てある is a special usage of ある [To be]). Other examples of auxiliary verbs include ている, てあげる, and ~すぎる.

Durative Verb: A verb whose action takes place over an extended period of time (rather than taking place instantaneously). For example, [To read] and [To write] both take place over an indefinite duration of time.

Embedded Sentence: A complete sentence that is embedded into a larger sentence. Sentences that are nominalized by or こと are embedded sentences, as are direct quotations.

Intransitive Verb: A verb that does NOT take direct or indirect objects and thus implies a lack of human agency. For example, neither [To open] nor はじまる [To begin] take objects, meaning that these verbs take place independent of human volition. When an electric door opens as I enter a supermarket, this action occurs automatically and is thus an intransitive action. Similarly, when the rain falls, there is no agent who causes this event; it occurs on its own and is thus an intransitive action. Intransitive verbs often (but not always) have corresponding transitive verbs, and these are referred to as “transitivity pairs”. For example, ける and く form a transitivity pair, as do はじめる and はじまる. It is highly recommended to memorize commonly-used transitivity pairs.

Movement Verb: A verb that expresses a movement from one place to another. [To go] and [To come] are very common examples of movement verbs.

Non-Volitional Verb: A verb whose action is NOT performed purposefully or willingly by an active agent. Intransitive verbs such as [To open] and はじまる [To begin] are non-volitional verbs because they imply a lack of human agency over the action. Potential verb such as かる [To understand] こえる [To be audible] are also non-volitional.

Nominalizer: A gramatical structure whose purpose is to transform a verb, adjective, or sentence into a noun phrase. の (Nominalizer) and こと / こと are common nominalizers.

Particle: A grammatical structure that defines the role that a noun serves within a sentence. There are numerous particles in Japanese, and they serve various purposes. One common example is を (Direct Object), which is used to identify a noun as the direct object of the sentence. For example, in the phrase マークはにくべる [Mark eats meat], を (Direct Object) is used to identify にく [Meat] as the direct object of the verb べる [Eat].

Punctual Verb: A verb that takes place more or less instantaneously rather than taking place over an extended period of time. Punctual verbs may represent actions that can be repeated continuously, or they may represent momentary actions that bring about permanent states. For example, [To jump] is a punctual verb that place place over a very brief period and can be repeated over and over. [To die] is also a punctual verb that takes places in an instant, but it represents the permanent action of transitioning from the state of being alive to the state of being dead and is clearly not a repeatable action.

Predicate: The end part of a clause or sentence that describes the subject’s state or activity. Generally speaking, the predicate expresses the crux of the sentence. The predicate can be a verb, adjective, or noun + copula.

Pronoun: Just as in English, there are various types of pronouns in Japanese. These include personal pronouns (e.g. わたし [I / Me], かれ [He / Him]), demonstrative pronouns (e.g. これ [This] and それ [That]), interrogative pronouns (e.g. どち [Which?]), and reflexive pronouns (e.g. 自分じぶん [Oneself]).

Reciprocal Verb: A verb whose action is experienced reciprocally by two or more people. For example, [To meet] implies a reciprocal meeting between multiple people. If there is only one person, no meeting can occur. 結婚けっこんする is another example of a reciprocal verb. By definition, a marriage represents a union between two (or more?) people.

Relative Clause: A clause that is used to pre-nominally modify a noun. Here is a thorough discussion of relative clauses in Japanese.

Stative Verb: A verb that expresses a continuing state rather than an action. For example, いる [To be] expresses a state of existence, and かる [To understand] expresses a state of understanding.

Transitive Verb: A verb that can take a direct or indirect object (or both). Transitive verbs involve human agency. For example, the transitive verb べる [To eat] implies that some agent eats some object. Similarly, the transitive verb あげる [To give] implies that some agent gives some object to someone.

Volitional Verb: A verb whose action is performed purposefully and willingly (i.e. volitionally) by an active agent. Transitive verbs such as べる [To eat] and げる [To throw] are volitional verbs because they imply that some agent is purposefully acting upon some direct object.

WH-Question: In English, non-Yes / No questions are formed with WH-Question words such as “Who“, “What“, “Where“, “When“, “Which“, and “Why” (as well as “How“). The Japanese counterparts to these words are だれ [Who], なに [What], どこ [Where], いつ [When], なんで / なぜ [Why], and どう [How].