Japanese heavily utilizes verb conjugation, but hardly any irregularities exist. Things expressed with many separate words in English often end up being one verb phrase. For instance, "did not go" easily becomes one phrase (行かなかった). However, things English doesn't explicitly express also involve conjugation, politeness being a perfect example of this.
Adjectives, the copula, and verbs conjugation, and they conjugate similarly. However, they are still fundamentally different in what they express, so it should be no surprise that they don't function exactly the same. In this lesson, we will specifically only learn about る verbs (一段 verbs), a class of verbs which constitute half of all verbs in Japanese.
Before we learn about these verbs, let's get acquainted with the following basic grammatical terminology. The one which might cause you some difficulty is the word "base." This simply refers to the starting point of any verb phrase. Endings attach to specific bases. Think of this as fitting a plug into the right outlet. Not all outlets are alike, and they require specific plugs. The same goes for the relation between bases and endings.
|Verb||An action or state of being.|
|Base||Form of a verb that takes particular endings based on semantic characteristics.|
|Auxiliary||An ending that shows some grammatical function. They too have bases.|
|Ending||A blanket term for anything that attaches to a verb phrase.|
Auxiliary verbs, often called "helper verbs" are not stand alone words like in English. They must always attach to the base of an actual verb. All verbs have a set of six bases. For now, only four are necessary to get down. Their names will be introduced you purely to make talking about them easier. If learning six optional names is too much, remember that this is nothing compared to the countless exceptional conjugations found in English.
|Base||Class 上||Class 下||Usage|
|未然形||い-||え-||Negative endings attach to this.|
|連用形||い-||え-||Most conjugations attach to this.|
|終止形||いる||える||This is the basic form of a verb.|
|連体形||いる||える||Identical to the 終止形, it adds description to nouns.|
Terminology Note: かみ (upper) and しも (lower) refer to い coming before え in the 五十音図, which is the chart of the "50 sounds of かな.
The bases are not hard to use, but understanding how their names tie back to how they are used will make things easier.
There are two basic tenses: non-past and past. In plain speech, the non-past tense is simply the 終止形. Negation and politeness are expressed by adding endings to the appropriate base. The chart below details what bases are used and how polite things are, with form listed from least to most polite. By no means do you have to memorize the "Base(s) Used" column, but if you ever think "why this?", reference it.
|Plain Negative Past||～なかった||未然形+連用形||食べなかった||見なかった|
|Polite Negative I||～ないです||未然形+終止形*||食べないです||見ないです|
|Polite Negative II||～ません||連用形+未然形||食べません||見ません|
|Polite Neg. Past I||～なかったです||未然形+連用形+終止形*||食べなかったです||見なかったです|
|Polite Neg. Past II||～ませんでした||連用形+未然形+連用形||食べませんでした||見ませんでした|
Chart Note: The "Base(s) Used" column shows you which bases are being used with the given endings. So, for instance, "連用形+未然形+連用形" for the Polite Neg. Past II form instructs that you first put a verb in its 連用形 to take the polite ending ～ます. Then, you need to put ～ます into its 未然形, ～ん. The grammar then becomes somewhat irregular with です attaching more or less to the 終止形 of ～ん, which is omitted in the chart above. Then, you take the 連用形 of です, でし-, to take the past tense marker ～た.
I watched TV.
I didn't eat pizza.
I saw an elephant.
4. 話題を変えませんでした。 (変える = to change)
I didn't change the topic.
5. 私は日本語を教えます。 (教える = to teach)
I teach Japanese.
6. 降ります。 (降りる=To get off)
I'm getting off.
7. あのネズミを食べたネコはあそこにいる。 (いる = to be)
The cat that ate that mouse is over there.
Base Note: 食べた is in the 連体形 because the verb phrase is modifying the noun ネコ.
1. ～た, along with past tense, may also have a "perfect" tense meaning as in "has done". It may also show confirmation as in "what was it?". It also has the infrequent yet interesting ability to make an urgent command in certain set instances. Ex. どいた! (Move it).
I've finished/it's over.
What's the matter?
Wh, wait a minute!
2. Auxiliaries, again, have bases, which explains how to use ～ます, ～ない (adjectival), and even ～た. Again, it's not imperative that you memorize what they are. The purpose of knowing that they exist is to answer the "why" question.
11. パンを食べなかった。［ない＋た → なかった］
I didn't eat bread/I didn't eat the bread.
12. 電話しました。［する＋ます＋た → しました］
I made a phone call./I made the phone call.
3. This example shows that the base form of verbs can be used to show habitual action. Habitual action, of course, can be in either the positive or the negative. Putting that aside, whenever you make statements like "I read books," or "I sing," etc. you use the base form of a verb (or it plus some polite ending). These statements, just as in English, become generic statements that don't imply any active conscious effort to do so. You're just stating what you typically do, nothing more.
4. ～ないです is technically slightly irregular grammar, and there is still a diminishing minority that believes it is grammatically incorrect.
I don't eat meat.
Practice: Translate the following.
1. To not change jobs.
2. I do not teach Chinese. (Polite)
3. To look outside.
4. It didn't fall.
5. I'll memorize (it). (Polite)
※: Tense may not be the best term for Japanese grammar, but we will discuss this topic in greater depth later on.
Many 一段 verbs exist today, but excluding compound verbs, only ten have always been 一段 verbs throughout written history. There are many now because a verb class collapsed into this category. Some of these original one are not that common anymore. For instance, 干る and 鋳る aren't really used, but the rest are.
|見る||To see||いる||To be (animate); to have (living thing)|
|似る||To resemble||着る||To wear|
|鋳る||To cast||射る||To shoot|
|用いる||To use||率いる||To lead (a group)|
|干る||To dry up||煮る||To boil|