Conjugation in Japanese is carried out with bases and endings. We'll begin studying Japanese conjugation with the copula verb, which refers to the word for "to be" in English. This is the basic element of a declarative (X is Y) statement, which is the most basic sentence structure found in most languages.
The bases of conjugation are what you attach the many endings of Japanese to. Although there are more bases, you will only be responsible for those relevant at this point.
Curriculum Note: There is an advanced lesson concerning the bases. Click Lesson 176.
The Copula: "To Be"
The Japanese equivalent of "to be" is である, which normally contracts to だ. The Japanese copula is actually classified as an auxiliary verb as it is part particle and part verb in composition. However, classification doesn't matter to us right now.
The polite form of だ is です, which is a contraction of であります, the polite form of である. More bases exist, but you are only responsible for those discussed in this lesson.
|連用形||Used with tense, politeness, etc. items.||であり-||だっ・で||でし-|
|終止形||The sentence final form.||である||だ||です|
|連体形||The attribute form, which is used before noun phrases||である||な||?|
First, let's breakdown what 連用形 means. 連, which is read as れん, gives a sense of "connecting" and "going along". 用, which is read as よう, means "usage". Together, 連用 refers to "continuous use". Most endings attach to this form because most endings have something to deal with a process being/about to be carried out or has already taken place. 形, which is read as けい here, means "form".
The 終止形 is perhaps the easiest base as it is the form of something you use in dictionaries, which relates to the "to..." form in English. 終 means "finish and is read as しゅう in this word. 止 means "end/stop" and is read as し in this word. Together, 終止 means "stop/termination". Most importantly, it notes the stop of a sentence or clause. Because of this, any conjugated form at the very end of a phrase is in this form.
The only character in 連体形 not explained is 体, read as たい in this word, which not only means "body" but also "appearance/condition". So, when you use it without some word, you are expanding upon the details surrounding the thing in question. Japanese has a rule of not allowing polite phrases to have a 連体形. However, this rule is sometimes broken. For now, we will say that です doesn't have one.
Though "tense" may not be fitting for Japanese, it's fair to say that Japanese has two tenses: non-past and past. Non-past is the present or future tense depending on context. There are also different forms of verbs such as the negative. So, rather than having a separate word for not, there is an ending.
You've already learned the non-past tense of the copula: it's the しゅうしけい! The chart below shows the past, negative, and negative past for the copula verbs.
|Non-past: (is)||Slang||だ (Plain)||である Stiff||です (Polite)||More Polite|
|Negative: (isn't)||じゃねー|| ではない|
|Negative past: (wasn't)|| ではなかった|
1. Past tense is made with 連用形 ＋ -た. For だ, it's always だっ ＋ た → だった. This is also the case for negative phrases. The っ comes from り. So, なかり + た → なかった.
2. じゃ is a contraction of では and is less polite. で is a 連用形 of だ and は is a particle. じゃ should not be used in formal writing.
I am an American.
It'll be tomorrow.
3. 水だった。（Plain past)
It was water.
4. 古寺でした。（Polite past)
It was an old temple.
5. オレじゃねー。（Vulgar; masculine; negative)
It's not me.
6. ブタじゃない。(Plain negative)
It is not a pig.
7. 虫じゃないです。(Polite negative)
It's not a bug.
8. リーさんは学生ではありません。(Polite negative)
Mr. Lee isn't a student.
9. いいえ、そうじゃありません。(Polite negative)
No, it isn't.
10. 雨じゃなかった。(Plain negative past)
It wasn't rain.
Practice: Translate the following.
1. It's not a dog. (Polite)
2. It's a flower. (Plain)
3. It wasn't a country. (Plain)
4. It wasn't rain. (Polite)
5. It's not the moon. (Slang)
Modifying a Noun: Using the 連体形
An entire phrase can modify a noun. Below are wrong and right ways to go about this with the word for wonderful (すばらしい) attached to the noun 男 (man), which all needs to modify ぼく (I for guys).
|I, the man that is wonderful||Reason|
|すばらしい男ですぼく||X||です doesn't have a れんたいけい.*|
|すばらしい男だぼく||X||だ is the しゅうしけい.|
|すばらしい男なぼく||X||な is used with abstract nouns. → Lesson 10|
|すばらしい男なるぼく||〇|| Impractical, なる is the original 連体形.|
|すばらしい男であるぼく||〇||Correct, explicitly shows "is".|
|すばらしい男のぼく||〇||The most common way.|