Conjugation is done with bases and endings. We'll now look at our first conjugatable word, the copula verb, and its bases. You learn them indirectly elsewhere. Here, you learn them directly. Copula(r) verb may be a new term, but it just means the "to be" verb. Although it doesn't always act like the English word, it is the basic element in a declarative sentence (X is Y), which is the simplest sentence type.
Only two bases will be introduced, which will be for basic forms. This will not be hard!
である = "to be" and normally contracts to だ. It's an auxiliary verb, so it can't usually be by itself. Both have polite forms. We'll learn more about when to use polite speech, but for now know that Japanese has these different styles. The polite form of だ is です, so sometime in the past a polite ending attached and the two evolved their separate ways. So, we don't know for sure how the latter came about. But, this doesn't really matter. Of course there are other differences in usage, but what do you expect?
We are focusing on just four words--である, だ, です and であります-- that all mean "is", but they are used in different situations. Two terms to learn is not that much, and the names are broken down below. Forget the names and read the description. The second is just the word itself. The other is used for the actual conjugations in this lesson. だ may look more complicated, but you won't be left hanging.
|連用形||Used with tense, politeness, etc. items.||であり-||だっ・で||でし-||でありまし‐|
|終止形||The sentence final form.||である||だ||です||であります|
連用形 is simple. 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 things deal with things 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 the easiest base as it is the form you use in dictionaries and 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.
Though not a perfect explanation, Japanese has two basic tenses: non-past and past. Non-past = present or future tense depending on context. Japanese also conjugates for negation (not). The non-past is the base form: the しゅうしけい, which always ends a sentence. The other base helps make everything else. The mechanics explained for you. You can memorize the phrases if you want.
The chart below shows the past, negative, and negative past for the copula verbs. It really isn't a lot. である going to だ in everyday speech is easy. The stiff column is literary and you don't really need it now. It's just である → だ is nice to know. As for plain versus polite, equate plain speech for when you're with people who are close to you. Be polite to people who aren't close to you and more polite to superiors.
|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. The construction method is detailed below.
|だ → だっ ＋ た ＝ だった||です → でし ＋ た ＝ でした|| ではない → ではなかり ＋ た ＝ ではなかった|
じゃない → じゃなかり ＋ た ＝ じゃなかった
2. じゃ is a less polite contraction of では. で is a れんようけい of だ and は is a particle. じゃ isn't used in formal writing. It's in the polite columns, but it's only spoken. Using the full form では is always politer.
3. In the polite column, です attaches to the end of everything, and でした attaches to ｛では・じゃ｝ありません. Here, its function is to add politeness. Adding it to other things may not be OK. Just because it can translate as "is" does not mean you can run with it.
4. であります comes from である + ～ます (politeness). ～ます attaches to the れんようけい of actual verbs, and です is only after nouns and the しゅうしけい of adjectives. So, であるです is wrong. You get ないです because ない is an adjective.
5. ～ました is ～ます + ～た. ～まします is wrong because you can't add the same thing twice to be politer. ～ませんでした is made up of ます + the negative word ん + です + た.
All of these points about what is wrong all stem from student error. If you aren't told of patterns explicitly, you'll still notice them, but you won't know their extent. You could skip the "why", but if you persevere, you understand the grammar of the examples better.
I'm (an) American.
Particle Note: Most of these sentences have no explicit subject because "it" doesn't exist. Well, it's equivalent is nothing most of the time. For this sentence and Ex. 8, we'll need to use は to make the sentence complete. For now, that's all you need to know as the next lesson will be about it.
It('ll be/'s) tomorrow.
3. 水だった。（Plain past)
It was water.
4. 寺でした。（Polite past)
It was a temple.
5a. オレじゃねー。（Vulgar; masculine; negative)
5b. 私じゃねー。 X/△
It's not me.
Pronoun Note: Remember from Lesson 7 that a lot of pronouns exist in Japanese, and they are all different in politeness, and your gender may also decide which ones are OK for you to use. Since we are now looking at sentences in various styles, we can see this variation in action. So, 5b would just be weird to say the least.
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.
Subject Note: If we can drop the subject if it's obvious in context, who says "it" is actually the subject for Ex. 6 and 7? It certainly doesn't have to be the subject. So, if you used Ex. 6 to mean "I'm not a pig", that would be fine too.
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.
Meaning Note: Conceptualizing the word "being" in all its facets in English with the Japanese copula will only result in unnatural sentences. Here, we are looking at very simple declarative sentences, but if you wanted to say "I like being a doctor", ”いしゃであることがすきだ” would be bad Japanese, at least in a general situation. The correction for this would be いしゃ｛で・になって｝よかった. There are several new things, which shows that you cannot assume things to be the exact same. You must always pay attention to how Japanese phrases things. This is more important than just learning individual words and hoping it'll be correct Japanese once you do an appropriate Japanese rearranging.
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. (Plain)