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 (the ones not linked).
|れんようけい||Used with tense, politeness, etc. items.||であり-||だっ・・||でし-|
|しゅうしけい||The sentence final form.||である||だ||です|
|れんたいけい||The attribute form, which is used before noun phrases||である||な||?|
Base Note: An attribute adds some qualification. As the chart suggests, polite items should not have attribute forms. We'll see at the end of this lesson what an attribute phrase looks like, at least for the copula.
Though the word tense may not be the best word to describe what goes on in Japanese, it's fair to say at this point that there are only two tense distinctions made in Japanese: the non-past and past. Non-past is like 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)||である (Plain)||だ (Plain)||です (Polite)|
|Negative: (isn't)||でない|| ではない|
|Negative past: (wasn't)||でなかった|| ではなかった|
1. The past tense is made with the pattern れんようけい ＋ -た. This is also the case for the negative past. The り in であり becomes っ as well as the り in the れんようけい of ない, なかり-.
2. ある in the negative is irregular and simply becomes ない.
3. じゃ is a contraction of では. で is, again, the れんようけい of だ and は is the particle. The contraction じゃ should not be used in formal writing. じゃねー is a slang version of じゃない.
4. である is usually stiff and literary sounding. This means that だ and です are more common.
5. The longer a phrase, the more polite it probably is.
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 れんたいけい
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 れんたいけい.|
|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.|
Base Note: As mentioned, there are some exceptions to polite items not having a れんたいけい.