The morpheme -RU/U is one of the most fundamental morphemes in the Japanese language. Although it manifests differently depending on the part of speech, its functions remain depending on the semantic and syntactic conditions of the sentence.
In its basic understanding, the -RU/U form is thought of as being the non-past tense marker of Japanese. Although it is not limited to this interpretation, it can account for any usage in which it corresponds to either the present tense or future tense of English.
In this lesson, we will study the various usages of -RU/U form as well as learn how some of these usages overlap with -TA and -TE IRU. Before continuing, if you have not read through the previous lesson on -TA, please go back and read it first.
In Japanese, the -RU/U form is typically simply referred to as the ル形. It is a linguistic yet colloquial term for the terminal form (終止形) /attributive form (連体形). Because the latter terms are meant only to indicate morphology in relation to word order, we’ll stick to calling this the “-RU/U form” for the purposes of this discussion.
After the root of any conjugatable speech is a morpheme that forms the -RU/U form. For Ichidan verbs (一段動詞), the morpheme is most easily identified because it happens to be -ru which attaches to the stem of these verbs. For Godan Verbs (五段動詞), the morpheme manifests as -u, which attaches to the consonant-ending stems that these verbs have. For adjectives, the morpheme manifests as -i, -shii, or -jii. For the copula, because it is a contraction of である, it is appropriate to treat da as a whole to be the morpheme.
In English, the present tense expresses an action that is ongoing or habitually performed, or a state that currently and/or generally exists. -RU/U also expresses all these functions. However, it’s first important to understand how flexible even the concept of “now” can be in both English and Japanese. Take for example the following sentences:
i. My boyfriend just got home now. → 彼氏が今帰ったところだ。
ii. My boyfriend is coming home now. → 彼氏が今帰っているところだ。
iii. My boyfriend will come home now. → 彼氏が今帰る（ところだ）ね。
iv. My boyfriend is home now. → 彼氏がもう帰っている。
We associate “now” with the present, but as these examples demonstrate, it is not fixated solely to the present tense. This is analogous to how the -RU/U form functions. These examples also scratch at the surface of how complex the endings -RU/U, -TA, and -TE IRU can be. For instance, -TE IRU can both denote the present continuous/progressive form like in ii. and the present progressive perfect form like in iv. In iii., the act of “coming home” is perceived to just be starting, which is in contrast to the continued ongoing state implied in ii.
1. The most fundamental usage of the -RU/U form is to show present state. Existential verbs, adjectives, and adjectival nouns are quintessential here. Present states may very well be ongoing. For instance, in Ex. 5, the existence of people who want to quit their jobs is a present state. The act of wanting to quit is an ongoing state that is marked with -TE IRU. This emphasizes duration of a continued ongoing state. When the “continued” aspect of an ongoing action is not implied, however, -RU/U should be used instead.
There are three trees in the (court)yard.
There are also turtles who have Hokkaido as their habitat.
Aya-chan’s clothes, they’re so cute.
This is the best!
Grammar Note: Even when the copula is omitted, the -RU/U morpheme is still present grammatically.
There are lots of people who want to quit their jobs.
6. 何でもケチをつけたがる人が抱く心理とは何 か。
What is the mentality that people harbor who want to find fault in everything?
It is believed that there was fierce wind.
2. In the same vein as Usage 1, the -RU/U form may also denote a present psychological state. This is frequently employed with verbal/adjectival expressions of emotion.
It really ticks me off.
This makes me mad.
This gives me goosebumps.
This is disgusting/unpleasant.
3. Some verbs are used in utterances whose implications are instantaneous with said utterance. These instances create what is known as the “utterance present (発言現在).
I pray for his/her/their soul(s).
I wish for the two’s happiness.
4. Sometimes, as if we’re narrating to ourselves, or perhaps when we are narrating, the -RU/U form is used similarly to that of an infinitive to describe what is happening/is to happen in front of the speaker’s/one’s eyes. Of course, if the action can’t literally be seen with the eyes, this discrepancy doesn’t stop this usage from being valid.
Grammar Note: An infinitive is the basic form of verb which has no inflection binding it to a particular subject and/or tense, and this too is a function of the -RU/U form.
Rain falls (in front of my eyes).
Consuming Korean cuisine.
The blade pierces.
My breath stops.
5. Habitual repetition is another facet of a person’s current state. -TE IRU can similarly be used to denote what one “always does,” but it must be used with adverbs of frequency to establish this meaning. This is so that it can show present habitual action rather than an ongoing action. Even so, it doesn’t denote an inherent habitualness. The -RU/U form need not have such adverbs for this meaning to be had. However, it conversely becomes far more open ended in interpretation without words like “always” or “every day.” It could be interpreted as future intent without context guiding the listener to think habitual action.
Whenever the speaker feels a need to emphasize his current habit, especially when criticized for not doing something, the use of -TE IRU becomes imperative. Habitual statements with -RU/U are most suitable in neutral situations where there is no need to emphasize one’s current habit(s).
Grammar Note: This usage may also be used in the second and third person in question form.
I always go to sleep at midnight.
I brush my teeth after eating.
I will brush my teeth after eating (from now on).
I take a shower every morning.
Do you go to church every week?
I walk the park every day. (25a)
I’m walking the park every day. (25b)
I’m always able to laugh when you’re here (with me).
While talking to someone, do you ever forget what you wanted to talk about?
6. Yet another nuance that falls under the umbrella of current state is denoting a characteristic and/or general truth. However, a general truth need not literally be a current state. It could be a situation that regularly occurs under certain conditions.
Seagulls mainly live at waterfronts.
Chinese is difficult.
You sure talk a lot.
Caterpillars become butterflies.
When ordinary person murders someone, he gets arrested.
Japan is a place where there are many earthquakes.
Earthquakes occur when plates try to return to their original positions.
7. The future tense in English denotes an action/state that has not yet happened. Even when it is used by itself with no other modal changes, -RU/U can indicate something that you are rather certain will occur in the future.
It’s almost lights-out.
The lights will go off, ok?
Tomorrow is a holiday.
Please stop by the bank while you’re coming home.
You’ll definitely pass.
8. -RU/U may show first-person intention and/or plan when used in the future tense. It must, though, be paired with a verb of volition (意志動詞). -RU/U may also simply provide information about what will happen in the future depending on the situation. In English, the -ing form or “going to…” pattern are frequently used for this.
Grammar Note: This usage may also be used in second person and third person in the form of a question. It may also be used in the affirmative in third person, but the -RU/U form must be paired with a modal change that incorporates a less direct tone. Lastly, when this usage is used in the affirmative in second person, it creates a command (See Usage 11).
I head out to Texas tomorrow.
Tonight, I’m going to eat out for dinner.
I’m quitting/going to quit my job (at the company).
I’m taking/going to take
As of tomorrow, I will be going to Kyoto for a week.
Yes, I am the one going.
Yes, as of next month, the consumers tax will be risen approximately two percent.
How many people are coming?
How much would you buy this car for?
Typhoon No. 3 is approached the southern portion of Kyushu, and it is forecast to make landfall any moment.
9．With a rising intonation, -RU/U indicates surprise about a future event. In second person, it can show disbelief, rebuke, or scoffing toward a statement the speaker deems improbable. However, it is not limited to these sorts of negative nuances in second person. You can express surprise about a future event in first and second person.
Grammar Note: -RU/U may also indicate surprise about a present state. Unlike the -TA form, it doesn't imply that the speaker should have known, and it doesn’t indicate the reality at hand as having been recognized in the past.
What, I’m going?
What, you’re going to do it, Yamada-kun? You’re joking, right?
Oh, you’re going to do it? Thank you!
The war’s going to end? That’s probably impossible.
There’s going to be an earthquake directly hitting the Tokyo area within this year?
Ah, that’s right! There’s a meeting at 3:30 PM today.
Ah, that person is Mr. Suzuki.
10. The -RU/U form may also be used to show step-by-step instructions. This is frequently used in recipes. The instructions are not necessarily directed at one particular person; however, commands can be made by using the -RU/U form (Usage 11).
Add cooking oil to the frying pan and heat until it is about 175 degrees.
Boil water in the pot, break up the tofu, and drain in a strainer.
Sauté upon adding spices and onion, add a beaten egg and lightly mix, and then turn off the heat.
As for the beef, cut it into easy to eat sizes and then smear the beef with potato starch.
Lightly cover the skillet with sesame oil, add heat, and spread the rice on top.
11. When -RU/U is used to make a command, it does not have the same time constraint that -TA has. Although it implies that the listener better get to it--which is why it is often used by teachers, parents, or people with a clear higher status over someone else—it is not the case that it has to happen immediately for it to be grammatical.
Get to cleaning up.
Run in ten seconds.
This sentence would likely be said by a coach and/or someone who would be instructing you to do something. This sentence demonstrates how the “instruction” meaning of -RU/U derives from its sense of command. The pragmatic difference is that the “instructions” given in the -RU/U form are very frequently in polite speech. Even so, an instructor/knowledgeable person instructing is intrinsically higher in position than the listener learning from said individual.
Eat it now!
Sentence Note: Ex. 61 would most likely be said by a semi-strict parent.
Sentence Note: The use of first person plural allows for a rather subtle yet explicit means of getting others to act alongside oneself. The person saying this would be the leader of the group.
You will be going to Osaka on business starting tomorrow.
You’ll be entertaining this patron.
Sentence Note: Ex. 65 can be used without imposing a sense of social hierarchy. However, the person stating it would still be taking the initiative to get others to act.
Grammar Note: Though not exactly the same, it is important to note that the -RU/U form is used with のだ・んだ instead of the -TA form. This is due to the time restriction placed on -TA form imperatives.
12. -RU/U need not always refer to non-past time. There are instances where it does refer to a past event. If -TA were used, it would indicate that the speaker perceives the situation to be remote, but if -RU/U were used, it would mean that the past situation is perceived as if it were directly before the speaker. -TA suggests a detached, objective attitude on the part of the speaker toward the situation, but -RU/U suggests the speaker's subjective and psychological involvement with the situation.
When both -RU/U and -TA are present together, the -RU/U event/state must either be clearly completed/established before the -TA event/state. For instance, in Ex. 67, Mr. Hirota had good-looking teeth before ever showing them when he smiled. Ex. 67 also demonstrates how this facet of the -RU/U form also affects choosing between -TE IRU and -TE ITA. The latter would show definitive completion of a once ongoing event, which is not logical to posit in Ex. 67.
What a horrible thing to say.
Mr. Hirota smiled showing his teeth. He had rather good-looking teeth.
My wife had cried and begged that I marry her, and so I reluctantly did.
You complained about there being no eggs, so I went out again to go buy some.
You got what you deserved for saying something so heartless.