Beginning Japanese Breakdown

Beginning Japanese Breakdown: both a break-down of very basic Japanese grammar points, and what my brain is currently undergoing.

Before I begin this post, I want to just state that I have a great respect for, and fascination with, the Japanese language. I’m enjoying learning, and look forward to the day, faaaaaaaaarrrr faaaaarrrr in the future, when I am more comfortable speaking it on a daily basis. I think I wrote before, that my fellow fellows and I have been taking intensive language classes for the past 6 weeks.   It’s been a humbling, and overwhelming (though enjoyable) experience.  I tried below, to give you a little taste of what the past 6 weeks have been like, and also try to put what I’ve learned into my own words.


Today we’re going to talk about verbs.

Verbs: どうし

Japanese verbs can do a lot more than English verbs. They’re more …verby. Or at least they can look a lot different while doing many of the same things. Think of a verb as a paper doll with different outfits to wear. English verbs have a slightly limited closet. They can wear present form, past form, and infinitive, and maaaaybe a few others. I write. I wrote. I am writing. To modify it further we need additional words, sort of like paper …accessories: I will write. I want to write. I didn’t write. I won’t write. But, it’s mostly write, write, write.

Japanese verbs, on the other hand, have a lot more going on with their wardrobe. Japanese verbs have options.


Take かく(kaku): the dictionary form of “to write”


Kaku = to write (dictionary form, present positive plain form)

Kaita = wrote (positive past tense plain form, also the -ta form)

Kakanai = don’t/won’t write (present negative plain form, also the -nai form)

Kakanakatta = didn’t write (past negative plain form)

Kakimasu = write (positive present tense polite form, also known as the –masu form)

Kakimasen = don’t/won’t write (present, negative, polite form)

Kakimashita = wrote (past, polite)

Kakimasendeshita = didn’t write (past, negative, polite)

Kaimashou = let’s write (polite)

Kakaimasenka = would you like to write? (polite)

Kakitai = want to write (-tai form)

Kakitakunaidesu = don’t want to write (-tai form)

Kaite = writing (-te form)


And then the forms I haven’t learned yet:







So far that’s 18 different outfits that “kaku” could wear. And you still have to remember that it’s kaku.

Now, just so you don’t think that this brimming closet means that Japanese verbs have done away with accessories. But it’s essential that the accessory matches the overall outfit. So, if today, kaku is expressing itself as kaite, you could add:

The –masu form of imasu to show a state of being: kaite imasu is “I am writing”

Or you could add “mo ii desu ka” to ask if something is okay to do

Or you could add “wa ikemasen” to express prohibition (e.g. you can’t …do such and such)

Or add “kudasai” to indicate a request to do something


Or if kaku is wearing the –nai form (take kakanai: present negative plain form and drop the nai, to get kaka), you could also add:

~naide kudasai, as in “kakanai de kudasai” to indicate that one shouldn’t write (please don’t write)

Or ~ “nakerebanarimasen” to mean you must do something

Or ~ “nakutemoiidesu” to mean it is okay to do something


Alright, that is just two examples of the groups of modifiers, or ‘accessories’ that exist for different verb forms, and I’m boring myself, so let’s move on to verb characterization.

You may have observed the above list of 18 outfits and deduced that some simple rules could be followed for conjugating these verbs into their different forms. Fool! You forget that Japanese is a ninja language. And verbs fall into 3 different groups. Let me introduce you to the groups:

Group I: う(u)-verbs, otherwise known as the verbs whose –masu form roots end in い (i)

Group II: る (ru)- verbs, otherwise known as the verbs whose –masu form roots end in え (e) , except for those whose roots end inい but don’t get along with Group I so want to hang out in Group II (eg. mimasu, imasu, okimasu, karimasu, orimasu, abimasu, dekimasu).

And then there’s Group III: I call these the ‘take-your-rules-and-shove-it’ verbs. They include: kimasu (kuru) and shimasu (suru).

Groups I, II and III all follow slightly different rules when conjugating into the different forms, and then of course there are the exception verbs (arimasu, ikimasu and others).

You may have noticed that there is both a plain form and a polite form. The -masu form, which is the polite form, and should be used in formal situations and when addressing anyone who’s social stature is the same or greater than yours, except of course, for when you shouldn’t use it, which turns out to be a lot of the time. (For example: sentences describing one’s thoughts, or what someone said, will combine both the plain form (the thought or quote) with the polite form of “think” or “said”. )

Also, the –masu (ます) form root is what is used to conjugate the verbs into the –te (て) form and the –tai (たい) form, the –nai (ない) form and the -ta (た) form, also known as the plain form, which you can use alone with friends, or in combination sentences with the polite form in polite company when speaking in quotations or modifying a noun (with a verb, because that happens).

ときどきアメリカじんは かなをよむ ことが できませんから、これはロマンジで かきました。






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