Japanese – The Verb’s Negative Form


So you’re comfortable with the basics of Japanese verbs, now its time to-learn the foundations of the verbs negative form. Basically, we want to be able to express that a certain action was not done. Additionally, the conjugation and rules are similar to expressing the state of being in the negative form. You can also call this plain present negative or ない (nai) form.

In this guide, we also assume you are familiar with reading basic Japanese Hiragana characters.

Animate and Inanimate Object Verbs

We should address one important exception to the negative verb form which relates directly to verbs we use for objects. As an example:

ある (u-verb) – to exist (for inanimate things – objects, electronic goods, etc)

いる (ru-verb) – to exist (for animate things – people, animals, etc)

To clarify we use「ある」to state that objects exist, such as a bookshelf or piano. On the other hand when talking about living things we use「いる」to state that a person or living thing exists. Please note, this also applies to things like ghosts or people who have passed away.

To state the negative of these verbs you can simply use the following:

ある -> ない (u-verb) – to not exist (for inanimate things – objects, etc)

いる -> いない (ru-verb) – to not exist (for animate things – people, etc)

This will also come in handy in future posts when discussing the present continuous state.

Let’s try with some sample sentences:

椅子(いす)がある – There is a chair.

図書館(としょかん)がない – There is no library.

ジョン(じょん)がいない – John is not here. (As for John, he is not here)

犬(いぬ)がいる – There is a dog.

Verb conjugation to the Negative Form

Now that we have explored the basics, we can move onto other types of verbs to express their negative state. Furthermore, similarly with the verb groups identified in our verb basics post, conjugation rules also differ based on these groups.

Let’s review the rules again.

Basically, ru-verbs will have the same ending in「る」on the other hand, u-verbs can end in any u sounding word including「る」. Simply, where a verb does not end in 「る」, means it will always be a u-verb.

Additionally, for all verbs ending in「る」, we focus on the vowel preceding the「る」. For instance, if the vowel is an a, u or o, it will always be an u-verb. Otherwise, if the preceding vowel sound is an i or e, it will generally be a ru-verb. We will also list the verb exceptions as part of our conjugation rule explanation.

The key rules for conjugating to the negative form are as follows:

  • Ru-verbs require you to replace the「る」section of the verb with「ない」

Sample conjugations =

  1. みる (to see) minus る and add ない = みない (to not see)
  2. きる (to wear) minus る and add ない = きない (to not wear)
  • U-verbs that end with 『う』need to be replaced with「わ」

Sample conjugations =

  1. あう (to meet) minus う and add わ = あわない (to not meet)
  2. かう (to buy) minus う and add わ = かわない (to not buy)
  • U-verbs that end in any other 『う』vowel, replace them with the corresponding 「あ」vowel

Sample conjugations =

  1. きく (to hear) minus く and replace with かない = きかない (to not hear)
  2. のむ (to drink) minus む and replace with まない = のまない (to not drink)
  3. あそぶ (to play or hang out) minus ぶ and replace with ばない = あそばない (to not play or hang out)

Let’s put what we have learnt into some example sentences below:

マイケルは飲まない(のまない)- Michael does not drink.

わたしは飲む(のむ)- I do drink.

かれは食べる(たべる)- He does eat.

ねこは食べない(たべない)- The cat does not eat.

サラは買わない(かわない)- Sara does not buy.

こどもは来ない(こない)- The child does not come.

We have also provided a list below of Japanese Verbs in the Negative Form

RU-verb RU-Verb Negative English
食べる(たべる) 食べない (たべない) To eat
見る(みる) 見ない (みない) To see
考える(かんがえる) 考えらない (かんがえらない) To think
起きる(おきる) 起きない (おきない) To wake up/occur
寝る(ねる) 寝ない (ねない) To sleep
いる いない To exist (animate)
教える(おしえる) 教えない (おしえない) To teach/tell
着る(きる) 着ない (きない) To wear
出る(でる) 出ない (でない) To leave
U-verb U-Verb Negative Form English
聞く(きく) 聞かない (きかない) To ask/listen
話す(はなす) 話さない (はなさない) To speak
買う(かう) 買わない (かわない) To buy
泳ぐ(およぐ) 泳がない (およがない) To swim
遊ぶ(あそぶ) 遊ばない (あそばない) To play/hang out
待つ(まつ) 待たない (またない) To wait
死ぬ(しぬ) 死なない (しなない) To die
飲む(のむ) 飲まない (のまない) To drink
Exception English
する しない To do
来る(くる) 来ない (こない) To come
ある ない To exist (Inanimate)


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