Japanese Verb Basics

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In Japanese grammar, the use of only a single verb in a sentence is grammatically correct. So, Japanese verb basics are an important rule to understand to ensure you express yourself correctly. For example, it could be the difference between eat and ate or did eat and didn’t eat. Additionally, this makes it very difficult to directly translate Japanese verbs into languages like English.

For those looking to brush-up on their basic Japanese grammar, you may want to review our initial post on the state-of-being. As this is a fundamental concept and a recommended starting point for Japanese beginners.

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

Being Grammatically Correct

Let’s explore our initial concept of using a single verb, including the state-of-being, in a Japanese sentence. For example:

歩く (あるく) – which could have multiple translations depending on context, such as I walk, she walks, he walks or they walk.

Of course, context is very important in Japanese, and the use of single verbs will only work when the context of usage is clear. That is, the subject will always be identified initially, and so it could be me, he, she or them.

Basic Verb Groups

It is also essential to understand the importance of Japanese verb classification. Meaning that certain verbs will fit into a particular category. The main groups are verbs ending in ‘ru’ or ru-verbs, verbs ending in ‘u’ or u-verbs and a few minor exceptions.

In order to understand the difference, we will need to learn how to distinguish between the different groups. 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.

Specifically, 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. There are some exceptions which we have provided in the table below.

How to differentiate between ru-verbs and u-verbs:

  1. 食べる – 「べ」 contains the e-vowel sound so it is a ru-verb
  2. 分かる – 「か」 contains the a-vowel sound so it is an u-verb

Let’s look at some examples below (you can also download a copy of this table):

RU-verbEnglish
食べる(たべる)To eat
見る(みる)To see
考える(かんがえる)To think
起きる(おきる)To wake up/occur
寝る(ねる)To sleep
いるTo exist (animate)
教える(おしえる)To teach/tell
着る(きる)To wear
出る(でる)To leave
U-verbEnglish
聞く(きく)To ask/listen
話す(はなす)To speak
買う(かう)To buy
泳ぐ(およぐ)To swim
遊ぶ(あそぶ)To play/hang out
あるTo exist (Inanimate)
待つ(まつ)To wait
死ぬ(しぬ)To die
飲む(のむ)To drink
ExceptionsEnglish
するTo do
来る(くる)To come

 

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