It is quite easy to obtain a quick overview of Japanese verbs and how the basic forms work and are conjugated, although it takes a fair bit of time to be able to make these conjugations instantly and automatically for a wide range of tenses, verbs, and situations. In my opinion, verbs in Japanese have to carry a lot more weight in terms of conveying the intended meaning than they do in European languages. This is reflected in a number of ways, such as verbs being a larger proportion of the total number of words that you have to learn at early and intermediate stages of study, verb conjugations being used to indicate intentions or differences in status between speakers, and the equivalents of words like “want” or “should” that are kept clearly separate from the ‘main’ verb in English being incorporated within the verb in Japanese.

Regular and Irregular Japanese Verbs

One benefit of Japanese is that there are only two irregular verbs: する (suru; to do) and 来る (くる; kuru; to come). Thus, conjugations often differ markedly from what one might expect from the conjugations of regular verbs. It is also worth noting from these Japanese text examples that suru is only written in hiragana, while kuru is written in two different ways. The first way starts with a kanji symbol (来) and ends with a hiragana symbol (る). The second way contains only hiragana. In the first case, the kanji indicates the intended verb meaning, which doesn’t change (although its reading can), while the hiragana (called okurigana 送り仮名 after kanji in this context) can be changed to reflect the conjugation. So, for example, kita (来た), konai (来ない), and konakatta (来なかった), all with the same kanji, mean ‘went’, ‘don’t go’, and ‘didn’t go’, respectively.

In the case of regular verbs, there are two groups, called imaginatively Group I and Group II verbs, or sometimes –ru and –u verbs [which reflects the fact that Japanese verbs end in a ‘u’, that is, う (‘u’), く (‘ku’), す (‘su’), つ (‘tsu’), ぬ (‘nu’), ふ (‘fu’), む (‘mu’), ゆ (‘yu’), る (‘ru’), ぐ (‘gu’), ず (‘zu’), ぶ (‘bu’), or ぷ (‘pu’)]. The identity of a verb in terms of Group I or II is vital for the way it is conjugated, so it can be very useful if you can remember a verb’s status when you first learn it. A key difference between these groups relates to how the polite (-masu) form is made from the plain (or dictionary) form of verbs, with an extra syllable being present in the case of –u verbs [see Part 2 of this article].

Subject-Verb Agreement of Japanese Verbs

Another benefit of Japanese verbs is that one does not have to worry about subject-verb agreement. So, while you might have bad memories of language lessons from school involving endless repetitions of I am, You are, He/She is, We are, You are, They are, or J’ai, Tu as, Il a, Nous avons, Vous avez, Ils ont, Elles ont, this is completely unnecessary in Japanese. The verb doesn’t change in this manner.