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動詞の基本| Basics of Japanese Verbs| |(intro_pt1)| Kiki+Koko: Let’s NihonGO!! Japanese Language Learning Essentials

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皆様みんなさま、こんにちにゃあぁ!Welcome to Kiki+Koko: Let’s NihonGO!! Online. This is the digital classroom of tomorrow, today, allowing you to experience all of the comforts and benefits of the classroom on your own time wherever you are! Whether you’re at home on a computer or mobile device, we’ll be there for you, giving you what you need to know in order to traverse the twists and turns of Japanese language. We often compare Japanese language to a sprawling forest—it’s beautiful and unique to trek, but for beginners the path through it can be unclear, and its complexity can leave people lost before they’re even able to step into it. But, it’s the complexities that make it so unique and interesting. And, overall, something that may be missed is a sort of psychological effect akin to walking through a forest. Once you’ve stepped in, you’re not quite sure how much further you have to go or what’s coming next down the way. That’s why we’re here to guide you through one step at a time! We’re Kiki and Koko, your guides to Japanese language and culture, and together, we’re here to assist you in everything you need to know about Japanese. And, one topic that can take anyone for a loop is the topic of 動詞, doushi, but we’re here to help you get acquainted with these Japanese verbs. Be warned, they have a lot of baggage, but they’re really very nice and not as scary as they seem once you get to know them… Well, granted, they can be a bit difficult at first, but so is as it is in life, anything worth knowing may take a bit of time, effort, and patience.

Simply put, this lesson, we’ll be presenting you with quite a few introductory topics about verbs, however we’d like to highlight that these are just introductions as literally every part of what we’re going to present to you today requires more than a bit more explanation before being considered more than just an introduction. So, if you find that any of these topics don’t feel quite natural, then don’t worry! We’ll come back to these ideas in greater detail and you can even return to this lesson to get a bit of a mental summary. This introduction is here to serve as just that—an introduction! So, just relax and just let yourself get to know the topic, but since it’s like a first meeting, they may tell you a bit of their backstory and what they do, but it may not get as in-depth to know them too personally. But, hopefully, you and verbs will become well acquainted on this first meeting, or perhaps if you’ve already met before, then it will be some useful catching up.

But, before we do continue, we’d like to let you know, before you get acquainted with 動詞, doushi, there are a few other tools you may want to have at hand in your survival kit. We’ve strategically formulated these lessons to build on each other over time. So, while you’ll get a lot of what you’ll need for quick referencing from one lesson, you’ll do so much better after having an understanding of the previous lessons that were here before~! There are many concepts that have been building up to this momentous beginning of verb lessons, and we wouldn’t want you to find yourself hurled into something for which you’re not ready. Be prepared and have a look through the essentials. Or, if you’re feeling daring, you can read through this, then go to the essentials section, then come back again.

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So, a lot was discussed about verbs previously, whether you even realised it or not. A lot of the concepts were presented throughout lessons about particles and sentences like です、は、がand , respectively. The grammar concerning adjectives and their conjugation will be useful for conjugating dictionary forms of verbs to an extent. But, let’s not dwell on the past for too long. Once you’re ready, let’s move onto the momentous occasion of verbs.


So, now that you’re hopefully caught up on some of the other basics—and if you’re not, that’s still perfectly fine, you can take all the time you need—it is definitely an important thing to mention what we’re sure to mention any time we present something new like this, and that’s to be sure to distance your understanding of verbs in English from this new concept in Japanese. It’s best to have a clean slate and only apply the concepts you’ve learnt before concerning Japanese, as conflating even verbs with English origins in Japanese with their English counterparts of words will end up confusing anyone further. The concepts of Japanese grammar from a beginner’s standpoint may feel random, but once you realise how everything is quite organised, things will hopefully start to become easier to digest in their own special bentoubako compartments rather than piled on a plate in an indiscernable mush. And, in order to organise these concepts, we’re going to ease into them step by step, answering the questions that usually come with one’s first introduction and introducing new concepts.

What are Japanese verbs?

動詞, doushi, or verbs, are not only the backbone of Japanese sentences, but they can be an entire sentence on their own! With the common omission of the subject in Japanese speech, verbs are like a magical key to any sentence! You can say 「教えます」oshiemasu, and it can be 「I teach」「He teaches」「She teaches」「It teaches」「They teach」Whether plural, singular, masculine, feminine, you don’t have to do ANYthing! It’s all implied in the context.

Of course, if you’re composing complex sentences or want to specify these things, you can, but the magic is in the fact that they can stand alone as complete sentences, conveying everything from politeness level to inflection. The way they’re built into the language, verbs provide most of the sustenance you need to survive in Japanese language.

One interesting feature of verbs are that they end in an う sound, even if you don’t hear it in the shortened 「す」sound at the end of many verbs that end up simply sounding like 「Ss」. The anatomy of a Japanese verb isn’t only in the last vowel sound, but in the main part of it called the stem. Knowing where the stem begins and ends, you’ll eventually learn how to add different conjugations and eventually even attaching prefixes and suffixes to them in humble and polite speech. But, that is a bit further down the queue, closer akin to a high class meal with garnished food and a fancily dressed plate versus the simple but useful presentation of a well prepared meal in a useful 弁当箱, bentoubakoThen, there’s the stem and its basic dictionary ending which can be used as PART of a fancy meal, but when used alone, it ends up being a simple can of beans cooked over an open fire—still interesting to the user and maybe even endearing to friends, but not something you’d serve in a more elegant setting alone. Again, if those beans are served along with some other fancy garnish, then it still passes as basic politeness.

But, obscure metaphors and similes aside, verbs will make up most of your Japanese language acquisition in one way or another. Vocabulary is important to build, but these… strap in, boyos. It’s going to be quite a journey. But, for now, let’s stick with the basics. We’ll lead you every step of the way.

Where are Japanese verbs placed?

基本文型 SOV (tent)Now, this really depends on the sentence. If it’s a more complex or compound sentence or a sentence with a verb clause, then things are not so easy to classify. However, if you’re talking about a very basic sentence on which languages are built, then verbs go at the end of the sentence. In Japanese, basic sentences are considered: Subject→Object→Verb rather than in English, where it is Subject→Verb→Object.

[Subject]¹ [Verb]² [Object]³
[We]¹[will teach]² [Japanese language]³.

And, this is how the sentence is formed in Japanese, as SOV order.

[Subject]¹ [Object]² [Verb]³
[私たち]¹は  [日本語]²を  [教えます]³。※
[We]¹ [Japanese language]² [(will) teach]³

If you’d like to find a way to grasp this concept even better, look no further than Yoda! (Yo-yo-yo-yo-yo-daaa) But, seriously, almost every one of his sentences generally follows a Japanese sentence structure, without the particles of course. But, thinking of how to properly speak like Yoda may help anyone who is stuck on how to create a sentence in Japanese. It’s especially useful when you want to illustrate state of being.

Impossible to see, the future is
「未来を見るのは 無理です」
「mirai wo miru no wa muri desu」
Lit: [The] Future [wo] to see [no wa] impossible, it is.

(It’s a bit difficult to find a perfect case of this, but it’s just a quick example. In this case it’s not so literal as it is to see that there’s different grouping and though processes in comparison to English that kind of prepare you for Japanese grammar. There is obviously a filter where if it’s too close to Japanese, it would become unintelligible to English speakers.)

Perhaps when there are pronouns involved, it gets a bit more muddled, but not really! Because, in Japanese, pronouns and subjects are implied very often. But, when translating VERY literally in Japanese sentence order, you could attach the pronoun to the verb, and it really would be the only way to properly show where the implications are without totally changing the structure of the sentence. So, it you see or hear sentences from Yoda that seem to follow an English sentence structure, then look again, because oddly, it still generally follows a Japanese sentence structure.

When you look at the dark sidecareful you must be
暗黒面を 見るときは気を付かなければならない
「あんこくづらを みるときはきを つかなければならない
ankokudzura wo miru toki wa, ki wo tsukanakereba naranai
Lit. The dark side [wo] look at when [wa], feeling [wo] attach you must be

Now, we want to focus just a little on that verb: ‘careful you must be’ which follows a concept you’ll need in conjugation called verb stems. We’ll delve into that in future as we continue, but the main point to take away is that verbs can be modified with adverbs, but many times, in Japanese, the entire concept of a verb and most of the sentence lies in its conjugation. Conjugation makes things simpler in the long run to express ideas more fluidly, but we have to admit, it can be a challenge for beginners, and all that can solve this is time, effort, and patience.

We may have already went a bit too far with the examples. Don’t even worry if none of this is making sense, yet. This is the part of the acquainting where they tell strange stories about themselves without any context. We’re going to rewind it back to a simpler concept.

What is conjugation?

An EXTREMELY simplified definition introduction

This may prove to be less than a simple concept that we’re going to return to again and again, but we reckoned it something important to introducing you to the concept of verb conjugation. Though we’ve introduced this concept through adjectives and nouns, it’s important to have a proper and more concrete concept of it.

活用, katsuyouconjugation, can also be known as inflection. These inflections in Japanese are different ways that words are modified that can convey more information than simply just the verb alone. Conjugation allows you to change the form in order to say if it’s currently happening, happening in the past, or happening in the future. It shows who is doing the action, the mood of the action, and so much more. And though in order to create these changes in real-time, it can take a bit of time to become natural, the amount of information you can convey is so efficient.

Basically, when we introduced you to conjugating adjectives, that showed the same concept which is modifying it in order to use it in different parts of speech or for different meanings and contexts. Whilst many concepts can be expressed through other words, it’s important to know conjugation in order to create even more useful sentences, bringing more life and flavour into every sentence! It shows so much more emotion and feeling than simply the words along could provide.

What are the types of Japanese verbs?

Another EXTREMELY simplified introduction

In order to keep the first part of this introduction a bit simpler, we’re going to keep things from getting out of hand and going into great detail right this moment. Believe us, we want to deliver each piece of this shipment of information all at once, but it won’t quite fit in your front room if we were to do that, and you’d just find yourself stepping around box after box without even being able to open them. So, for now, this is just to give you a quick glance at these concepts which will make learning more about them later a lot less jarring. And, then you can organise them one at a time rather than tripping over them.

So, we told you about 活用, katsuyouconjugation, because this is a driving factor in needing to know the types of Japanese verbs as well as how to use these verbs. This ‘how‘ usually being which particles to choose. All of these elements will fit together and when they may have felt vague before, the more you know about verbs, the more particles concerning them will make sense with time.

Now, for introduction’s sake, we’re just going to focus on one sort of funnel of types of verbs you’ll need to know when you’re first starting out. Basically, the types of verbs below can fit into two categories, 他動詞, tadoushi, transitive verbs, and 自動詞, jidoushi,intransitive verbs, both of which we’ll focus on in a future lesson. Simply put, in order to choose the correct particles, you’ll need to know if a verb is transitive or intransitive.

But, in order to conjugate each of these verbs, there’s a general overarching idea you’ll need to know. And that is the verb’s class. The verb class originates from classical Japanese and oddly these ideas make things a bit easier to grasp the numbering and concepts, but are also a bit much for right this moment. For now, just know that there are three main types of verbs you’ll need to know when you belly-flop right into this.

五段動詞, godan doushi, godan verb,
otherwise known as うverb or group I

☆一段動詞、ichidan doushi, ichidan verbs
otherwise known as るverb or group II

☆変格動詞、henkaku doushi, irregular verbs
otherwise known group III

On top of these, there’s also different rules and inflections based on it’s form which can also affect its level of politeness. This is a complex topic we’ll cover another day, but it’s something important to think about in the meantime. As a beginner to intermediate learner, you’ll need to become acquainted with:

☆ 辞書形, jishokei, dictionary form

☆ ます形, masukei, masu form

☆ 敬語 and 尊敬語, keigo and sonkeigopolite and humble speech

However! Dictionary form is not relegated only to informal situations, as we hinted at with our can o’ beans analogy in the beginning of all of this. But, don’t worry, we’ll help you out with it when we cross that bridge.

And when it comes to the types of conjugation, again, we’ll leave that for the future. We think this is more than enough to get anyone thinking about these concepts.


Even with such a lengthy introduction, we haven’t even breached the surface!! But, no worries, we’re going to go through these every step of the way with you in order to give you the information you need in a way you can learn. Remember, these are just quick simplified explanations that are only meant to give you a quick idea of what is down the road. It’s not quite a road map, but it is at least that knowledgeable bloke at the end of the street you tells you ‘what you wanna do, see, you wanna take a left, then have a bit of a right at the roundabout…’ and et cetera, et cetera. It’s just meant to get you prepared, because you’ll still need our future more detailed GPS locating that will be akin to our future lessons.

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