皆様、こんにちにゃあぁ！Welcome to Kiki+Koko: Let’s NihonGO!! Online. When you’re on your own in the wilderness, 動詞, doushi, are an important form of sustenance. In fact, they’re the most important form of sustenance. And, conjugation is the spice that makes them useful in any situation. But, they can’t all be prepared to be conjugated in the same way. There are several varieties of 動詞, doushi, that you’ll encounter. But, before you work on identifying those 動詞, doushi, you’ll have to know how to identify it’s stem, because you can’t just use the entire 辞書形, jishokei, when you’re conjugating 動詞, doushi. No, no, that would be linguistic poison. You have to, first, identify the stem, then chop off the rest to throw it away before you use the rest for conjugating. But, each variety of 動詞, doushi, has a stem starting at a different place. So, before you get into actually preparing 動詞, doushi, you’ll need to know what the stem is and how to identify it. We’re Kiki and Koko, your linguistic wilderness chefs and guides to Japanese language and culture. We’ll guide you in identifying the stems of Japanese verbs as well as what that even means~!
Last time, on Kiki+Koko: Let’s NihonGO!! Japanese Language Learning Essentials: We guided you through 辞書形, jishokei, the most basic form of verb sustenance. It’s an important concept that allows you to know exactly what you’re getting from your dictionary as well as the form you’ll need in different grammatical contexts, casual situations, and also in order to conjugate into different inflections as well as different levels of politeness. 辞書形, jishokei, is essential in conjugation, but like we said, it’s only useful when you know where the stem begins so you can throw it away to create a deliciously conjugated verb snack to keep you going for hours.
So, this time, we’ll be focusing on what still counts as just an introduction to 動詞の語幹, doushi no gokan, which would be the word stems of verbs. Though it’s probably useful from any stage, and you don’t need too many tools, there’s still a learning curve associated that it would be best if you did have your Japanese language survival kit stocked with at least some of the previous tools we’ve provided. Each of the lessons build upon one another, and strengthen your way of thinking about certain scenarios and concepts. But, if you’re just here for a quick reference, and you’ve already been working on the basics of particles, verbs, and such, you should be fine, but we definitely encourage at least having a read of some of the essentials to make sure you’re on track. These lessons are best used compounded.
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 を, 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, we’ll get started.
What are ‘verb stems’? |「動詞の語幹」って何？
Whether you know it or not, the concept of stems exists in English, as well. This isn’t only in Greek and Latin roots like those who took more advanced classes. Just as we’re going to focus on, this exists in even basic adjectives and verbs as well, being the base of different inflections otherwise known as conjugations. In English, this may be with superlatives like cool→ cooler→ coolest. A simple word with a simple stem, just adding -er and -est to modify. But, let’s say you see a word like cleanly. This changes form cleanly → cleanlier → cleanliest. Or, cases where the words seem to change entirely like in good → better → best. This entire concept may seem like it doesn’t relate as superlatives are (sometimes) a simple type of conjugation, but the point is even in English, there are similar concepts with irregular usages. And, if you can grasp those or even your own language’s ideas of this, then with time, you’ll be able to understand and use these~!
But, what exactly are ‘verb stems’? Well, for any linguists out there, we do want to mention that this concept does have multiple meanings and can apply to different situations with different definitions, but for the sake of this lesson, you can just think of語幹, gokan, ‘word stems’ in this light when it comes to conjugating verbs in order to keep things from becoming murky.
In order to understand the concept, let’s have a look at the kanji.語, go, can mean language as a suffix, but can also mean word as both a counter and in other contexts. 幹, miki, read as ‘kan‘ in this case, has several meanings like ‘trunk’ or ‘base’. In its archaic ‘kara’ reading, it meant ‘stem’. But, when it comes to English speaking students, it’s usually translated as ‘stem’ because the concept is closer to those linguistics. But, even still, the concept stands as it being the base of the word. But, this is where things become a bit less simple, but no worries, we’ll start from the beginning.
Now, word stems as it relates to verbs are important for conjugation. In each verb, you have to identify where the stem begins and ends in order to conjugate. When you conjugate, you’re usually changing what comes after the stem. There are cases where you put a prefix to make things more polite, but at that point, it’s easy to see where the stem begins because it’s at the beginning of the dictionary form—but if it IS an honorific word, you’ll have to prune off the お, ご, or 御. But, that’s when you get a bit further and you’re identifying conjugated verbs in the wild.
The most important thing to know is that each type of verb has a different type of stem. There are three categories of verbs you’ll have to think about for now. 五段動詞, godan doushi, godan verbs, otherwise known as う verbs or group I; 一段動詞、ichidan doushi, ichidan verbs, otherwise known as る verbs or group II; and 変格動詞、henkaku doushi, irregular verbs, otherwise known group III.
And, as a preview, we want to mention what’s even more important: each class depending on the ending sound of the verb is still conjugated differently when you get to certain other conjugations, but we’re taking this one step at a time, so we’ll leave that for another occasion.
Instead, let’s have a quick look at what a verb stem would look like. Let’s take an example verb from 🔊Japanese Word(s) of the Week w/ QUIZBO™ | 【食べる】+ Bonus:【食べ物】(+Helpful Hints with Kiki+Koko) which is always a useful example in the following section.
Basics of Verb Stems | 動詞の語幹の基本
Now, remember how we said that romaji can be a harmful double-crossing crutch? But, also, remember how we also said that it’s not as bad as people say it is? Well, this is one of those instances where romaji is oddly an essential part, but it’s, of course, still important to also know how to read and write. And, if you’ve made it this far in Japanese learning, then you’re most likely at least a bit serious about learning Japanese. Any road, when it comes to stems, there’s a few ways to go about it, but it can be easier when you know both ways.
So, the point of the stem is to be able to add different inflected endings to it, and knowing where to cut it off it important to knowing what you’re adding. But, just like the conjugation we showed for adjectives, it can be just as useful to think of it as a replacement rather than adding something totally new. We’re going to go a bit into the future to give you an example with a 辞書形, jishokei.
食べる → 食べ +られる → 食べられる
taberu → tabe +rareru → taberareru
or more coloquially
食べる → 食べ +れる → 食べれる
taberu → tabe +reru → taberareru
So, this is the way we’d normally teach this. This is an 一段動詞、ichidan doushi, otherwise known as a る verb. This is the way to create a potential form (well, one way, as saying rareru can become a bit long even for Japanese speakers, but it’s important to know the correct way to say and write certain forms for formal situations) But, anyway. it starts with:
- identifying the stem
- chopping off the る
- then, finally, adding the conjugation ending, in this case: られる
- Now, enjoy your spicy potential form verb.
Now, if this were a 五段動詞, godan doushi, or う verb, and you were conjugating from there, such as making it into its マス形, masukei, masu form, then it would suddenly be treated as an 一段動詞、ichidan doushi, or る verb, itself. But, let’s take a step back for a minute, because you may wonder where romaji comes into this. Well, it all starts with 五段動詞, godan doushi, or う verbs. But only some kinds of う verbs that ironically end in an u sound rather than with an う. But, we’ll delve further in the next section. For now this is just meant to give a quick reference example. Let’s say you’re continuing with this slightly-further-down-the-queue inflection again:
書く → 書 + ける → 書ける
kaku → ka +keru → kakeru
So, normally, we would love to stick with hiragana, but in this case romaji really does show what’s actually happening much better in this case. Whilst the above idea does simplify things, this will help you in other scenarios:
書く → 書k + eる → 書ける
kaku → kak +eru → kakeru
Now, that may seem a bit more strange because it’s an う verb, but there is such a wide variety of them that this is how it’s best explained. However, this is getting a bit further into it, so we’ll leave the introduction for this in the next section. But, this is just a bit of a hint of how things work until we get into things. う verbs have so many varieties and groupings within themselves, but るverbs are the simplest to start out with to familiarise yourself with the concept of conjugation.
Again, the stem is the main part of the verb you’ll have to identify in order to properly conjugate it or use it in other grammatical contexts other than its original dictionary form. But, without further ado, let’s look a bit deeper into this introduction by focusing on each of these.
Introduction to Godan Verb Stems ( う verbs)
Identifying and preparing your stems for conjugation
Basically, all Japanese verbs end with an ‘u’ sound in dictionary form. But, when it comes to う verbs, they come in such a wide variety, and each of them are treated individually different, but there are groupings even within these that will help you in future with conjugation. But! Again, within these, there are also differences from character to character when it comes to some inflections.
Don’t mind the wave dash, as it’s just meant to indicate it’s an ending to a verb.
So, because this is an introduction, we want to just present a few ideas rather than overload you with too many at once. Basically, the most you’ll be chopping off of each of these to make them suitable for conjugation is just the ending vowel, leaving the consonant. From there, the ending depends on the type of conjugation, whether it’s going to stand alone with an 「い」sound at the end or become a fully functional conjugated verb with its own respective ending, whether an inflection or polite マス形, masu kei.
But, when it comes to 「う」verbs literally ending in 「う」, it’s oddly an irregularity where you’ll have to get used to changing 「う」to 「わ」or「う」to 「い」. These are just concepts you should note for future use rather than feel as though you should understand quite, yet. It’s all building up to quite a bit, so just be sure to ease into it.
But, even with the previous guidelines, you should at least have a bit of examples with identifying these elusive verb stems, as that’s what will assist in your survival here onward. Let’s have a look~!
In each of these, the area that’s underlined and in purple is the stem, and the rest is what is chopped off for conjugation.
As you may notice, it all becomes much easier to notice where the conjugation begins when you have the romaji to guide you, in this case. Basically, in every case, you’re taking away the ‘u’ sound, keeping the consonant, then adding whatever conjugation you need to that stem. Now, even though there are verbs ending in る that exist in this category, there is an oddly much simpler type of verb where the lines are so clear-cut, you don’t have to worry about romaji.
But, even still, knowing hiragana as well as each row that each character exists in will be extremely helpful in conjugating う verbs.
Introduction to Ichidan Verb Stems (る verbs)
So, when it comes to ichidan or る verbs, it’s really all just as simple as the introduction showed. Unlike う verbs, these follow the same rules through and through. The stem is always identifiable by whatever isn’t a 「る」character in dictionary form.
Notice in each of these, though, that whether う verb or る verb, it’s not always only kanji that’s part of the stem. There are many occasions and verbs that have hiragana in the stem as well.
We do wish we had a bit more to add considering the う verbs were so complex, but for now, we’re going to save that for a future lesson. This will already be more than enough information to suss through in more than one sitting, we’d imagine. Don’t feel rushed to finish all of this at once, as well. You can return multiple times and have a rest if you need. And, even if you power through the whole lesson, be sure to return, especially once a new lesson is available, as it’ll all start to make even more sense. But, until then, let’s move onto the last category.
Introduction to Irregular Verb Stems
So, when it comes to irregular verbs, these don’t exactly have a stem… If you found these in the linguistic wilderness, you would have to mash them and boil them until they looked nothing like their original in order to even find a stem in all of it. You may wonder how you suss that sort of thing out if you can’t specifically find the stem… Well, this is just sort of one of those scenarios where you just have to know which ones are irregular. It’s not a huge category, words like する、来る、行く、ある、and more, including many honorific verbs. But, it’s very important to note and to pay mind. Many books will tell you there’s two categories of verbs, but no-no, irregular verbs are important to remember. It’s better to be prepared rather than to go out into the world and begin conjugating irregular verbs incorrectly. We’ll go through some of these in a separate lesson, because there’s really no way of helping you identify a stem that’s not exactly there, but we’ll show you a couple of them to hopefully help show you with what you’ll have to work.
「する」のマス形 | suru’s masu form
する → します
「来る」のマス形 | kuru’s masu form
来る → 来ます
As you can see from just two irregular verbs, this category isn’t so much about identifying the stem as it is about knowing the specific verbs and just having the conjugation memorised. But, there’s only a handful of these, so it’s not such a huge category that it would be overwhelming. With time and patience, it can become natural.
If none of this felt like it made any sense to you so far, then no worries, because as we continue, it will make more sense, but you just need these basics to begin to get an understanding of with what you’ll be dealing. It’s important to get your tools and instructions organised before delving into things so that there aren’t any surprises when we begin our true journey.
But, if the verb classes, categories, and endings made absolutely no sense to you, then the ONE thing you can take away that may be too blunt to always apply, but makes things so much simpler if you’re just starting off:
When conjugating U verbs, you take off the U sound, and when conjugating Ru verbs, you take off the Ru sound.
That’s pretty much the whole of it. If you didn’t gain anything but that this entire lesson, you’ll still have come out of it better for it. We do recommend that each time there’s a new lesson, though, you return to the previous ones because we’re sure it will all start to make more sense one step at a time, like clearing fog from a window or clearing leaves from a pathway.
ʕ •`ᴥ•´ʔ’I’m only going to ask once: Where’s nidan, sandan, yondan verbs?’
Now, if you’re a linguist or just REALLY want to know why there’s a class one and a class 5, but no one seems to mention the others. Well, we have a secret to tell you, dans one through four do exist. But, unless you’re studying classical Japanese, you probably won’t necessarily need them. Modern Japanese really focuses on the two classes of verbs, so teachers usually only mention them as group I and II, which avoids confusion, but also may not open the door to fun future learning~! Maybe in future, once we teach you all of the basics, we’ll introduce some classical Japanese. But, for now, let’s take it a step at a time and continue to do our best~!
Whew, that’s all for this lesson. This is a topic that is very important in getting into learning Japanese, and we want to be sure we don’t lose anyone at any step of the way, so we’re going to digitally hold your hand and keep you on track. We’re just outside of the wooded area, and we’re approaching the dense woods. We’re trying to map out each step for you so that it doesn’t seem scary. Believe us, any new concept can feel scary at first, but once you take some time and patience, it’ll become like an old friend. The key is just being patient with yourself and knowing how much time or effort you should dedicate to it, then also knowing if you’re at your limit for the day. After any of our research, we’ve found cramming just isn’t an effective way to learn. Of course, there are some people that should be aware if they’re always immediately overwhelmed every time they study, but even then, it’s just changing your mindset. But, any time you just feel like you’re overwhelmed, take a step back and come back to it later. Learning is a journey, and it’s important to stay focused, but it’s also important to keep it light and let it be a relaxing experience. If you need it to be a rigid experience with lots of structure, that’s fine, too. Just whatever works best for you, and finding your best personal approach. We’ll be right there with you!
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