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Japanese Verb Conjugations (cont'd from Lesson 4)

First, let's review what we have learned in Lesson 4:

★ The last Hiragana of the dictionary form a Japanese verb must be "う,く,ぐ,す,つ,ぬ,ぶ,む or る". "死ぬ" (die) is the only verb that ends with ぬ

★ In Japanese verb conjugations, only the last Hiragana of a verb is changed, i.e. from u row to other rows. There are a few exceptions (irregular verbs), which will be discussed in this lesson.

★ There are two kinds of Japanese verb, namely, five-row verbs and one-row verbs. To identify one-row verbs, we need to look at their 2nd last Hiragana and check if they belong to "i row" or "e row".

★ Past tense is the most difficult part of Japanese verb conjugations. We need to learn it by rote.

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Imperative, potential, conditional "う段>え段" (u > e)

Imperative (命令形) means "giving orders". In English, we give orders by saying/ writing a sentence without a subject, e.g. "Do it now", "Get out", "Freeze", etc. But in Japanese, we need to change the last Hiragana of 5-row verbs from u row to e row. Examples are shown above. And the conjugations for 1-row verbs and irregular verbs will be discussed later.

Warning: Learners are NOT recommended to use the imperative form to make requests because it is considered to be very impolite.

Imperative form in reported speech

The imperative form, besides being used to give orders, can also be used in reported speech to report a polite request. For example, somebody asks you to write your name and says "名前を書いてください" (Please write down your name). When you report what he has said, you may say "名前を書けと言われました" (I was told to write down my name).

Potential means "can do something". In English, we need to add "can", "could", "is able to", "is capable of" in front of a verb to show that we can do something. But in Japanese, we don't have a separate modal verb "can". Instead, we need to turn the verbs into the potential form by changing the last Hiragana from u row to e row (similar to the imperative form) and then add る at the end. In other words, the potential form is exactly the same as the imperative form except for the last る, as shown in the list above.

It should be noted that the potential form of a verb may be exactly the same as the dictionary (basic) form of another verb. Example are 買える (can buy) vs 変える (change), 書ける (can write) vs 駆ける (run).

Potential form is NOT used when we are asking for permission

While the modal verb "can" in English can be used to ask for permission, e.g. "Can I eat now?", the potential form in Japanese is normally NOT used in similar situations. Instead, we change the verbs into て form and add もいい, e.g. "食べてもいいですか", which literally means "Is it okay to eat?"

Conditional means "if..." In Japanese, there are four ways to express "if". ば-form is one of them. It is very easy to change a 5-row verb into the conditional form. Just change it to the imperative and then add ば.

Volitional "う段>お段" (u row > o row)

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Volitional means "with intention to do something". Its main functions are as follows:

Similar to "Let's do something" in English
e.g. 一緒に行く = go together, 一緒に行こう = let's go together
In question form, it is similar to "Shall we do something?" in English
e.g. 一緒に行こうか = Shall we go together?
Before "と思う", it means "I want to do something" / "I'm thinking of doing something"
e.g. 一緒に行こうと思う= I want to go together (with you)
Before "とする", it means "about to do something"
e.g. 行こうとするとき = when I am about to go

Passive Voice and Causative "う段>あ段” (u row > a row)

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Passive voice in Japanese is used more or less the same way as in English. But if people give you something or do something for you, i.e. you benefit from other people's action, normally you do not use passive voice in Japanese. For example, it is okay to say "I am taught by my teacher" in English. But in Japanese the normal way to express this meaning should be "先生に教えてもらう", which literally means "I receive my teacher's teaching".

To turn a 5-row verb into the passive form, you only need to change the last Hiragana to "a row" and then add "れる", as shown in the list above.

The passive form can also be used as the honorific form

Please note that in Japanese, even intransitive verbs like "go", "come" and "die" have passive form. It is because the passive form can also be used as the honorific form of verbs, e.g. although 行く (go) cannot be passive, 行かれる is used as an honorific form of 行く.

Causative means "let somebody do something" or "make somebody to do something". For example, トムを行かせる can mean "I let Tom go" or "I make Tom go". To turn a 5-row verb into the causative form, you only need to change the last Hiragana to "a row" and then add "せる", as shown in the list above.

5-row verbs VS 1-row verbs

All the conjugations you have learned so far are suitable for 5-row verbs only. The conjugations for 1-row verbs are different from those of their 5-row counterparts and thus we need to learn them separately. Fortunately, their conjugtions are much easier.

The last Hiragana of 1-row verbs must be る. As mentioned before, we can identify them by looking at the 2nd last Hiragana. If it belongs to the i row or e row, then it is very likely that the verb is 1-row. Examples are 借りる, 閉める and 聞こえる, in which り, め and え belong to either i row or e row. And I say "very likely" because there are some exceptions. Examples are 帰る and 走る. Their 2nd last Hiragana are え and し, which belong to e row and i row respectively, but they are 5-row verbs, not 1-row. You may observe that when written in Kanji, the 2nd last Hiragana of 1-row verbs are usually written out, which also helps you identity them when you are reading.

The conjugations of 1-row verbs are the same for all 1-row verbs. Let's take 見る (see) and 食べる (eat) as examples and compare their conjugations with those of 乗る, a 5-row verb.

The conjugations of 1-row verbs are summarized below:

Renyoukei-take out the final る
Negative-take out the final る and add ない
Past tense-take out the final る and add
Imperative-take out the final る and add
Potential and passive-take out the final る and add られる
Volitional-take out the final る and add よう
Causative-take out the final る and add させる
Conditional-take out the final る and add れば

Two irregular verbs 来る and する

In modern Japanese, there are only two irregular (but frequently used) verbs. They are 来る(come) and する (do). As with irregular verbs in other languages, the only way you can master them is learn them by rote.

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Be careful that the potential form of する is できる, which has absolutely nothing to do with the original form. Actually, you may consider できる as another independent verb.

Conjugations of Adjectives

There are two kinds of adjective in Japanese, namely, i-adjectives and na-adjectives. Na-adjectives are Kanji phrases added with the Hiragana な at the end, e.g. 便利な and 有名な. They simply do not have any conjugations. I-adjectives end with Hiragana い. Their conjugations are simple:

To summarize:

Negative-change the final い to く and add ない
Past tense-change the final い to かった
Past negative-change the final い to く and add なかった
Before て-change the final い to
Conditional-change the final い to ければ
Volitional-change the final い to かろう

The negative form of all verbs (ない form) functions like i-adjectives. So the conjugations of verbs in the negative form is exactly the same as i-adjectives. For example, the conditional form of 行かない (I don't go) is 行かなければ (if I don't go).