Do you know what Japanese verb forms to use when you are speaking (or writing) in Japanese? As a grownup, 80-90% of the time when you are communicating you will need to use MASU form.
What is MASU form? That is the polite form of the verb that we use as we interact with others as an adult in Japanese society. Learn more about Japanese verb forms in this short video.
Free Mini-Course (Japanese Verbs)
You can sing up for the free mini-course I mentioned in the video. Simply click the button below and it will take you to the free sign-up page. The Japanese Verb List (14 pages, PDF) is provided inside the course.
If you do not want to enroll in the mini-course but just want the Verb List, you can download from below. Let me know where I need to send it to you!
What Japanese Verb Forms to Use as an Adult
As you can see below, we have three different verb forms (Speech Styles) in Japanese that we differentiate depending on who we are speaking to. Native Japanese children first learn the Dictionary Form (Informal Speech) at home while they are very young. That is the speech style we use to converse with our family members. Then, once they started to communicate with people outside their family circle, they gradually learn to use Formal Speech. As they speak to neighbors, teachers at school, or parents of their friends, they realize they are not supposed to talk to those people as they talk to their own mother. They learn the need of shifting their speech level to formal speech.
To communicate in the formal speech, Japanese kids learn the proper Japanese verb forms (MASU form) little by little in their daily lives.
Honorific Form is used only when we mention other people’s actions (never our own) gracefully. If you stay at a hotel in Japan, the front desk clerk most likely uses this speech style to speak to you to show his/her respect towards you as a customer. Even native Japanese people do not start using this super formal speech style until they graduate from high school or college, and start working in the society. Some companies train their new-hires with Honorific Speech during the first few months of the employment.
It’s Reverse for Japanese Learners
In Japanese language classes since the students are no longer 5 to 6 years old, we teach MASU Form first. Many Japanese textbooks introduce MASU Form first too. We teach the learners Formal Speech first so that they won’t sound rude or childlike to speak to anyone in Japanese.
Japanese Native Children learn:
Dictionary Form → MASU Form
Japanese Language Learners learn:
MASU Form → Dictionary Form
Believe it or not, Japanese verbs in Dictionary Form are way more difficult to conjugate than MASU Form. Japanese kids naturally master the complex rules of Japanese verbs as they interact and communicate with people on a daily basis.
How to Conjugate Japanese Verbs
As a Japanese learner, you need to learn how to convert a verb in the Dictionary Form that you find in your dictionary to MASU Form. I will briefly explain below how to convert Dictionary (Plain) Form to MASU Form for each verb group in Japanese.
Group 1: U Verb
Japanese U Verbs in Dictionary (Plain) Form always has the vowel U at the end. Change that to the vowel I and add MASU to make the Masu Form. For instance, as you see in the example above, the Dictionary Form of “drink” ends in the sound MU. Change the MU to MI and add Masu to convert it to the MASU Form, which is のみます (NoMI masu).
Group 2: RU Verb
Japanese RU Verbs are easy to conjugate. All the RU Verbs end in the sound RU in the Dictionary (Plain) Form. You simply need to replace the RU with MASU to convert them into MASU Form. In the example above, the Dictionary Form of “eat” is tabeRU. Change the RU to MASU and you have the MASU form of “eat” which is たべます (tabeMASU).
Group 3: Irregular Verb
We have only TWO Irregular Verbs in Japanese. One is “DO” = SURU and the other is “COME” = KURU. They are named Irregular Verbs because there are no conjugation rules when it comes to these two verbs. You simply need to memorize their Dictionary (Plain) Forms and MASU Forms as presented above.
Use Appropriate Japanese Verb Forms
I hope this article helped you understand why you are not supposed to use Japanese verbs as you find in the dictionary or at Google Translate (unless you chose to speak in Informal Speech).
I have been teaching Japanese to English-speaking learners for many years. Since there are no speech levels that exist in the English language, it is one of the most difficult notions for my students to comprehend. Yet, it is a huge part of the Japanese language socio-linguistically.
We simply do not function well as a member of the society if we don’t use the proper speech level to a certain group of people. So, if your purpose is to actually use Japanese in real communications, try not to copy what you’ve heard in Japanese anime. (most likely, they use Informal Speech and not Polite Speech)
Join the mini-course where I walk you through the basics of Japanese verb forms and sentences.
Leave me comments below if you have any questions. Happy Learning! 裕子先生（ゆうこせんせい）Yuko-sensei
How to enroll ? i dont hvae credit card . I just follow your you tube channel.
Rhia-san, You can enroll in my courses on the school website. https://smilenihongo.com/class
However, we accept payments by credit card or PayPal only. I am sorry for the inconvenience.
Thank you for following me on YouTube and you can find lots of free lessons there. 😊
I’m learning now Japanese, and till now I learned the hiragana romaji ,but when I wanted to learn it’s grammar I searched in some apps , and in one of the libraries ,but all what I found is hiragana,katakana, and kanji with each other.
So,do you advice me to learn katakana, and kanji then to learn their grammar ? ,or do I learn each grammar for alone then I learn them with each other …..if you advice me to do that do you have courses for it ???
I recommend getting started with grammar right away as you master Hiragana, Katakana, and eventually learn Kanji. Please do letters AND grammar simultaneously.
For your learning success, I highly recommend getting away from Romaji (Spelling Japanese with Western alphabets) as soon as you can. It will hinder your growth down the road.
I provide Romaji in my beginning courses so that you can still learn grammar while you are still learning the letters.
If you are a complete beginner with grammar, you can start with Japanese 1. First, please try a free mini-course to make sure my teaching style matches your learning style.
Sign up for Mini-Course 1 here.
Joining the mini-course gives you the chance to get a discount on Japanese 1. The discount works only for the 5 days after you join the mini-course.
Hope this helps!
Sensei Yuko, I’m so confused about how to use the words wa, ni, ga, ii, O in a sentence. Can you teach me or explain about those words? Arigatou gozaimasu?
I believe you are talking about particles? Each particle has multiple functions and it is impossible for me to explain them here as a comment. But I have some particle lessons on YouTube.
Please refer to these lessons.
Hope this helps! では、また。
Yuko-san, I have a question for you, and I really hope that your can give me an answer to this.
I am 14 and I was born in Japan. I used to speak Japanese, even though my parents are not from Japan. When I was there years old, we left.
I cannot speak Japanese anymore, but when I listen to songs in the language, and last month, when guests from Japan came to our house, I could understand what they were talking about.
I really want to learn Japanese, but I don’t know how to pick it up again. Do you have any suggestions? Also, would being born in Japan make learning Japanese easier for me?
The first three years of our lives are a crucial time for human’s brain development including language acquisition. If you spent the first three years of your life in Japan, it is very likely that your brain has developed the ability to recognize Japanese sounds. However, just like any other abilities, when you don’t use it often enough the brain decides it is an unnecessary information for your survival and eventually drops the ability because you will have to gain more and more information as your life gets longer.
Since you are still 14, your brain is flexible enough to learn Japanese by immersing yourself in it (just like a native child would learn). The best way would be to learn something IN Japanese. (Some skills such as piano, math, cooking, etc. but you learn it in Japanese not in your native language) If you could find such a program (we call it an immersion program) in your area, that would be great.
Even better if your parents could afford to send you to Japan for a study abroad program. I know it is going to be quite expensive but if you could stay in Japan only for a few weeks in summer, for instance, it will make a drastic difference.
I have Japanese online courses but my courses are designed for adult learners who learn Japanese through reasoning. (Understanding its grammar, sentence structure, etc.) At your age, it is not the best way to learn Japanese. I hope this helps! では、また。
Pavel Petra says
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I`ve been looking for this simple definition for weeks. Finally. Hope you have a perfect day! :))))))
Doo itashimashite. (You are welcome!) I’m glad this blog was helpful to clear your confusion. 🙂
There are a number of Japanese singers, individuals and groups and the words they sing sometimes scroll along the bottom of the screen. Can i assume, since the singers are singing to listeners they don’t really know, they use the masu form?
No, when it comes to written language (article, letters, novels, journal, poems, lyrics, etc.) as opposed to spoken language (conversation) it is little different.
Especially poems, journal, and lyrics are ways of expressing one’s personal emotions, thoughts, and experiences and in that case, Plain Form is commonly used. It is as if the singer (creator) is having a dialogue with oneself in the process of making it, hence Plain Form, although he/she may be performing it to a large audience at times.
I hope this makes sense!