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I'm a bit confused about the grammar.

Could someone explain the parts of grammar in a very basic, simplistic way that doesn't involve a bunch of Japanese sentences? (I haven't learned many words yet) Thanks!

January 5, 2018



First thing to note is that the verb generally goes at the end of the sentence, and other parts of the sentence are noted by grammatical particles. It's a bit more complex than simply referring to SVO or SOV sentence order. Also to note, Japanese does not have article adjectives (so no a/an/the words), and typically does not distinguish between singular and plural nouns. (Going to include sentences for example, but I'll explain it.)

Let's start with the "to be" verb です (desu). You can pull any noun out of a Japanese dictionary and make a complete sentence with this. Let's take the word 日本人 (nihonjin) which means "Japanese person." If one says 日本人です, it could mean "I am a Japanese person," "you are a Japanese person," "he/she is a Japanese person," "they are Japanese people," etc. You'll often know what is meant from the context.

If you want to specify who you're talking about, you typically use the は (wa) particle. (The character is usually pronounced "ha," but as a particle, it is "wa.") The basic sentence structure with this is "aは bです" to say "a is b."

So for instance, someone might use the word 私 (watashi) which means I/me. 私は日本人です would be "I am a Japanese person." (Note that は actually indicates the topic, not necessarily the sentence subject, but that's something you'll get into later on.)

If you want to create a sentence with a direct object, you use the particle を (wo) to indicate the direct object. The basic structure is "subjectは objectを verb." So using the words 猫 (neko) meaning cat, 魚 (sakana) meaning fish, and 食べます (tabemasu), one might make a sentence like 猫は魚を食べます meaning "the cat eats fish."

Japanese recognizes past and non-past verb tenses. This means that you use the same verb form for both present and future. The verb ending also changes for negative verbs instead of having a separate word for "not" like we do in English. So back to です, the polite version of the "to be" verb, we have the following basic forms:

Non-past: です i.e. to be, is/am/are

Past: でした (deshita) was/were

Non-past negative: ではありません (dewa arimasen) or じゃありません (ja arimasen) to not be, is not/am not/are not

Past negative: ではありませんでした (dewa arimasen deshita) was not/were not

Any of these are interchangeable with です in the "aは bです" sentence structure.

For action verbs, there are specific conjugation rules for each type of verb, but since Duo, like most beginner's programs, tends to use the ます (masu) verb endings, I'll just go over those for now. A verb ending in ます is the polite version of a verb, and is conjugated as follows:

Non-past: ends in ます

Past: ends in ました (mashita)

Non-past negative: ends in ません (masen)

Past negative: ends in ませんでした (masen deshita)

So using the same "subjectは objectを verb" sentence structure above, you could change the sentence to 猫は魚を食べました (the cat ate the fish) or 猫は魚を食べませんでした (the cat did not eat the fish).

So hopefully that explains how basic Japanese sentences work. If you want something else explained or something isn't clear, please feel free to say so.


Japanese is Subject - object - verb, or SOV. In English, we are SVO, or Subject - verb - object. So in Japanese, the phrase "The girl is eating an apple" would be phrased like "The girl an apple is eating."

In Japanese, the subject can sometimes be left out. For instance you could just say "Eating an apple" instead of "I am eating an apple"

When it's unclear who or what the subject is, or if you wanted to place emphasis on the subject, then you include the subject.

Japanese has no verb conjugation. Also, Japanese has no spaces in between words.

Any more questions?


"Japanese has no verb conjugation" ?? o.O


Yeah.... That statement is completely false. Maybe they meant that the verb form doesn't change based on who is doing the action, but Japanese definitely has verb conjugation. A lot of it!


Taking both the Japanese and Chinese courses on Duo, Woof may have written it accidentally having Chinese in mind at that moment. This is what I assume anyway. The rest of the post was good. Just could do with fixing that one sentence. ^^


Oops. I was confused about something else. I didn't mean that. I fixed it. Thanks for correcting it.


Great explanation. I know that verb conjugation enthusiasts may argue that Japanese conjugates, but from what I've read, it actually uses verb agglutination. I suggest watching this video:


The computerized voice is annoying but the manner in which the hiragana table is manipulated, where the table is turned on its side and information is added to verb stems to accomplish negation, a passive voice, a past tense, honorifics (informal/formal) and causality, is worth noting. Japanese does not really conjugate verbs but western language teachers want to apply this term to their agglutination. There are two other videos on YouTube that continue the lessons, and their website has another three (I believe) for subscribers.

If you wish to believe in verb conjugation, then it is important to know that there are three verb classes or groups. All verbs end in "u".

Group 1 ends with “u”. Group 2 ends with “ru”. Group 3 consists of irregular verbs.

PRESENT TENSE Japanese verb forms have two main tenses, the present and the past. There is no future tense. The present tense is used for future and habitual action as well. The informal form of the present tense is the same as the dictionary form. The ~ masu form is used in formal situations. It is pronounced "mas", to the Western ear.

PRESENT TENSE (-masu, Formal) Group 1 Take off the final ~u, and add ~ imasu います Examples: kaku かく -> kakimasu かきます (to write) nomu のむ –> nomimasu のみます (to drink)

Group 2 Take off the final ~ru, and add ~ masu ます miru みる --> mimasu みます (to watch) taberu たべる ---> tabemasu たべます (to eat)

Group 3 For these verbs, the stem will change kuru くる -> kimasu きます (to come) suru する -> shimasu します (to do)

For –masu form practice:


PAST TENSE Group 1 Formal Replace ~ u with ~ imashita ました (pronounced "mashta") kaku かく(to write) -> kakimashita かきました (wrote) nomu のむ (to drink) -> nomimashita のみました (drank)

(1) Verbs ending with ~ ku: replace ~ ku く with ~ ita いた kaku かく (to write) -> kaita 書いた (wrote) kiku きく (to listen) -> kiita きいた (listened, heard)

(2) Verbs ending with ~ gu: replace ~ gu ぐ with ~ ida いだ isogu 急ぐ (to hurry) -> isoida 急いだ (hurried) oyogu 泳ぐ (to swim) -> oyoida 泳いだ (swam)

(3) Verbs ending with ~ u う, ~tsu す and ~ ru る: replace them with ~ tta た utau 歌う (to sing) -> utatta 歌った (sang) matsu 待つ (to wait) -> matta 待った (waited) taberu たべる (to eat) -> tabetta 食べた (ate)

(4) Verbs ending with ~ nu, ~bu and ~ mu: replace them with ~ nda んだ shinu 死ぬ (to die) -> shinda 死んだ (died) asobu 遊ぶ (to play) -> asonda 遊んだ (played) nomu のむ (to drink) -> nonda 飲んだ (drank)

(5) Verbs ending with ~ su: replace ~ su す with ~ shita した hanasu 話す (to speak) -> hanashita 話した (spoke, talked)

Group 2 Formal Take off ~ru る, and add ~ mashita ました miru 見る (to see) -> mimashita 見ました (saw) taberu たべる (to eat) -> tabemashita たべました (ate)

Take off ~ru る, and add ~ ta た miru 見る (to see) -> mita 見た (saw) taberu たべる (to eat) -> tabeta たべた (ate)

Group 3 Formal kuruくる (to come) -> kimashita きました (came) suru する (to do) -> shimashita すました (did) Informal kuru する (to come) -> kita きた (came) suru する (to do) -> shita した (did)

PRESENT NEGATIVE Formal: All Verbs (Group 1, 2, 3) Replace ~ masu ます with ~ masen ません nomimasu のみます (to drink)-> nomimasen のみません (to not drink) tabemasu たべます (to eat) -> tabemasen たべません (to not eat) kimasu きます(to come) -> kimasen きません (to not come) shimasu します (to do) -> shimasen しません (to not do)

Informal: Group 1 Replace the final ~ u with ~anai, (If verb ending is a vowel remove ~ u, replace with ~ wanai わない) kiku きく (to listen) -> kikanai きかない (to not listen) nomu のむ (to drink) -> nomanai 飲まない (to not drink) au あう (to meet) -> awanai 会わない (to not meet)

Group 2 Replace ~ ru る with ~ nai ない miru 見る (to see) -> minai 見ない (to not look) taberu たべる (to eat) -> tabenai 食べない (to not eat)

Group 3 kuru する (to come) -> konai 来ない (to not come) suru する (to do) -> shinai しない (to not do)

PAST NEGATIVE Formal: All Verbs (Group 1, 2, 3) Add ~ deshita (pronounced "deshta") to the formal present negative form nomimasen のみません (to not drink) -> nomimasen deshita tabemasen たべません (to not eat) -> tabemasen deshita kimasen きません (to not come) -> kimasen deshita shimasen しません (to not do) -> shimasen deshita

Informal: All Verbs (Group 1, 2, 3) Replace ~ nai ない with ~ nakatta (pronounced "nakta") nomanai 飲まない (to not drink) -> nomanakatta 飲まなかった (to not have drank) tabenai 食べない (to not eat) -> tabenakatta 食べなかった (to not have eaten) konai 来ない (to not come) -> konakatta 来なかった (to not have come) shinai しない (to not do) -> shinakatta しなかった (to not have done)

For All Types of Conjugation practice: http://genki.japantimes.co.jp/self/verbadjective-conjugation-practice


I don't know if you intended to reply to Woof, since Woof said "Japanese has no conjugation". It looks like you might have meant to reply to KagayakuSeiza instead?

Anyway, I really like that Youtube channel you linked. Thank you for posting it! I actually think her computery voice sounds relatively nice and easy to listen to (maybe since it sounds rather similar to some folks I know here in the UK).

I ended up watching several of her videos and share so many of the same opinions as her already. (I've mentioned things like zero subject, topic-comment structure, and helper auxiliaries in comments on Duolingo before. I've been self-learning Japanese for quite a few years and have an interest in things like Classical Japanese too. So I've spent a lot of time mulling over many of these things over time.)

However, I don't think I can agree at all about Japanese not having conjugation. Yes, Japanese is an agglutinative language, especially so in Classical Japanese, but from my understanding it has conjugation too. Our difference in opinion might just be that we mean different things by the word "conjugation" though, as I left school without even knowing the difference between verbs and nouns, let alone ever hearing of words like "conjugation" or "inflection"...

What she calls "stems of the verb", surely these so-called "stems" are themselves conjugations? If nomu 飲む is the dictionary form of the verb meaning "drink", then surely its imperative form, nome 飲め, would be a conjugation of the verb? Even if you were to say "nom" is the root of the verb, would you say just the "u" part of む and just "e" part of め are helper auxiliaries?

I don't know if I'd actually call all the examples you wrote in your post "conjugations". I view more things as agglutinations than most Japanese learners probably do, but I view that each auxiliary has itself its own conjugation paradigm (though often defective). For て and た, I'd more likely describe these as helper auxiliaries rather than them creating separate conjugation forms of the verb. I subscribe more to the the six 活用形 system. In my view, the て and た are suffixed to the 連用形 conjugation of the verb agglutinitively, where the sound changes that occur when they are affixed are merely coincidental. Yet though I view even things like て and た this way, my view is that Japanese definitely does have conjugations at least in part in the traditional 活用形 base forms. ^^

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