The Question Marker

Questions in polite form


  1. 田中 【た・なか】 – Tanaka (last name)
  2. お母さん【お・かあ・さん】 – mother (polite)
  3. どこ – where
  4. 鈴木 【すず・き】 – Suzuki (last name)
  5. 母 【はは】 – mother
  6. 買い物 【か・い・もの】 – shopping
  7. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) – to go
  8. イタリア – Italy
  9. 料理 【りょう・り】 – cooking; cuisine; dish
  10. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) – to eat
  11. すみません – sorry (polite)
  12. ちょっと – a little
  13. お腹 【お・なか】 – stomach
  14. いっぱい – full
  15. ごめんなさい – sorry (polite)
  16. ごめん – sorry

The question marker is covered here because it is primarily used to clearly indicate a question in polite sentences. While it is entirely possible to express a question even in polite form using just intonation, the question marker is often attached to the very end of the sentence to indicate a question. The question marker is simply the hiragana character 「か」 and you don’t need to add a question mark. For previously explained reasons, you must not use the declarative 「だ」 with the question marker.

Example 1

Tanaka-san: Where is (your) mother?

Suzuki-san: (My) mother went shopping.

Example 2

Kim-san: Go to eat Italian food?

Suzuki-san: Sorry. (My) stomach is a little full.

Here the question is actually being used as an invitation just like how in English we say, “Won’t you come in for a drink?” 「すみません」 is a polite way of apologizing. Slightly less formal is 「ごめんなさい」 while the casual version is simply 「ごめん」.

The question marker in casual speech


  1. こんな – this sort of
  2. 本当 【ほん・とう】 – real
  3. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) – to eat
  4. そんな – that sort of
  5. ある (u-verb) – to exist (inanimate)

It makes sense to conclude that the question marker would work in exactly the same way in casual speech as it does in polite speech. However, this is not the case. The question marker 「か」 is usually not used with casual speech to make actual questions. It is often used to consider whether something is true or not. Depending on the context and intonation, it can also be used to make rhetorical questions or to express sarcasm. It can sound quite rough so you might want to be careful about using 「か」 for questions in the plain casual form.


  1. こんなのを本当食べる
    Do you think [he/she] will really eat this type of thing?
  2. そんなのは、あるよ!
    Do I look like I would have something like that?!

Instead of 「か」, real questions in casual speech are usually asked with the explanatory の particle or nothing at all except for a rise in intonation, as we have already seen in previous sections.

  1. こんなのを本当食べる
    Are you really going to eat something like this?
  2. そんなのは、ある
    Do you have something like that?

「か」 used in relative clauses


  1. 昨日【きのう】 – yesterday
  2. 何【なに】 – what
  3. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) – to eat
  4. 忘れる 【わす・れる】 (ru-verb) – to forget
  5. 彼 【かれ】 – he; boyfriend
  6. 言う 【い・う】 (u-verb) – to say
  7. 分かる 【わ・かる】 (u-verb) – to understand
  8. 先生 【せん・せい】 – teacher
  9. 学校 【がっ・こう】 – school
  10. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) – to go
  11. 教える 【おし・える】 (ru-verb) – to teach; to inform
  12. どう – how
  13. 知る 【し・る】 (u-verb) – to know

Another use of the question marker is simply grammatical and has nothing to do with the politeness. A question marker attached to the end of a relative clause makes a mini-question inside a larger sentence. This allows the speaker to talk about the question. For example, you can talk about the question, “What did I eat today?” In the following examples, the question that is being considered is in red.

  1. 昨日食べた忘れた
    Forgot what I ate yesterday.
  2. 言った分からない
    Don’t understand what he said.
  3. 先生学校行った教えない
    Won’t you inform me whether teacher went to school?

In sentences like example 3 where the question being considered has a yes/no answer, it is common (but not necessary) to attach 「どうか」. This is roughly equivalent to saying, “whether or not” in English. You can also include the alternative as well to mean the same thing.

  1. 先生学校行ったどう知らない
    Don’t know whether or not teacher went to school.
  2. 先生学校行った行かなかった知らない
    Don’t know whether teacher went to school or didn’t.

Using question words


  1. おいしい (i-adj) – tasty
  2. クッキー – cookie
  3. 全部 【ぜん・ぶ】 – everything
  4. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) – to eat
  5. 誰 【だれ】 – who
  6. 盗む 【ぬす・む】 (u-verb) – to steal
  7. 知る 【し・る】 (u-verb) – to know
  8. 犯人 【はん・にん】 – criminal
  9. 見る 【み・る】 (ru-verb) – to see
  10. この – this (abbr. of これの)
  11. 中 【なか】 – inside
  12. ~から (particle) – from ~
  13. 選ぶ 【えら・ぶ】 (u-verb) – to select

While we’re on the topic of questions, this is a good time to go over question words (where, who, what, etc.) and what they mean in various contexts. Take a look at what adding the question marker does to the meaning of the words.

Question Words
Word+Question Marker Meaning
いつ Sometime
どこ Somewhere
どれ A certain one from many


As you can see by the following examples, you can treat these words just like any regular nouns.

  1. 誰かおいしいクッキー全部食べた
    Someone ate all the delicious cookies.
  2. 盗んだのか、誰か知りませんか。
    Doesn’t anybody know who stole it?
  3. 犯人どこか見ましたか。
    Did you see the criminal somewhere?
  4. このからどれか選ぶの。
    (Explaining) You are to select a certain one from inside this (selection).

Question words with inclusive meaning


  1. 全部 【ぜん・ぶ】 – everything
  2. 皆 【みんな】 – everybody
  3. 皆さん 【みな・さん】 – everybody (polite)
  4. この – this (abbr. of これの)
  5. 質問 【しつ・もん】 – question
  6. 答え 【こた・え】 – answer
  7. 知る 【し・る】 (u-verb) – to know
  8. 友達 【とも・だち】 – friend
  9. 遅れる 【おく・れる】 (ru-verb) – to be late
  10. ここ – here
  11. ある (u-verb) – to exist (inanimate)
  12. レストラン – restaurant
  13. おいしい (i-adj) – tasty
  14. 今週末 【こん・しゅう・まつ】 – this weekend
  15. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) – to go

The same question words in the chart above can be combined with 「も」 in a negative sentence to mean “nobody” (誰も), “nothing” (何も), “nowhere” (どこも), etc.

誰も」 and 「何も」 are primarily used only for negative sentences. Curiously, there is no way to say “everything” with question words. Instead, it is conventional to use other words like 「全部」. And although 「誰も」 can sometimes be used to mean “everybody”, it is customary to use 「」 or 「皆さん

The remaining three words 「いつも」 (meaning “always”) and 「どれも」 (meaning “any and all”), and 「どこも」 (meaning everywhere) can be used in both negative and positive sentences.

Inclusive Words
Word+も Meaning
Nothing (negative only)
いつ Always
どこ Everywhere
どれ Any and all


  1. この質問答えは、誰も知らない
    Nobody knows the answer of this question.
  2. 友達いつも遅れる
    Friend is always late.
  3. ここあるレストランどれもおいしくない
    Any and all restaurants that are here are not tasty.
  4. 今週末は、どこにも行かなかった
    Went nowhere this weekend.

(Grammatically, this 「も」 is the same as the topic particle 「も」 so the target particle 「に」 must go before the topic particle 「も」 in ordering.)

Question words to mean “any”


  1. この – this (abbr. of これの)
  2. 質問 【しつ・もん】 – question
  3. 答え 【こた・え】 – answer
  4. 分かる 【わ・かる】 (u-verb) – to understand
  5. 昼ご飯 【ひる・ご・はん】 – lunch
  6. いい (i-adj) – good
  7. あの – that (over there) (abbr. of あれの)
  8. 人 【ひと】 – person
  9. 本当 【ほん・とう】 – real
  10. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) – to eat

The same question words combined with 「でも」 can be used to mean “any”. One thing to be careful about is that 「何でも」 is read as 「なんでも」 and not 「なにでも」

Words for “Any”
Word+でも Meaning
でも Anybody
でも Anything
いつでも Anytime
どこでも Anywhere
どれでも Whichever


  1. この質問答えは、誰でも分かる
    Anybody understands the answer of this question.
  2. 昼ご飯は、どこでもいいです。
    About lunch, anywhere is good.
  3. あのは、本当何でも食べる
    That person really eats anything.

Addressing People

Not only is it important to use the right type of language with the right people, it is also important to address them by the right name. It is also important to address yourself with the proper level of politeness. Japanese is special in that there are so many ways of saying the simple words, “I” and “you”. We will go over some of ways to refer to yourself and others.

Referring to yourself


  • 名前 【な・まえ】 – name

There are many ways to say “I” in Japanese. Some of these words are not as common and others are hopelessly outdated. We will go over the most common ones that are in use today. The usages of all the different words for “I” is separated into two categories: gender and politeness. In other words, there are words that are usually used by males and words that are usually only used by females and they all depend on the social context.

Before going into this: a note about the word 「」. The official reading of the kanji is 「わたくし」. This is the reading you use in a formal context (for example, a speech by the president of a company). This reading will probably be accompanied with honorific and humble forms, which we will cover later. In all other situations, it is usually read as 「わたし」. This is the most generic reference to “I” in terms of politeness and gender; therefore it is usually one of the first words taught to students of Japanese.

Here is a list of the most common words for “I” and how they are used:

  1. 【わたくし】 – Used by both males and females for formal situations.
  2. 【わたし】 – Used by both males and females for normal polite situations.
  3. 【ぼく】 – Used primarily by males from fairly polite to fairly casual situations.
  4. 【おれ】 – A very rough version of “I” used almost exclusively by males in very casual situations.
  5. あたし – A very feminine and casual way to refer to oneself. Many girls have decided to opt for 「わたし」 instead because 「あたし」 has a cutesy and girly sound.
  6. One’s own name – Also a very feminine and kind of childish way to refer to oneself.
  7. わし – Usually used by older men well in their middle-ages.

Let’s see how different types of sentences use the appropriate version of “I”. 「わたくし」 is left out because we have yet to go over very formal grammatical expressions.

  1. 名前はキムです。
    My name is Kim. (Neutral, polite)
  2. 名前はキムです。
    My name is Kim. (Masculine, polite)
  3. 名前はボブだ。
    My name is Bob. (Masculine, casual)
  4. 名前はボブだ。
    My name is Bob. (Masculine, casual)
  5. あたし名前はアリス。
    My name is Alice. (Feminine, casual)

Referring to others by name


  1. 社長 【しゃ・ちょう】 – company president
  2. 課長 【か・ちょう】 – section manager
  3. 先生 【せん・せい】 – teacher
  4. 田中 【た・なか】 – Tanaka (last name)

Japanese does not require the use of “you” nearly as much as English does. I hope that the examples with Bob, Alice, and Jim have shown that people refer to other people by their names even when they are directly addressing that person. Another common way to address people is by their title such as 「社長」、「課長」、「先生」, etc. The word 「先生」 is used to generally mean any person who has significant knowledge and expertise in something. For example, people usually use 「先生」 when directly addressing doctors or teachers (obviously). You can also include the person’s last name such as 「田中先生」 (teacher Tanaka). In the case where your relationship with the person doesn’t involve any title, you can use their name (usually their last name) attached with 「さん」 to show politeness. If calling them by their last name seems a little too polite and distant, the practice of attaching 「さん」 to their first name also exists. More endearing and colloquial versions of 「さん」 include 「くん」 and 「ちゃん」. 「くん」 is usually attached to the name of males who are of equal or lower social position. (For example, my boss sometimes calls me 「キムくん」). 「ちゃん」 is a very endearing way to refer to usually females of equal or lower social position.

Referring to others with “you”

Please do not use 「あなた」 just like you would use the word “you” in English. In directly addressing people, there are three levels of politeness: 1) Using the person’s name with the appropriate suffix, 2) Not using anything at all, 3) Using 「あなた」. In fact, by the time you get to three, you’re dangerously in the area of being rude. Most of the time, you do not need to use anything at all because you are directly addressing the person. Constantly pounding the listener with “you” every sentence sounds like you are accusing the person of something.

あなた」 is also an old-fashioned way for women to refer to their husband or lover. Unless you are a middle-aged women with a Japanese husband, I doubt you will be using 「あなた」 in this fashion as well.

Here is a list of some words meaning “you” in English. You will rarely need to use any of these words, especially the ones in the second half of the list.

  1. あなた – Generally only used when there is no way to physically address the person or know the person’s name. For example, direct questions to the reader on a form that the reader must fill out would use 「あなた」.
  2. 【きみ】 – Can be a very close and assuming way to address girls (especially by guys). Can also be kind of rude.
  3. お前【お・まえ】 – A very rough and coarse way to address someone. Usually used by guys and often changed to 「おめえ」.
  4. あんた – A very assuming and familiar way to address someone. The person using this is maybe miffed off about something.
  5. 手前【て・めえ】 – Very rude. Like 「お前」, to add extra punch, people will usually say it like, 「てめ~~」. Sounds like you want to beat someone up. I’ve only seen this one used in movies and comic books. In fact, if you try this on your friends, they will probably laugh at you and tell you that you’ve probably been reading too many comic books.
  6. 貴様【き・さま】 – Very, very rude. Sounds like you want to take someone out. I’ve also only seen this one used in comic books. I only go over it so you can understand and enjoy comic books yourself!

Referring to others in third person


  1. 彼 【かれ】 – he; boyfriend
  2. 彼女 【かの・じょ】 – she; girlfriend
  3. ガールフレンド – girlfriend
  4. ボーイフレンド – boyfriend

You can use 「」 and 「彼女」 for “he” and “she” respectively. Notice that 「」 and 「彼女」 can also mean “boyfriend” and “girlfriend”. So how can you tell which meaning is being used? Context, of course. For example, if someone asks, 「彼女ですか?」 the person is obviously asking if she is your girlfriend because the question, “Is she she?” doesn’t make any sense. Another less commonly used alternative is to say 「ガールフレンド」 and 「ボーイフレンド」 for, well, I’m sure you can guess what they mean.

Referring to family members

  1. 母 【はは】 – mother
  2. お母さん 【お・かあ・さん】 – mother (polite)
  3. 両親 【りょう・しん】 – parents
  4. 父 【ちち】 – father
  5. お父さん 【お・とう・さん】 – father (polite)
  6. 妻 【つま】 – wife
  7. 奥さん 【おく・さん】 – wife (polite)
  8. 夫 【おっと】 – husband
  9. 主人 【しゅ・じん】 – husband
  10. 姉 【あね】 – older sister
  11. お姉さん 【お・ねえ・さん】 – older sister (polite)
  12. 兄 【あに】 – older brother
  13. お兄さん 【お・にい・さん】 – older brother (polite)
  14. 妹 【いもうと】 – younger sister
  15. 弟 【おとうと】 – younger brother
  16. 息子 【むす・こ】 – son
  17. 娘 【むすめ】 – daughter

Referring to family members is a little more complicated than English. (It could be worse, try learning Korean!) For the purpose of brevity, (since this is a grammar guide and not a vocabulary guide) we will only go over the immediate family. In Japanese, you refer to members of other people’s family more politely than your own. This is only when you are talking about members of your own family to others outside the family. For example, you would refer to your own mother as 「」 to people outside your family but you might very well call her 「お母さん」 at home within your own family. There is also a distinction between older and younger siblings. The following chart list some of the most common terms for family members. There may also be other possibilities not covered in this chart.

Family member chart
One’s own family Someone else’s family
Parents 両親 ご両親
Mother お母さん
Father お父さん
Wife 奥さん
Husband ご主人
Older Sister お姉さん
Older Brother お兄さん
Younger Sister 妹さん
Younger Brother 弟さん
Son 息子 息子さん
Daughter 娘さん

Another word for wife, 「家内」 is often considered politically incorrect because the kanji used are “house” and “inside” which implies that wives belong in the home. Amen. (Just kidding)

Polite Form and Verb Stems

Not being rude in Japan


  1. 丁寧語 【てい・ねい・ご】 – polite language
  2. 尊敬語 【そん・けい・ご】 – honorific language
  3. 謙譲語 【けん・じょう・ご】 – humble language
  4. はい – yes (polite)
  5. いいえ – no (polite)

The Japanese we have learned so far is all well and good if you’re 5-years old. Unfortunately, adults are expected to use a politer version of the language (called 丁寧語) when addressing certain people. People you will probably use 丁寧語 with are: 1) people of higher social rank, and 2) people you are not familiar with. Deciding when to use which language is pretty much a matter of “feel”. However, it is a good idea to stick with one form for each person.

Later (probably much later), we will learn an even politer version of the language called honorific (尊敬語) and humble (謙譲語) form. It will be more useful than you may think because store clerks, receptionists, and such will speak to you in those forms. But for now, let’s concentrate on just 丁寧語, which is the base for 尊敬語 and 謙譲語.

Fortunately, it is not difficult to change casual speech to polite speech. There may be some slight changes to the vocabulary (for example, “yes” and “no” become 「はい」 and 「いいえ」 respectively in polite speech), and very colloquial types of sentence endings are not used in polite speech. (We will learn about sentence endings in a later section.) Essentially, the only main difference between polite and casual speech comes at the very end of the sentence. You cannot even tell whether a person is speaking in polite or casual speech until the sentence is finished.

The stem of verbs


  1. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) – to eat
  2. 泳ぐ 【およ・ぐ】 (u-verb) – to swim
  3. する (exception) – to do
  4. 来る 【く・る】 (exception) – to come
  5. 怒る 【おこ・る】 (u-verb) – to get angry
  6. 鉄拳 【てっ・けん】 – fist
  7. 休み 【やす・み】 – rest; vacation
  8. 飲む 【の・む】 (u-verb) – to drink
  9. 明日 【あした】 – tomorrow
  10. 映画 【えい・が】 – movie
  11. 見る 【み・る】 (ru-verb) – to see
  12. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) – to go
  13. 友達 【とも・だち】 – friend
  14. 遊ぶ 【あそ・ぶ】 (u-verb) – to play
  15. 楽しむ 【たの・しむ】 (u-verb) – to enjoy
  16. 出す 【だ・す】 (u-verb) – to bring out
  17. 走る 【はし・る】 (u-verb) – to run
  18. 走り出す 【はし・り・だ・す】 (u-verb) – to break into a run
  19. 着る 【き・る】 (ru-verb) – to wear
  20. 替える 【か・える】 (ru-verb) – to switch
  21. 着替える 【き・が・える】 (ru-verb) – to change (clothes)
  22. 付ける 【つ・ける】 (ru-verb) – to attach
  23. 加える 【くわ・える】 (ru-verb) – to add
  24. 付け加える 【つ・け・くわ・える】 (ru-verb) – to add one thing to another
  25. 言う 【い・う】 (u-verb) – to say
  26. 言い出す 【い・い・だ・す】 (u-verb) – to start talking

In order to conjugate all u-verbs and ru-verbs into their respective polite forms, we will first learn about the stem of verbs. This is often called the masu-stem in Japanese textbooks but we will call it just the stem because it is used in many more conjugations than just its masu-form. The stem is really great because it’s very easy to produce and is useful in many different types of grammar.

Rules for extracting the stem of verbs

  • For ru-verbs: Remove the 「る」
    Example: 食べ食べ
  • For u-verbs: The last vowel sound changes from an / u / vowel sound to an / i / vowel sound.
  • Exceptions:
    1. する」 becomes 「し」
    2. くる」 becomes 「き」

The stem when used by itself can be a very specialized and limited way of creating nouns from verbs. While the 「の」 particle allows you to talk about verbs as if they were nouns, the stem actually turns verbs into nouns. In fact, in very rare cases, the stem is used more often than the verb itself. For example, the stem of 「怒る」(いかる) is used more often than the verb itself. The movie, “Fists of Fury” is translated as 「怒り鉄拳」 and not 「怒る鉄拳」. In fact, 「怒る」 will most likely be read as 「おこる」, a completely different verb with the same meaning and kanji! There are a number of specific nouns (such as 「休み」) that are really verb stems that are used like regular nouns. However, in general we cannot take any verb and make it into a noun. For example, the following sentence is wrong.

  • 飲みをする
    (This sentence makes sense but no one talks like this)

However, a useful grammar that works in general for stems of all verbs is using the stem as a target with a motion verb (almost always 「行く」 and 「来る」 in this case). This grammar means, “to go or to come to do [some verb]”. Here’s an example.

  1. 明日映画行く。- Tomorrow, go to see movie.

に」 is the stem of 「見る」 (which is 見) combined with the target particle 「に」.

The motion target particle 「へ」 sounds like you’re literally going or coming to something while the 「に」 particle implies that you are going or coming for the purpose of doing something.

  1. 昨日友達遊びきた
    Yesterday, friend came to a playing activity. (Sounds a bit strange)
  2. 昨日友達遊びきた
    Yesterday, friend came to play.

The expression 「楽しみする」 meaning “to look forward to” is formed from grammar similar to this but is a special case and should be considered a set expression.

Other verbs are also sometimes attached to the stem to create new verbs. For example, when 「出す」 is attached to the stem of 「走る」, which is 「走り」, you get 「走り出す」 meaning “to break out into a run”. Other examples include 「切り替える」, which means “to switch over to something else”, and 「付け加える」, which means “to add something by attaching it”. You can see how the separate meanings of the two verbs are combined to create the new combined verb. For example, 「言い出す」 means “to start talking”, combining the meaning, “to speak” and “to bring out”. There are no general rules here, you need to just memorize these combined verbs as separate verbs in their own right.

Things that are written in a formal context such as newspaper articles also use the stem as a conjunctive verb. We will come back to this later in the formal expression lesson.

Using 「~ます」 to make verbs polite


  1. 明日 【あした】 – tomorrow
  2. 大学 【だい・がく】 – college
  3. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) – to go
  4. 先週 【せん・しゅう】 – last week
  5. 会う 【あ・う】 (u-verb) – to meet
  6. 晩ご飯 【ばん・ご・はん】 – dinner
  7. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) – to eat
  8. 面白い 【おも・しろ・い】(i-adj) – interesting
  9. 映画 【えい・が】 – movie
  10. 見る 【み・る】 (ru-verb) – to see

Of course, the reason I introduced the verb stem is to learn how to conjugate verbs into their polite form… the masu-form! The masu-form must always come at the end of a complete sentence and never inside a modifying relative clause. When we learn compound sentences, we will see that each sub-sentence of the compound sentence can end in masu-form as well.

To conjugate verbs into the masu-form, you attach different conjugations of 「ます」 to the stem depending on the tense. Here is a chart.

A conjugation chart with sample stem 「遊び
ます conjugations Stem+ます
Plain ます 遊びます
Negative ません 遊びません
Past ました 遊びました
Past-Neg ませんでした 遊びませんでした


  1. 明日大学行きます
    Tomorrow, go to college.
  2. 先週、ボブに会いましたよ。
    You know, met Bob last week.
  3. 晩ご飯食べませんでしたね。
    Didn’t eat dinner, huh?
  4. 面白くない映画見ません
    About not interesting movies, do not see (them).

Using 「です」 for everything else


  1. かわいい (i-adj) – cute
  2. 静か 【しず・か】 (na-adj) – quiet
  3. 子犬 【こ・いぬ】 – puppy
  4. とても – very
  5. 好き 【す・き】 (na-adj) – likable; desirable
  6. 昨日【きのう】 – yesterday
  7. 時間 【じ・かん】 – time
  8. ある (u-verb) – to exist (inanimate)
  9. その – that (abbr of 「それの」)
  10. 部屋 【へ・や】 – room
  11. 先週 【せん・しゅう】 – last week
  12. 見る 【み・る】 (ru-verb) – to see
  13. 映画 【えい・が】 – movie
  14. 面白い 【おも・しろ・い】(i-adj) – interesting

For any sentence that does not end in a ru-verb or u-verb, the only thing that needs to be done is to add 「です」 or 「でした」. You can also do this for substituted nouns (both 「の」 and 「ん」) by just treating them like regular nouns. Another important thing to remember is that if there is a declarative 「だ」, it must be removed. In being polite, I guess you can’t be so bold as to forwardly declare things the way 「だ」 does. Just like the masu-form, this must also go at the end of a complete sentence. Here is a chart illustrating the conjugations.

i-adjective (だ cannot be used)
Casual Polite
Plain かわいい かわいいです
Negative かわいくない かわいくないです
Past かわいかった かわいかったです
Past-Neg かわいくなかった かわいくなかったです
na-adjective/noun (might have to remove だ)
Casual Polite
Plain 静か(だ) 静かです
Negative 静かじゃない 静かじゃないです
Past 静かだった ※静かでした
Past-Neg 静かじゃなかった 静かじゃなかったです

※ Notice in the case of noun/na-adjective only, the past tense becomes 「でした」. A very common mistake is to do the same for i-adjectives. Remember 「かわいいでした」 is wrong!


  1. 子犬とても好きです
    About puppies, like very much. (The most natural translation is that someone likes puppies very much but there is not enough context to rule out that the puppies like something very much.)
  2. 昨日時間なかったんです
    It was that there was no time yesterday.
  3. その部屋あまり静かじゃないです
    That room is not very quiet.
  4. 先週見た映画は、とても面白かったです
    Movie saw last week was very interesting.

※ Reality Check

I have heard on a number of occasions that the negative non-past conjugation as given here is not an “officially” correct conjugation. Instead what’s considered to be a more “correct” conjugation is to actually replace the 「ないです」 part with 「ありません」. The reasoning is that the polite negative form of the verb 「ある」 is not 「ないです」 but 「ありません」. Therefore, 「かわいくない」 actually becomes 「かわいくありません」 and 「静かじゃない」 becomes 「静かじゃありません」.

The reality of today’s Japanese is that what’s supposed to be the “official” conjugation sounds rather stiff and formal. In normal everyday conversations, the conjugation presented here will be used almost every time. While you should use the more formal conjugations for written works using the polite form, you’ll rarely hear it in actual speech. In conclusion, I recommend studying and becoming familiar with both types of conjugations.

A more formal negative conjugation
Casual Polite
Negative かわいくない かわいくありません
Past-Neg かわいくなかった かわいくありませんでした
Negative 静かじゃない 静かじゃありません
Past-Neg 静かじゃなかった 静かじゃありませんでした


  1. その部屋あまり静かじゃないですよ。
    You know, that room is not very quiet.
  2. その部屋あまり静かじゃありませんよ。
    You know, that room is not very quiet.

「です」 is NOT the same as 「だ」


  1. そう – so
  2. 思う 【おも・う】 (u-verb) – to think
  3. はい – yes (polite)
  4. 答える 【こた・える】 (ru-verb) – to answer

Many of you who have taken Japanese classes have probably been taught that 「です」 is the polite version of 「だ」. However, I want to point some several key differences here and the reasons why they are in fact completely different things. It is impossible to fully explain the reasons why they are fundamentally different without discussing grammar that have yet to be covered so I would like to target this toward those who have already started learning Japanese and have been incorrectly misinformed that 「だ」 is the casual version of 「です」. For the rest of you new to this, you can easily skip this part.

I’m sure most of you have learned the expression 「そう」 by now. Now, there are four ways to make a complete sentence using the state-of-being with 「そう」 to produce a sentence that says, “That is so.”

Different ways to say, “That is so.”

  1. そう
  2. そうだ。
  3. そうです。
  4. そうでございます。

The first 「そう」 is the implied state-of-being and 「そうだ」 is the declarative. As I’ve stated before, the non-assuming soft spoken 「そう」 is often used by females while the more confident 「そうだ」 is often used by males.

そうです」 is the polite version of 「そう」, created by attaching 「です」 to the noun. 「そうです」 is not the polite version of 「そうだ」 where the 「だ」 is replaced by 「です」 and I’ll explain why.

Perhaps we wanted to make that sentence into a question instead to ask, “Is that so?” There are several ways to do this but some possibilities are given in the following. (This grammar is covered in a later section.)

Different ways to ask, “Is that so?”

  1. そう
  2. そうか?
  3. そうですか?

As I’ve explained before, the 「だ」 is used to declare what one believes to be a fact. Therefore, 「そうだか?」 is not a valid way to ask a question because it is declaring a fact and asking a question at the same time. But the fact that 「そうですか」 is a valid question shows that 「です」 and 「だ」 are essentially different. 「そうです」, in showing respect and humbleness, is not as assertive and is merely the polite version of 「そう」.

Besides the difference in nuance between 「だ」 and 「です」, another key difference is that 「だ」 is used in many different types of grammar to delineate a relative clause. 「です」, on the other hand, is only used at the end of a sentence to designate a polite state-of-being. For instance, consider the two following sentences. (This grammar is covered in a later section.)

  • そう思います
    I think that is so.
  • そうです思います
    (Incorrect sentence)

そう思います」 is valid while 「そうです思います」 is not because 「です」 can only go at the end of the sentence. 「です」 can only be in a relative clause when it is a direct quote of what someone said such as the following.

  • 「はい、そうです」と答えた

In conclusion, replacing 「です」 with 「だ」, thinking one is the polite equivalent of the other or vice-versa will potentially result in grammatically incorrect sentences. It is best to think of them as totally separate things (because they are).

Chapter Overview

We have learned the basic foundation of the Japanese language. Now that we have a general knowledge of how Japanese works, we can now extend that by learning specific grammar for various situations. This section will go over what is considered to be essential grammar for basic practical Japanese. You will begin to see fewer literal translations in order to emphasize the new grammar now that you (should) have a good understanding of the basic fundamental grammar. For example, in sentences where the subject has not been specified, I might simply specify the subject in the translation as ‘he’ even though it may very well be “we” or “them” depending on the context.

This section starts with transforming what we have learned so far into a more unassuming and politer form. In any language, there are ways to word things differently to express a feeling of deference or politeness. Even English has differences such as saying, “May I…” vs “Can I…”. You may speak one way to your professor and another way to your friends. However, Japanese is different in that not only does the type of vocabulary change, the grammatical structure for every sentence changes as well. There is a distinct and clear line differentiating polite and casual types of speech. On the one hand, the rules clearly tell you how to structure your sentences for different social contexts. On the other hand, every sentence you speak must be conjugated to the proper level of politeness. In section 3, we will cover the polite version of Japanese, which is required for speaking to people of higher social position or to people you are unfamiliar with.

This section will then continue to cover the most useful major types of grammar in Japanese. For this reason, we will learn the most common conjugations such as the te-form, potential, conditional, and volitional. The latter sections are in no particular order and neither does it need to be. The grammar that is presented here is essential which means that you have to learn it all anyway and learn them well.

Adverbs and Sentence-ending particles

Properties of Adverbs


  1. 早い 【はや・い】 (i-adj) – fast; early
  2. きれい (na-adj) – pretty; clean
  3. 朝ご飯 【あさ・ご・はん】 – breakfast
  4. 食べる 【た・べる】(ru-verb) – to eat
  5. 自分 【じ・ぶん】 – oneself
  6. 部屋 【へ・や】 – room
  7. 映画 【えい・が】 – movie
  8. たくさん – a lot (amount)
  9. 見る 【み・る】 – to see; to watch
  10. 最近 【さい・きん】 – recent; lately
  11. 全然 【ぜん・ぜん】 – not at all (when used with negative)
  12. 声 【こえ】 – voice
  13. 結構 【けっ・こう】 – fairly, reasonably
  14. 大きい 【おお・きい】(i-adj) – big
  15. この – this (abbr. of これの)
  16. 町 【まち】 – town
  17. 変わる 【か・わる】(u-verb) – to change
  18. 図書館 【と・しょ・かん】 – library
  19. 中 【なか】 – inside
  20. 静か 【しず・か】(na-adj) – quiet

Unlike English, changing adjectives to adverbs is a very simple and straightforward process. In addition, since the system of particles make sentence ordering flexible, adverbs can be placed anywhere in the clause that it applies to as long as it comes before the verb that it refers to. As usual, we have two separate rules: one for i-adjectives, and one for na-adjectives.

How to change an adjective to an adverb

  • For i-adjectives: Substitute the 「い」 with 「く」.
  • For na-adjectives: Attach the target particle 「に」.
    Example: きれいきれい
  • ボブは朝ご飯早く食べた
    Bob quickly ate breakfast.

The adverb 「早く」 is a little different from the English word ‘fast’ in that it can mean quickly in terms of speed or time. In other words, Bob may have eaten his breakfast early or he may have eaten it quickly depending on the context. In other types of sentences such as 「早く走った」, it is quite obvious that it probably means quickly and not early. (Of course this also depends on the context.)

  • アリスは自分部屋きれいした
    Alice did her own room toward clean.

The literal translation kind of gives you a sense of why the target particle is used. There is some argument against calling this an adverb at all but it is convenient for us to do so because of the grouping of i-adjectives and na-adjectives. Thinking of it as an adverb, we can interpret the sentence to mean: “Alice did her room cleanly.” or less literally: “Alice cleaned her room.” (「きれい」 literally means “pretty” but if it helps, you can think of it as, “Alice prettied up her own room.”)

Note: Not all adverbs are derived from adjectives. Some words like 「全然」 and 「たくさん」 are adverbs in themselves without any conjugation. These words can be used without particles just like regular adverbs.

  1. 映画たくさん見た
    Saw a lot of movies.
  2. 最近全然食べない
    Lately, don’t eat at all.


Here are some more examples of using adverbs.

  1. ボブのは、結構大きい
    Bob’s voice is fairly large.
  2. このは、最近大きく変わった
    This town had changed greatly lately.
  3. 図書館では、静かする
    Within the library, [we] do things quietly.

Sentence-ending particles


  1. いい (i-adj) – good
  2. 天気 【てん・き】 – weather
  3. そう – (things are) that way
  4. 面白い 【おも・しろ・い】(i-adj) – interesting
  5. 映画 【えい・が】 – movie
  6. 全然 【ぜん・ぜん】 – not at all (when used with negative)
  7. 時間 【じ・かん】 – time
  8. ある (u-verb) – to exist (inanimate)
  9. 大丈夫 【だい・じょう・ぶ】 (na-adj) – ok
  10. 今日 【きょう】 – today
  11. うん – yes (casual)
  12. でも – but
  13. 明日 【あした】 – tomorrow
  14. 雨 【あめ】 – rain
  15. 降る 【ふ・る】(u-verb) – to precipitate
  16. 魚 【さかな】 – fish
  17. 好き 【す・き】 (na-adj) – likable

Sentence-ending particles are particles that always come at the end of sentences to change the “tone” or “feel” of a sentence. In this section, we will cover the two most commonly used sentence-ending particles.

「ね」 sentence ending

People usually add 「ね」 to the end of their sentence when they are looking for (and expecting) agreement to what they are saying. This is equivalent to saying, “right?” or “isn’t it?” in English.

Example 1

Bob: Good weather, huh?

Alice: That is so, isn’t it?

The literal translation of 「そうね」 sounds a bit odd but it basically means something like, “Sure is”. Males would probably say, 「そうだね」.

Example 2

Alice: That was interesting movie, wasn’t it?

Bob: Huh? No, it wasn’t interesting at all.

Since Alice is expecting agreement that the movie was interesting Bob is surprised because he didn’t find the movie interesting at all. (「え」 is a
sound of surprise and confusion.)

「よ」 sentence ending

When 「よ」 is attached to the end of a sentence, it means that the speaker is informing the listener of something new. In English, we might say this with a, “You know…” such as the sentence, “You know, I’m actually a genius.”

Example 1

Alice: You know, there is no time.

Bob: It’s ok, you know.

Example 2

Alice: Good weather today, huh?

Bob: Yeah. But it will rain tomorrow, you know.

Combining both to get 「よね」

You can also combine the two particles we just learned to create 「よね」. This is essentially used when you want to inform the listener of some new point you’re trying to make and when you’re seeking agreement on it at the same time. When combining the two, the order must always be 「よね」. You cannot reverse the order.


Alice: You know, you like fish, dontcha?

Bob: That is so, huh?

Noun-related Particles

The last three particles (Not!)

We have already gone over very powerful constructs that can express almost anything we want. We will see the 「の」 particle will give us even more power by allowing us to define a generic, abstract noun. We will also learn how to modify nouns directly with nouns. The three particles we will cover can group nouns together in different ways.

This is the last lesson that will be specifically focused on particles but that does not mean that there are no more particles to learn. We will learn many more particles along the way but they may not be labeled as such. As long as you know what they mean and how to use them, it is not too important to know whether they are particles or not.

The Inclusive 「と」 particle


  1. ナイフ – knife
  2. フォーク – fork
  3. ステーキ – steak
  4. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) – to eat
  5. 本 【ほん】 – book
  6. 雑誌 【ざっ・し】 – magazine
  7. 葉書 【はがき】 – postcard
  8. 買う 【か・う】 (u-verb) – to buy
  9. 友達 【とも・だち】 – friend
  10. 話す 【はな・す】 (u-verb) – to speak
  11. 先生 【せん・せい】 – teacher
  12. 会う 【あ・う】 (u-verb) – to meet

The 「と」 particle is similar to the 「も」 particle in that it contains a meaning of inclusion. It can combine two or more nouns together to mean “and”.

  1. ナイフフォークステーキ食べた
    Ate steak by means of knife and fork.
  2. 雑誌葉書買った
    Bought book, magazine, and post card.

Another similar use of the 「と」 particle is to show an action that was done together with someone or something else.

  1. 友達話した
    Talked with friend.
  2. 先生会った
    Met with teacher.

The Vague Listing 「や」 and 「とか」 particles


  1. 飲み物 【の・み・もの】 – beverage
  2. カップ – cup
  3. ナプキン – napkin
  4. いる (u-verb) – to need
  5. 靴 【くつ】 – shoes
  6. シャツ – shirt
  7. 買う 【か・う】 (u-verb) – to buy

The 「や」 particle, just like the 「と」 particle, is used to list one or more nouns except that it is much more vague than the 「と」 particle. It implies that there may be other things that are unlisted and that not all items in the list may apply. In English, you might think of this as an “and/or, etc.” type of listing.

  1. 飲み物カップナプキンは、いらない
    You don’t need (things like) drink, cup, or napkin, etc.?
  2. シャツ買う
    Buy (things like) shoes and shirt, etc…

「とか」 also has the same meaning as 「や」 but is a slightly more colloquial expression.

  1. 飲み物とかカップとかナプキンは、いらない
    You don’t need (things like) drink, cup, or napkin, etc.?
  2. とかシャツ買う
    Buy (things like) shoes and shirt, etc…

The 「の」 particle


  1. 本 【ほん】 – book
  2. アメリカ – America
  3. 大学 【だい・がく】 – college
  4. 学生 【がく・せい】 – student
  5. それ – that
  6. その – abbreviation of 「それの」
  7. シャツ – shirt
  8. 誰 【だれ】 – who
  9. これ – this
  10. この – abbreviation of 「これの」
  11. あれ – that (over there)
  12. あの – abbreviation of 「あれの」
  13. 白い 【し・ろい】 (i-adj) – white
  14. かわいい (i-adj) – cute
  15. 授業 【じゅ・ぎょう】 – class
  16. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) – to go
  17. 忘れる 【わす・れる】 (ru-verb) – to forget
  18. こと – event, matter
  19. 毎日 【まい・にち】 – every day
  20. 勉強 【べん・きょう】 – study
  21. する (exception) – to do
  22. 大変 【たい・へん】 (na-adj) – tough, hard time
  23. 同じ 【おな・じ】 – same
  24. 物 【もの】 – object
  25. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) – to eat
  26. 面白い 【おも・し・ろい】 (i-adj) – interesting
  27. 静か 【しず・か】 (na-adj) – quiet
  28. 部屋 【へ・や】 – room
  29. 人 【ひと】 – person
  30. 学校 【がっ・こう】 – school

The 「の」 particle has many uses and it is a very powerful particle. It is introduced here because like the 「と」 and 「や」 particle, it can be used to connect one or more nouns. Let’s look at a few examples.

  1. ボブ
    Book of Bob.
  2. ボブ。
    Bob of book.

The first sentence essentially means, “Bob’s book.” (not a lost bible chapter). The second sentence means, “Book’s Bob” which is probably a mistake. I’ve translated the first example as “book of Bob” because the 「の」 particle doesn’t always imply possession as the next example shows.

  1. ボブは、アメリカ大学学生だ。
    Bob is student of college of America.

In normal English, this would translate to, “Bob is a student of an American college.” The order of modification is backwards so Bob is a student of a college that is American. 「学生大学アメリカ」 means “America of college of student” which is probably an error and makes little sense. (America of student’s college?)

The noun that is being modified can be omitted if the context clearly indicates what is being omitted. The following highlighted redundant words can be omitted.

  1. そのシャツシャツ
    Whose shirt is that shirt?
  2. ボブのシャツだ。
    It is shirt of Bob.

to become:

  1. そのシャツ
    Whose shirt is that?
  2. ボブだ。
    It is of Bob.

(「その」 is an abbreviation of 「それ+の」 so it directly modifies the noun because the 「の」 particle is intrinsically attached. Other words include 「この」 from 「これの」 and 「あの」 from 「あれの」.)

The 「の」 particle in this usage essentially replaces the noun and takes over the role as a noun itself. We can essentially treat adjectives and verbs just like nouns by adding the 「の」 particle to it. The particle then becomes a generic noun, which we can treat just like a regular noun.

  1. 白いは、かわいい
    Thing that is white is cute.
  2. 授業行く忘れた
    Forgot the event of going to class.

Now we can use the direct object, topic, and identifier particle with verbs and adjectives. We don’t necessarily have to use the 「の」 particle here. We can use the noun 「」, which is a generic object or 「こと」 for a generic event. For example, we can also say:

  1. 白いは、かわいい
    Thing that is white is cute.
  2. 授業行くこと忘れた
    Forgot the thing of going to class.

However, the 「の」 particle is very useful in that you don’t have to specify a particular noun. In the next examples, the 「の」 particle is not replacing any particular noun, it just allows us to modify verb and adjective clauses like noun clauses. The relative clauses are highlighted.

  1. 毎日勉強するのは大変
    The thing of studying every day is tough.
  2. 毎日同じ食べるのは、面白くない
    It’s not interesting to eat same thing every day.

Even when substituting 「の」 for a noun, you still need the 「な」 to modify the noun when a na-adjective is being used.

  • 静か部屋が、アリスの部屋だ。
    Quiet room is room of Alice.


  • 静かのが、アリスの部屋だ。
    Quiet one is room of Alice.

*Warning: This may make things seem like you can replace any arbitrary nouns with 「の」 but this is not so. It is important to realize that the sentence must be about the clause and not the noun that was replaced. For example, in the last section we had the sentence, 「学生じゃないは、 学校行かない」. You may think that you can just replace 「」 with 「の」 to produce 「学生じゃないは、学校行かない」. But in fact, this makes no sense because the sentence is now about the clause “Is not student”. The sentence becomes, “The thing of not being student does not go to school” which is complete gibberish because not being a student is a state and it doesn’t make sense for a state to go anywhere much less school.

The 「の」 particle as explanation


  1. 今 【いま】 – now
  2. 忙しい 【いそが・しい】 (i-adj) – busy
  3. 学生 【がく・せい】 – student
  4. 飲む 【のむ】 – to drink
  5. どこ – where
  6. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) – to go
  7. 授業 【じゅ・ぎょう】 – class
  8. ある (u-verb) – to exist (inanimate)
  9. ううん – casual word for “no” (nah, uh-uh)
  10. その – that (abbr. of それの)
  11. 人 【ひと】 – person
  12. 買う 【か・う】 (u-verb) – to buy
  13. 先生 【せん・せい】 – teacher
  14. 朝ご飯 【あさ・ご・はん】 – breakfast
  15. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) – to eat
  16. どうして – why

The 「の」 particle attached at the end of the last clause of a sentence can also convey an explanatory tone to your sentence. For example, if someone asked you if you have time, you might respond, “The thing is I’m kind of busy right now.” The abstract generic noun of “the thing is…” can also be expressed with the 「の」 particle. This type of sentence has an embedded meaning that explains the reason(s) for something else.

The sentence would be expressed like so:

  • 忙しい
    The thing is that (I’m) busy now.

This sounds very soft and feminine. In fact, adult males will almost always add a declarative 「だ」 unless they want to sound cute for some reason.

  • 忙しいのだ
    The thing is that (I’m) busy now.

However, since the declarative 「だ」 cannot be used in a question, the same 「の」 in questions do not carry a feminine tone at all and is used by both males and females.

  • 忙しい
    Is it that (you) are busy now? (gender-neutral)

To express state-of-being, when the 「の」 particle is used to convey this explanatory tone, we need to add 「な」 to distinguish it from the 「の」 particle that simply means “of”.

  1. ジムのだ。
    It is of Jim. (It is Jim’s.)
  2. ジムのだ。
    It is Jim (with explanatory tone).

Besides this one case, everything else remains the same as before.

In actuality, while this type of explanatory tone is used all the time, 「のだ」 is usually substituted by 「んだ」. This is probably due to the fact that 「んだ」 is easier to say than 「のだ」. This grammar can have what seems like many different meanings because not only can it be used with all forms of adjectives, nouns, and verbs it itself can also be conjugated just like the state-of-being. A conjugation chart will show you what this means.

There’s really nothing new here. The first chart is just adding 「んだ」 (or 「なんだ」) to a conjugated verb, noun, or adjective. The second chart adds 「んだ」 (or 「なんだ」) to a non-conjugated verb, noun, adjective and then conjugates the 「だ」 part of 「んだ」 just like a regular state-of-being for nouns and na-adjectives. Just don’t forget to attach the 「な」 for nouns as well as na-adjectives.

「んだ」 attached to different conjugations (Substitute 「の」 or 「のだ」 for 「んだ」)
  Noun/Na-Adj Verb/I-Adj
Plain 学生なんだ 飲むんだ
Negative 学生じゃないんだ 飲まないんだ
Past 学生だったんだ 飲んだんだ
Past-Neg 学生じゃなかったんだ 飲まなかったんだ
「んだ」 is conjugated (Substitute 「の」 for 「ん」 and 「の」 or 「のだ」 for 「んだ」)
  Noun/Na-Adj Verb/I-Adj
Plain 学生なんだ 飲むんだ
Negative 学生なんじゃない 飲むんじゃない
Past 学生なんだった 飲むんだった
Past-Neg 学生なんじゃなかった 飲むんじゃなかった

I would say that the past and past-negative forms for noun/na-adjective in the second chart are almost never used (especially with 「の」) but they are presented for completeness.

The crucial difference between using the explanatory 「の」 and not using anything at all is that you are telling the listener, “Look, here’s the reason” as opposed to simply imparting new information. For example, if someone asked you, “Are you busy now?” you can simply answer, 「忙しい」. However, if someone asked you, “How come you can’t talk to me?” since you obviously have some explaining to do, you would answer, 「忙しいの」 or 「忙しいんだ」. This grammar is indispensable for seeking explanations in questions. For instance, if you want to ask, “Hey, isn’t it late?” you can’t just ask, 「遅くない?」 because that means, “It’s not late?” You need to indicate that you are seeking explanation in the form of 「遅いんじゃない?」.

Let’s see some examples of the types of situations where this grammar is used. The examples will have literal translation to make it easier to see how the meaning stays the same and carries over into what would be very different types of sentences in normal English. A more natural English translation is provided as well because the literal translations can get a bit convoluted.

Example 1

Alice: Where is it that (you) are going?

Bob: It is that (I) go to class.

Alice: Where are you going? (Seeking explanation)
Bob: I’m going to class. (Explanatory)

Example 2

Alice: Isn’t it that there is class now?

Bob: Now it is that there is no class.

Alice: Don’t you have class now? (Expecting that there is class)
Bob: No, there is no class now. (Explanatory)

Example 3

Alice: Isn’t it that there isn’t class now?

Bob: No, there is.

Alice: Don’t you not have class now? (Expecting that there is no class)
Bob: No, I do have class.

Example 4

Alice: Wasn’t it that that person was the one to buy?

Bob: No, it is that teacher is the one to buy.

Alice: Wasn’t that person going to buy? (Expecting that the person would buy)
Bob: No, the teacher is going to. (Explanatory)

Example 5

Alice: It is that breakfast wasn’t to eat.

Bob: Why?

Alice: Should not have eaten breakfast, you know. (Explaining that breakfast wasn’t to be eaten)
Bob: How come?

Don’t worry if you are thoroughly confused by now, we will see many more examples along the way. Once you get the sense of how everything works, it’s better to forget the English because the double and triple negatives can get quite confusing such as Example 3. However, in Japanese it is a perfectly normal expression, as you will begin to realize once you get accustomed to Japanese.

Relative Clauses and Sentence Order

Treating verbs and state-of-being like adjectives

Have you noticed how, many forms of verbs and the state-of-being conjugate in a similar manner to i-adjectives? Well, that is because, in a sense, they are adjectives. For example, consider the sentence: “The person who did not eat went to bank.” The “did not eat” describes the person and in Japanese, you can directly modify the noun ‘person’ with the clause ‘did not eat’ just like a regular adjective. This very simple realization will allow us to modify a noun with any arbitrary verb phrase!

Using state-of-being clauses as adjectives


  1. 国際 【こく・さい】 – international
  2. 教育 【きょう・いく】 – education
  3. センター – center
  4. 登場 【とう・じょう】 – entry (on stage)
  5. 人物 【じん・ぶつ】 – character
  6. 立入 【たち・いり】 – entering
  7. 禁止 【きん・し】 – prohibition, ban
  8. 学生 【がく・せい】 – student
  9. 人 【ひと】 – person
  10. 学校 【がっ・こう】 – school
  11. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) – to go
  12. 子供 【こ・ども】 – child
  13. 立派 【りっ・ぱ】 (na-adj) – fine, elegant
  14. 大人 【おとな】 – adult
  15. なる (u-verb) – to become
  16. 友達 【とも・だち】 – friend
  17. いい (i-adj) – good
  18. 先週 【せん・しゅう】 – last week
  19. 医者 【い・しゃ】 – doctor
  20. 仕事 【し・ごと】 – job
  21. 辞める 【や・める】 (ru-verb) – to quit

The negative, past, and negative past conjugations of verbs can be used just like adjectives to directly modify nouns. However, we cannot do this with the plain non-past state-of-being using 「だ」. (I told you this was a pain in the butt.) The language has particles for this purpose, which will be covered in the next section.

You cannot use 「だ」 to directly modify a noun with a noun
like you can with 「だった」、「じゃない」、and 「じゃなかった」.

You can, however, have a string of nouns placed together when they’re not meant to modify each other. For example, in a phrase such as “International Education Center” you can see that it is just a string of nouns without any grammatical modifications between them. It’s not an “Education Center that is International” or a “Center for International Education”, etc., it’s just “International Education Center”. In Japanese, you can express this as simply 「国際教育センタ」 (or 「センター」). You will see this chaining of nouns in many combinations. Sometimes a certain combination is so commonly used that it has almost become a separate word and is even listed as a separate entry in some dictionaries. Some examples include: 「登場人物」、「立入禁止」、or 「通勤手当」. If you have difficulties in figuring out where to separate the words, you can paste them into the WWWJDICs Translate Words in Japanese Text function and it’ll parse the words for you (most of the time).


Here are some examples of direct noun modifications with a conjugated noun clause. The noun clause has been highlighted.

  1. 学生じゃないは、学校行かない
    Person who is not student do not go to school.
  2. 子供だったアリスが立派大人なった
    The Alice that was a child became a fine adult.
  3. 友達じゃなかったアリスは、いい友達なった
    Alice who was not a friend, became a good friend.
  4. 先週医者だったボブは、仕事辞めた
    Bob who was a doctor last week quit his job.

Using relative verb clauses as adjectives


  1. 先週 【せん・しゅう】 – last week
  2. 映画 【えい・が】 – movie
  3. 見る 【み・る】 (ru-verb) – to see
  4. 人 【ひと】 – person
  5. 誰 【だれ】 – who
  6. いつも – always
  7. 勉強 【べん・きょう】 – study
  8. する (exception) – to do
  9. 赤い 【あか・い】 (i-adj) – red
  10. ズボン – pants
  11. 買う 【か・う】 (u-verb) – to buy
  12. 友達 【とも・だち】 – friend
  13. 晩ご飯 【ばん・ご・はん】 – dinner
  14. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) – to eat
  15. 銀行 【ぎん・こう】 – bank

Verbs clauses can also be used just like adjectives to modify nouns. The following examples show us how this will allow us to make quite detailed and complicated sentences. The verb clause is highlighted.


  1. 先週映画見た
    Who is person who watched movie last week?
  2. ボブは、いつも勉強するだ。
    Bob is a person who always studies.
  3. 赤いズボン買う友達はボブだ。
    Friend who buy red pants is Bob.
  4. 晩ご飯食べなかったは、映画見た銀行行った
    Person who did not eat dinner went to the bank she saw at movie.

Japanese Sentence Order


  1. 私 【わたし】 – me; myself; I
  2. 公園 【こう・えん】 – (public) park
  3. お弁当 【お・べん・とう】 – box lunch
  4. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) – to eat
  5. 学生 【がく・せい】 – student
  6. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) – to go

Now that we’ve learned the concept of relative clauses and how they are used as building blocks to make sentences, I can go over how Japanese sentence ordering works. There’s this myth that keeps floating around about Japanese sentence order that continues to plague many hapless beginners to Japanese. Here’s how it goes.

The most basic sentence structure in English can be described as consisting of the following elements in this specific order: [Subject] [Verb] [Object]. A sentence is not grammatically correct if any of those elements are missing or out of order.

Japanese students will tell you that Japanese, on the other hand, while frothing at the mouth, is completely backwards!! Even some Japanese teacher might tell you that the basic Japanese sentence order is [Subject] [Object] [Verb]. This is a classic example of trying to fit Japanese into an English-based type of thinking. Of course, we all know (right?) that the real order of the fundamental Japanese sentence is: [Verb]. Anything else that comes before the verb doesn’t have to come in any particular order and nothing more than the verb is required to make a complete sentence. In addition, the verb must always come at the end. That’s the whole point of even having particles so that they can identify what grammatical function a word serves no matter where it is in the sentence. In fact, nothing will stop us from making a sentence with [Object] [Subject] [Verb] or just [Object] [Verb]. The following sentences are all complete and correct because the verb is at the end of the sentence.

Grammatically complete and correctly ordered sentences

  1. 公園お弁当食べた
  2. 公園お弁当食べた
  3. お弁当公園食べた
  4. 弁当食べた
  5. 食べた

So don’t sweat over whether your sentence is in the correct order. Just remember the following rules.

Japanese sentence order

  • A complete sentence requires a main verb that must come at the end. This also includes the implied state-of-being.

    1. 食べた
    2. 学生(だ)
  • Complete sentences (relative clauses) can be used to modify nouns to make sentences with nested relative clauses except in the case of 「だ」.
    Student who ate lunch went to the park.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

In Japanese, sometimes there are two types of the same verb often referred to as transitive and intransitive verbs. The difference between the two is that one verb is an action done by an active agent while the other is something that occurs without a direct agent. In English, this is sometimes expressed with the same verb, such as: “The ball dropped” vs “I dropped the ball” but in Japanese it becomes 「ボールちた」 vs 「ボールとした」. Sometimes, the verbs changes when translated into English such as “To put it in the box” (入れる) vs “To enter the box” (入る) but this is only from the differences in the languages. If you think in Japanese, intransitive and transitive verbs have the same meaning except that one indicates that someone had a direct hand in the action (direct object) while the other does not. While knowing the terminology is not important, it is important to know which is which in order to use the correct particle for the correct verb.

Since the basic meaning and the kanji is the same, you can learn two verbs for the price of just one kanji! Let’s look at a sample list of intransitive and transitive verbs.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs
Transitive Intransitive
落とす to drop 落ちる to fall
出す to take out 出る to come out; to leave
入れる to insert 入る to enter
開ける to open 開く to be opened
閉める to close 閉まる to be closed
つける to attach つく to be attached
消す to erase 消える to disappear
抜く to extract 抜ける to be extracted

Pay attention to particles!

The important lesson to take away here is to learn how to use the correct particle for the correct type of verb. It might be difficult at first to grasp which is which when learning new verbs or whether there even is a transitive/intransitive distinction. If you’re not sure, you can always check whether a verb is transitive or intransitive by using an online dictionary such as


  1. 電気つけた
    I am the one that turned on the lights.
  2. 電気ついた
    The lights turned on.
  3. 電気消す
    Turn off the lights.
  4. 電気消える
    Lights turn off.
  5. 開けた
    Who opened the window?
  6. どうして開いた
    Why has the window opened?

The important thing to remember is that intransitive verbs cannot have a direct object because there is no direct acting agent. The following sentences are grammatically incorrect.

  1. 電気ついた
    (「を」 should be replaced with 「が」 or 「は」)
  2. 電気消える
    (「を」 should be replaced with 「が」 or 「は」)
  3. どうして開いた
    (「を」 should be replaced with 「が」 or 「は」)

The only time you can use the 「を」 particle for intransitive verbs is when a location is the direct object of a motion verb as briefly described in the previous section.

  1. 部屋出た
    I left room.

Particles used with verbs

In this section, we will learn some new particles essential for using verbs. We will learn how to specify the direct object of a verb and the location where a verb takes place whether it’s physical or abstract.

The direct object 「を」 particle


  1. 魚 【さかな】 – fish
  2. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) – to eat
  3. ジュース – juice
  4. 飲む 【の・む】 (u-verb) – to drink
  5. 街 【まち】 – town
  6. ぶらぶら – wandering; aimlessly
  7. 歩く 【ある・く】 (u-verb) – to walk
  8. 高速 【こう・そく】 – high-speed
  9. 道路 【どう・ろ】 – route
  10. 走る 【はし・る】 (u-verb) – to run
  11. 毎日 【まい・にち】 – everyday
  12. 日本語 【に・ほん・ご】 – Japanese (language)
  13. 勉強 【べん・きょう】 – study
  14. する (exception) – to do
  15. メールアドレス – email address
  16. 登録 【とう・ろく】 – register

The first particle we will learn is the object particle because it is a very straightforward particle. The 「を」 character is attached to the end of a word to signify that that word is the direct object of the verb. This character is essentially never used anywhere else. That is why the katakana equivalent 「ヲ」 is almost never used since particles are always written in hiragana. The 「を」 character, while technically pronounced as /wo/ essentially sounds like /o/ in real speech. Here are some examples of the direct object particle in action.


  1. 食べる
    Eat fish.
  2. ジュース飲んだ
    Drank juice.

Unlike the direct object we’re familiar with in English, places can also be the direct object of motion verbs such as 「歩く」 and 「走る」. Since the motion verb is done to the location, the concept of direct object is the same in Japanese. However, as you can see by the next examples, it often translates to something different in English due to the slight difference of the concept of direct object.

  1. ぶらぶら歩く
    Aimlessly walk through town. (Lit: Aimlessly walk town)
  2. 高速道路走る
    Run through expressway. (Lit: Run expressway)

When you use 「する」 with a noun, the 「を」 particle is optional and you can treat the whole [noun+する] as one verb.

  1. 毎日日本語勉強する
    Study Japanese everyday.
  2. メールアドレス登録した
    Registered email address.

The target 「に」 particle


  1. 日本 【に・ほん】 – Japan
  2. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) – to go
  3. 家 【1) うち; 2) いえ】 – 1) one’s own home; 2) house
  4. 帰る 【かえ・る】 (u-verb) – to go home
  5. 部屋 【へ・や】 – room
  6. 来る 【く・る】 (exception) – to come
  7. アメリカ – America
  8. 宿題 【しゅく・だい】 – homework
  9. 今日 【きょう】 – today
  10. 明日 【あした】 – tomorrow
  11. 猫 【ねこ】 – cat
  12. いる (ru-verb) – to exist (animate)
  13. いす – chair
  14. 台所 【だい・どころ】 – kitchen
  15. ある (u-verb) – to exist (inanimate)
  16. いい (i-adj) – good
  17. 友達 【とも・だち】 – friend
  18. 会う 【あう】 (u-verb) – to meet
  19. 医者 【い・しゃ】 – doctor
  20. なる (u-verb) – to become
  21. 先週 【せん・しゅう】 – last week
  22. 図書館 【と・しょ・かん】 – library
  23. 来年 【らい・ねん】 – next year

The 「に」 particle can specify a target of a verb. This is different from the 「を」 particle in which the verb does something to the direct object. With the 「に」 particle, the verb does something toward the word associated with the 「に」 particle. For example, the target of any motion verb is specified by the 「に」 particle.


  1. ボブは日本行った
    Bob went to Japan.
  2. 帰らない
    Not go back home.
  3. 部屋くる
    Come to room.

As you can see in the last example, the target particle always targets “to” rather than “from”. If you wanted to say, “come from” for example, you would need to use 「から」, which means “from”. If you used 「に」, it would instead mean “come to“. 「から」 is also often paired with 「まで」, which means “up to”.

  1. アリスは、アメリカからきた
    Alice came from America.
  2. 宿題今日から明日までする
    Will do homework from today to tomorrow.

The idea of a target in Japanese is very general and is not restricted to motion verbs. For example, the location of an object is defined as the target of the verb for existence (ある and いる). Time is also a common target. Here are some examples of non-motion verbs and their targets

  1. 部屋いる
    Cat is in room.
  2. いす台所あった
    Chair was in the kitchen.
  3. いい友達会った
    Met good friend.
  4. ジムは医者なる
    Jim will become doctor.
  5. 先週図書館行った
    Went to library last week.

Note: Don’t forget to use 「ある」 for inanimate objects such as the chair and 「いる」 for animate objects such as the cat.

While the 「に」 particle is not always required to indicate time, there is a slight difference in meaning between using the target particle and not using anything at all. In the following examples, the target particle makes the date a specific target emphasizing that the friend will go to Japan at that time. Without the particle, there is no special emphasis.

  1. 友達は、来年日本行く
    Next year, friend go to Japan.
  2. 友達は、来年日本行く
    Friend go to Japan next year.

The directional 「へ」 particle


  1. 日本 【に・ほん】 – Japan
  2. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) – to go
  3. 家 【1) うち; 2) いえ】 – 1) one’s own home; 2) house
  4. 帰る 【かえ・る】 (u-verb) – to go home
  5. 部屋 【へ・や】 – room
  6. 来る 【く・る】 (exception) – to come
  7. 医者 【い・しゃ】 – doctor
  8. なる (u-verb) – to become
  9. 勝ち 【か・ち】 – victory
  10. 向かう 【むか・う】 (u-verb) – to face; to go towards

While 「へ」 is normally pronounced /he/, when it is being used as a particle, it is always pronounced /e/ (え). The primary difference between the 「に」 and 「へ」 particle is that 「に」 goes to a target as the final, intended destination (both physical or abstract). The 「へ」 particle, on the other hand, is used to express the fact that one is setting out towards the direction of the target. As a result, it is only used with directional motion verbs. It also does not guarantee whether the target is the final intended destination, only that one is heading towards that direction. In other words, the 「に」 particle sticks to the destination while the 「へ」 particle is fuzzy about where one is ultimately headed. For example, if we choose to replace 「に」 with 「へ」 in the first three examples of the previous section, the nuance changes slightly.


  1. ボブは日本行った
    Bob headed towards Japan.
  2. 帰らない
    Not go home toward house.
  3. 部屋くる
    Come towards room.

Note that we cannot use the 「へ」 particle with verbs that have no physical direction. For example, the following is incorrect.

  • 医者なる
    (Grammatically incorrect version of 「医者なる」.)

This does not mean to say that 「へ」 cannot set out towards an abstract concept. In fact, because of the fuzzy directional meaning of this particle, the 「へ」 particle can also be used to talk about setting out towards certain future goals or expectations.

  • 勝ち向かう
    Go towards victory.

The contextual 「で」 particle


  1. 映画館 【えい・が・かん】 – movie theatre
  2. 見る 【み・る】 (ru-verb) – to see
  3. バス – bus
  4. 帰る 【かえ・る】 (u-verb) – to go home
  5. レストラン – restaurant
  6. 昼ご飯 【ひる・ご・はん】 – lunch
  7. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) – to eat
  8. 何 【なに/なん】 – what
  9. 暇 【ひま】 – free (as in not busy)

The 「で」 particle will allow us to specify the context in which the action is performed. For example, if a person ate a fish, where did he eat it? If a person went to school, by what means did she go? With what will you eat the soup? All of these questions can be answered with the 「で」 particle. Here are some examples.


  1. 映画館見た
    Saw at movie theater.
  2. バス帰る
    Go home by bus.
  3. レストラン昼ご飯食べた
    Ate lunch at restaurant.

It may help to think of 「で」 as meaning “by way of”. This way, the same meaning will kind of translate into what the sentence means. The examples will then read: “Saw by way of movie theater”, “Go home by way of bus”, and “Ate lunch by way of restaurant.”

Using 「で」 with 「

The word for “what” () is quite annoying because while it’s usually read as 「なに」, sometimes it is read as 「なん」 depending on how it’s used. And since it’s always written in Kanji, you can’t tell which it is. I would suggest sticking with 「なに」 until someone corrects you for when it should be 「なん」. With the 「で」 particle, it is read as 「なに」 as well. (Hold the mouse cursor over the word to check the reading.)

  1. きた
    Came by the way of what?
  2. バスきた
    Came by the way of bus.

Here’s the confusing part. There is a colloquial version of the word “why” that is used much more often than the less colloquial version 「どうして」 or the more forceful 「なぜ」. It is also written as 「何で」 but it is read as 「なんで」. This is a completely separate word and has nothing to do with the 「で」 particle.

  1. 何できた
    Why did you come?
  2. だから。
    Because I am free (as in have nothing to do).

The 「から」 here meaning “because” is different from the 「から」 we just learned and will be covered later in the compound sentence section. Basically the point is that the two sentences, while written the same way, are read differently and mean completely different things. Don’t worry. This causes less confusion than you think because 95% of the time, the latter is used rather than the former. And even when 「なにで」 is intended, the context will leave no mistake on which one is being used. Even in this short example snippet, you can tell which it is by looking at the answer to the question.

When location is the topic


  1. 学校 【がっ・こう】 – school
  2. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) – to go
  3. 図書館 【と・しょ・かん】 – library
  4. どこ – where
  5. イタリア – Italy
  6. レストラン – restaurant
  7. どう – how

There are times when the location of an action is also the topic of a sentence. You can attach the topic particle (「は」 and 「も」) to the three particles that indicate location (「に」、「へ」、「で」) when the location is the topic. We’ll see how location might become the topic in the following examples.

Example 1

Bob: (Did you) go to school?

Alice: Didn’t go.

Bob: What about library?

Alice: Also didn’t go to library.

In this example, Bob brings up a new topic (library) and so the location becomes the topic. The sentence is actually an abbreviated version of 「図書館には行った?」 which you can ascertain from the context.

Example 2

Bob: Eat where?

Alice: How about Italian restaurant?

Bob asks, “Where shall we eat?” and Alice suggests an Italian restaurant. A sentence like, “How about…” usually brings up a new topic because the person is suggesting something new. In this case, the location (restaurant) is being suggested so it becomes the topic.

When direct object is the topic


  1. 日本語 【に・ほん・ご】 – Japanese (language)
  2. 習う 【なら・う】 (u-verb) – to learn

The direct object particle is different from particles related to location in that you cannot use any other particles at the same time. For example, going by the previous section, you might have guessed that you can say 「をは」 to express a direct object that is also the topic but this is not the case. A topic can be a direct object without using the 「を」 particle. In fact, putting the 「を」 particle in will make it wrong.


  1. 日本語習う
    Learn Japanese.
  2. 日本語習う
    About Japanese, (will) learn it.

Please take care to not make this mistake.

  • 日本語をは習う
    (This is incorrect.)

Past Verb Practice Exercises

Vocabulary used in this section

This is the same list of verbs from the previous practice exercise with a couple additions. We will use mostly the same verbs from the last exercise to practice conjugating to the past and the past negative tense.

I have listed the kanji you will need for the vocabulary for your convenience. The link will take you to a diagram of the stroke order. I recommend practicing the kanji in the context of real words (such as the ones below).

  1. – story
  2. – see
  3. – come; next
  4. – go; conduct
  5. – go home
  6. – eat; food
  7. – drink
  8. – buy
  9. – sell
  10. – hold
  11. – wait
  12. – read
  13. – walk
  14. – run
  15. – play
  16. – swim
  17. – death

Here is a list of some common verbs you will definitely want to learn at some point.

  1. する – to do
  2. しゃべる – to talk; to chat
  3. 話す【はなす】 – to talk
  4. 見る【みる】 – to see
  5. 来る【くる】 – to come
  6. 行く【いく】 – to go
  7. 帰る 【かえる】 – to go home
  8. 食べる 【たべる】 – to eat
  9. 飲む 【のむ】 – to drink
  10. 買う 【かう】 – to buy
  11. 売る 【うる】 – to sell
  12. 切る 【きる】 – to cut
  13. 入る 【はいる】 – to enter
  14. 出る 【でる】 – to come out
  15. 持つ 【もつ】 – to hold
  16. 待つ 【まつ】 – to wait
  17. 書く【かく】 – to write
  18. 読む 【よむ】 – to read
  19. 歩く 【あるく】 – to walk
  20. 走る 【はしる】 – to run
  21. 遊ぶ 【あそぶ】 – to play
  22. 泳ぐ 【およぐ】 – to swim
  23. 死ぬ 【しぬ】 – to die

Practice with Past Verb Conjugations

We learned how to classify the following verbs in the first verb practice exercise. Now, we are going to put that knowledge to use by conjugating the same verbs into the past tense depending on which type of verb it is. The first answer has been given as an example.

verb past tense
出る 出た
行く 行った
する した
買う 買った
売る 売った
食べる 食べた
入る 入った
来る きた
飲む 飲んだ
しゃべる しゃべった
見る 見た
切る 切った
帰る 帰った
書く 書いた
待つ 待った
話す 話した
泳ぐ 泳いだ
死ぬ 死んだ

Practice with Past Negative Verb Conjugations

Now, we are going to do the same thing for the past negative verb conjugations.

verb past negative tense
出る 出なかった
行く 行かなかった
する しなかった
買う 買わなかった
売る 売らなかった
食べる 食べなかった
入る 入らなかった
来る こなかった
飲む 飲まなかった
しゃべる しゃべらなかった
見る 見なかった
切る 切らなかった
帰る 帰らなかった
書く 書かなかった
待つ 待たなかった
話す 話さなかった
泳ぐ 泳がなかった
死ぬ 死ななかった