LearnJapanese Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese





Past Tense

Posted by Tae Kim

We will finish defining all the basic properties of verbs by learning how to express the past and past-negative tense of actions. I will warn you in advance that the conjugation rules in this section will be the most complex rules you will learn in all of Japanese. On the one hand, once you have this section nailed, all other rules of conjugation will seem simple. On the other hand, you might need to refer back to this section many times before you finally get all the rules. You will probably need a great deal of practice until you can become familiar with all the different conjugations.

Past tense for ru-verbs

Vocabulary

  1. 出る 【で・る】 (ru-verb) - to come out
  2. 捨てる 【す・てる】 (ru-verb) - to throw away
  3. ご飯 【ご・はん】 - rice; meal
  4. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) - to eat
  5. 映画 【えい・が】 - movie
  6. 全部 【ぜん・ぶ】 - everything
  7. 見る 【み・る】 (ru-verb) - to see

We will start off with the easy ru-verb category. To change a ru-verb from the dictionary form into the past tense, you simply drop the 「る」 and add 「た」.

To change ru-verbs into the past tense
  • Drop the 「る」 part of the ru-verb and add 「た」
    Examples
    1. 捨て捨て

Examples

  1. ご飯は、食べた
    As for meal, ate.
  2. 映画は、全部見た
    As for movie, saw them all.

Past tense for u-verbs

Vocabulary

  1. 話す 【はな・す】 (u-verb) - to speak
  2. 書く 【か・く】 (u-verb) - to write
  3. 泳ぐ 【およ・ぐ】 (u-verb) - to swim
  4. 飲む 【の・む】 (u-verb) - to drink
  5. 遊ぶ 【あそ・ぶ】 (u-verb) - to play
  6. 死ぬ 【し・ぬ】 (u-verb) - to die
  7. 切る 【き・る】 (u-verb) - to cut
  8. 買う 【か・う】 (u-verb) - to buy
  9. 持つ 【も・つ】 (u-verb) - to hold
  10. する (exception) - to do
  11. 来る 【く・る】 (exception) - to come
  12. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) - to go
  13. 今日 【きょう】 - today
  14. 走る 【はし・る】 (u-verb) - to run
  15. 友達 【とも・だち】 - friend
  16. 私 【わたし】 - me, myself, I
  17. 勉強 【べん・きょう】 - study

Changing a u-verb from dictionary form to the past tense is difficult because we must break up u-verbs into four additional categories. These four categories depend on the last character of the verb. The table below illustrates the different sub-categories. In addition, there is one exception to the rules, which is the verb 「行く」. I've bundled it with the regular exception verbs 「する」 and 「来る」 even though 「行く」 is a regular u-verb in all other conjugations.

Past tense conjugations for u-verbs
Ending Non-Past changes to... Past
す→した した


く→いた
ぐ→いだ
いた
いだ




む→んだ
ぶ→んだ
ぬ→んだ
んだ
んだ
んだ




る→った
う→った
つ→った
った
った
った
      
Exceptions
Non-Past Past
する
くる
行く った*

* exceptions particular to this conjugation

Examples

  1. 今日は、走った
    As for today, ran.
  2. 友達来た
    Friend is the one that came.
  3. 遊んだ
    I also played.
  4. 勉強は、した
    About study, did it.

Past-negative tense for all verbs

Vocabulary

  1. 捨てる 【す・てる】 (ru-verb) - to throw away
  2. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) - to go
  3. 食べる 【たべ・る】 (ru-verb) - to eat
  4. する (exception) - to do
  5. お金 【お・かね】 - money
  6. ある (u-verb) - to exist (inanimate)
  7. 私 【わたし】 - me, myself, I
  8. 買う 【か・う】 (u-verb) - to buy
  9. 猫 【ねこ】 - cat
  10. いる (ru-verb) - to exist (animate)

The conjugation rules for the past-negative tense are the same for all verbs. You might have noticed that the negative of just about everything always end in 「ない」. The conjugation rule for the past-negative tense of verbs is pretty much the same as all the other negatives that end in 「ない」. You simply take the negative of any verb, remove the 「い」 from the 「ない」 ending, and replace it with 「かった」.

To change verbs into the past-negative tense
  • Change the verb to the negative and replace the 「い」 with 「かった」
    Examples
    1. 捨て捨てな捨てなかった
    2. 行かな行かなかった

Examples

  1. アリスは食べなかった
    As for Alice, did not eat.
  2. ジムがしなかった
    Jim is the one that did not do.
  3. ボブも行かなかった
    Bob also did not go.
  4. お金なかった
    There was no money. (lit: As for money, did not exist.)
  5. 買わなかった
    As for me, did not buy.
  6. いなかった
    There was no cat. (lit: As for cat, did not exist.)