LearnJapanese Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese





Verb Basics

Posted by Tae Kim

Role of Verbs

Vocabulary

  1. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) - to eat
  2. 分かる 【わ・かる】 (u-verb) - to understand
  3. 見る 【み・る】 (ru-verb) - to see
  4. 寝る 【ね・る】 (ru-verb) - to sleep
  5. 起きる 【お・きる】 (ru-verb) - to wake; to occur
  6. 考える 【かんが・える】 (ru-verb) - to think
  7. 教える 【おし・える】 (ru-verb) - to teach; to inform
  8. 出る 【で・る】 (ru-verb) - to come out
  9. いる (ru-verb) - to exist (animate)
  10. 着る 【き・る】 (ru-verb) - to wear
  11. 話す 【はな・す】 (u-verb) - to speak
  12. 聞く 【き・く】 (u-verb) - to ask; to listen
  13. 泳ぐ 【およ・ぐ】 (u-verb) - to swim
  14. 遊ぶ 【あそ・ぶ】 (u-verb) - to play
  15. 待つ 【ま・つ】 (u-verb) - to wait
  16. 飲む 【の・む】 (u-verb) - to drink
  17. 買う 【か・う】 (u-verb) - to buy
  18. ある (u-verb) - to exist (inanimate)
  19. 死ぬ 【し・ぬ】 (u-verb) - to die
  20. する (exception) - to do
  21. 来る 【く・る】 (exception) - to come
  22. お金 【お・かね】 - money
  23. 私 【わたし】 - me, myself, I
  24. 猫 【ねこ】 - cat

We've now learned how to describe nouns in various ways with other nouns and adjectives. This gives us quite a bit of expressive power. However, we still cannot express actions. This is where verbs come in. Verbs, in Japanese, always come at the end of clauses. Since we have not yet learned how to create more than one clause, for now it means that any sentence with a verb must end with the verb. We will now learn the three main categories of verbs, which will allow us to define conjugation rules. Before learning about verbs, there is one important thing to keep in mind.

A grammatically complete sentence requires a verb only (including state-of-being).

Or to rephrase, unlike English, the only thing you need to make a grammatically complete sentence is a verb and nothing else! That's why even the simplest, most basic Japanese sentence cannot be translated into English!

A grammatically complete sentence:

  • 食べる
    Eat. (possible translations include: I eat/she eats/they eat)

Classifying verbs into ru-verbs and u-verbs

Before we can learn any verb conjugations, we first need to learn how verbs are categorized. With the exception of only two exception verbs, all verbs fall into the category of ru-verb or u-verb.

All ru-verbs end in 「る」 while u-verbs can end in a number of u-vowel sounds including 「る」. Therefore, if a verb does not end in 「る」, it will always be an u-verb. For verbs ending in 「る」, if the vowel sound preceding the 「る」 is an /a/, /u/ or /o/ vowel sound, it will always be an u-verb. Otherwise, if the preceding sound is an /i/ or /e/ vowel sound, it will be a ru-verb in most cases. A list of common exceptions are at the end of this section.

Examples

  1. 食べる - 「べ」 is an e-vowel sound so it is a ru-verb
  2. 分かる - 「か」 is an a-vowel sound so it is an u-verb

If you're unsure which category a verb falls in, you can verify which kind it is with most dictionaries. There are only two exception verbs that are neither ru-verbs nor u-verbs as shown in the table below.

Examples of different verb types
ru-verb u-verb exception
見る 話す する
食べる 聞く 来る
寝る 泳ぐ
起きる 遊ぶ
考える 待つ
教える 飲む
出る 買う
いる ある
着る 死ぬ

Examples

Here are some example sentences using ru-verbs, u-verbs, and exception verbs.

  1. アリスは食べる
    As for Alice, eat.
  2. ジムが来る
    Jim is the one that comes.
  3. ボブもする
    Bob also do.
  4. お金ある
    There is money. (lit: Money is the thing that exists.)
  5. 買う
    As for me, buy.
  6. いる
    There is cat. (lit: As for cat, it exists.)

Appendix: iru/eru u-verbs

Vocabulary

  1. 要る 【い・る】 (u-verb) - to need
  2. 帰る 【かえ・る】 (u-verb) - to go home
  3. 切る 【き・る】 (u-verb) - to cut
  4. しゃべる (u-verb) - to talk
  5. 知る 【し・る】 (u-verb) - to know
  6. 入る 【はい・る】 (u-verb) - to enter
  7. 走る 【はし・る】 (u-verb) - to run
  8. 減る 【へ・る】 (u-verb) - to decrease
  9. 焦る 【あせ・る】 (u-verb) - to be in a hurry
  10. 限る 【かぎ・る】 (u-verb) - to limit
  11. 蹴る 【け・る】 (u-verb) - to kick
  12. 滑る 【すべ・る】 (u-verb) - to be slippery
  13. 握る 【にぎ・る】 (u-verb) - to grasp
  14. 練る 【ね・る】 (u-verb) - to knead
  15. 参る 【まい・る】 (u-verb) - to go; to come
  16. 交じる 【まじ・る】 (u-verb) - to mingle
  17. 嘲る 【あざけ・る】 (u-verb) - to ridicule
  18. 覆る 【くつがえ・る】 (u-verb) - to overturn
  19. 遮る 【さえぎ・る】 (u-verb) - to interrupt
  20. 罵る 【ののし・る】 (u-verb) - to abuse verbally
  21. 捻る 【ひね・る】 (u-verb) - to twist
  22. 翻る 【ひるが・える】 (u-verb) - to turn over; to wave
  23. 滅入る 【めい・る】 (u-verb) - to feel depressed
  24. 蘇る 【よみがえ・る】 (u-verb) - to be resurrected

Below is a list of u-verbs with a preceding vowel sound of /i/ or /e/ ("iru" or "eru" sound endings). The list is not comprehensive but it does include many of the more common verbs categorized roughly into three levels.

iru/eru u-verbs grouped (roughly) by level
Basic Intermediate Advanced
要る 焦る 嘲る
帰る 限る 覆る
切る 蹴る 遮る
しゃべる 滑る 罵る
知る 握る 捻る
入る 練る 翻る
走る 参る 滅入る
減る 交じる 蘇る