Japanese From Zero (Part 5)

The following is an unedited post created on our Tumblr page. You may find the original here.

“What? I thought you said we were done?” Well, we’re almost done. This is the end. I promise. It’s just that we didn’t cover a couple of important forms and the Japanese copulas; and they are very important.

Desiderative Form
(It expresses personal desire)

This is a very easy verb form. The ending is -tai. That’s it.


Tabe + -tai = Tabetai
Nomi + -tai = Nomitai

Note that its standalone functions are somewhat limited. It’s a form that, by itself, can only refer to the first person. “Tabetai” can only refer to the speaker’s desire to eat.

Hortative Form
(It expresses an invitation to do something. In English, we see it in the expression, “Let’s X” where X is a verb.)

This is also very easy. The ending is -mashou.


Tabe + -mashou = Tabemashou
Nomi + -mashou = Nomimashou

Now, I’m actually lying a little bit. But I’m at least telling you straight up. This is really the Volitional Form of a respectful suffix, which we’re going to talk about right now. However, it’s so commonly used that it has become, for all intents and purposes, the Hortative Form.


Japanese has something called Keigo, which means Respectful Language. Keigo is divided into three classes: Teineigo, Kenjougo, and Sonkeigo. Kenjougo and Sonkeigo have both affixes (prefixes and suffixes) and special words used when referring to someone one must treat with deference. It’s a tad complicated– and we’ll get there when we get there– and we don’t have to worry about it right now. Teineigo exists only in main verbs of Japanese sentences and denotes general politeness, so one does not have to worry about where one’s interlocutor stands on the social ladder or anything like that.

The suffix for Teineigo is…. -masu.

So all those textbook verbs: tabemasu, nomimasu, norimasu, shimasu, they all have the Teineigo suffix and so are conjugated for politeness.

That ending -su is what gets further conjugated for the time and affirmation/negation. It does not take any other conjugations except volitional, as we spoke of in the Hortative Form.

Teineigo Present/Future Affirmative: -masu
Teineigo Present/Future Negative: –masen
Teineigo Past Affirmative: -mashita
Teineigo Past Negative: -masen deshita

The negative tense, as you see, has a irregular conjugation. It should be memorized, because it’s something one will see often. But it’s also something that’s good to understand.
In certain Japanese dialects, one will see the -e as the negative suffix, with a “nominalizer” -n added to it. (We’ll talk about what -n does eventually because it’s very popular.) The Kansai dialect, which anime fans will recognize because most anime have at least one character from Osaka or somewhere in the region, has the -hen negative suffix, which is very close to -en. Because the verb has had a “nominalizer” suffix added to it, the whole verb phrase is considered a verb. Then the copula (which must also be in Teineigo) will denote time. So “deshita”, with its -ta suffix, is denoting the past. (“-masen desu” is not generally said but not beyond all possibility either.)


Japanese has three copulas:


(Da comes from Early Modern Japanese’s “Dearu”, where “Dearu” behaved just like “aru”. But now things are different and it acts a bit differently.)

Although there are three copulas, they don’t work in the same way. Instead of explaining the differences, which are many and can be technical, I’d like to just show you the difference:

X ga aru= There is an X
X ga iru= There is an X
X da= It is X

So the big difference, really, is that Aru and Iru are more existential while Da is more descriptive.
Aru and Iru work in the same way except in that Aru accompanies nouns that are not animate (or their animation is not particularly important) while Iru accompanies things that are animate.

Aru is a -u verb, Iru is a -ru verb. These act pretty regularly. And Da is a verb that since it was made by blending things acts very strangely. You’ll note it’s the only verb that ends in an /a/.

Instead of listing off the conjugations of Da, I’ll link you to Japanese Professor, where you can see a pretty table with the conjugations with some explanation. (There you’ll see that “desu” is a Teineigo version of Da) I’ll also provide links for the conjugations for Aru and Iru, which should be studied as well. (In the Iru page, you’ll see lots Kanji, ignore them because Iru is a regular verb and all you need to follow if the first paradigm with just hiragana, so いる).


Suru is our verb meaning “to do”. It is irregular as well. I’ll be providing a link to a paradigm so that you can see the conjugations.

It would be regular of its dictionary form, the present affirmative, was “Shiru”, with it being a -ru verb. So the only thing making it irregular is the present affirmative. I’m not exactly sure why this is the case. It could be that Suru was once Shiru but then got turned into Suru because there are already many other verbs that are Shiru (like “to know”)

Kuru and Iku

Kuru means “to come” and Iku means “to go”. Kuru has the same issue with Suru where the stem is very small and that /u/ turns into an /i/ at many points. However, that /u/ will also sometimes turn into an /o/, making it more irregular. (For the paradigm of Kuru, like with Suru, keep to the first one. Kuru is a homophone to another verb meaning “to turn [pages]”, which is completely regular.) The only think irregular about Iku is its -Te and Past Affirmative forms, which are Itte/Itta instead of Iite/iita.

Periphrastic Progressive Aspect

Periphrastic means that it requires a certain construction rather than a certain conjugation. In plainer terms, it means you need some extra words to get to a certain meaning.

Progressive Aspect is the difference between “He ran.” and “He was running.”, the latter having progressive aspect.

In Japanese, the progressive aspect helps keep verbs explicitly in the present, rather than in the future, and helps create an imperfect tense instead of a perfect tense in the past. Here’s what I mean by that:

The construction is Te-Form Verb + Iru

Taberu= [he/she] eats/ [he/she] will eat
Tabete Iru= [he/she] is eating

The ambiguity of present or future leaves with progressive aspect.

Tabeta= [he/she] ate
Tabete Ita= [he/she] was eating

With the progressive aspect, we have a dimension of movement that does not exist in the simple past, which functions like a perfect tense verb (have X’ed).

In these constructions, the verb Iru is the main verb and takes conjugations for tense (as we have seen) and for affirmation/negation as needed. (And it can take the Teineigo suffix if needed as well, of course)

Periphrastic Polite Imperative

I’m only adding this because it’s so popular and you’ve probably heard it already.

There is a verb: Kudasaru, which is the Sonkeigo version of “to give” (otherwise known as “kureru”. When paired in its stem form, “Kudasai” with a verb X in the Te Form, we get the phrase “Please X”

Tabete Kudasai= Please Eat
Nonde Kudasai= Please Drink
Shinde Kudasai= Please Die
Itte Kudadasai= Please Go
Matte Kudasai= Please Wait

You get the idea.

Now we’re done. No more. Those are the basics. Everything else we’ll pick up bit by bit, filling in the gaps. It’s a lot, I know. But we’re going to be revisiting all of this. So don’t worry.