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[personal profile] karanguni

  • Get a general sense of how verb conjugation works: stem + modifier
  • Learn the difference between ichidan and godan verbs
  • Drill a lot

By this point, you've probably struggle-boated through a lot of dictionary lookups and attempts at translating with no ropes. Now for grammar! It's a little backwards to have got you working on real texts before bringing in any actual ability to parse them, but in this case I think reading over constructions first helps: you've done the dirty work, and the bricks-and-mortar will (hopefully) come along more easily for it. Less fear of reading "real stuff" and more actually reading it and coping with uncertainty around what's still unknown.

So onwards!

Advanced warning that most of this post is exploratory: I'm going to talk a bit about Japanese verbs in general before ever touching something concrete. It's all going to be very far from what you'll get in most English textbooks and grammars.

My hope is that what this post will do is give anyone reading a starting point into the grammar that is grounded on the 五十音 table. We'll work from the top down, going by sound as opposed to tenses and verb forms.

P.S: this is all also in the google doc from the previous lesson.

On Verbs

Luckily for all involved, Japanese is fairly easy to read because verbs are - with a few, notable exceptions - incredibly regular. Once you conquer verbs, particles, auxiliary stuff, and nouns will fall like dominos.

Because they're so regular, they're also fun to drill and easy to look up. I'm going to lay out a lot of information, but in a way that's a little bit closer to the way it's taught natively than what you'll see in textbooks.

English language textbooks are going to, by and large, start out with the Big Few Irregular Verbs - する (to do) ・ ある (to exist - inanimate) ・くる(to come) ・だ (to be, is). They're irregular because they don't conjugate the way all other verbs do.
That's well and good: those verbs are incredibly common and important. But, I figure, if you're going to spend time learning grammar - learn the standards. So we're going to treat the exceptions as things, like kana, to be Blindly Memorised. Because they are! We'll cover them next lesson.

Regular Verbs - ichidan and godan

In the meantime, we're going to start with the two types of regular verbs: 一段(いち・だん) and 五段(ご・だん). The いち one and ご five are significant: 一段 verbs have a single, unchanging stem that's used in all conjugations. 五段 verbs have stems that require mutation in order to achieve different conjugations.

Let's see what this means in a table...

Conjugated Form of...

Ichidan たべる To eat

Godan いく To go


















That a - i - u - e - o line sure looks familiar, don't it?

  • Ichidan verbs have a stem that doesn't change when conjugated. They often end in る, which is why some English textbooks refer to them as -ru verbs.
  • Godan verbs do require a stem change, and step through the five vowel sounds to do so. English textbooks call these -u verbs because of that.

I'm going to stay away from the -ru and -u verb terminology because it makes not much sense. For one, some godan verbs end in -ru anyway! For another, what does -u mean? Nothing.

Q: How do I tell if something's ichidan or godan?

A: Practice and exposure. When you see ~いる or ~える, it's likely to be ichidan. Other than that, it's a matter of listening and reading a lot. Plenty of guides out there offer means and ways to help.

Sidenote: What The Hell Is This Table, K

The table lays out ways of getting a verb into a verb form. Japanese conjugates and agglutinates to do what it does. If you've done a classical language, this is all going to be pretty familiar. Take a stem, modify it a bit, throw some stuff on it, boom.

I'm going to lay out grammar based on the table because there are plenty of resources out there for when you want to learn precisely how to get to a particular verb form you're interested in. It's really good for two things in particular:
  • It builds on the 五十音;
  • It covers a bunch of the common verb forms;
  • It reminds us that there are more to verbs than just tense!
  • It reminds us that Japanese has a plain (dictionary) form and a polite form.

Sidenote: Dictionary versus Polite Form?!

Yup! Japanese comes in flavours. Plain, dictionary Japanese conjugates one way, polite Japanese in another. There's no real English equivalent. It's exactly what it says on the tin: a difference in formality and style with just some grammar to spice it up. There's more to it, but we don't need to worry about it for now.

Gotta Start Somewhere: Negative + Negative Past

Let's start with the top, あ-sound row of the table and practice negation. We'll get the most bang for your buck by practicing both plain and polite forms. This is a good time to just drill like a drone and memorise the sounds.


行く (い・く) To go





To not go



Negative past

Did not go



Dictionary Form

  • Negative: あ stem + ~ない

  • Negative past: あ stem  + ~なかった

Polite Form

  • Negative: い stem + ません

  • Negative past: い stem + ませんでした


う line verbs conjugate わ・い・う・え・お and not あ・い・う・え・お






  • 言う(い・う)

  • 起こる(お・こる)


食べる (た・べる) To eat





To not eat



Negative past

Did not eat



Ichidan verbs are even easier. Since the stem never changes, just take the stem (all you have to do is drop the る) and stick on the conjugation.

Dictionary Form

  • Negative: stem + ~ない

  • Negative past: stem  + ~なかった

Polite Form

  • Negative: stem + ません

  • Negative past: stem + ませんでした


  • いる

  • できる

  • 癒える(い・える)

All practice verbs come from either the song or the passage you picked! You'll notice there aren't many from your passage - that's because formal Japanese (moar polite! moar polite than polite Japanese!) has a whole different set of special-use verbs and conjugations. It's why I picked a song - it's easier to find actual examples of beginner grammar.

Drilling Practice

Pick as many as you want to drill from https://nihongoichiban.com/2011/08/21/list-of-all-verbs-for-the-jlpt-n5/ and practice.

Try to practice the whole range of sounds for godan verbs. For example:

  • - to meet

  • - to open

  • - to take out/to hand in

  • - to stand

  • - to die

  • - to live/to reside at

Most of all, let me know if this isn't helpful or is just plain confusing. It might function better as something supplementary to what's in regular textbooks!

As usual, feel free to ask all the things or post progress in the comments.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-20 11:41 pm (UTC)
yhlee: a sewer cover in Kyoto (I am not making this up) (Kyoto)
From: [personal profile] yhlee
BLESS YOU your explanation of 一段 vs. 五段 in terms of stems--and the whole a i u e o thing--makes SO much more sense than all the -ru vs. -u tables I have been exposed to! I feel like kicking a whole assload of textbooks, is what. YOU ROCK. :D

Korean is also agglutinative, thank God. :p

I was exposed to polite verb -ます、-増した、-ません、-ませんでした in a Japanese teach-yourself book that had everything in romaji so at least I know those forms by ear, ha. (Sorry if my spacing is wonky, BTW--I don't have a real good sense of how spacing works in Japanese writing.)

So, to practice 五段:



And for 一段 practice:




I am not at all sure I have this right so if I have done something HILARIOUSLY AWFUL with the stems, er...yeah!

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-20 11:49 pm (UTC)
yhlee: a sewer cover in Kyoto (I am not making this up) (Kyoto)
From: [personal profile] yhlee
Q: How do I tell if something's ichidan or godan?
A: Practice and exposure. When you see ~いる or ~える, it's likely to be ichidan.

I have maybe a weird question--I'm noticing that い and え are both front vowels. Does the 一段 vs. 五段 conjugation difference have any backstory at all having to do with vowel harmony? I taught myself WEE TINY BABY STEPS of Turkish (Türkçe) back in college because I was interested in vowel harmony, which Turkish has rather a lot of, and I think it's one of the things that Altaic languages are known for, although I don't know where you come down on the "which language families to Korean and/or Japanese belong to???" debate. Just curious!

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-25 09:35 pm (UTC)
chagrined: Marvel comics: zombie!Spider-Man, holding playing cards, saying "Brains?" (brains?)
From: [personal profile] chagrined
Hopping into this thread! (Maybe this will be helpful?) I thought I remembered something about telling apart 一段 & 五段 verbs ending in いる・える and looked it up to double-check. And apparently the thing I vaguely remembered was that if written in kanji, the -e or -i part of the verb is "contained" in the kanji for (most?) 五段 verbs, but it's written after the kanji in kana for 一段 verbs.

So for example 走る (はしる) is 五段, vs 食べる (たべる) 一段. Though this doesn't work for 一段 verbs that have a 1-syllable stem. And I think I remember there being at least one exception for the 五段 verbs?? But karanguni would probably know much better than me haha.

This isn't really helpful when you're listening to Japanese though, haha. Or if someone chose to write a verb in kana instead even though it's normally written in kanji. (I feel like I've noticed this a lot on twitter from Japanese artists I follow, heh. Maybe it's because twitter or texting or other things like that are meant to more emulate the feeling of speech and so even if a word would normally be written in kanji people may either not bother or may intentionally want it in kana instead? To emphasize the sounds as if it's speech? THIS IS TTLY WILD POSTULATING LOL)

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-25 09:39 pm (UTC)
yhlee: a sewer cover in Kyoto (I am not making this up) (Kyoto)
From: [personal profile] yhlee
Oh, that's really fascinating! I have just been mechanically looking up verbs written in kanji on jisho.org to double-check whether they're 一段 or 五段, which is, er, not ideal, but I figure as a beginner I'm going to lean on resources like that for a while. (I've never taken a formal Japanese class.)

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-25 09:51 pm (UTC)
chagrined: chihaya smiling (chihaya smile)
From: [personal profile] chagrined
Nor I! Haha I've been trying to self-study for the past couple of years. I keep starting and then falling off the wagon after a couple of months and then starting over a while later, and these posts have inspired me to try to re-start again, so maybe I can keep it going this time. :) At least each time I have restarted I've remembered a little more from the previous time and gotten a little bit further in my attempts, haha.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-25 09:55 pm (UTC)
yhlee: a sewer cover in Kyoto (I am not making this up) (Kyoto)
From: [personal profile] yhlee
That's really cool! I've done similar (except I didn't get as far as you did, not least because kanji kicked my ass). I'm hoping that the ability to actually interact with people and learn from more sensible explanations (as opposed to unhelpful all-romaji texts, etc.) will make a difference this time. =)

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-25 10:21 pm (UTC)
chagrined: chihaya smiling (chihaya smile)
From: [personal profile] chagrined
Yeah, studying/interacting with people really helps me too! Before my last time falling off the studying wagon I was using this phone app HelloTalk that helps you easily find people to chat with in other languages at varying levels and it was so great?? I had tried using the website lang-8 as well but somehow it was always more intimidating. Like, for a blog post I felt like I really had to write a whole cohesive essay or something. But on HelloTalk I could just have shorter conversational exchanges and I could always use a mix of English/Japanese if I needed to without feeling as guilty about it. Or challenge myself by seeking out people whose English levels were super low who only spoke Japanese to me and trying to do the same with them haha. AND you can send voice messages as well. Anyway, it was pretty cool. I'd like to get back to that level again. I've been dipping my toe in the water lately by conversing slightly with some twitter artists in Japanese haha.

I saw you mentioned Heisig for kanji! IDK if you're interested (or if you've already heard of it) but I'll do a mini-plug for the kanji book I've found most helpful haha, Henshall's "A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters." I had checked some other book (I don't remember its title) out from my library that purported to give the actual etymology of characters, which I thought was SUPER COOL, but a Japanese-fluent friend of mine told me the book I had was not correct, but then recced me Henshall. So instead of Heisig's focus on like, simple mneumonics, this book gives a pretty detailed etymological history for each character. It has mneumonics too but frankly they're often pretty bad. And the calligraphy is pretty bad too lmao. YET FOR ME IT'S THE BEST AT MAKING KANJI INTERESTING?? Because I guess I am the kind of person who gets interested in the hows/whys of grammar and etymology and stuff like that. So having a more academic history of each character's development actually makes it interesting/fun and more likely for me to remember shit. I will always remember that 追 (chase/pursue) combines movement + buttocks, so it's literally like, chasing a butt, lmao. (Of course I still have to combine it with flashcard drilling haha.) Anyway. I think my method DEFINITELY wouldn't be for everyone and Heisig's mneumonics are way superior as actual mneumonics from what I hear. But just in case this might be up your alley too and maybe you haven't heard of this book, thought I'd mention it! :D

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-25 11:08 pm (UTC)
yhlee: a sewer cover in Kyoto (I am not making this up) (Kyoto)
From: [personal profile] yhlee
No, I hadn't heard of Henshall! I like etymology so I will look into it when I have some budget to spare, haha. :) I've been using WaniKani for kanji and finding the weird-ass mnemonics semi-helpful, but I'm not real visual so it's always going to be a struggle. Thanks for the rec!

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-21 12:00 am (UTC)
yhlee: wax seal (Default)
From: [personal profile] yhlee
Actually, I think I had this wrong???


Maybe it should instead be

I feel like I have seen/heard something going on to deal with the plain vowel in this verb but have no idea, because just plain 言あない sounds wrong and I could have sworn that I've heard 言わない in anime?

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-22 12:47 am (UTC)
yhlee: a sewer cover in Kyoto (I am not making this up) (Kyoto)
From: [personal profile] yhlee
Ah, gotcha. Thank you!

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-22 12:47 am (UTC)
yhlee: a sewer cover in Kyoto (I am not making this up) (Kyoto)
From: [personal profile] yhlee
Ohhhhh, wait, I see what I did wrong. *blush* Let me try again!


...is that better? Or did I get confused again?

And a little more drill...

Date: 2017-01-22 01:08 am (UTC)
yhlee: a sewer cover in Kyoto (I am not making this up) (Kyoto)
From: [personal profile] yhlee
洗う (to wash)

押す (to push)

咲く (to blossom)

出来る (to be able to do)

並ぶ (to form a line)

Okay, I stop for the moment...

starter drill

Date: 2017-01-22 12:55 am (UTC)
yhlee: a sewer cover in Kyoto (I am not making this up) (Kyoto)
From: [personal profile] yhlee



だつ (I may need help with this one? I guessed it was godan but when I went to jisho.org to double-check all I could find was a bunch of noun listings plus something about -suru verbs, which I'm not sure what that is?)

しなない (this is going to look weird no matter what, unless the repeated sound collapses somehow...? when I looked at jisho.org it said that this was an irregular verb, but of course I don't know where it's irregular?)

Edited (additional questions) Date: 2017-01-22 01:16 am (UTC)

Re: starter drill

Date: 2017-01-30 09:32 pm (UTC)
swan_tower: The Long Room library at Trinity College, Dublin (Long Room)
From: [personal profile] swan_tower
Your confusion stems from a typo: it's たつ, not だつ.

Edit: also, no, the repeated sound doesn't collapse; it's しなない. Which I know because my sister and I say しなないで (don't die!) to each other whenever someone has a bad coughing fit or flops down in exhaustion.
Edited Date: 2017-01-30 09:33 pm (UTC)

Re: starter drill

Date: 2017-01-30 09:34 pm (UTC)
yhlee: a sewer cover in Kyoto (I am not making this up) (Kyoto)
From: [personal profile] yhlee
Thank you!

(man, I have no vocabulary...)

Re: starter drill

Date: 2017-01-30 09:35 pm (UTC)
yhlee: a sewer cover in Kyoto (I am not making this up) (Kyoto)
From: [personal profile] yhlee
Re: Edit: Thanks, that's good to know! I was a little worried because the jisho.org listing said that verb is irregular and I don't know where it's irregular yet, so it occurred to me as a possibility. Also because I made the mistake in my misspent youth of reading a textbook on historical linguistics and repeating sounds collapsing down seemed to be a thing.

Re: starter drill

Date: 2017-01-30 09:45 pm (UTC)
swan_tower: The Long Room library at Trinity College, Dublin (Long Room)
From: [personal profile] swan_tower
Collapsing does happen sometimes; あたたかい can be compressed to あったかい (especially, I think, in casual speech). But I don't know if there are any rules/guidelines for when it happens and when it doesn't.

verb drill, don't mind me

Date: 2017-01-24 01:56 am (UTC)
yhlee: wax seal (Default)
From: [personal profile] yhlee
終わる (to end)
(I notice that Seraph of the End uses "owari"--so is there a regular process of nominalization for verbs in Japanese?)

聞く (to listen)

使う (to use)

忘れる (to forget)

休む (to rest)

見せる (to show)

立つ (to stand)

Re: verb drill, don't mind me

Date: 2017-01-24 02:09 am (UTC)
yhlee: a sewer cover in Kyoto (I am not making this up) (Kyoto)
From: [personal profile] yhlee
Cool! Thanks. :D

Re: verb drill, don't mind me

Date: 2017-01-30 09:40 pm (UTC)
swan_tower: The Long Room library at Trinity College, Dublin (Long Room)
From: [personal profile] swan_tower
Looks to me like there's an error on 忘れる -- you've got an extra kana dropped in the middle there. Should be:


And I see たつ in here, which is what I get for not reading the whole thread before responding. :-)

Re: verb drill, don't mind me

Date: 2017-01-30 09:43 pm (UTC)
yhlee: a sewer cover in Kyoto (I am not making this up) (Kyoto)
From: [personal profile] yhlee
Thank you for the correction! I am still getting used to this typing in kana business and conjugating, and I will admit that I'm flat-out copy-pasting kanji because I have no idea how to deal with that (or how to read most of these without the help of furigana).

Re: verb drill, don't mind me

Date: 2017-01-30 09:49 pm (UTC)
swan_tower: The Long Room library at Trinity College, Dublin (Long Room)
From: [personal profile] swan_tower
You can install Japanese support on your computer, which will let you use keyboard shortcuts to switch between romaji, hiragana, and katakana inputs. After you type a word, you hit spacebar to get a drop-down menu of kanji suggestions. For some things you may have a bunch of options (because Japanese is chock-full of homophones), so you still need to be able to recognize the kanji you want . . . or you do like I do and install the Rikaichan browser plug-in, which lets you mouseover Japanese text and get both translations and hiragana. If I'm not sure of my kanji (which I'm not, because there are Japanese four-year-olds who know more kanji than I do), I mouseover it afterward to see if I've chosen the right one. If not, I go back and try the next option.
Edited Date: 2017-01-30 09:50 pm (UTC)

Re: verb drill, don't mind me

Date: 2017-01-30 09:55 pm (UTC)
yhlee: a sewer cover in Kyoto (I am not making this up) (Kyoto)
From: [personal profile] yhlee
Yeah, I'm using Japanese support to type kana, I just didn't know how the kanji worked other than HALP PLZ. Thank you for the rundown!

I feel so resentful that I didn't properly learn Korean when I freaking lived in Korea. Modern Korean uses WAY less in the way of Chinese characters (hanja in Hangeul) than Japanese and kanji, but even those few would give me a leg up, darnit.

Re: verb drill, don't mind me

Date: 2017-01-30 10:03 pm (UTC)
swan_tower: The Long Room library at Trinity College, Dublin (Long Room)
From: [personal profile] swan_tower
Ah, right I missed you saying "typing in kana." Well, I very much recommend Rikaichan as a supplement to that!

verb drill again

Date: 2017-01-24 09:32 pm (UTC)
yhlee: a sewer cover in Kyoto (I am not making this up) (Kyoto)
From: [personal profile] yhlee
開ける (to open)

生まれる (to be born)

泳ぐ (to swim)

買う (to buy)

消す (to turn off, to switch off)

読む (to read)

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-25 06:49 pm (UTC)
yhlee: a sewer cover in Kyoto (I am not making this up) (Kyoto)
From: [personal profile] yhlee
Aaaaand katakana drill has paid off: I was looking up Tokyo Sogensha and could read ミステリ・SF・ファンタジー・ホラー! Also オリジナル. :D

(Okay, the "SF" was a gimme, but still!)

(no subject)

Date: 2017-01-30 09:21 pm (UTC)
swan_tower: The Long Room library at Trinity College, Dublin (Long Room)
From: [personal profile] swan_tower
お疲れ様です。 昔々日本語を勉強しましたけど、本当に練習が要ります。 I'll try to play along!

(And if I screwed up anything above, please do correct it.)

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A universe of unmapped grief and love
And new master light is beyond
The pleiades and plow and southern stars.

O soaring
Icarus of outworld, burn bright
The traceries of known skymarks,
Slide the highway planets behind
Your clear waxed wings.

Go conquer the everywhere left
Beyond your sad confinement
In a predicted bonehouse,
Witch thrown riddle of flesh
And water.

O soar until nothing
remains but great glittering holes
In the black godspun shirt over your head.

- John Fairfax