Notes on Japanese Verbs

In any language there are always certain little things that are nice to know which are not mentioned in grammar books or dictionaries, things which can only be figured out by living among native speakers and carefully listening to them for years. Japanese is no exception. You could go "by the book" and choose structures and verb forms which will convert your English into Japanese in order to make yourself understood well enough, even though the words you choose are not what native Japanese speakers would use. What makes it worse is the fact that very, very rarely will they correct you, even when you make it clear that you would appreciate it.

The purpose of this page is to introduce certain patterns and exceptions among the verbs which will hopefully help to streamline the memorization process and shorten the road leading to correct usage. This is not a complete list. This only represents the tip of the iceberg, but it should help you get a better idea of what the whole iceberg is like.

So that there is no misunderstanding, the verbs shown in bold are in their plain (Base 3) form. They are not conjugations. They are specialized verbs with "set suffixes" added to the root kanji. Accordingly, they are already divided into transitive / intransitive, active / passive forms.

© Tim R. Matheson

-aru / -eru

In these pairs, one is a godan verb ending in -aru, which is intransitive (has no direct object); and the other is an ichidan ending in -eru, which is transitive (acting on a direct object):

agaru: to rise; to go / come up
ageru: to raise up; to give

  • Agatte kudasai. (Please come in.)
  • Hai, ageru. (Here, I'll give you this.)

These two, agaru and ageru, have close ties with Japanese culture. Because Japanese houses have a genkan (the space just inside the door which "shares dirt" with the outside) where you take off your shoes before stepping up into the house, agaru is used for "come inside," actually meaning "come up." When exchanging gifts, you always receive downwardly and give upwardly (see Lessons 49 and 50 of Japanese Verbs).

atsumaru: to get / come together
atsumeru: to bring together; to collect

  • Shichiji han ni atsumarimashou. (Let's all meet at seven thirty.)
  • Wendy wa furui kitte o atsumete iru. (Wendy collects old stamps.)

kimaru: to be decided
kimeru: to decide

  • Sore wa ashita no kaigi de kimaru deshou. (That will probably be decided at tomorrow's meeting.)
  • Hayaku kimete kudasai. (Please make up your mind quickly.)

mitsukaru: to be found
mitsukeru: to find

  • Boku no jisho ga mitsukatta! (I found my dictionary!)
  • Nikibi mitsuketa. (I found a pimple.)

These two can cause a lot of stumbling. Strangely, when you find something that was lost, in Japanese you use mitsukaru, as if it just found itself. Use mitsukeru for things that you find unintentionally. Also, even though it seems natural to use mitsuketai for "I'd like to find...," it's not. Use sagashite iru (sagasu: to look for).

tasukaru: to be of help; to be rescued
tasukeru: to rescue; to help

  • Arigatou. Hontou ni tasukarimashita. (Thank you. You were really a great help.)
  • Dareka tasukete! (Someone help me!)

Deciding where tasukeru is suitable can sometimes be tricky. It's usually used in life-or-death matters and when helping people in real trouble or who are really busy. For routine helping, like helping in the kitchen, use tetsudau.

-eru / -u

There are other pairs like the ones above where the intransitive ends in something else:

todokeru: to send; to deliver (something to someone)
todoku: to be delivered; to arrive (a package, etc., not a person)

  • Jim no tokoro ni kore o todokete kureru? (Would you take this over to Jim's place?)
  • Boku no imouto kara tegami ga todoita! (I got a letter from my sister!)

tsuzukeru: to continue (doing something)
tsuzuku: to continue (seemingly on its own)

  • Sagashi tsuzukete kudasai. (Please continue looking for it.)
  • Kono bangumi wa itsu made tsuzuku no? (How long is this program going to run?)

This is a very useful verb form: Base 2 + tsuzukeru; to continue doing (whatever the Base 2 verb is).

-su / -u

And there are pairs where the one ending in su is transitive and the other one is intransitive:

dasu: to send out; to force out
deru: to come / go out

  • Inu o dashinasai. (Let the dog out.)
  • Ojii-chan wa soto e deta. (Grandpa went outside.)

herasu: to decrease; to lessen (something)
heru: to decrease (on its own)

  • Shuppi o herashite kudasai. (Please cut down on your spending.)
  • Kouen no hato ga daibun herimashita. (The number of pigeons in the park has greatly decreased.)

Please note that heru is one good example of a godan verb that ends in eru.

kaesu: to return (something to someone or its original place)
kaeru: to return (home or wherever it came from or belongs)

  • Raishuu kaeshite mo ii? (Is it okay if I return it next week?)
  • Juuji made ni kaette ne. (Be back by ten o'clock, okay?)

kowasu: to break
kowareru: to be broken

  • Dare ga boku no jitensha o kowashita? (Who broke my bicycle?)
  • Kopiiki ga kowareta. (The copier is broken.)

nokosu: to leave (something) behind
nokoru: to stay behind

  • Zenbu tabete. Nokosanaide kudasai. (Eat all this. Please don't leave anything.)
  • Kaigi ga owattara, chotto nokotte kudasaimasu ka. (Would you please stay a little after the meeting?)

Don't use nokosu for something you accidentally left behind, use okiwasureru (oku: to put; to place + wasureru: to forget):

  • Ah! Honya ni kasa o okiwasurete shimatta! (Oh, no! I left my umbrella at the bookstore!)

orosu: to lower; to put down
oriru: to go / come down; to get off or get out of a vehicle

  • Koko ni oroshite. (Put it down here.)
  • Tokushima eki de orite kudasai. (Please get off at Tokushima Station.)

ugokasu: to move something or cause something to be moved
ugoku: to move (on its own)

  • Sono kikai o ugokashite wa ikenai. (Don't move that machine.)
  • Kemushi ga ugoita. (The caterpillar moved.)

yogosu: to make dirty
yogoreru: to get dirty

  • Atarashii kutsu o yogosanaide ne. (Don't get your new shoes dirty, okay?)
  • Boku no boushi ga yogoreta. (My hat got dirty.)

Of course there are others, but these here are used often and should give you a good start.

For most standard verbs, where there is no special intransitive or passive form, conversion is done by:

  • godan verbs: Base 1 + reru
  • ichidan verbs: Base 1 + rareru
  • suru verbs: change suru to sareru

and then conjugate accordingly, as in:

  • Sono megane o kaketara, warawareru deshou. (If you wear those glasses, you will probably be laughed at.)
  • Kono keeki wa taberarenai deshou. (This cake probably won't be eaten.)
  • Shuuri sareta pasokon wa dochira desu ka. (Which computer is the one that was repaired?)

One area where Japanese is much more complicated than English is the "wear verbs." The verb used depends on where and how something is worn. Here they are:

  • kiru: to wear around one's body, like a shirt, jacket, dress, kimono, etc.
  • haku: to wear on or around one's lower body or feet, like pants, a skirt, socks, shoes, etc.
  • kaburu: to wear (literally "cover") on one's head, like a hat or cap
  • kakeru: to wear (literally "hang") on one's face, like glasses
  • shimeru: to wear (literally "tie around") around one's waist or neck, like a belt, necktie, obi, etc.
  • hameru: to wear on a hand or finger, like a glove or ring
  • tsukeru: to wear (literally "attach") on one's clothes, like a name tag or pin

Besides these, suru is often used instead of the bottom four, and especially when talking about accessories.

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