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
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
kimaru: to be decided
mitsukaru: to be found
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
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)
tsuzukeru: to continue (doing something)
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
herasu: to decrease; to lessen (something)
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)
kowasu: to break
nokosu: to leave (something) behind
Don't use nokosu for something you accidentally left behind, use okiwasureru (oku: to put; to place + wasureru: to forget):
orosu: to lower; to put down
ugokasu: to move something or cause something to be moved
yogosu: to make 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:
and then conjugate accordingly, as in:
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:
Besides these, suru is often used instead of the bottom four, and especially when talking about accessories.