Japanese verb forms | Learn Japanese

Japanese verb forms

Japanese verb forms

dictionary form, past, neg-forms, and stem (pre-masu form).


Leaning Japanese verb forms is one of the hardest thing in elementary learners. When I was teaching Japanese, this was a hard part. The list below shows the dictionary form, stem type, past form, negative form, and stem. I will explain how to extract the stem (pre-masu form) from the suffixes based on the table. There is a 3 types of verb stem types in Japanese: vowel-ending, consonant-ending, and irregulars. more info (wikipedia).

dictionary formstem typepast form


V + -ta

V(n/m) -da

C + -ita

negative form


V+ -nai

C + -anai

Stem (pre-masu form)
taberu “to eat”Vowel stem /tabeta/ /tabenai//tabe/
 miru “to see”Vowel stem /mita/ /minai/ /mi/
neru “to sleep”Vowel stem /neta//nenai/ /ne/
kiru “to wear”Vowel stem /kita//kinai//ki/
kaku “to write”Consonant stem /kaita//kakanai//kak/
hanasu “to talk/speak”Consonant stem/hanasita//hanasanai//hanas/
kau/kawu/ “to buy”Consonant stem/katta//kawanai//kaw/
matsu “to wait”Consonant stem/matta//matanai//mat/
yomu “to read”Consonant stem/yonda//yomanai//yom/
suru “to do”Irregular/sita/ /sinai/
iku “to go”Irregular/itta//ikanai/
kuru “to come”Irregular/kita//konai/
aru “to exist”Irregular/atta//nai/
“da” “be verb”Irregular/datta//dewanai/

In some past forms such as  “yomu (to read)” have a phonological changes, /m/ -> /n/ before past suffix /ta/ and changes to voiced /da/. In the word /kawu/(to buy), the past form /katta/, the /w/ changes to /t/ to form past tense /katta/.

These phonological changes can be observed in many languages. The phonological changes occurs to ease and smoothen the speech by shortening, deleting, changing phonemes in phonetic naturalness.

I will go over more rules in Japanese phonology in the future post.

Language learners are often required to memorize all the tense forms such as “eat”, “ate”, “eaten” as in English example. However, at least knowing the stem of verbs, it might be easier to learn the different forms in Japanese verbs such as “causatives” and everyone’s favorite “-te form”.

Hopefully, this helps you to learn and understand Japanese better.