Up until now, we’ve seen many example sentences that make use of a variety of different verbs. However, all of those verbs up until now have been in their present-tense affirmative form, otherwise known as the dictionary form or 辞書系（じしょけい）in Japanese, without any conjugations applied to them. In this article, we’ll be describing the 3 different type of verb categories that exist in Japanese, and learning how to conjugate each type of verb into its present-tense negative form. This will allow us to be able to say things like “I don’t watch TV” or “I don’t go to school”. Keep in mind that in Japanese, the present tense and future tense are identical, so the negative form taught here will also apply to the future tense as well (e.g. “I will not eat”, “I will not go to bed”, etc).
- 見る（みる）・To see / To watch
- 寝る（ねる）・ To go to bed
- 変える（かえる）・To change
- 生きる（いきる）・ To live
- 話す（はなす）・To speak
- 喋る（しゃべる）・ To speak / To chat
- 待つ（まつ）・ To wait
- 泳ぐ（およぐ）・To swim
- 遊ぶ（あそぶ）・To play
- 帰る（かえる）・ To return home
- 寝る（ねる）・To twist
- 着る（きる）・To wear
- 切る（きる）・To cut
- 練る（ねる）・To knead
- 勉強する（べんきょうする）・ To study
- 経験する（けいけんする）・ To experience
- 支持する（しじする）・ To support
Vowel Stem / Ichidan Verbs
The first verb group is known by several different names, including “Group 1”, “vowel stem” and “ichidan” (one step) verbs. Verbs in this class are categorized by the fact that they always end in either “~eru” or “~iru” in their dictionary form. Examples of verbs in this group include たべる、みる、ねる、かえる、and 生きる.
To conjugate an Ichidan verb into its negative form, all one has to do is replace the final る with ない:
- トムさんはりんごを食べない (Tom does not eat apples)
- 私はテレビを見ない (I do not watch TV)
- 田中さんは寝ない (Tanaka does not go to bed)
Consonant Stem / Godan Verbs
The second, and by far the largest group of verbs in Japanese is variously known as “Group 2”, “consonant stem” and “Godan” (5-step) verbs. These verbs encompass almost all of the verbs that do not belong to Group 1, and can end in any of the following kana in their base dictionary form: う、く、ぐ、す、つ、む、ぬ、ぶ、る. Examples of type 2 verbs include あう、いく、およぐ、はなす、まつ、よむ、しぬ、あそぶ、かえる.
To form the negative of Group 2 verbs, you replace the final “-u” sound with “a” and then append “nai”. Using a Hiragana chart, this can be described as replacing the final kana with the kana in the same column that ends in the vowel /a/. So く changes to か, つ changes to た、ぶ changes to ば, etc, and then ない is appended. The one exception here is verbs that end in う, which change to わ before adding ない instead of あ.
- 海では泳がない (I don’t swim in the ocean)
- 今日は学校に行かない (I won’t go to school today)
- 漫画を読まない (I don’t read manga)
- 今日は外で遊ばない（I won’t play outside today)
- 公園で友達を待たない (I won’t wait for my friend at the park)
ある as an Exception:
The verb ある has an irregular negative form. Instead of becoming the expected あらない, it simply becomes ない：
- 私はカメラがない (I don’t have a camera)
- テーブルの上に皿がない (There are no plates on the table)
Discerning Vowel Stem and Consonant Stem Verbs.
As you may have noticed, there are some group 2 verbs that also end in “~eru” and “~iru”. Examples include 帰る、きる、走る、and 喋る. This means that although all Group 1 verbs must end in “~eru” and “~iru”, seeing that a verb ends in “~eru” and “~eru” does not conversely imply that a verb must therefore be in group 1 (think of it as how while all squares are rectangles, not all rectangles are necessarily square).
There also are several Group 1 verbs that are homophonous with Group 2 verbs in their dictionary form. For example, かえる (to change) is Group 1 and its negative form is かえない, however かえる (to return home) is Group 2, and its negative form is かえらない. Some other homophonous pairs include the following, with the Group 1 verbs on the left and the Group 2 verbs on the right.
- 着る・切る → 着ない・切らない
- いる・いる → いない・いらない
- 寝る・練る → 寝ない・練らない
Determining whether or not a verb that ends in “~eru” or “~iru” is Group1 or Group 2 is something that simply has to be memorized on a case-by-case basis. However, there are a few heuristics that can help you guess more accurately. First, the majority of “~eru/~iru” verbs are Group 1, so when in doubt, guess Group 1. Secondly ,”~eru/~iru” verbs that are Group 2 tend to be written with only a single okurigana after the main kanji. For example, 変える has two okurigana and is Group 1, while 帰る has just 1 okurigana. Other examples of this include 走る、喋る、and 入る, which are all Group 2. This heuristic is less reliable for verbs that are only 2 morae long, which have a more equal chance of being either Group 1 or Group 2. For example, 居る・着る・見る are Group 1 while 切る・練る・知る are group 2.
Type 3 / Irregular / Outlier Verbs
This is by far the smallest category of verb in Japanese, with only 2 members, the verbs for “to do” (する）and “to come” (くる）, which are significantly irregular, to the point where their conjugation patterns cannot be described neatly by the rules of groups 1 and 2. This does not mean however, that する・くる are the only irregular verbs in Japanese, as is often erroneously claimed, as several group 1 and 2 verbs exhibit very minor irregularities in at least 1 conjugation (as we just saw above with the verb ある).
In Japanese there are also many verbs that are combinations of a noun + する such as 勉強する、経験する、and 支持する. These compound verbs all follow the same irregular conjugation pattern as する does by itself.
The negative conjugations for する and くる therefore must be memorized individually:
- トムさんはパーティーにこない (Tom won’t come to the party)
- 田中さんは英語を勉強しない (Tanaka-san doesn’t study English)
- 私はその法案を支持しない (I do not support that bill)