Japanese 101

This is a brief tutorial that Ben Cole wrote for some bujinkan friends. He has not fully edited it at this point, so if you see mistakes, you can let me know He has various time constraints, so aside from glaring errors, your suggestions may or may not be applied.
This tutorial is entirely in romaji (Japanese written in English alphabet letters.) For a further explanation of Japanese phonetic structure, I recommend my own little tutorial, written for an online dictionary that has not been put online yet, located here.
Another good resource is Shawn Gray’s kana flash cards, where one can test their knowledge of kana (phonetic Japanese writing).

*Basic Structural Differences*
English follows a Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) structure (I eat pizza)
Japanese uses a Subject-Object-Verb (SOV) structure (Watashi-wa pizza-o tabemasu)

The “wa”s and “o”s are particles. They are tagged onto the end of nouns so you know what is the direct/indirect object and what is the subject.

*Working with Nouns* (things you can tack on the end of a noun)
desu is (Ben desu. -> I am Ben.)
deshita was (Fred deshita. -> That was Fred.)
dewa arimasen isn’t ……. (Watashi dewa arimasen.-> It isn’t me.)
dewa arimasen deshita wasn’t …… (Beer dewa arimasen deshita -> It wasn’t beer.)

da is (informal)
datta was (informal)
dewa nai isn’t (informal)
dewa nakatta wasn’t (informal)
(Note: “dewa” is frequently shortened to “ja” especially in spoken converstaion. It is used like
Biiru ja nai. -> It ain’t beer. Watashi ja nakatta.-> It wasn’t me.)

desho probably is (formal)
darou probably is (informal)
(These can be placed after just about anything–nouns, verbs, adjectives, noun adjectives)

no my/his/her …. (possessive, i.e.
Watashi no biiru wa…. -> My beer…. (is warm., etc.)
Watashi no desu.-> That’s mine.)

*Emphasis Sounds*
At the end of any sentence you can add certain sounds to change the feeling. Here are the main ones.

ka Takai desu ka? -> Is it expensive? (makes any sentence with a verb a question)
yo Takai desu yo! -> It’s expensive! (exclamation)
ne Takai desu ne -> It’s expensive, don’t you agree?
Takai desu yo ne! -> It’s frickin’ expensive, don’t you think!?!

*Particles* (Tack onto Nouns)
wa marks the subject (Watashi-wa Ben desu. -> I am Ben)
ga marks a specific subject (Watashi-ga Ben desu. -> *I* (not that
dude over there) am Ben. NOTE: BE CAREFUL WITH THIS ONE.
o Direct object
ni/e toward a direction/place
ni/de in/at a place

*Helpful Adverbs*
suki to like (I like beer.)
(note: if you have an object of your “liking,” like beer, you need
to slap a “ga” on the end of it so they know that it is beer that you
like, as opposed to something else. This is the only time when
you can use “ga” without my permission. Place a
“desu/deshita/ja nai/ ja nakatta, etc. (anything from
above) on the end to make a past/negative sentence.)
i.e. Biiru ga suki desu. -> I like beer.
Natto ga suki dewa/ja nai. -> I don’t like natto. (informal)
Natto ga suki dewa/ja nakatta. -> I used to not like natto. (informal)
Natto ga suki dewa/ja arimasen. -> I don’t like natto. (formal)
Natto ga suki dewa/ja arimasen deshita -> I didn’t like natto. (formal)

kirai to hate (Natto ga kirai desu.-> I hate natto.)

hoshii to want (biiru ga hoshii desu.-> I want beer)
hoshikunai to not want (biira ga hoshikunai. Jack Daniels ga hoshii. ->
I don’t want beer. I want Jack.

To add emphasis, you can add the word “dai” to the front of the suki/kirai, as in
Biiru ga dai suki desu.-> I *LOVE* beer.
Natto ga dai kirai desu.-> I *HATE* natto.

*Helpful Adjectives*
hayai early/fast
osoi late
takai tall/ expensive
yasui cheap
hikui short
ookii large
chisai small
urusai loud (annoying)
oishii delicious
mazui disgusting (taste)/ no good
kusai stinky

To make the past/negative of Adverbs (note they all end with “i”), change the “i” to “ku” and add the necessary “is/was”

Hayai desu -> It’s fast.
Haya-ku nai (desu) -> It’s not fast.
Haya-katta (desu). -> It was fast.
Haya-ku nakatta (desu) -> It wasn’t fast.
(Notice how the “nai” of “It’s not fast” turns into the “nakatta” to make it the past. This is exactly the change we saw in the working with “Nouns” section. Learn it well.

*Taking Control of Adjectives*
Hayaku naru -> It will become fast.
Hayaku suru -> I will make it fast.

(If it ends with an “i”, it turns into “ku” to become an adverb. Examples:
Hayaku yomu.-> To read quickly.
Hayaku nomu.-> To drink quickly.

*Using Adjectives in Two Ways*
Beer ga oishii desu. -> Beer is delicious.
Oishii beer ga suki desu. -> I like delicious beer.
In the second one, the “oishii” is merely modifying the “beer.” This is how you make such phrases as “The tall man is my father.” (Takai hito ha watashi no chichi desu.)

*Adjective Nouns*
kirei-na to be pretty
shizuka-na quiet
There are a handful of these little irregular thangs hanging around. They act like nouns grammatically (i.e. no need to change the “i” to “ku” in the past/negative, but they have the same meaning as adjectives. Examples:

Kirei desu ne. -> It/She/He is pretty, don’t you think?
Kirei na hon desu. -> It’s a nice book.
Shizuka na hito desu. -> He (unstated subject) is a quiet person.
Shizuka deshita. -> It was quiet.
Shizuka ja nakatta (desu). -> It wasn’t (particularly) quiet.



There are three types of verbs–Regular or “Ru” verbs, Irregulars and Special.

*Regular Verbs*

Here is a list of some of the many Regular “RU” verbs:
iru (to be (living))
taberu (to eat)
kaeru (to change/alter)
neru (to go to sleep/lay down)
deru (to come out/appear)
nigeru (to run away)
wasereru (to forget)
suteru (to throw away)
ageru (to give)
ageru (to raise up)
sageru (to lower down)
akeru (to open up)

Please note that they all end with “RU”. This form, as is, is called the Dictionary form, because that is what you need to look up in the dictionary to find it. 😉 Simple enough, eh?
Regular “RU” verbs are the easiest verbs to learn. The reason is that to create any other verb form, merely drop the “RU” and add your ending. That’s it!

For example, to create the future, past, negative or past negative Formal “Masu” forms, just drop the “RU” and add the ending as follows:

Tabe-ru (Dictionary form)
Tabe-masu (Pre-“masu” form)

-masu will eat (formal) (i.e. I’m gonna eat before training.)
-mashita ate (formal) (i.e. I ate before training)
-masen will not eat (formal) (i.e. I won’t eat before training.)
-masendeshita didn’t eat (formal) (i.e. I didn’t eat before training.)
-mashou Let’s ….. (formal)

To create the same future, past, negative and past negative Informal forms, just drop the “RU” and add ending as follows:
-ru [Present/Future] will eat (informal) (Dictionary form)
-ta [Past] ate (informal)
-nai [Present/Future Negative] will not eat (informal)
-nakatta [Past Negative] didn’t eat (informal)

All the other forms below follow the exact same pattern. Drop the “RU”. Add the ending.
-yasui (tabeyasui -> easy to eat)
-nikui (tabenikui -> hard to eat)
-you (tabeyou -> Let’s eat.) [informal]
-nasai (tabenasai! -> Eat!) [Normal Directive]
-ro (tabero! -> EAT, butthead!) [Rude Directive]

-tai I/You want to eat (tabetai)
-tagaru Third person wants to eat (tabatagaru. Note: this one actually acts like a verb itself so you can change the final “ru” into another tense as above. For example, to say “He wanted (past) to eat.” you say “Kare wa tabetagata.”)

-ta hou ga ii You should …….. (Tabeta hou ga ii.-> You should eat it.)
-ta hou ga yokatta You should’ve ….. (Tabeta hou ga yokatta. -> You should’ve eaten.)
Note: These are the same as the past informal with hou ga ii/yokatta tacked on.

-nakute ii You don’t have to … (Tabenakute ii -> You don’t have to eat it.)
-nakute yokatta I didn’t have to ….. (Tabenakute yokatta -> I didn’t have to eat it.)
Note: These are the same as the negative informal (tabenai) with the final “i” turned into “kute.”

-tara [Possibility (Definite)] Detara …. When he comes out, ….
(If/When you meet Joe (and I know you will meet him because
you work with him), tell him hi.)
-reba [Possibility (Unsure)] Dereba…. *IF* that product ever comes out…
(If you meet Joe (and who knows if you’ll ever meet him,
but *IF* you meet him), spend some time with him.)
-reba ii [Recommendation] Nereba ii. (You should sleep).
Dereba ii. (You should go/leave).

-ru to [Direct Causative]
(Hayaku taberu to, kimochi waruku narimasu.
(When I eat quickly, I get sick.)
-nai to [Direct Causative with Negative Effects]
(Naosanai to dame da ne.)
(If you don’t fix it, it just won’t do. i.e. You should fix it!)
-nakereba [Unsure Causative with Negative Effects]
(If you don’t go, you will never know.)
-nakereba dame [Imperative] You must eat.
(Direct translation: If you don’t eat, it is no good. i.e. You must eat!)
-nakutewa dame [same meaning as above] You must eat!
-nakutewa ikenai [same meaning as above] You must eat!

-rareru [Passive] to be eaten (You’ll be eaten by the lion.)
-rareru [Ability]to be able to eat something
(“Taberaremasuka?” Can you eat natto?)
-saseru [Permission/Coersion] to allow/force someone to eat
(“Natto o Tabesaseta.” I was allowed/forced to eat Natto.)
-saserareru [Permission/Coersion Passive]
to be forced to eat when you didn’t want to eat (I’m not kidding!)
(“Natto o Tabesaserareta.”
(I was forced to eat Natto and hated every minute of it!)

*Conjunctions* (tack on the end of a ANY verb form)

-kara because ….. (“Mou Tabeta kara, Deru” Because I ate already, I’m taking off.)
-node because ….. [same as above]
-noni although ….. (“Tabeta noni, chotto kudasai.”
(Although I already ate, could I have a little?)
-hazu should (be)…. (Kuru hazu desu. (He should come. [future])
Kuru hazu deshita. (He should have come. [past])

*The “Te”-form*

The other major form of verbs in Japanese is called the “Te”-form. To create the “Te”-form with a Regular “RU” verb, simply drop the “RU” and add a “TE”.

Tabe-te (“Te” form)

The “Te”-form itself is used to show a progression of actions. For example, you can say, “Natto o tabete, renshu ni ikimashita.” Which means, “I ate natto, then went to practice.” Not that they have anything to do with each other, it is just the order “eating first, then going” that is the point of this form.

Aside from its basic function as “an action preceding another,” the “Te” form can be used with several suffixes that change its meaning and create cool phrases.

*Suffixes for “Te”-form*

kudasai Please ………. (Please eat.)
wa ikenai you must not ………. (You mustn’t eat.)
wa dame you must not ………. (You mustn’t eat.)
mo ii it is okay to …………. (You may eat./ It is okay to eat.)
mo dame it doesn’t matter if you …………. (It doesn’t matter if you take the medicine now,
it’s too late. You blew it!)
hoshii to want someone else to do something (Tabete hoshii.-> I want you to eat it.)
hoshikunai to want someone else to not do something
(Tabete hoshikunai.-> I don’t want you to eat it.
kara after ……, you ………… (After eating, let’s go.)
irai since……, you …………(Since eating, I’ve been feeling sick.)



*Irregular Verbs*

Irregular verbs don’t use ONLY the “Pre-Masu” and “Te-forms” form. They use several forms, but they are fairly easy to get used to. One week of running through the variations in your head should be enough.

*Creating Formal “Masu” Forms*
To create the formal -masu, -mashita, etc. rather than dropping the “ru”, simply drop only the “u” at the end of the dictionary form and replace it with an “i”. Notice the change from “u” to “i”. When the verb root has the “i” rather than the “u” it is called the “Pre-Masu” form.

iku (to go) -> ikimasu, ikimashita, ikimasen, ikimasendeshita
kaku (to write) -> kakimasu, kakimashita, kakimasen, kakimasendeshita
nomu (to drink) -> nomimasu, nomimashita, nomimasen, nomimasendeshita
oyogu (to swim) -> oyogimasu, oyogimashita, oyogimasen, oyogimasendeshita
kau (to buy) -> kaimasu, kaimashita, kaimasen, kaimasendeshita
katsu (to win) -> kachimasu, kachimashita, kachimasen, kachimasendeshita
sasu (to stab) -> sashimasu, sashimashita, sashimasen, sashimasendeshita
magaru (to turn) -> magarimasu, magarimashita, magarimasen, magarimasendeshita

*Create Negative Informal Forms*
To create the NEGATIVE Informal form, drop the “u” and replace it with an “a”.
kaku, (see “Te-form” below for descr. of simple past), kakanai, kanakatta
nomu, (see “Te-form” below for descr. of simple past), nomanai, nomanakatta
oyogu, (see “Te-form” below for descr. of simple past), oyoganai, oyoganakatta
kau, (see “Te-form” below for descr. of simple past), kawanai, kawanakatta
katsu, (see “Te-form” below for descr. of simple past), katanai, katanakatta
sasu, (see “Te-form” below for descr. of simple past), sasanai, sasanakatta
magaru, (see “Te-form” below for descr. of simple past), magaranai, magaranakatta

*Creating the “Te”-form*
Another way that irregular verbs differ is in the “Te” form. You need the “Te” form to create the informal past as well. To do so, just replace the “Te” form “e” with an “a”. That’s it! Furthermore, you can use that past form to create the “tara” [Definite Causitive] form. Just throw an “ra” on the end and WALLAH! You got it!

If the verb ends with Its “Te” form is And its Informal Past form is

GROUP 1 (-u, -ru, -tsu –> -tte + -tta)
-u -tte -tta
kau (to buy) katte kudasai (Please buy it.) katta (I bought it)
harau (to pay) haratte kudasai (Please pay.) haratta (I paid)
arau (to wash) aratte kudasai (Please wash ..) aratta (I washed it)
warau (to laugh/smile) waratte wa dame (Don’t laugh!) waratta (I laughed)
you (to get drunk) Yottemo, hakanai. (Even if I get drunk, I don’t vomit) yotta (I was drunk)

-ru -tte -tta
tsukuru tsukutte kudasai (Please make it.) tsukutta (I made it)
wakaru wakatte kudasai (Please understand.) wakatta (I got it)
kaeru (to return home) kaette kudasai (Please go home.) kaetta (I went home)
toru (to take) totte kudasai (Please take one.) totta (I took it)
suwaru (to sit down) suwatte kudasai (Please sit down.) suwatta (I sat)
sawaru (to touch) sawarnaide kudasai (Don’t touch!) sawatta (I touched it)

-tsu -tte -tta
katsu (to win) katte kudasai (Please win.) katta (I won.)

GROUP 2 (-bu, -mu, -nu –> -nde + -nda)
-bu -nde -nda
asobu (to play/have fun) asonde kudasai (Please play/have fun.) asonda (I played.)
yobu (to call) Ben o yonde kudasai (Please call me Ben.) yonda (I called him.)

-mu -nde -nda
nomu (to drink) Nonde kudasai (Please drink.) nonda (I drank it.)
yomu (to read) Yoku yonde kudasai (Please read it carefully.) yonda (I read it.)
tsukamu (to grab) Tsukande kudasai (Grab hold.) tsukanda (I grabbed it.)

-nu -nde -nda
shinu (to die) shinde kara (After you die, ….) shinda (He died.)

GROUP 3 (-ku, -su, -gu –> -ite/ide + ita/ida)

-ku -ite -ita
iku (to go) ite kudasai (Please go.) ita (I went)
kaku (to write) kaite kudasai (Please write it here.) kaita (I wrote it)
haku (to wear shoes/pants) haite kudasai (Please put on the slippers.) haitta (I put on my shoes)
haku (to vomit) haite wa dame (Don’t vomit here!) haitta (I tossed my cookies)
hataraku (to work) hataraite imasu (I am working.) hataraita (I worked)
yaku (to cook) yoku yaitte kudasai (Cook it well./Well done, please.) yaitta (Cooked it)

-su -shite -shita
dasu (to put out) dashite kudasai (Please put out the cat.) dashita (I put it out)
kaesu (to return an item) kaeshite kudasai (Please return it to me.) kaeshita (I returned it)
sagasu (to look for) sagashite iru (I’m looking for it.) sagashita (I searched for it.)
sasu (to pierce/stab) sashite kudasai (Please stab him.) sashita (I stabbed him)

-gu -ide -ida
oyogu (to swim) oyoidemo ii (Go ahead. You can swim.) oyoida (I swam)
nugu (to remove clothing) nuide kudasai (Take off your shoes.) nuida (I took it all off)

Naturally, you can slap any of these other suffixes on the end of any of these “Te”-forms above (as I did in the examples)

kudasai Nonde kudasai. Please drink it.
wa ikenai Hataraite wa ikenai. You mustn’t work.
wa dame Oyoide wa dame. You mustn’t swim here.
mo ii Kaite mo ii desu ka? Can I write here?
mo dame Yonde mo dame. It doesn’t matter if you call him (he’s gone already).
hoshii Kaeshite hoshii. I want you to return it to me.
hoshikunai Sawate hoshikunai. I don’t want you to touch it.
kara Nuide kara, oyogou. After you take it off, let’s swim!
irai Oyoide irai, mizu ga kirai desu. Since I went swimming, I’ve hated water.

*Other Verbs Forms*

Use the Pre-Masu form for these. (i.e. the verb root has “i” rather than “u”)
-yasui kakiyasui (easy to write)
-nikui kakinikui (hard to write)
-nasai kakinasai (Write!) [Normal Directive]
-tai kakitai (I/You want to write)
-tagaru kakitagaru (Third person wants to write)

Irregular verbs don’t use the “-ro” suffix for the “EAT! [Rude Directive] In this case, the Dictionary form “u” changes to an “e.” Examples,
Ike! (Go dammit!)
Kake! (Write dammit!)
Oyoge! (Swim dammit!)
Katte! (Win dammit!)
Sase! (Stab ’em dammit!). etc.

Irregular verbs don’t use the “-you” suffix for the “Let’s …..” (informal) either. In this case, the Dictionary form “u” changes to an “ou.” Examples,
Ikou (Let’s go)
Kakou (Let’s write)
Oyogou (Let’s go for a dip)
Katou (Let’s win)
Sasou (Let’s stab ’em). etc.

These use the informal past (i.e. Formed just like the “Te”-form but with a “Ta” instead.)
-ta hou ga ii Kaita hou ga ii.-> You should write it.)
-ta hou ga yokatta Oyoida hou ga yokatta. -> I should’ve swum.

These use the informal negative
-nakute ii Yobanakute ii. (You don’t have to call him.)
-nakute yokatta Kawanakute yokatte. -> I didn’t have to buy it.

-tara [Possibility (Definite)] Dereba, If you eat, ………
(If/When you meet Joe (and I know you will meet him), tell him hi.)

Irregular verbs don’t use “-reba” [Possibility (Unsure)]. They use “eba” on the Pre-Masu. Remember: simply drop the “u” off the dictionary form and replace it with a “eba”.
Examples, kakeba, oyogeba, yobeba, utaeba, etc.

[Recommendations work the same way. Simply say your “eba” form and add an “ii” to the end]
Kakeba ii. (You should write).
Oshiereba ii. (You should teach).
Utaeba ii (You should sing.), etc.
[The “I told you so” form is the same. Just make the “ii” into the past “yokatta”]
Kakeba yokatta. (You should’ve written it down).
Oshiereba yokatta. (I should’ve taught you).
Utaeba yokatta (You should’ve sang at the party.), etc.

-(dictionary form) + to [Direct Causitive] (Hayaku kaku to, yomenai yo
(If you write quickly, I can’t read it.)

The “nai to”, “nakereba …”, “nakutewa …” forms all use the root of the negative informal.
Kakanai, Kakanakereba, Kakakutewa…. etc.
Oshienai to dame desu. -> You must teach!
Kakanakereba wakaranai. -> If you don’t write it out for me, I won’t understand.
Ikankutewa dame -> I gotta go!

*For the “rareru” [Passive], “saseru”[Permission/Coersion], “saserareru” [Permission/Coersion Passive] drop the “ra”, “sa” or “sa” from each form and add it to the negative root. This functions as an “RU” verb now.
Kaku (to write) Kakanai (negative informal) -> drop the “nai” to create the root “kaka”
Kaka-reru, Kaka-seru, Kaka-serareru [say that ten times fast]
Utau (to sing) Utawanai (negative informal) -> drop the “nai” to create the root “utawa”
Utawa-reru, Utawa-seru, Utawa-serareru

For ability, you take the “u” and turn it into an “e-ru”. This functions as an “RU” verb now.
kaku (to write) kakeru (I can write)



Level four verbs are probably used the most frequently, but they are all irregulars so I put them last.

suru (to do)
kuru (to come)
aru (to be (non-living)

SURU [acts essentially like a RU verb of Level 2 except for the asterisks]
suru (plain present/future)
*shinai (plain negative)
shita (plain past)
*shinakatta (plain past negative)
shite (Te-form)

shitai (want to go)
*saseru (let do/ force to do)
sureba (if you do that….)(
*dekiru (can do) [basically acts like a Level 2 Pre-masu verb for conjugations]

KURU [acts essentially like a RU verb of Level 2 except for the asterisks]
kuru (plain present/future)
*konai (plain negative)
kita (plain past)
*konakatta (plain past negative)

kite (Te-form)

ARU [acts essentially like a RU verb of Level 2 except for the astericks]
aru (plain present/future)
*nai (plain negative)
atta (plain past)
*nakatta (plain past negative)

atte (Te form)
(arinasai doesn’t exist because you can’t order a non-living thing around!)

Have you noticed that the Te-form and the Plain Past follow the same pattern? The Te-form always ends in “e” and the Plain Past always ends in an “a”.

Another interesting thing is that Japanese has words that are frequently paired in usage. These are the Transitives and the Intransitives that mirror their actions. Take a read through a familiarize yourself with these. To change their forms and use them, just use the guide in LEVEL 3.

For transitive verbs, you usually put an “o” particle after the direct object
For intransitive verbs, you usually put a “ga” particle after the subject noun in question

dasu deru
(Watashiwa) Mizu o dasu. Mizu ga deru.
(I put out water.) (Water comes out on its own.)

akeru aku
(Watshiwa) Doa o akeru. Doa ga aku.
(I opened the door.) (The door opens.)

tomeru tomaru
Kuruma wo tometa. Kuruma ga tomatta.
(I stopped the car.) (The car stopped.)

ageru agaru
Bo o agete kudasai Bo ga agatta
(Please raise your bo staff.) (The bo staff raised up by itself.)

sageru sagaru
Bo o sagete kudasai Bo ga sagatta
(Please lower your bo staff.) (The bo staff lowered by itself.)

nobasu nobiru
Bo o nobashite kudasai Kami ga nobita
(Please extend you bo staff.) (You’re hair has grown longer.)

sodateru sodatsu
Watshiwa kodomo o sodateta Sodatta tokoro ga suki
(I raised a child) (I love the place I was raised.)

One also cannot understand Japanese without understanding favors. There are three verbs used concerning favors or requests. They are

Morau (Irregular. Makes its Te-form as a verb ending in “u”; i.e. “moratte”)
Kureru [Regular RU verb]
Itadaku [Irregular. Makes its Te-form as a verb ending in “ku”; i.e. “itadaite”]

Morau is used to describe someone doing something for someone else

“Yatte morau” means “Let’s get him to do it.”
“Nonde moratta” means “He drank it for them.”

Kureru is used to describe someone doing something for YOU
“Yatte kuremashita.” means “He did it for us.”
“Kaite kurereba arigatai means “If you would write it for me, I would most appreciate it.”

Itadaku is used to describe someone doing something for YOU and is extremely polite.
“Tabete itadaku” means “To have an elder or someone you respect eat something for you.”
“Utatte itadakimashita” means “That (famous) singer to whom you are indebted for her act sang for you.”

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