Chapter Overview

Basic Grammatical Structures

Now that we have learned how to write Japanese, we can begin going over the basic grammatical structure of the language. This section primarily covers all the parts of speech: nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs. It will also describe how to integrate the various parts of speech into a coherent sentence by using particles. By the end of this section, you should have an understanding of how basic sentences are constructed.

Expressing state-of-being

Declaring something is so and so using 「だ」


  1. 人 【ひと】 – person
  2. 学生 【がく・せい】 – student
  3. 元気 【げん・き】 – healthy; lively
    *Used as a greeting to indicate whether one is well

One of the trickiest part of Japanese is that there is no verb for the state-of-being like the verb “to be” in English. You can, however, declare what something is by attaching the Hiragana character 「だ」 to a noun or na-adjective only. (We will learn about na-adjectives in the section on adjectives later.)

Declaring that something is so using 「だ」

  • Attach 「だ」 to the noun or na-adjective
    Example: +だ=


  1. Is person.
  2. 学生
    Is student.
  3. 元気
    Is well.

Seems easy enough. Here’s the real kicker though.

A state-of-being can be implied without using 「だ」!

You can say you’re doing well or someone is a student without using 「だ」 at all. For example, below is an example of a very typical greeting among friends. Also notice how the subject isn’t even specified when it’s obvious from the context.

Typical casual greeting

A: (Are you) well?

B: (I’m) well.

So you may be wondering, “What’s the point of using 「だ」?” Well, the main difference is that a declarative statement makes the sentence sound more emphatic and forceful in order to make it more… well declarative. Therefore, it is more common to hear men use 「だ」 at the end of sentences.

The declarative 「だ」 is also needed in various grammatical structures where a state-of-being must be explicitly declared. There are also times when you cannot attach it. It’s all quite a pain in the butt really but you don’t have to worry about it yet.

Conjugating to the negative state-of-being


  1. 学生 【がく・せい】 – student
  2. 友達 【とも・だち】 – friend
  3. 元気 【げん・き】 – healthy; lively
    *Used as a greeting to indicate whether one is well

In Japanese, negative and past tense are all expressed by conjugation. We can conjugate a noun or adjective to either its negative or past tense to say that something is not [X] or that something was [X]. This may be a bit hard to grasp at first but none of these state-of-being conjugations make anything declarative like 「だ」 does. We’ll learn how to make these tenses declarative by attaching 「だ」 to the end of the sentence in a later lesson.

First, for the negative, attach 「じゃない」 to the noun or na-adjective.

Conjugation rules for the negative state-of-being

  • Attach 「じゃない」 to the noun or na-adjective
    Example: 学生+じゃない=学生じゃない


  1. 学生じゃない
    Is not student.
  2. 友達じゃない
    Is not friend.
  3. 元気じゃない
    Is not well.

Conjugating to the past state-of-being


  1. 学生 【がく・せい】 – student
  2. 友達 【とも・だち】 – friend
  3. 元気 【げん・き】 – healthy; lively
    *Used as a greeting to indicate whether one is well

We will now learn the past tense of the state-of-being. To say something was something, attach 「だった」 to the noun or na-adjective.

In order to say the negative past (was not), conjugate the negative to the negative past tense by dropping the 「い」 from 「じゃない」 and adding 「かった」.

Conjugation rules for the past state-of-being

  1. Past state-of-being: Attach 「だった」 to the noun or na-adjective

    Example: 友達だった友達だった

  2. Negative past state-of-being: Conjugate the noun or na-adjective to the negative first and then replace the 「い」 of 「じゃな」 with 「かった」
    Example: 友達じゃな友達じゃなかった友達じゃなかった


  1. 学生だった
    Was student.
  2. 友達じゃなかった
    Was not friend.
  3. 元気じゃなかった
    Was not well.

Conjugation summary

We’ve now learned how to express state-of-being in all four tenses. Next we will learn some particles, which will allow us assign roles to words. Here is a summary chart of the conjugations we learned in this section.

Summary of state-of-being
Positive Negative
Non-Past 学生(だ) Is student 学生じゃない Is not student
Past 学生だった Was student 学生じゃなかった Was not student

State-of-being Practice Exercises

Vocabulary used in this section

In the following exercises, we will practice the state-of-being conjugations we just covered. But first, you might want to learn or review the following useful nouns that will be used in the exercises.

To start with, I have listed the kanji you will need for the vocabulary for your convenience. The link will take you to a diagram of the stroke order. I recommend practicing the kanji in the context of real words (such as the ones below).

  1. – person
  2. – child
  3. – small
  4. – middle
  5. – big
  6. – friend
  7. – life
  8. – ahead
  9. – study
  10. – school
  11. – high
  12. – car
  13. – accompanying
  14. – reach

Here is the list of some simple nouns that might be used in the exercises.

  1. うん – casual word for “yes” (yeah, uh-huh)
  2. ううん – casual word for “no” (nah, uh-uh)
  3. これ – this
  4. それ – that
  5. あれ – that over there
  6. こう – (things are) this way
  7. そう – (things are) that way
  8. 人 【ひと】 – person
  9. 大人 【おとな】 – adult
  10. 子供 【こども】 – child
  11. 友達 【ともだち】 – friend
  12. 車 【くるま】 – car
  13. 学生 【がくせい】 – student
  14. 先生 【せんせい】 – teacher
  15. 学校 【がっこう】 – school
  16. 小学校 【しょうがっこう】 – elementary school
  17. 中学校 【ちゅうがっこう】 – middle school
  18. 高校 【こうこう】 – high school
  19. 大学 【だいがく】 – college

Conjugation Exercise 1

We are now going to practice the state-of-being conjugations in order. Take each noun and conjugate it to the following forms: the declarative, negative state-of-being, past state-of-being, and negative past state-of-being.

Sample: 人 = 人だ人じゃない人だった人じゃなかった

  1. これ

    declarative = これだ
    negative = これじゃない
    past = これだった
    negative-past = これじゃなかった
  2. 大人

    declarative = 大人だ
    negative = 大人じゃない
    past = 大人だった
    negative-past = 大人じゃなかった
  3. 学校

    declarative = 学校だ
    negative = 学校じゃない
    past = 学校だった
    negative-past = 学校じゃなかった
  4. 友達

    declarative = 友達だ
    negative = 友達じゃない
    past = 友達だった
    negative-past = 友達じゃなかった
  5. 学生

    declarative = 学生だ
    negative = 学生じゃない
    past = 学生だった
    negative-past = 学生じゃなかった

Conjugation Exercise 2

In this second exercise, we are really going to test your conjugation knowledge as well as the vocabulary by translating some simple English sentences.
Please note that while the positive, non-past state-of-being can be implied, for the purpose of this exercise, we will assume it’s always declaratory. Don’t forget that
this creates a very firm and declaratory tone.

Sample: Is student. = 学生だ。

1. Is college. 大学だ。
2. Is not high school. 高校じゃない。
3. Was teacher. 先生だった。
4. Is adult. 大人だ。
5. Was not child. 子供じゃなかった。
6. This was the way it was. こうだった。
7. Wasn’t that over there. あれじゃなかった。
8. Is not middle school. 中学校じゃない。
9. Is friend. 友達だ。
10. Was not car. 車じゃなかった。
11. Was this. これだった。
12. That’s not the way it is. そうじゃない。

Question Answer Exercise

In this last exercise, we’ll practice answering very simple questions using the state-of-being. The yes or no answer (うん or ううん) will be given and it is your job to complete the sentence. In deciding whether to use the declaratory 「だ」, I’ve decided to be sexist here and assume all males use the declaratory 「だ」 and all females use the implicit state-of-being (not the case in the real world).

Q) 学生?
A) ううん、学生じゃない

Q1) 友達?
A1) うん、          。 (female)
Q1) 友達?
A1) うん、友達。 (female)
Q2) 学校?
A2) ううん、          
Q2) 学校?
A2) ううん、学校じゃない
Q3) それだった?
A3) ううん、          
Q3) それだった?
A3) ううん、それじゃなかった
Q4) そう? (Is that so?)
A4) うん、          。 (male)
Q4) そう? (Is that so?)
A4) うん、そうだ。 (male)
Q5) これ?
A5) ううん、          。 (object is away from the speaker)
Q5) これ?
A5) ううん、それじゃない。 (object is away from the speaker)
Q6) 先生だった?
A6) うん、          
Q6) 先生だった?
A6) うん、先生だった
Q7) 小学校だった?
A7) ううん、          
Q7) 小学校だった?
A7) ううん、小学校じゃなかった
Q8) 子供?
A8) うん、          。 (female)
Q8) 子供?
A8) うん、子供。 (female)

Introduction to Particles

Defining grammatical functions with particles

We want to now make good use of what we learned in the last lesson by associating a noun with another noun. This is done with something called particles. Particles are one or more Hiragana characters that attach to the end of a word to define the grammatical function of that word in the sentence. Using the correct particles is very important because the meaning of a sentence can completely change just by changing the particles. For example, the sentence “Eat fish.” can become “The fish eats.” simply by changing one particle.

The 「は」 topic particle


  1. 学生 【がく・せい】 – student
  2. うん – yes (casual)
  3. 明日 【あした】 – tomorrow
  4. ううん – no (casual)
  5. 今日 【きょう】 – today
  6. 試験 【しけん】 – exam

The first particle we will learn is the topic particle. The topic particle identifies what it is that you’re talking about, essentially the topic of your sentence. Let’s say a person says, “Not student.” This is a perfectly valid sentence in Japanese but it doesn’t tell us much without knowing what the person is talking about. The topic particle will allow us to express what our sentences are about. The topic particle is the character 「は」. Now, while this character is normally pronounced as /ha/, it is pronounced /wa/ only when it is being used as the topic particle.

Example 1

Bob: Is Alice (you) student?

Alice: Yeah, (I) am.

Here, Bob is indicating that his question is about Alice. Notice that once the topic is established, Alice does not have to repeat the topic to answer the question about herself.

Example 2

Bob: John is tomorrow?

Alice: No, not tomorrow.

Since we have no context, we don’t have enough information to make any sense of this conversation. It obviously makes no sense for John to actually be tomorrow. Given a context, as long as the sentence has something to do with John and tomorrow, it can mean anything. For instance, they could be talking about when John is taking an exam.

Example 3

Alice: Today is exam.

Bob: What about John?

Alice: John is tomorrow. (As for John, the exam is tomorrow.)

The last example shows how generic the topic of a sentence is. A topic can be referring to any action or object from anywhere even including other sentences. For example, in the last sentence from the previous example, even though the sentence is about when the exam is for John, the word “exam” doesn’t appear anywhere in the sentence!

We’ll see a more specific particle that ties more closely into the sentence at the end of this lesson with the identifier particle.

The 「も」 inclusive topic particle


  1. 学生 【がく・せい】 – student
  2. うん – yes (casual)
  3. でも – but
  4. ううん – no (casual)

Another particle that is very similar to the topic particle is the inclusive topic particle. It is essentially the topic particle with the additional meaning of “also”. Basically, it can introduce another topic in addition to the current topic. The inclusive topic particle is the 「も」 character and its use is best explained by an example.

Example 1

Bob: Is Alice (you) student?

Alice: Yeah, and Tom is also student.

The inclusion of 「も」 must be consistent with the answer. It would not make sense to say, “I am a student, and Tom is also not a student.” Instead, use the 「は」 particle to make a break from the inclusion as seen in the next example.

Example 2

Bob: Is Alice (you) student?

Alice: Yeah, but Tom is not student.

Below is an example of inclusion with the negative.

Example 3

Bob: Is Alice (you) student?

Alice: No, and Tom is also not student.

The 「が」 identifier particle


  1. 誰 【だれ】 – who
  2. 学生 【がく・せい】 – student
  3. 私 【わたし】 – me; myself; I

Ok, so we can make a topic using the 「は」 and 「も」 particle. But what if we don’t know what the topic is? What if I wanted to ask, “Who is the student?” What I need is some kind of identifier because I don’t know who the student is. If I use the topic particle, the question would become, “Is who the student?” and that doesn’t make any sense because “who” is not an actual person.

This is where the 「が」 particle comes into play. It is also referred to as the subject particle but I hate that name since “subject” means something completely different in English grammar. Instead, I call it the identifier particle because the particle indicates that the speaker wants to identify something unspecified.

Example 1

Bob: Who is the one that is student?

Alice: John is the one who is student.

Bob wants to identify who among all the possible candidates is a student. Alice responds that John is the one. Notice, Alice could also have answered with the topic particle to indicate that, speaking of John, she knows that he is a student (maybe not the student). You can see the difference in the next example.

Example 2

  1. 学生
    Who is the one that is student?
  2. 学生
    (The) student is who?

The first sentence seeks to identify a specific person for “student” while the second sentence is simply talking about the student. You cannot replace 「が」 with 「は」 in the first sentence because “who” would become the topic and the question would become, “Is who a student?”

The two particles 「は」 and 「が」 may seem very similar only because it is impossible to translate them directly into English. For example, the two sentences below have the same English translation.*

Example 3

  1. 学生
    I (am) student.
  2. 学生
    I (am) student.

However, they only seem similar because English cannot express information about the context as succinctly as Japanese sometimes can. In the first sentence, since 「」 is the topic, the sentence means, “Speaking about me, I am a student”.

However, the second sentence is specifying who the 「学生」 is. If we want to know who the student is, the 「が」 particle tells us it’s 「」. You can also think about the 「が」 particle as always answering a silent question. The second sentence might be answering a question, “Who is the student?” I often translate the topic particle as “as for; about” and the identifier particle as “the one; the thing” to illustrate the difference.

  1. 学生
    As for me, (I am) student.
  2. 学生
    I (am) the one (that is) student.

The 「は」 and 「が」 particles are actually quite different if you think of it the right way. The 「が」 particle identifies a specific property of something while the 「は」 particle is used only to bring up a new topic of conversation. This is why, in longer sentences, it is common to separate the topic with commas to remove ambiguity about which part of the sentence the topic applies to.

*Well technically, it’s the most likely translation given the lack of context.

*Note: The order of topics covered are different in the videos so you may want to read about Adjectives first.

Particle Practice Exercises

Vocabulary used in this section

To start with, I have listed the kanji you will need for the vocabulary for your convenience. The link will take you to a diagram of the stroke order. I recommend practicing the kanji in the context of real words (such as the ones below).

  1. – what
  2. – projection
  3. – picture
  4. – he
  5. – female
  6. – previous
  7. – day
  8. – now
  9. – bright
  10. – know
  11. – match
  12. – lead
  13. – brush
  14. – enter
  15. – mouth
  16. – exit
  17. – plan
  18. – write
  19. – building
  20. – water

Here is the list of some simple nouns that might be used in the exercises.

  1. どこ – where
  2. いつ – when
  3. どうして – why
  4. どう – how
  5. どれ – which
  6. ミーティング – meeting
  7. ボールペン – ball-point pen
  8. 何【なに】 – what
  9. 誰【だれ】 – who
  10. 映画【えいが】 – movie
  11. 彼【かれ】 – he; boyfriend
  12. 彼女【かのじょ】 – she; girlfriend
  13. 雨【あめ】 – rain
  14. 水【みず】 – water
  15. 昨日【きのう】 – yesterday
  16. 今日【きょう】 – today
  17. 明日【あした】 – tomorrow
  18. 知り合い【しりあい】 – acquaintance
  19. 鉛筆【えんぴつ】 – pencil
  20. 仕事【しごと】 – work
  21. 入口【いりぐち】 – entrance
  22. 出口【でぐち】 – exit
  23. 図書館【としょかん】 – library

Basic Particle Exercise with 「は」

Let’s first get used to the basic concept of particles by making some very simple sentences with them. In this first exercise, we are going to use the topic particle to explain the current topic of conversation. Remember, the topic particle 「は」 is always pronounced as /wa/.

Sample: 誰? (Topic: アリス) = アリスは誰?

1. どこ?(Topic: 学校) 学校はどこ? (Where is school?)
2. どうして?(Topic: それ) それはどうして? (Why is that?)
3.いつ?(Topic: ミーティング) ミーティングはいつ? (When is meeting?)
4.何?(Topic: これ) これは何? (What is this?)
5.どう?(Topic: 映画) 映画はどう? (How is movie?)
6.中学生だ。(Topic: 彼) 彼は中学生だ。 (He is middle school student.)
7.先生だ。(Topic: 彼女) 彼女は先生だ。 (She is teacher.)
8.雨。(Topic: 今日) 今日は雨。 (Today is rain.)
9.友達。(Topic: ボブ) ボブは友達。 (Bob is friend.)
10. 知り合い?(Topic: 彼) 彼は知り合い? (Is he an acquaintance?)

Particle Exercise with 「は」 and 「も」

Now we are going to practice getting used to the differences between the 「は」 and 「も」 particles. The sentences are actually pretty lame but this was the only way I could think of to make obvious which particle should be used. Remember, the point is to get a sense of when and when not to use the inclusive particle instead of the topic particle.

Fill in the blank with the correct particle, either 「は」 or 「も」

Sample: これは鉛筆だ。それ鉛筆だ。

1.今日は雨だ。昨日   雨だった。 1.今日は雨だ。昨日 も 雨だった。
2.ジムは大学生だ。でも、私   大学生じゃない。 2.ジムは大学生だ。でも、私 は 大学生じゃない。
3.これは水。これ   そう。 3.これは水。これ も そう。
4.これはボールペンだ。でも、それ   ボールペンじゃない。 4.これはボールペンだ。でも、それ は ボールペンじゃない。
5.仕事は明日。今日   仕事じゃなかった。 5.仕事は明日。今日 は 仕事じゃなかった。
6.ここは入口。出口   ここだ。 6.ここは入口。出口 も ここだ。

Particle Exercise with 「は」, 「も」, 「が」

In this last exercise, we will practice all three particles by identifying which one should be used for different types of situations. Remember that the 「が」 particle is only used when you want to identify something out of many other possibilities. While there are some cases where both 「は」 and 「が」 makes sense grammatically, because they mean different things, the correct one all depends on what you want to say.

Fill in the blank with the correct particle, either 「は」、 「も」、 or 「が」

ジム) アリス   誰?
ボブ) 友達だ。彼女   アリスだ
ジム) アリス は 誰?
ボブ) 友達だ。彼女 が アリスだ
アリス) これ   何?
ボブ) それ   鉛筆。
アリス) あれ   鉛筆?
ボブ) あれ   ペンだ。
アリス) これ は 何?
ボブ) それ は 鉛筆。
アリス) あれ も 鉛筆?
ボブ) あれ は ペンだ。
アリス) 図書館   どこ?
ボブ) ここ   図書館だ。
アリス) そこ   図書館じゃない?
ボブ) そこじゃない。図書館   ここだ。
アリス) 図書館 は どこ?
ボブ) ここ が 図書館だ。
アリス) そこ は 図書館じゃない?
ボブ) そこじゃない。図書館 は ここだ。


Properties of Adjectives

Now that we can connect two nouns together in various ways using particles, we want to describe our nouns with adjectives. An adjective can directly modify a noun that immediately follows it. It can also be connected in the same way we did with nouns using particles. All adjectives fall under two categories: na-adjectives and i-adjectives.

The na-adjective


  1. 静か 【しず・か】 (na-adj) – quiet
  2. 人 【ひと】 – person
  3. きれい (na-adj) – pretty; clean
  4. 友達 【とも・だち】 – friend
  5. 親切 【しん・せつ】 (na-adj) – kind
  6. 魚 【さかな】 – fish
  7. 好き 【す・き】 (na-adj) – likable; desirable
  8. 肉 【にく】 – meat
  9. 野菜 【や・さい】 – vegetables

The na-adjective is very simple to learn because it acts essentially like a noun. All the conjugation rules for both nouns and na-adjectives are the same. One main difference is that a na-adjective can directly modify a noun following it by sticking 「な」 between the adjective and noun. (Hence the name, na-adjective.)


  1. 静か
    Quiet person.
  2. きれい
    Pretty person.

You can also use adjectives with particles just like we did in the last lesson with nouns.


  1. 友達親切
    Friend is kind.
  2. 友達親切だ。
    Friend is kind person.

As shown by the following examples, the conjugation rules for na-adjectives are the same as nouns.


  1. ボブは好きだ。
    Bob likes fish.
  2. ボブは好きじゃない
    Bob does not like fish.
  3. ボブは好きだった
    Bob liked fish.
  4. ボブは好きじゃなかった
    Bob did not like fish.

If it bothers you that “like” is an adjective and not a verb in Japanese, you can think of 「好き」 as meaning “desirable”. Also, you can see a good example of the topic and identifier particle working in harmony. The sentence is about the topic “Bob” and “fish” identifies specifically what Bob likes.

You can also use the last three conjugations to directly modify the noun. (Remember to attach 「な」 for positive non-past tense.)


  1. 好きな
    Person that likes fish.
  2. 好きじゃない
    Person that does not like fish.
  3. 好きだった
    Person that liked fish.
  4. 好きじゃなかった
    Person that did not like fish.

Here, the entire clause 「好き」、「好きじゃない」、etc. is modifying “person” to talk about people that like or dislike fish. You can see why this type of sentence is useful because 「好きだ」 would mean “People like fish”, which isn’t always the case.

We can even treat the whole descriptive noun clause as we would a single noun. For instance, we can make the whole clause a topic like the following example.


  1. 好きじゃないは、好きだ。
    Person who does not like fish like meat.
  2. 好きは、野菜好きだ。
    Person who likes fish also likes vegetables.

The i-adjective


  1. 嫌い 【きら・い】 (na-adj) – distasteful, hateful
  2. 食べ物 【た・べ・もの】 – food
  3. おいしい (i-adj) – tasty
  4. 高い 【たか・い】 (i-adj) – high; tall; expensive
  5. ビル – building
  6. 値段 【ね・だん】 – price
  7. レストラン – restaurant
  8. あまり/あんまり – not very (when used with negative)
  9. 好き 【す・き】 (na-adj) – likable; desirable
  10. いい (i-adj) – good

All i-adjectives always end in the Hiragana character: 「い」. However, you may have noticed that some na-adjectives also end in 「い」 such as 「きれい(な)」. So how can you tell the difference? There are actually very few na-adjectives that end with 「い」 that is usually not written in Kanji. Two of the most common include: 「きれい」 and 「嫌い」. Almost all other na-adjectives that end in 「い」 are usually written in Kanji and so you can easily tell that it’s not an i-adjective. For instance, 「きれい」 written in Kanji looks like 「綺麗」 or 「奇麗」. Since the 「い」 part of 「麗」 is part of a Kanji character, you know that it can’t be an i-adjective. That’s because the whole point of the 「い」 in i-adjectives is to allow conjugation without changing the Kanji. In fact, 「嫌い」 is one of the rare na-adjectives that ends in 「い」 without a Kanji. This has to do with the fact that 「嫌い」 is actually derived from the verb 「嫌う」.

Unlike na-adjectives, you do not need to add 「な」 to directly modify a noun with an i-adjective.


  1. 嫌い食べ物
    Hated food.
  2. おいしい食べ物
    Tasty food.

Remember how the negative state-of-being for nouns also ended in 「い」 (じゃな)? Well, just like the negative state-of-being for nouns, you can never attach the declarative 「だ」 to i-adjectives.

Do NOT attach 「だ」 to i-adjectives.

Now that we got that matter cleared up, below are the rules for conjugating i-adjectives. Notice that the rule for conjugating to negative past tense is the same as the rule for the past tense.

Conjugation rules for i-adjectives

  • Negative: First remove the trailing 「い」 from the i-adjective and then attach 「くない」
  • Example: くない
  • Past-tense: First remove the trailing 「い」 from the i-adjective or negative i-adjective and then attach 「かった」

    1. かった
    2. 高くな高くなかった
Summary of i-adjective conjugations
Positive Negative
Non-Past 高い 高くない
Past 高かった 高くなかった


  1. 高いビル
    Tall building.
  2. 高くないビル
    Not tall building.
  3. 高かったビル
    Building that was tall.
  4. 高くなかったビル
    Building that was not tall.

Note that you can make the same type of descriptive noun clause as we have done with na-adjectives. The only difference is that we don’t need 「な」 to directly modify the noun.


  • 値段高いレストランあまり好きじゃない
    Don’t like high price restaurants very much.

In this example, the descriptive clause 「値段高い」 is directly modifying 「レストラン」.

An annoying exception


  1. 値段 【ね・だん】 – price
  2. あまり/あんまり – not very (when used with negative)
  3. いい (i-adj) – good
  4. 彼 【かれ】 – he; boyfriend
  5. かっこいい (i-adj) – cool; handsome

There is one i-adjective meaning “good” that acts slightly differently from all other i-adjectives. This is a classic case of how learning Japanese is harder for beginners because the most common and useful words also have the most exceptions. The word for “good” was originally 「よい(良い)」. However, with time, it soon became 「いい」. When it is written in Kanji, it is usually read as 「よい」 so 「いい」 is almost always Hiragana. That’s all fine and good. Unfortunately, all the conjugations are still derived from 「よい」 and not 「いい」. This is shown in the next table.

Another adjective that acts like this is 「かっこいい」 because it is an abbreviated version of two words merged together: 「格好」 and 「いい」. Since it uses the same 「いい」, you need to use the same conjugations.

Conjugation for 「いい
Positive Negative
Non-Past いい よくない
Past よかった よくなかった
Conjugation for 「かっこいい
Positive Negative
Non-Past かっこいい かっこよくない
Past かっこよかった かっこよくなかった

Take care to make all the conjugations from 「よい」 not 「いい」.


  1. 値段あんまりよくない
    Price isn’t very good.
  2. かっこよかった
    He looked really cool!

Adjective Practice Exercises

Vocabulary used in this section

In the following exercises, we will practice the conjugations for adjectives. But first, you might want to learn or review the following useful adjectives that will be used in the exercises.

I have listed the kanji you will need for the vocabulary for your convenience. The link will take you to a diagram of the stroke order. I recommend practicing the kanji in the context of real words (such as the ones below).

  1. – mask; face
  2. – white
  3. – exist
  4. – name
  5. – hate
  6. – like
  7. – quiet
  8. – music; comfort
  9. – cut
  10. – spicy; bitter
  11. – materials
  12. – reason

Here is a list of some simple adjectives (and one noun) that might be used in the exercises.

  1. きれい – pretty; neat
  2. いい – good
  3. かっこいい – cool; good-looking
  4. 面白い 【おもしろい】 – interesting
  5. 有名 【ゆうめい】 – famous
  6. 嫌い 【きらい】 – dislike; hate
  7. 好き 【すき】 – like
  8. 大きい 【おおきい】 – big
  9. 小さい 【ちいさい】 – small
  10. 静か 【しずか】 – quiet
  11. 高い 【たかい】 – high; expensive
  12. 楽しい 【たのしい】 – fun
  13. 大切 【たいせつ】 – important
  14. 辛い 【からい】 – spicy
  15. 料理 【りょうり】 – cuisine

Conjugation Exercise

We are now going to practice the adjectives conjugations in order. Take each adjective and conjugate it to the following forms: the declarative (when applicable), negative, past, and negative past. In order to emphasize the fact that you can’t use the declarative 「だ」 with i-adjectives, you should just write “n/a” (or just leave it blank) when a conjugation does not apply.

plain declarative negative past negative-past
面白い n/a 面白くない 面白かった 面白くなかった
有名 有名だ 有名じゃない 有名だった 有名じゃなかった
嫌い 嫌いだ 嫌いじゃない 嫌いだった 嫌いじゃなかった
好き 好きだ 好きじゃない 好きだった 好きじゃなかった
大きい n/a 大きくない 大きかった 大きくなかった
きれい きれいだ きれいじゃない きれいだった きれいじゃなかった
小さい n/a 小さくない 小さかった 小さくなかった
いい n/a よくない よかった よくなかった
静か 静かだ 静かじゃない 静かだった 静かじゃなかった
高い n/a 高くない 高かった 高くなかった
かっこいい n/a かっこよくない かっこよかった かっこよくなかった
楽しい n/a 楽しくない 楽しかった 楽しくなかった
大切 大切だ 大切じゃない 大切だった 大切じゃなかった

Sentence completion exercise

Now that we’ve practiced the basic conjugations for adjectives, we are going to practice using them in actual sentences using the particles covered in the last section.

Fill in the blank with the appropriate adjective or particle


Q) 学生?

A) ううん、学生じゃない

ジム) アリス、今   忙しい?
アリス) ううん、       
ジム) アリス、今忙しい?
アリス) ううん、忙しくない
アリス) 何   楽しい?
ボブ) ゲーム   楽しい。
アリス) 何楽しい?
ボブ) ゲーム楽しい。。
アリス)        人は誰?
ボブ) ジム   大切だ。
アリス) 大切な人は誰?
ボブ) ジム大切だ。
アリス)       料理は、好き?
ボブ) ううん、辛くない料理   好きだ。
アリス) 辛い料理は、好き?
ボブ) ううん、辛くない料理好きだ。
アリス) ジム   、かっこいい人?
ボブ) ううん、         
アリス) ジム、かっこいい人?
ボブ) ううん、かっこよくない
アリス) ボブは、       人?
ボブ) ううん、有名じゃない。
アリス) ボブは、有名な人?
ボブ) ううん、有名じゃない。
アリス) 昨日のテストは、よかった?
ボブ) ううん、     
アリス) 昨日のテストは、よかった?
ボブ) ううん、よくなかった

Verb Basics

Role of Verbs


  1. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) – to eat
  2. 分かる 【わ・かる】 (u-verb) – to understand
  3. 見る 【み・る】 (ru-verb) – to see
  4. 寝る 【ね・る】 (ru-verb) – to sleep
  5. 起きる 【お・きる】 (ru-verb) – to wake; to occur
  6. 考える 【かんが・える】 (ru-verb) – to think
  7. 教える 【おし・える】 (ru-verb) – to teach; to inform
  8. 出る 【で・る】 (ru-verb) – to come out
  9. いる (ru-verb) – to exist (animate)
  10. 着る 【き・る】 (ru-verb) – to wear
  11. 話す 【はな・す】 (u-verb) – to speak
  12. 聞く 【き・く】 (u-verb) – to ask; to listen
  13. 泳ぐ 【およ・ぐ】 (u-verb) – to swim
  14. 遊ぶ 【あそ・ぶ】 (u-verb) – to play
  15. 待つ 【ま・つ】 (u-verb) – to wait
  16. 飲む 【の・む】 (u-verb) – to drink
  17. 買う 【か・う】 (u-verb) – to buy
  18. ある (u-verb) – to exist (inanimate)
  19. 死ぬ 【し・ぬ】 (u-verb) – to die
  20. する (exception) – to do
  21. 来る 【く・る】 (exception) – to come
  22. お金 【お・かね】 – money
  23. 私 【わたし】 – me, myself, I
  24. 猫 【ねこ】 – cat

We’ve now learned how to describe nouns in various ways with other nouns and adjectives. This gives us quite a bit of expressive power. However, we still cannot express actions. This is where verbs come in. Verbs, in Japanese, always come at the end of clauses. Since we have not yet learned how to create more than one clause, for now it means that any sentence with a verb must end with the verb. We will now learn the three main categories of verbs, which will allow us to define conjugation rules. Before learning about verbs, there is one important thing to keep in mind.

A grammatically complete sentence requires a verb only (including state-of-being).

Or to rephrase, unlike English, the only thing you need to make a grammatically complete sentence is a verb and nothing else! That’s why even the simplest, most basic Japanese sentence cannot be translated into English!

A grammatically complete sentence:

  • 食べる
    Eat. (possible translations include: I eat/she eats/they eat)

Classifying verbs into ru-verbs and u-verbs

Before we can learn any verb conjugations, we first need to learn how verbs are categorized. With the exception of only two exception verbs, all verbs fall into the category of ru-verb or u-verb.

All ru-verbs end in 「る」 while u-verbs can end in a number of u-vowel sounds including 「る」. Therefore, if a verb does not end in 「る」, it will always be an u-verb. For verbs ending in 「る」, if the vowel sound preceding the 「る」 is an /a/, /u/ or /o/ vowel sound, it will always be an u-verb. Otherwise, if the preceding sound is an /i/ or /e/ vowel sound, it will be a ru-verb in most cases. A list of common exceptions are at the end of this section.


  1. 食べる – 「べ」 is an e-vowel sound so it is a ru-verb
  2. 分かる – 「か」 is an a-vowel sound so it is an u-verb

If you’re unsure which category a verb falls in, you can verify which kind it is with most dictionaries. There are only two exception verbs that are neither ru-verbs nor u-verbs as shown in the table below.

Examples of different verb types
ru-verb u-verb exception
見る 話す する
食べる 聞く 来る
寝る 泳ぐ
起きる 遊ぶ
考える 待つ
教える 飲む
出る 買う
いる ある
着る 死ぬ


Here are some example sentences using ru-verbs, u-verbs, and exception verbs.

  1. アリスは食べる
    As for Alice, eat.
  2. ジムが来る
    Jim is the one that comes.
  3. ボブもする
    Bob also do.
  4. お金ある
    There is money. (lit: Money is the thing that exists.)
  5. 買う
    As for me, buy.
  6. いる
    There is cat. (lit: As for cat, it exists.)

Appendix: iru/eru u-verbs


  1. 要る 【い・る】 (u-verb) – to need
  2. 帰る 【かえ・る】 (u-verb) – to go home
  3. 切る 【き・る】 (u-verb) – to cut
  4. しゃべる (u-verb) – to talk
  5. 知る 【し・る】 (u-verb) – to know
  6. 入る 【はい・る】 (u-verb) – to enter
  7. 走る 【はし・る】 (u-verb) – to run
  8. 減る 【へ・る】 (u-verb) – to decrease
  9. 焦る 【あせ・る】 (u-verb) – to be in a hurry
  10. 限る 【かぎ・る】 (u-verb) – to limit
  11. 蹴る 【け・る】 (u-verb) – to kick
  12. 滑る 【すべ・る】 (u-verb) – to be slippery
  13. 握る 【にぎ・る】 (u-verb) – to grasp
  14. 練る 【ね・る】 (u-verb) – to knead
  15. 参る 【まい・る】 (u-verb) – to go; to come
  16. 交じる 【まじ・る】 (u-verb) – to mingle
  17. 嘲る 【あざけ・る】 (u-verb) – to ridicule
  18. 覆る 【くつがえ・る】 (u-verb) – to overturn
  19. 遮る 【さえぎ・る】 (u-verb) – to interrupt
  20. 罵る 【ののし・る】 (u-verb) – to abuse verbally
  21. 捻る 【ひね・る】 (u-verb) – to twist
  22. 翻る 【ひるが・える】 (u-verb) – to turn over; to wave
  23. 滅入る 【めい・る】 (u-verb) – to feel depressed
  24. 蘇る 【よみがえ・る】 (u-verb) – to be resurrected

Below is a list of u-verbs with a preceding vowel sound of /i/ or /e/ (“iru” or “eru” sound endings). The list is not comprehensive but it does include many of the more common verbs categorized roughly into three levels.

iru/eru u-verbs grouped (roughly) by level
Basic Intermediate Advanced
要る 焦る 嘲る
帰る 限る 覆る
切る 蹴る 遮る
しゃべる 滑る 罵る
知る 握る 捻る
入る 練る 翻る
走る 参る 滅入る
減る 交じる 蘇る

Verb Practice Exercises

Vocabulary used in this section

Here is a list of a few verbs and the accompanying kanji that you will find useful.

I have listed the kanji you will need for the vocabulary for your convenience. The link will take you to a diagram of the stroke order. I recommend practicing the kanji in the context of real words (such as the ones below).

  1. – see
  2. – come; next
  3. – go; conduct
  4. – go home
  5. – eat; food
  6. – drink
  7. – buy
  8. – sell
  9. – hold
  10. – wait
  11. – read
  12. – walk
  13. – run
  14. – cut

Here is a list of some common verbs you will definitely want to learn at some point.

  1. する – to do
  2. しゃべる – to talk; to chat
  3. 見る【み・る】 – to see
  4. 来る【く・る】 – to come
  5. 行く【い・く】 – to go
  6. 帰る 【かえ・る】 – to go home
  7. 食べる 【たべ・る】 – to eat
  8. 飲む 【の・む】 – to drink
  9. 買う 【か・う】 – to buy
  10. 売る 【う・る】 – to sell
  11. 切る 【き・る】 – to cut
  12. 入る 【はい・る】 – to enter
  13. 出る 【で・る】 – to come out
  14. 持つ 【も・つ】 – to hold
  15. 待つ 【まvつ】 – to wait
  16. 書く【か・く】 – to write
  17. 読む 【よ・む】 – to read
  18. 歩く 【あるvく】 – to walk
  19. 走る 【はし・る】 – to run
  20. 切る 【き・る】 – to cut

Practice with Verb Classification

There’s really not much to do at this point except to practice classifying verbs as either a ru-verb or an u-verb. You can also take this opportunity to learn some useful verbs if you do not know them already. We’ll learn how to conjugate these verbs according to their category in the next few sections.

In the chart below, you should mark whether the given verb is either an u-verb or a ru-verb. The first answer is given as an example of what you need to do. Obviously, verbs that do not end in 「る」 are always going to be u-verbs so the tricky part is figuring out the category for verbs that end in 「る」. Remember that verbs that do not end in “eru” or “iru” will always be u-verbs. While most verbs that do end in “eru” or “iru” are ru-verbs, to make things interesting, I’ve also included a number of u-verbs that also end in eru/iru. Though you do not need to memorize every word in the list by any means, you should at least memorize the basic verbs.

verb ru-verb u-verb exception verb

Negative Verbs

Now that we’ve seen how to declare things and perform actions with verbs, we want to be able to say the negative. In other words, we want to say that such-and-such action was not performed. This is done by conjugating the verb to the negative form just like the state-of-being for nouns and adjectives. However, the rules are a tad more complicated.

Conjugating verbs into the negative


  1. ある (u-verb) – to exist (inanimate)
  2. いる (ru-verb) – to exist (animate)
  3. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) – to eat
  4. 買う 【か・う】 (u-verb) – to buy
  5. 待つ 【ま・つ】 (u-verb) – to wait
  6. する (exception) – to do
  7. 来る 【く・る】 (exception) – to come
  8. 見る 【み・る】 (ru-verb) – to see
  9. 寝る 【ね・る】 (ru-verb) – to sleep
  10. 起きる 【お・きる】 (ru-verb) – to wake; to occur
  11. 考える 【かんが・える】 (ru-verb) – to think
  12. 教える 【おし・える】 (ru-verb) – to teach; to inform
  13. 出る 【で・る】 (ru-verb) – to come out
  14. 着る 【き・る】 (ru-verb) – to wear
  15. 話す 【はな・す】 (u-verb) – to speak
  16. 聞く 【き・く】 (u-verb) – to ask; to listen
  17. 泳ぐ 【およ・ぐ】 (u-verb) – to swim
  18. 遊ぶ 【あそ・ぶ】 (u-verb) – to play
  19. 飲む 【の・む】 (u-verb) – to drink
  20. 帰る 【かえ・る】 (u-verb) – to go home
  21. 死ぬ 【し・ぬ】 (u-verb) – to die
  22. お金 【お・かね】 – money
  23. 私 【わたし】 – me, myself, I
  24. 猫 【ねこ】 – cat

We will now make use of the verb classifications we learned in the last section to define the rules for conjugation. But before we get into that, we need to cover one very important exception to the negative conjugation rules: 「ある」.

  • ある (u-verb) – to exist (inanimate)
  • いる (ru-verb) – to exist (animate)

ある」 is an u-verb used to express existence of inanimate objects. The equivalent verb for animate objects (such as people or animals) is 「いる」, which is a normal ru-verb. For example, if you wanted to say that a chair is in the room, you would use the verb 「ある」, but if you wanted to say that a person is in the room, you must use the verb 「いる」 instead. These two verbs 「ある」 and 「いる」 are quite different from all other verbs because they describe existence and are not actual actions. You also need to be careful to choose the correct one based on animate or inanimate objects.

Anyway, the reason I bring it up here is because the negative of 「ある」 is 「ない」 (meaning that something does not exist). The conjugation rules for all other verbs are listed below as well as a list of example verbs and their negative forms.

* = exceptions particular to this conjugation

Conjugation rules for negative verbs

  • For ru-verbs: Drop the 「る」 and attach 「ない」
    Example: 食べ + ない = 食べない
  • *For u-verbs that end in 「う」: Replace 「う」 with 「わ」 and attach 「ない」
    Example: 買 + わ + ない = 買わない
  • For all other u-verbs: Replace the u-vowel sound with the a-vowel equivalent and attach 「ない」
    Example: 待 + た = 待たない
  • Exceptions:
    1. する → しない
    2. くる → こない
    3. *ある → ない
Negative form conjugation examples
ru-verb u-verb exception
見る → 見ない 話す → 話さない する → しない
食べる → 食べない 聞く → 聞かない くる → こない
寝る → 寝ない 泳ぐ → 泳がない *ある → ない
起きる → 起きない 遊ぶ → 遊ばない
考える → 考えない 待つ → 待たない
教える → 教えない 飲む → 飲まない
出る → 出ない *買う → 買ない
着る → 着ない 帰る → 帰らない
いる → いない 死ぬ → 死なない


Here are the example sentences from the last section conjugated to the negative form.

  1. アリスは食べない
    As for Alice, does not eat.
  2. ジムが遊ばない
    Jim is the one that does not play.
  3. ボブもしない
    Bob also does not do.
  4. お金ない
    There is no money. (lit: Money is the thing that does not exist.)
  5. 買わない
    As for me, not buy.
  6. いない
    There is no cat. (lit: As for cat, does not exist.)