Journey of Self-Studying Japanese – Tackling Verb and Adjective Conjugations

From last time, I shared my first hand experiences of self-studying the Japanese Language last month. Another month passed by and I have learned quite a lot, most namely one of the intimidating aspects of the language, verb and adjective conjugations.

Note: This post uses the ruby HTML5 tag to view the Furigana for any Kanji used. If you use Firefox, install this extension. This is not necessary in Safari, Chrome and Internet Explorer.

Verb & Adjective Conjugations

Conjugations are always a crucial part of any language as it determines the tense of the verb such as present, past, future, etc. Although verb conjugations look easy in English, there are many irregular verbs such as “buy” and “bought” that it can become confusing to someone learning the language for the first time. In Japanese, verb conjugations are more straight forward as you cut the る (いちだん, ichidan) off or change the う (ごだん, godan) syllabary to one that ends with an い (e.g. いく(to go) > いき)  and add ~ますor 〜ません (negative). On the other hand, you may come across some irregular verbs. Conjugating them is done like it’s a る and う verb combined (e.g. する(to do) > し). For me, it took some practice until I could conjugate these verbs without looking back at the textbook.

In the four chapters I have covered, I have learned several conjugations, which are the present, past and て-forms. Here are some examples of how they look like:

()る (to see, ichidan verb)

  • Dictionary – 見る
  • Present, affirmative – 見ます
  • Present negative – 見ません
  • Past, affirmative – 見ました
  • Past, negative – 見ませんでした
  • て-form – 見て

()く (to talk, to ask, godan verb)

  • Dictionary – 聞く
  • Present, affirmative – 聞きます
  • Present negative – 聞きません
  • Past, affirmative – 聞きました
  • Past, negative – 聞きませんでした
  • て-form – 見て

The same also applies to い and な adjectives, but done slightly differently:

(さむ)い(cold, い adjective)

  • Dictionary – 寒い
  • Present, affirmative – 寒いです
  • Present negative – 寒くありません
  • Past, affirmative – 寒かったです
  • Past, negative –寒くありませんでした
  • Te form – 寒くて

元気(げんき)(energetic, な adjective)

  • Dictionary – 元気な
  • Present, affirmative –元気です
  • Present negative –元気じゃありません
  • Past, affirmative –元気でした
  • Past, negative –元気じゃありませんでした
  • Te form – 元気で

In some verbs, they are followed by participles such as:

  • で – Describes where the event happened by the verb
  • に – Describes people, time, or a goal towards things that moves
  • へ – Does the same thing as に, dedicated only for goal of movement (pronounced as e)
  • を – Direct object, which the verb is taking action on (pronounced as o)
  • も – Referencing a common attribute with the first sentence (essentially functioning as “too”. Replaces は,が and を. For others, it goes after the participle.

In addition, there are other considerations: 〜ましょう that functions as “let’s …” that allows one to suggest a plan or action. Also, adding a か to a negative verb asks an invitation to someone.

Other participles to consider:

  • と – Connects two nouns or describes with whom you doing something

Sentence Structure

As I have mentioned last time, the Japanese language uses a SOV (subject-object-verb) In the last post. Lesson 3 pretty much expands this further by adding time references, frequency and such depending on the verb. For instance…


Miki ate a parfait at a café today.

From experience, sentences in Japanese are very flexible depending on arrangement of the words and the verb used. Keep in mind that the time always goes before the place/object/goal and the frequency preceding that.

て form

In Japanese Language, the て form is the most important part of the grammar. This form has several uses such as making requests, giving/asking permission, forbidding something, describing an action in progress/past event or joins two sentences together.  Like the verb conjugations mentioned earlier, you only add て for る verbs. However, there are several rules depending on the hiragana used for う verbs and it can get a bit tedious if you don’t practice.

Examples of how the て form is used…

Polite Request:


Please watch the movie.

Asking Permission:


May I take your picture?


Yes, you may.  or


No, you may not take a picture of me.

Joining two sentences:


Nagisa ate breakfast and went to school.



That cat is white, small and cute.

Action in Progress/past event
Continuous State


Haruka is eating Ice Cream.

Activities that will last some time:


James studies Japanese.



My younger sister knows English

Conclusion and Challenges Ahead

After two months of reading through the lessons, it seems that I’m starting to understand a bit more compared to before. Some of the words I learned started to become recognizable while I watch a show or listening to Japanese music. Still, the toughest part of the language is the Kanji or rather the Chinese Characters. Although I can understand some of them from repetition, I felt that learning it through a hands on approach is a bit more effective than memorizing the character, On’yomi and Kun’yomi readings straight up. I’ll focus more on that next time when I experience more while learning the short forms and other grammar rules. 

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3 Comments… read them. Comments for this entry are closed.

  1. Yumeka says:

    Nice to see you’re progressing in your Japanese studies ^_^ I remember learning the verb conjugations early on, when I had just started taking Japanese classes at my junior college. However, I didn’t learn them from the textbook we used in class; I bought a book specifically about Japanese verbs on my own that proved more helpful. Have you learned conjugations of the dictionary form of verbs as well as the -masu form? Just wanted to make sure since you only have -masu form listed here. That was actually a problem I had in my early Japanese classes – our teacher emphasized the -masu form too much and didn’t teach us the informal conjugations . I had to learn those mostly on my own with the book I bought.

    And just wanted to correct one of your sentences – it should be あなたの写真を撮ってもいいですか。 Using が instead of の for the first particle makes the sentence “May you take a picture?”

    And again, if you need any help or want someone to study with, I’ll be glad to ^_^ Since I graduated I’ve only been doing self-study too. I’m mostly concentrating on kanji and vocabulary right now, since I know most of the basic grammar rules.

    • chikorita157 says:

      Thanks for correcting me. I wasn’t quite sure on that one or probably it slipped my mind while I was creating the sentence.

      As for the verbs, I memorize the dictionary forms on the flash cards opposed to the other forms since I can just know to add them when I need to conjugate them. But yes, I took a glance at the short forms in the textbook and it’s in the next two lessons. I probably will get there in a week or so depending how busy I am with finals week (also planning to do study more once the semester is over).

      But first most, I want to get the grammar down and basic vocabulary before building up my Kanji knowledge. I already have an application on my iPad that can look up Kanji, although it takes me awhile to look the character up with the radicals.

  2. Cris says:

    Here is a helpful video on making Japanese adjectives negative: