In this lesson you will learn how to conjugate verbs to the informal form. This is the form that you use with for example friends. Japanese society is little by little getting less formal, so it is used more and more with strangers. 

In another lesson you can learn the basics of verb conjugation in Japanese and how to construct the formal ます-form. This form is used in a formal situation when you communicate with for example strangers, older people or people that outrank you in any other way. Didn’t see that lesson? You can read it here

It is important to note that the meaning of the verb does not change when you use the short form or the ます form. Both conjugations mean exactly the same thing, but the ます form displays a certain formality or respect. 

Dictionary form

The short form, informal form or dictionary form. It is all the same form. You have even already learned a few verbs in their short form, like たべる or ある. Compare it to たべます and あります and you can see why it is called the short form. It is also called the dictionary form because the standard way of portraying these verbs is in their short form, that always ends with a う hiragana. When you look in the dictionary for the verb ‘to eat’, you will find たべる. 

It is also the easiest way to remember a verb in this short form. When you know the short form たべる you can make all the other conjugations, while if you only know the ます form, you don’t always know how to go back to the short form. 

Difference between う and る verbs

Just like with conjugating the ます form, the conjugation of う verbs to the short form is different from the conjugation of る verbs. For the difference, read up on this section in the previous article. Below you can find how to conjugate these verbs. 

Conjugating the short form for いる & える verbs (る verbs)

To conjugate the short form for る verbs you follow these rules:     

Present Positive = Keep the same
Past Positive = Remove る and add た
Present Negative = Remove る and add ない
Past Negative = Remove る and add なかった

Let’s see how this works in practice. We start with a verb you know: たべる     

  たべる (to eat) Present Past
  Positive たべる たべた
    I eat, I will eat I ate
  Negative たべない たべなかった
    I do not eat, I will not eat I did not eat

Easy enough right? You can see a bit of a pattern here. You use the ending た when you conjugate to the past and ない when you want to say something did not happen. Combine these two and you can understand why you get なかった. Let’s do some other る verbs you may know. 

  見る (みる, to see) Present Past
  Positive みる みた
    I see I saw
  Negative みない みなかった
    I do not see I did not see
  着る (きる, to wear) Present Past
  Positive きる きた
    I wear I wore
  Negative きない きなかった
    I do not wear I did not wear

So, let’s do some example sentences:

  Liam is wearing a red T-shirt
  リアム =   Liam  
  あかい =   Red  
  Tシャツ =   T-shirt  
  きる =   To wear  
  I don’t wear fur clothes
  けがわ =   Fur  
  ふく =   Clothes  
  けがわのふく =   Fur clothing  
  かなしい! ながれぼしがみなかった
  I am sad! I didn’t see the shooting star
  かなしい =   Sad  
  ながれぼし =   Shooting star  
  みなかった =   Did not see  
  I do not eat meat
  にく =   Meat  
  たべない =   To not eat  

Conjugating the short form for う verbs

So this is where it gets a little trickier. Especially the past positive (I drank) and past negative (I did not drink) are a little more complicated than with the いる & える verbs. 

Present positive (I drink)

This stays just the same, just as with the いる and える verbs. So のむ (to drink) stays のむ. This is also a perfectly good way to end a sentence. 

Past positive (I drank)

To get the past positive we’re going to divide the verbs some more categories depending on their ending. 

  Conjugating う-verbs into the past positive by verb ending
  う, る, つ = った
  む, ぬ, ぶ = んだ
  = いた
  = いだ
  = した

So for example のむ turns into のんだ. Here are some other examples: 

  かう = かった Bought
  かえる = かえった Returned
  まつ = まった Stood up
  のむ = のんだ Drank
  しぬ = しんだ Died
  とぶ = とんだ Flew
  きく = きいた Asked
  およぐ = およんだ Swam
  はなす = はなした Said

Present negative (I do not drink)

To say that you do or will not do something you have to turn the last hiragana character of the verb to it’s あ equivalent and add ない. So のむ turns into のまない. There is one exception with う verbs. The last character, the う, turns into a わ. So かう turns into かわない. 

  • To get the present negative, switch the last hiragana character for it’s あ equivalent and add ない. 
  • One exception to this rule: when the verb ends with う the う changes to わ. Together with ない you end up with わない.  

So with the earlier verbs you get. 

  かう = かわない Not buy
  かえる = かえらない Not return
  まつ = またない Not waiting
  のむ = のまない Not drink
  はなす = はなさない Not speak

Past negative (I did not drink)

To get the past negative is just as you are used to. Take the past positive, and replace the ない with なかった. 

  かう = かわなかった I did not buy
  かえる = かえらなかった I did not return
  まつ = またなかった I did not wait
  のむ = のまなかった I did not drink
  はなす = はなさなかった I did not say

Irregular conjugating verbs

And these are the irregular verbs you know from the earlier lesson about verbs, する (to do) and くる (to come)

  する (to do) Present Past
  Positive する した
    I do, I will do I did not do
  Negative しない しなかった
    I do not, I will not do I did not do
  くる (to come) Present Past
  Positive くる きった
    I come I did not do
  Negative こない こなかった
    I do not, I will not do I did not do

But now there is one important catch, the verb いく (to go) becomes irregular when conjugated in the short form. 

  いく (to go) Present Past
  Positive いく いった
    I go,  I did not go
  Negative いかない いかなかった
    I do not go I did not go

So, if you apply what you have learned earlier in this lesson, you would expect the past positive of いく to be いいた, but in reality it’s いった with the double consonant. いかない and いかなかった are as you would expect.

So that’s it. If you already did the earlier lesson you can now conjugate in formal and informal form and have made a big step in your journey learning Japanese. Below you can find links to exercises to practice what you have learned above.

Links to Exercises