Japanese Grammar

Unlike every other major language, the Japanese language evolved with almost no outside influence. As a result, it is unique in its structure.  More importantly, where most languages have a mixture of rules due to their evolution from several different sources, Japanese is internally consistent and logical.  But the logic is not that of other languages.


The Japanese sentence has:


No gender – unlike many languages – and like English – Japanese has no gender dependence.


No plural – Japanese has no grammatical number. Thus, sensei can mean one or many male teachers, one or many female teachers, many male and female teachers.


No articles- Japanese has no articles – a, the, at, etc.


No future tense – we speak of Japanese tenses as past and non-past.  “Today I eat” and “Tomorrow I eat” translate identically.


No capital letters – except when writing in Romaji.  Kana and kanji have no case.


Few spaces – words are usually not separated by spaces, except after particles.  However, you will notice that this book does put spaces between all Japanese words.  Not knowing if the reader is a beginner with little knowledge of kana and kanji, this book uses only Romaji.


Topics – a grammatical component unique to Japanese.


Particles that are grammatical components unique to Japanese language.


The verb always at the end of the sentence is.


Rules that allow verbs and adjectives to conjugate from one state to another.


Levels of speech – ranging from street talk to imperial.  The two prominent levels are known by various names – here we will call them formal and informal.  When speaking to a superior, formal speech is used.  For instance, a clerk in a store speaks to the ‘superior’ customer with formal language, so it is most important to know.


Don’t panic.  It is not English – put away your pre-conceptions, they will only confuse you.  Treat it as an all new subject.


I had once though to use new terminology for some topics: morphing for conjugation, and VAdjectve and NAdjctive for adjectives.  My thought was that in using the words conjugation and adjectives you would try to think in terms of English.  These (and other) things behave differently from English and if you think of them in terms of their English equivalents, you would gt confused.

More rational thinking went like this; we are not linguists – we do not have a great grasp of English terminology to influence us.  We know we are learning something new – we accept it at face value.  I do recognize that many books and instructors use shortcuts that are very misleading and actually make it harder to truly learn.  Here we will attempt to avoid that.  For instance, many will leave you with the impression that wa and ga are alternate ways to specify the subject of a sentence.  They are not, as you will soon see.




Sentence structure


Topic, Subject Object, and Verb


Every sentence must have a subject and a verb:


Subject ga Verb


ga is a particle.  The ga particle tells us that the preceding phrase is the subject of the sentence.  Subject may be a many word phrase.  The verb does not need a particle to identify it, since it

is always at the end of the sentence.


Now let’s add some more to our sentence:


Topic wa, Subject ga Object wo Verb


Topic is optional.  wa is a particle that tells us that the preceding is the topic.


It is not a bad idea to think of the topic as being a separate item, not part of the sentence.  This is why a comma – rarely used elsewhere – follows wa.  It is a statement of what topic in the conversation the sentence is addressing.


The topic can be read as “As for . . .” or “Speaking of . . .”


The sentence might have been


Watashi wa, Amerikajin desu.

As for me, (I am) an American.


Hold it, you say, where is the non-optional subject?  It is there – you just can’t see it.  It is a virtual subject.  The sentence could have been


Watashi wa, watashi ga Amerikajin desu.

As for me, I am an Amercan.


But then watashi would be said twice. Needlessly. And Japanese abhor unnecessary words.


There are pages and pages of web sites and books trying to explain the difference between using wa and ga to identify the subject.  It really is not complicated.  The fact is, only ga identifies a subject.  Many people get this wrong.  I can imagine a teacher saying “I have said ‘watashi wa sensei desu’ a zillion times”, thinking wa is identifying the subject.  What the person said is grammatically correct, but the explanation is wrong.  The translation is


Watashi wa, (watashi ga) sensei desu.

As for me, (I) am a teacher.


watashi ga is a virtual subject for the sentence; it is there but you don’t see or hear it.  In fact, if wa identified the subject, it would have read “me is teacher” – not so cool!


wa does two basic things; it identifies the topic of the sentence, and it puts emphasis on what follows, while ga puts emphasis on the the subject:

watashi wa, sensei desu – As for me, (I) am a teacher

watashi ga sensei desu.I am a teacher.


In fact, it is more than emphasis.

Anata no kami wa, kirei desu

As for you, (your) hair is pretty.

means your hair is pretty but nothing else is, while

Anata no kami ga kirei desu.

Your hair is pretty.

with no comment on anything else.


ga has other applications; it focuses on one thing, and provides objects for potential form verbs and is used for situations involving ‘’but’.

Wa also has other uses.


You can use wa and ga together;


Japan wa, Tokyo ga capital desu.

As for Japan, Tokyo is the capital.


To help understand the role of topics, consider this conversation:


Kenya: Ashita gakkō ga hajimarimasu.

School begins tomorrow. (new topic is school)

Kiho: Yakyuu no shiai ga ikimasu.

I am going to a baseball game.  (New topic)

Atsuko: gakko wa, musume ga eigo o benkyo shimasu.

Speaking of school, my daughter studies English. (Back to first topic)


You can use wa and ga to shift emphasis.  If you start out with, for instance, “Hiroki san wa, …” you put emphasis on what follows; “Hiroki san ga . . . “ puts emphasis on Hiroki san.


In a sentence that describes some property of something (a copula sentence) the object describes the property.  For instance:

Miyu san no kimono wa, aka desu.

As for Miu’s kimono, (it) is red.

Red is the object.

In action sentences, the subject is the ‘doer’ of the action described by the verb, and the object is the thing the action was done to:

Inu wa, niku o tabemashita.

As for the dog, (it) ate meat.

Meat is the recipient of the eating; it is the object.


The object is optional in an action sentence.  Usually the object, if there is one, is just before the verb.






Sentence Types


There are three general types of sentence, which we will define as Copula, Existence, and Action.


Copula Sentence


Thing Value Copula
Subject Object Copula


A copula sentence identifies the value of some property of something (abstract or real).  A simple case: “The book Is blue”.  Here we identify the value of the property color of the subject book as being blue.  The subject of the sentence is the thing whose property is being defined, and the object is the value of the property.


Notice that we assume the listener knows what property we are talking about.  We don’t bother to say “The book’s color is blue”.


The verb is called a copula, from the Latin ‘to couple’ or link.  The English copula is ‘is’; the Japanese copula is desu (formal) or da (informal).  It is conjugated as follows






Tense Informal Formal
Non-past da desu
Past datta deshita
Non-past negative Dewanai or


Dewa nai or

Ja nai desu

Past negative Dewa nakatta or

ja nakatta

Dewa arimasen  or

ja arimasen

te form de

Ja and dewa are interchangeable.


This is consistent with conjugation for all other verbs.  The te form is shown for convenience – it will be discussed later.


There are other verbs that can serve as copulas, such as seem, feel, become, taste, get, and appear, and as we shall see later, i adjectives.


The object of a copula sentence contains the value to be assigned to the subject.  It does not need an identifying particle, since it is the only thing that can precede a copula.



Kuruma wa, ao desu.  As for the car, (it) is blue.

Watashi wa,, enjinia desu.  As for me, (I) am an engineer.

Watashi wa, Nihon-jin dewa arimasen. As for me, (I) am not Japanese.

Sushi ga oishii.  Sushi is delicious.  (Oishii is an i adjective. It contains a virtual copula)

Heya ga kirei desu. (The) room is clean.


Existence Sentence

The English ‘is’ can be used as a copula or for existence: the dog is in the room.  Desu can not be used this way, it is a copula only.  There are two verbs for existence in Japanese: aru and iru.  Both mean exist, but aru can only be used when the subject is an inanimate object, and iru is only for live, animated objects (animals, including the h4 things: Ieyasu Tokugawa, Uncle Sam,  Kermit (the frog), horse, spider.


Examples of non-living, inanimate things: cherry tree, book, sushi


Examples of use

Biru arimasu ka. Is there (any) beer?

Yukiko-san wa, uchi ni imasu. As for Yukiko, (she) is in the house.


Conjugation of these verbs is the same as all Group 1 verbs – as we will see later.


Conjugation of aru


Tense Informal Formal
Non-past aru arimasu
Past atta arimashita
Non-past negative aranai arumasen
Past negative aranakatta arimasen deshita


Conjugation of iru


Tense Informal Formal
Non-past iru imasu
Past itta imashita
Non-past negative inai imasen
Past negative inakatta imasen deshita



Action Sentence


Doer Did to Action
Subject Object Verb


The third type of sentence is the Action sentence.  The subject of an Action sentence is the thing or person doing the action.  The object describes the item to which the doer subject is directing its action.


The verb in an Action sentence describes the action taken.



Yuka san takes a shower in the morning.

Keiko san is driving from Tokyo to Yokohama.

When will you go to Kyushu?

Won’t you go to a movie with me?


In each case, the subject is the doer of the action, the verb describes the action, and the object is what is acted upon.



Sentence Components



Particles are unique to Japanese.  They are what makes it work!  Particles are one or two hira gana characters (a few are longer) that follow a phrase and tell what its role in the sentence is.   We have already seen the particles that identify the topic (wa) and subject (ga).  There are many more – some used frequently and some used only rarely.  One web site lists 188 particles, some more than once due to multiple meanings.

Here are some common particles:

Particle Use   Particle Use
Wa Topic   De Means, material
Ga Subject   Mo Also
O Object   No Possession
Ni Location, Time   To And
Kara From   E Direction
Made Limit   Ka Question


These are generalized meanings – don’t go using them without more information. Many have more than one use.

Particles come immediately after the word or phrase they are identifying.  So we say ‘Kyoto to’ instead of ‘to Kyoto’.  There is no particle to identify the verb, since it is always the last word in the sentence, nor for the object before a copula or existence verb.


By the way, in writing, the topic particle wa is written as ha (は), the object particle o is written as wo (を), and the particle for direction (e) is written as he ().  These are holdovers from ancient days – the pronunciation changed but the writing did not.

Some particles are grammatic, i.e., they identify the parts of the sentence – subject, object, etc.  Others are related to the content of the sentence – origin and destination of movement, start and end times of an action, lists, etc.

Some particles have more than one meaning, made clear by the context.  For instance, we already know wa and ga in their roles of identifying the sentence topic and subject,; they also have roles in making comparisons and other applications.

Particles may seem strange and daunting, but actually they are logical and make Japanese sentences easier to understand.





Verbs can be conjugated – changed to reflect past tense, negative, and past negative tense.  They can also be conjugated to relate different situations.

There is no separate future tense, so we refer to what some call present tense as non-past tense.   When you think about it, future tense in English does not exist either except by adding words – I will go tomorrow.

Kinou nomimashita.  Yesterday (I) drank.

Kyo nomimasu. Today (I) drink.

Ashita nomimasu.  Tomorrow (I) drink.

Notice that the verb is same for today and tomorrow.



Verb Conjugation


The basic form of a verb is the Dictionary form, so-called because it is the basis for most Japanese dictionaries.


All verbs are classified into three groups, cleverly called Groups 1, 2, and 3, based on the Dictionary form.


Verbs have a root, an ending, and a suffix.  The root is simply the dictionary form of the verb with the last kana character removed; the ending is the part that was removed, and the suffix is added according to the form.


The dictionary form has no suffix.  Its ending always ends with u (bu, mu, ru, etc).



Dictionary form: hanasu (say)

Root: hana

Ending: su

Formal past tense: hanashimashita (hana shi mashita)

New ending: shi

New suffix: mashita

Group 1


The dictionary form of Group 1 verbs end with u, ru, tsu, bu, mu, ku, gu, or su.  Those ending with ru are exceptions from Group 2.

Group 1 verbs are variously known as consonant-stems, u-, class 1, type 1, or godan verbs (go for the 5 groups of endings).


Group 2


Group 2 verbs end with either eru or iru.  Sadly, there are exceptions.  Group 2 verbs are variously known as vowel-stem, ru-verb class 2, group 2, type 2, or ichidan (ichi for the one ending) verbs.


Appendix ?? contains a list of exceptions – verbs that end with ru but are Group 1 verbs.


One trick to determine whether a ~ru verb is Group 1 or 2 is to use the Group 2 Conjugation as a ~masu form.  If it is a Group 1 verb, the result will often sound bad.  For instance, hajimaru becomes hajimamasu, which sounds strange.  It is a Group 1 verb.


Group 3


Group 3 has just two verbs: kuru (come) and suru (do).  They are often referred to as irregular verbs.  Compare that with English, where it seem as if every other verb has irregular conjugation.





In addition to conjugation for tense, verbs have variations for different uses.  These are called forms, and there are many, not all of which are presented here because they are not in common use.

Most texts describe how to change a verb to a different form or present a collection of tables.  In the following, you will find a single All in One Conjugation table for converting from dictionary form to any of the forms considered in this book.

All in One Conjugation Table

The All in One Conjugation Table below contains information to convert the dictionary form of a verb to different forms.

  1. In the top portion, select the row for the desired form. The occupied column contains the new suffix.
  2. In the bottom portion, select the row that has the dictionary form ending for the verb. Move to the column identified in step 1. This cell contains the new verb ending.



Find the Volitional form of yomu.

yomu is a Group 1 verb.  The root is yo,  The root ending  is mu,

  1. In the Group 1 Section, find the row for the Volitional form. Select the column that is not empty (mashyou).
  2. In the Dictionary Section of the table, find the row with the root ending (mu) in the Dictionary Ending column.
  3. In the column selected in step 1, row selected in step 2, find the new root ending (mi).
  4. In the cell found in step 1 find the new suffix (mashou).
  5. The result is (yo mi mashyou


  Group 1 2 3
  Sample Verb Kau (buy) Taberu (eat) Suru (do)
Informal Non-past Kau Taberu Suru
Past Katta Tabeta shita
Negative Kawanai Tabenai Shinai
Past Negative Kawanakatta Tabenakatta Shinakatta
Formal Non-past Kaimasu Tabemasu Shimasu
Past Kaimashita Tabemashita Shimasshita
Negative Kaimasen Tabemasen Shimasen
Past Negative Kaimasen deshita Tabemasen deshita Shimasendeshia
Volitional Kaoou Tabeyou shiyou
tai Kaitai Tabetai Shitai
Causative Kawaseru Tabesaseru Saseru
Passive Kawareru Taberareru  
Hyppothetical Kaeba Tabereba Sureba
te Katte Tabete Shite
Imperative Kae Taber Shirojikiru
Potential Kaeru Taberareru Jikiru


All in one Conjugation Table
All in One Verb Conjugation Table
New Form Suffix Replace ending Suffix
Group 1 Informal Non-past     No change    
Past     u, tsu, ru > tta

nu, bu, mu > nda

ku > ita

su > shita

Negative nai        
Past Negative nakatta        
Formal   masu *      
Volitional   mashyou      
tai   tai      
Causative seru        
Passive reru        
Hyppothetical     Replace ending u with ebu    
te     i, chi, ri > tte

bi, mi > nde

gi > ide

shi > shite

ki > ite

Imperative       (nox)  
Potential       masu *  
Group 2 Informal Same as Group 1
Formal     masu *    
Volitional     you    
 tai     tai    
Causative     aseru    
Passive     rareru    
Hypothetical     rebu    
te     te    
Imperative     ro    
Potential     masu  *    
Group 3       Replace with    
Informal     Kuru Suru    
Formal     kumasu* shimasu*    
Volitional     kuyou shiyou    
tai     kutai shitai    
Causative     kusaseru saseru    
Passive     kureru sareru    
Hypothetical     kureba sureba    
te     kute  shite    
Imperative     kui shiro    
Potential     Kurareru Dekiru    
* Change masu according to tense:

Non-past masu
Past mashita
Negative masen
Past Negative Masen



** change aa to awa

New Ending Dictionary Ending New Ending
a ** i u e o
ka ki ku ke ko
sa shi su se so
ta chi tsu te te
ba bi bu be bo
na ni nu ne no
ra ri ru re ro
ma mi mu me mo


Dictionary form: Root + Ending   New form: Root + New Ending + Suffix


Informal Form


Use the informal form when speaking to a person of lower rank.

Notice that the non-past is identical to the dictionary form, i.e., the dictionary form is the non-past informal form.  It is the simplest form, having the root and ending, but no suffix.


Non-past Hon o kau (I) buy a book
Past Pan o tabeta (I) ate bread
Non-past Negative Hon o kawanai (I) don’t buy a book.
Past Negative Pan o kawanakatta (I) didn’t eat bread



Formal Form


Use this form when addressing persons who are superior to you.  It is used by clerks to address customers, in public speaking including television, and superiors in a work environment.  It is the best form to learn for coversation – it is better to speak in formal language even with subordinates than to use informal speech with superiors.

Formal speech is based on the ~masu suffix.


Examples – Formal Form

Non-past Hon o kaimasu (I) buy a book
Past Pan o tabemashita (I) ate bread
Non-past Negative Hon o kaimasen deshita (I) don’t buy a book.
Past Negative Pan o tabemasenkaimasen deshita (I) didn’t eat bread



Volitional Form


Use the volitional form to suggest doing something with or without the speaker, decide between options, and trying something.


The most common use of this form is Let’s (do something).  It can also be used to relate a planned event, with to omoimasu.




ikimashou let’s go

tabemashou let’s eat

tabemashou ka Shall we eat?

tetsudamashou ka Shall I help?

Sushi o tabemashou to omoimasu.




tai  Form


Use the tai form to express a desire.

It is formed by appending tai to the root.

It may only be used for first person statements.



Tabetai – (I) want to eat.

Nekotai — (I) want to sleep

Tokyo ni Ikkitai – (I) want to go to Tokyo





Causative Form


Use this form for sentences in which one person causes (makes, forces or allows) another to do something.



The boss makes his employees wear white shirts.

My father allows me to drive his car.



Imperative form

Use this form as a strong command only if you are in a dominant position.  You can also use this form in an embedded clause expressing what someone asks the other to do.  It is used in road signs, slogans, and other notices.


The imperative form can also be used to express a strong wish.



Tomare – Stop

Gomi o suteruna – do not litter

Yuki ga fure – (I ) strongly hope for snow




Potential Form


Use this form to relate an ability of the subject or the possibility of an event.


Aya san wa Nihongo ga yomemasu.  Aya can read Japanese                                                                                    hikouki de Osaka ni ikemasu. (I) can go to Osaka by plane.



Hypothetical form

Use this form to express hypothetical conditions in the form ‘if a X comes true, Y will happen’.



Tokyo ni ikeba, Sukaitsuri o mimasu.

If I go to Tokyo, I will see SkyTree.



te Form


Use this form to:

Link two sentences

Request an action, (with  kudasai).

Relate an on-going action.

Ask permission to join in an action  (with mo ii desu ka)



Kyoto e itte kudasai.  Please go to Kyoto.

Sumo o mite imasu.  I am watching sumo.

Supa ni itte kouhii kaimashita.  I went to the supermarket and bought coffee.

Itte mo ii desu ka.  May I go?




Passive Form


Use this form to:

  • Describe damage or nuisance by another
  • Express positive feelings
  • Discuss historical or social events


We call this passive form to correspond with the rest of the world, but it really should be called Receiving Form, for it does not behave like English passive forms.  Instead of saying “Aya-san ate the sushi” we say “The sushi was eaten by Aya-san”.

Note that the subject is not Aya-san, it is the sushi.



Watashi wa, otoko ni nagyareta – As for me, (I) received a punch from a man.

Watashi wa, sensei ni homererata. – As for me, (I) received praise from my teacher




As in any language, a noun is the name of a thing, place, or person.

A noun may consist of several words.  Nouns may also represent time or place.


Subaru Legacy Sedan


Fairbanks, Alaska

United Kingdom

John Jacob Dinkeheimer Schmidt

5 am

Tuesday, September 11


Japanese nouns do not have a plural form.  Consider these sentences:

Watashi wa kuruma o motte imasu.  I have a car.

Watashi wa 3-dai no kuruma o motte imasu.  I have 3 cars.

Notice that kuruma (car) is the same for one car and three cars.


Suru nouns

Suru means to do.  For example – benkyo shimasu means does study.   Benkyo shimashita, literally did study, or studied.

Appendix ?? contains a list of nouns commonly used with suru.



Time nouns

Time is a noun that may be a clock time or a calendar time or both, or a duration.  Times may represent time of event, start time, end time, and duration.  Times should always be expressed as largest to smallest, i.e., Year, Month, Day, Day of week, Hour, Minute, Second.


Often, year is given in traditional form based on yje ruling emperor.  For instance Emperor Akihito was installed in 1989, making that Heisei 1.   2018 is Heisei 30.



9 am




2017 November 8, Wednesday

Heisei 29, 11 getsu, 8 nichi, suyoubi

3 ½ hours (duration)






Place Nouns


A place is a noun describing a location. It may be a country, city, store, location on a table, etc.  It can also be a relative location, such as behind or there.




Ota ku, Tokyo,

42°12’5”S, 123°0’43”W



In front of







An English adjective is a word or phrase that modifies or describes a noun.  For instance, in the phrase a “big house”, ‘big’ is an adjective describing a ‘house’.  Japanese also has words that modify or describe nouns, but they do not work the same way as English adjectives.  For this reason, some linguists give them other names.  But most teaching textbooks ignore this distinction and go ahead and call them adjectives, and so shall we.  As we shall immediately see, they are different.


There are three types of Japanese adjectives.  They usually called i (‘ee’), na, and no.  Like verbs, i and na adjectives have a root and a dictionary form.  no adjectives are simply nouns plus the possessive no particle.  It should be noted that no adjectives are not recognized by everyone as adjectives.  That’s a problem for linguists – they are ibncluded here because they are a valid way to modify a noun.




i adjectives

i adjectives are verbs in disguise – there is a copula hidden inside.  For this reason, some books call them verbal adjectives. They always end with i, as in chisai, ooki, takai, etc.  But be warned – not every adjective ending with i is an i adjective.  That is usually because the written form ends with a kanji character.  There are many exceptions – kirei (pretty or clean) is the one usually cited.  Even though it is written in hira gana as きれい and ends with i, it is a na adjective (by what authority I do not know.  Another great mystery of ancient Japanese scholars.)


Consider the following:


Adjective Copula
ookii uchi Is  a big house uchi ga ookii House is big
ookikunai uchi Is a not-big house uchu wa ookii arimasen House is not big
uchi wa ookiku arimasen
ookikatta uchi Was a big house uchi wa ookii deshita House was big
ookikunakatta uchi Was a not-big house uchi wa ookikunakatta desu House was not big
uchi wa ookiku arimasen deshita





The left column shows the i adjective used as an adjective.  It comes before the noun that it is modifying, and behaves as you would expect an adjective to behave (assuming you expect it to be conjugated!).


The right column shows the i adjective used as a copula.  It is at the end of the sentence, since it is the verb.


While most dictionaries will define it as ‘big’, it is more accurately defined as ‘is big’.  This is true for all i adjectives.


Since an i adjective contains a copula, it can be a complete sentence.


Subarashii – (it is) wonnderful – is complete sentence (with a virtual subject).


One of the few exceptions in all Japanese grammar is ii (good). The original non-past tense word for good was yoi, but in time it was replaced with ii.  The other tenses remain as before.

i Adjective Conjugation
  Dict Non-past Past Negative Past Negative
Informal ~i ~i ~katta ~kunai. N. Jj.   N n nn.  N nnn. ; j.       ,  〜kunakatta
Formal ~ desu ~katta desu ~ku arimasen ~ku arimasen deshita
Exception yoi yoi  ii yokatta yokunai yokunakata

~ = root of adjective

This conjugation is identical to that for copulas, which in fact they are.

The adjective yoi is just like any other i adjective except the non-past form is ii, not yoi.  Another confusing move by the ancients.

Another use is as follows:

i Adjective root + ku + verb


Isogashi ku yomimashita    busy ku read – read busily




Adjective extensions

The following table presents some extensions that can be made to adjectives.

For i adjectives, remove the final i and append the suffix.

For na adjectives, add the suffix.                                                                                      

If it is . . . kereba  
i adjective example oishikereba If it is delicious
na adjective example fuben kereba If it is inconvenient
Become kunar  
i adjective example samukunar Become cold
na adjective example kanyan kunar Become easy
Unbearable marimasen  
i adjective example atsuimarimasen Unbearably hot
na adjective example shizuka  marimasen Unbearably quiet
Too sugiru  
i adjective example    
na adjective example    
Looks like takasou  
i adjective example chisatakasou Looks cheap
na adjective example fuben takasou Looks convenient
~ness sa  
i adjective example atarashisa Newness
na adjective example shinsettsu sa Kindness



na adjectives


Sometimes called noun adjectives, na adjectives are those that are not i adjectives.  That is to say and verb whose dictionary form does not end in I, and some that do end in I, are na adjectives.  Again, consider the following:



na Adjective Noun
nigiyaka na Shibuya Lively Shibuya shibuya wa nigiyaka desu Shibuya is lively
Nigiyaka na shibuya dewa arimasen Not lively Shubuya shibuya wa nigiyaka

dewa (or ja) arimasen


Shibuya is not lively
Nigiyaka na shibuya deshita Formerly lively Shibuya shibuya wa nigiyaka deshita Shibuya was lively
nigiyaka na shibuya dewa arimasen deshita Formerly not lively Shibuya shibuya wa nigiyaka dewa (or ja) arimasen


Shibuya was not lively


When a na adjective precedes a noun, it must be followed by na (which is why they are called na adjectives).   na Is NOT a particle, it is a form of da – the dictionary form of the copula – used for connecting to something.  And by the way, de when used with na adjectives is the te form of da.  You will see this in the next section.

Chaining Adjectives

te, in many forms, is used to join components in Japanese sentences.  Here we will use te to join two or more adjectives.


To create the te form of a na adjective, simply add de, which is the te form of the dictionary copula da.



kantan dete  form of kantan (easy)

benri de – te fotm of benri (convenient)

The te form of i adjectives is formed by removing the end i \\ adding kute.


yasui kute – te form of yasui (is cheap)

Oishii kute – te form of oishii (is delicious)

To chain two or more adjectives, use the te form for all but the last.


Kore wa, yasui kute benri de kantan desu.

As for this, (it) cheap is convenient is easy is.

This is cheap, convenient, and easy.


NOTE: you cannot chain positive and negative adjectives in this way.

NO – it is cheap and dirty,

OK – it is big and heavy.

no Adjectives


no adjectives are simply nouns followed by no, making them adjectives.  For instance, ishi no uchi means stone house.  In this instance, ishi is a noun describing uchi, so it can perform as an adjective.  There is no conjugation.






Noun phrases

Trouble is, Japanese does not have a concept of subordinate clauses.  It is all done with adjectives.

Here is an example:


Yesterday, Mari-san bought some sushi.  She ate the sushi. It was delicious.  In English, we might say: “The sushi that Mari-san bought and ate yesterday was delicious.


The subject is ‘sushi’.  The object is ‘delicious’.   And it was in the past.  So we have

Sushi wa, oishikatta

As for the sushi, (it) was delicious


But who’s sushi is it?  Mari-san’s.  So we now have

Mari-san no sushi wa, oishikatta .

As for Mari-san’s sushi, (it) was delicious.


Now we need to say she bought and ate the sushi.  Again, these are modifiers of the sushi – it was bought and eaten by her.  Let’s start with eaten.  Using the past tense of eat, and dictionary form, we get


Mari-san no tabeta sushi wa oishikatta.

As for Mari-san’s eaten sushi, (it) was delicious.


For the buying, we need to use the te form to link the adjective to the next one:


Mari-san no katte tabeta sushi wa oisikatta.

As for Mari-san’s  boughten eaten sushi, (it) was delicious.


Finally, we need to say when this happened.  The time can go almost anywhere, but typically it is at the beginning:


Kinou Mari-san no katte tabeta sushi wa oisikatta.

Yesterday, as for Mari-san’s  boughten eaten sushi, (it) was delicious.


Very complex sentences can be created in thus manner.








Adjectives modify nouns; adverbs modify verbs.  For instance, in the English phrase “walked quickly”, quickly is an adverb modifying the verb walk.  Japanese also has adverbs, and as with adjectives, they work differently from English adverbs.  Some linguists call them other names, but most textbooks, including this one, will just call them adverbs


Somme Japanese words are pure adverbs, others are adjectives modified to serve as adverbs.  This is also true in English; slow is an adjective – slowly is an adverb.

To make an adverb from an i adjective, replace the last i with ku.

For a na adjective, append ni to the adjective.





Whereas adjectives must come just before the nouns they affect, adverbs can appear almost anywhere in a sentence:


Quickly he ran to the store.

Sugu ni Kare wa mise ni hashitta.


He quickly ran to the store.

kare wa sugi ni misem ni hashitta.


He ran quickly to the store.

He ran to the store quickly.


In the last two cases, quickly is not a verb, so it cannot come after the verb in Japanese.


Pure Adverbs


Here are some common adverbs:


Itsurmo – Always

Yoku – often

Taitei – usually

Senzen –   Sometimes

Tamani – rarely

Zenzen –   Not at all

Takusan – a lot

Chiisai – a little


Time words like today, now, etc., can be adverbs.  They are not adverbs if they are the topic or subject of the sentence.


Today is Monday.

Kyo wa getsyoubi desu. 

Today is Monday.  Kyo is a noun.


Kyo mise ni ikimashita. 

Today I went to the store.  Kyo is an adverb.


Place words like here, there, etc. are adverbs.


Method and extent words that modify the verb, like quickly, happily, and quietly are adverbs that tell how the verb is executed.

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