Advice for Beginner (Informal Past Tense + Vocab)

So I’m struggling a bit with two things as a beginner, and so I’m just looking for some advice for people who have mastered it. The first is the informal past tense for u-verbs and how to remember which way it conjugates. I know there are groups (like む、ぬ、ぶ conjugate to んだ), but is there some way to actually remember aside from just straight memorization grinding? I ask because I constantly find myself having to flip back to look at a list whenever I am conjugating those verbs into the informal past tense. I don’t struggle with ru-verbs or the irregular verbs for this, as they are more straight forward. So any advice to help with this would be appreciated.

Second, I am looking for advice about building up vocabulary. The vocabulary that is kanji based I’ve been doing with WaniKani is all solid, but any of the vocabulary I’m getting from the textbook is fairly iffy. When asked to translate a sentence in an exercise, I’ll often have to look up words often, mainly nouns that I don’t know from WaniKani. I’ve been trying to use Anki with the vocabulary from the textbook, but it seems to be hit-or-miss with words sticking (some have been in there for months and I’ll remember them one day but forget them when they pop back up 3-4 days later). So any advice on vocabulary building would also be appreciated.

How’s your て form? Do you know it already? I know the informal past tense from the て form. I convert them to て form and then I just substitute the /え/ sound to an /あ/ sound.

Haven’t learned て form yet unfortunately. I’m using Japanese From Zero (as I got overwhelmed at the pace of Genki), and it teaches て form later.

Crap, I was hoping there was no conjugation. I have enough trouble with this in spanish class… :confounded:

Well, I learned the ~た form from the ~て form, simply because you just need to change the last え sound to an あ: 食べて => 食べた .

I can only explain you how I did it. I would advise you to learn the て form from Japanese Ammo with Misa. Click here and watch the 13th video until the 18th one. Yes, it’s a lot of work but it was the only way I understood the て and the た form. I don’t know how both are explained in Japanese from Zero though. I know that I hated the way Tae Kim’s Guide approached it.

I also took a screenshot of the conjugations for the て form from one of Misa’s videos. For the た
form, just substitute the last /え/ sound to an /あ/. Also, be aware that there are exceptions (ru ending verbs that are u verbs). but you’ll learn them with time.


It’s just something that comes with practice. Just keep drilling it in your head whenever you have a chance, and do more reading and writing. Eventually it became second nature to me. Take solace in the fact that it’s probably the only “hard” conjugation in Japanese, everything else is strangely regular.

Personally I think of them as 3 groups of 3:
る う つ
む ぶ ぬ
す く ぐ

Group 1 is always った
Group 2 is always んだ
Group 3 is した いた いだ

The books that I’ve read seem to break them into 5 groups but I found it easier to remember them as 3 groups of 3. What I call group 3 all have similar ita sounds, I think of く - いた as the base and the other two as exceptions. The s sound in す carries over to した and the dakuten in ぐ carries over to いだ. That’s just what worked for me. Hopefully that didn’t confuse you.

When I was learning I would recite a drill like this in my head whenever I had a chance, usually whenever I came across a past or te-form verb:
る う つ った って
む ぶ ぬ んだ んで
す く ぐ した して いた いて いだ いで

If you don’t know what te form is don’t worry about it, you’ll learn it soon enough. Suffice to say that it conjugates exactly the same as the past form, except with an え row sound instead of あ row sound at the end, so it’s helpful to learn the conjugations for both simultaneously.

If you get good at this drill you won’t have to flip back to a physical table to check your conjugations anymore, because you have a mental “table” you can conjure up and refer to. After a while it’ll become second nature and you won’t need to think of the table anymore.


I’ve liked Misa’s videos in the past, so I’ll check out her て-form videos. Thanks.

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Luckily most of the conjugations are rather straight forward. Apparently getting to the た-form (and apparently the て-form) is where the difficulty is.

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For vocab you can use either HouHou, a system like WaniKani, or Anki. If you’re using Anki, I might suggest that you put in sentences with new words rather than the words themselves. I hear that is quite effective.

Alternatively, you could just do the method a more intermediate level person would likely do and that is to see a word, make up a quick mnemonic, then keep reading. This is good for people who read a lot of material, but can be difficult without A) experience in making sticking mnemonic B) reading material not so advanced you are looking up nearly every other non particle word

I use this song for the te/ta form

if you google て形の歌 you’ll get other songs. “santa clause is coming to town” seem to be popular.


The best advice I can give is to just to keep practising them. There are tricks and mnemonics you can use, but like all conjugation, you get good at it by just practising.



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