Beginner question about verbs

So I’m doing WaniKani and TextFugu in preparation for an upcoming trip to Japan (and future trips).

On TF, I’ve learned that all verbs (so far) end in ます

On WK, verbs can end with basically any character that has an う sound.

For example, “to see” is みます on TF , and みる on WK.

What am I missing? Is it just the difference between spoken and written Japanese? Is it a grammar thing that is more advanced than where I’m at in the curriculum? Please explain this!

ます is a polite verb ending

Nothing actually ends with that in its “dictionary form”. But it’s usually taught to beginners so they are speaking at a generally polite level across the board.

Additionally, you would not find any ます forms in traditional dictionaries, that’s why the other ones ending with う sounds are called dictionary form

Well, I take back what I said, that’s an exaggeration, some things in dictionary form coincidentally end in ます. But the things that end like that in their dictionary form can be transformed into a ます ending form as well.

Like 済ます becomes 済まします, 励ます becomes 励まします

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Yes, also the dictionary form, has plenty of other uses in grammar, whereas the the ます form usually ends a sentence

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So the ます form is just for speaking politely? In what situations would you say the dictionary form that doesn’t end in ます? How is something like みる conjugated when spoken?

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself…

You would say みる if you’re just talking to your friends, or if you are using it attributively (because that grammar requires the dictionary form). By attributively, I mean, something like 犬を見る人 would be “a person who sees a dog.” Other forms of grammar require it as well.

But that’s just the “non-past” form. Everything has a plain and polite form, basically.

non-past みる - みます
past みた - みました
passive みられる - みられます

et cetera

Those are all forms of the verb みる (just the tip of the iceberg, btw)


And a very large iceberg at that.

The quicker you start learning conjugations and what they do, the better off you’ll be.

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I learned cojugation, it’s 活用:grin:


Don’t worry, TextFugu will explain the difference once you get further :slight_smile:

Personally I learn the plain form first. Then when you know the conjugation rules you can get to the masu forms, with a few notable exceptions. Plus who wants to be polite by default? :wink:

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In Japanese it’s expected for you to be polite upon meeting anyone. It’s not the same as English where being polite seems distant, it’s more like being considerate.

So I’ve been using HelloTalk for awhile and I was told I use polite form a lot so we should practice informal. I was thinking to myself, “This will be easy!”. I learn all these dictionary forms in WK. I was mistaken. I didn’t even know how to conjugate properly in informal speech. Don’t be me. Study everything.

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I know, I was kidding. :stuck_out_tongue:

Are HelloTalk texts private or what?

There are chats between people and then there are moments that everyone can see and correct.

I’ll explain it the way it was taught in the university courses I took in Japanese a decade ago.

There are, broadly speaking, two classes of verbs in Japanese (not including special “exception” verbs like “suru” etc.). We won’t worry about the “official” names for these classes right now. ALL verbs end with a ‘*u’ hiragana in their base forms, so a word can only be a base-form verb if it ends with う、つ、す、ず、む、く、ぐ、ふ、ぶ、ぷ、or る. If it ends in anything else, it can’t be a base-form verb. Class-1 verbs can end with any of the above, while Class-2 verbs can only end with る. This means that when you encounter a -る verb, you’ll just have to determine for yourself whether or not it’s Class-1 or Class-2 by looking it up or based on how the word is conjugated in a given sentence.

To convert a base-form Class-2 verb to its polite form, you just drop the る and replace it with ます. So a Class-2 verb like 見る (miru, to see) becomes 見ます (mimasu) to be polite/formal.

To convert a base-form Class-1 verb to its polite form, you first replace the end verb with its ‘-i’ sibling and then add ます. So a Class-1 verb like 飲む (nomu, to drink) becomes 飲みます (nomimasu) to be polite. Another example, 思う (omou, to believe) would become 思います (omoimasu).

Some very common verbs like する (to do)、いる (to be, person)、ある (to be, non-person) are special class verbs that don’t really follow all the rules that plain Class-1 or Class-2 verbs are supposed to, e.g. the polite form of する is します and you’ll hear that very often in polite Japanese, but they’ll be similar. You just have to roll with it and remember what’s an exception and what isn’t, and in my experience Japanese verbs have far fewer exceptions than English.

A lot of Japanese verbs are also made by just sticking suru onto the end of a noun. So for example, the noun for “study” 勉強 (benkyou) becomes 勉強する (benkyousuru, to study), and you can manipulate the meaning by just conjugating the -する as appropriate.

A nice feature of Japanese verb conjugations is that they are generally the same regardless of whether you’re talking in first-, second-, or third-person, and they don’t change based on singular vs. plural, so there are many fewer conjugations than you have to memorize in English, Spanish, or French. Another thing you might notice is that, if a verb has a kanji, that part almost always stays the same (and usually uses the kun’yomi reading), so all verb manipulations happen by modifying the suffix hiragana.

Hopefully that clears up some of the verb basics you might be wondering about.

Thank you, everyone! Very helpful.

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