Trying to understand this word 活用

The word definition is conjugation. Even as an English speaker, I still have trouble understanding what the word means.

Help is appreciated, adding examples would be awesome as well.



Maybe a bit of grammar knowledge is needed here. The word category of verbs (like to go, to do, to eat etc.) can be conjugated.

This means they take on different forms when you are talking about who carries out said action. For example:

To eat - present - singular
I eat
You eat
He/she/it eats

To eat - past - singular
I ate
You ate
He/she/it ate

To eat - present perfect - singular
I have eaten
You have eaten
He/she/it has eaten

As you can see, the verb changes its form depending on the context. And this change is called conjugation :slight_smile:


On Jisho, under “show inflections” you can check how specific verbs are conjugated. :slight_smile:


Hello black cat, maybe it is worth noting that the definition of the word isn’t just “conjugation”, but also “practical use” and “application” (see here: katsuyou - I personally found it a just as useful a definition:

Screen Shot 2022-03-06 at 19.08.07

More (monolingual) info here: 活用とは - コトバンク


English has so little conjugation, it’s easy to be confused. Fundamentally conjugation is the rules for changing a verb ending based on the situation.

Most other languages have a lot more verb modifications than English. Japanese conjugates mostly on past/non-past and politeness level, although some would argue it’s not true conjugation. Romance languages conjugate based on group referenced, politeness, and past/present/future/etc.

Below is an example from Spanish with one of the most common verbs, ESTAR.
ESTAR means ‘to be’, in a sort of temporary sense.

The left hand column is the grouping (I, Informal You, Formal you/them, Formal We, Informal We, Them).

The action of the verb is always the same, but changing ending encodes more information about the situation (grouping of people, relationship, temporality, conditionality, etc)

English doesn’t do this except for past/present, so things like pronouns or proper nouns are always required, as well as additional modifier verbs for some situations.


Wow, ok.

Thanks for the replies.

I understand it a bit better now.

You guys are freaking awesome and ROCK :grin:


These conjugations also allow for the subject (I, you, we, them…) to be left out of the sentence, and it can still be fairly clearly understood who/what is doing the action. (Also learned about conjugations from Spanish throughout my schooling years lol)

honestly I find this word odd for English, since there is close to nothing in terms of conjugation :laughing:

but in my native language, portuguese, damn, it is a hell!

The Oxford English Dictionary says the use of the word in English in this sense derives from the Latin word conjugatio, which was used by Latin grammarians describing Latin in Latin; the early quotations for the English word are all talking about Latin in English. Most English grammar terms were originally used for describing Latin rather than English…

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