Basic Japanese Verbs – part 1

1. Basic Japanese verbs

Welcome to basic Japanese verbs part 1, in this lesson we’ll look basic Japanese sentence structure and the verbs “to eat” and “to drink”. Verbs are words that denote some type of action. Examples of verbs in English are “to eat”, “to drink”,“to go”, “to do”, “to read”, and so on. Another way of defining a verb is to say that verbs are words in front of which you can put personal pronouns, like “I”, “you”, “he”, “she”, “it”, and so on.


2. To eat

Now, let's introduce our first Japanese verb, “to eat” which will be something you’ll do quite a lot when visiting Japan.

たべます tabemasu (pronounced ta-be-mas)



3. Verb deconstruction

Let’s break the word 「tabemasu」 into two parts: 「tabe-」 and 「-masu」.

All verbs, in their ‘polite form’, end in 「-masu」, with only one exception, which we will see later on.

You may have noticed when people pronounce the 「-masu」 part, the final 「u」 sound is  missing. It is generally pronounced this way and the final 「-u」 here is ‘devoiced’.

Sometimes, a final 「-i」 sound is also devoiced.

In Japanese, there are various forms of politeness, which are very important to know about. When speaking to strangers, or to people at work, the ‘polite form’ is most frequently used. If you don’t use the ‘polite form’, then there will times where it may offend some Japanese people when speaking to them. So to play on the safe side, we'll be using the ‘polite form’ more often than the more colloquial ‘plain form’.

‘Polite form’ verbs are usually called ‘masu’ verbs.

The very simple thing about Japanese is that the verb doesn’t change when we put personal pronouns in front of it. In Japanese we don’t even need to explicitly say the personal pronouns, since they are usually obvious from the context.

So, “I eat”, “you eat”, “he eats”, “she eats”, “it eats”, are all simply たべます「tabemasu」 in Japanese.

The Japanese can guess from the context who is doing the eating, so they usually omit the personal pronouns like “I”, “you”, “she”, and so on.

So, in Japanese, “I eat” would be...
たべます tabemasu

And, “you eat” would be...
たべます tabemasu

And, “he eats” would be...
たべます tabemasu

There is a very well-know Japanese delicacy made with vinegared rice, which usually includes raw fish…
すし sushi


In Japanese, words for items usually don’t need to change form, whether there is just one item or many of them. So, in Japanese, “a sushi”, “sushis”, and “some sushis”, are all just…
すし sushi


4. Sentence structure

To say something like, “I eat a sushi” in Japanese, you need to change the order around and say “Sushi, I eat”.

In Japanese, the verb always comes at the end of the sentence. And the item the action is done to comes at or close to the beginning of the sentence. So the sentence sequence is: “Item - Action”.

However, the Japanese add small words, called ‘particles’ or ‘markers’, to make the function of the words in a sentence. In the “Item - Action” case, the Japanese add the marker を 「o」 after the ‘item’ the ‘action’ is done to.

Please note that を is 「wo」 but is pronounced as 「o」

So, it is “Item plus the marker 「o」 - Action”.

This marker signals the item that the action is doing something to - it is the grammatical ‘object’ of the action of the verb. That’s why it is called the “object marker”, or “object particle”.

In our example, “I eat sushi”  is “Sushi+Object Marker, I eat”.
すしを たべます sushi-o tabemasu

Japanese people tend to pause slightly after markers when speaking…

How would you say, “He eats a sushi”...?
すしを たべます sushi-o tabemasu

How would you say, “She eats some sushis”...?
すしを たべます sushi-o tabemasu


5. To drink

Let’s introduce another verb now. The polite form of the verb “to drink” is…
のみます nomimasu


Similar to our verb 「tabemasu」 before, the verb “to drink”, 「nomimasu」, consists of the verb stem 「nomi-」 and the ending 「-masu」

So, “I drink” is…
のみます nomimasu

And, “you drink” is…
のみます nomimasu

The Japanese word for “coffee” is a loan word…
コーヒー kōhī


Loan words are usually written in Katakana

So, using our familiar sentence pattern, how do you say, “I drink coffee”...?
コーヒーを のみます kōhī-o nomimasu

How do you say, “He drinks coffee”...?
コーヒーを のみます kōhī-o nomimasu


6. Summary

Lots of information in this post so hopefully you made it to the end with a better understanding of basic Japanese verbs. In the next part 2 of basic Japanese verbs, we’ll cover the other verbs such as “to read, “to do”, “to listen” and so on.

“I eat” is...
たべます tabemasu

“I eat sushi” is...
すしを たべます sushi-o tabemasu

“I drink” is…
のみます nomimasu

“I drink coffee” is...
コーヒーを のみます kōhī-o nomimasu

Thats all for basic Japanese verbs today, see you next time!

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