050915-starbucks-grammar.jpgMost Japanese people don’t know much about Japanese verbs and can’t explain how to inflect them. I suppose English speakers are the same with English.

At Starbucks the other day, I met my language exchange partner. The subject of Japanese verbs came up and I found myself explaining what I know about them, and how to inflect them. She seemed quite amazed that such a thing even exisited.

I explained about the 3 groups for verbs which I have been taught, and how depending on the group, the inflections will be different. If I hear a new verb, I naturally (not quite so forced as when I was a beginner) guess the group in order to inflect the verb. However, this isn’t always so simple. For example, verbs like 起きる and いる are group II and not group I.

The reason this discussion came up was because of the verb ‘to rust’, さびる. I guessed it to be group I, hence I thought the past tense was さびった. She corrected me, saying さびた, so I then realised the verb was group II, one of those exceptions you have to remember.

So I asked her, if I told her a new word (verb) in Japanese, would she always produce the right inflections? Surely a Japanese child would come across this problem from time to time? Anyway, she looked a little puzzled, but then again, I don’t suppose she’d ever thought about it before.


  1. What is the difference between group I and group II?
    I wonder if group I is “五段活用”… So is group II “上一段活用”?

  2. Most verbs that end with “iru” or “eru” sounds are in the same class so さびる is not an exception. Same as 起きる、食べる、落ちる、etc.
    Exceptions to this are uncommon such as 帰る、要る、入る。

  3. Toshiharu, I’m not sure how you say the group names in Japanese, but I do remember someone talking about 五段なんとかなんとか.
    Tae Kim – Most verbs which end in -i(masu) are group one, not group two, so the group two verbs you gave as examples should be memorised.
    Group I -i(masu) examples: 書く、読む、売る、聞く、学ぶ、呼ぶ…

  4. >Most verbs which end in -i(masu) are group one, not group two, so the group two verbs you gave as examples should be memorised.
    Are you saying you memorized 起きる、落ちる、信じる、見る、着る、生きる、閉じる、封じる、伸びる、染みる、飽きる、試みる、省みる、演じる、命じる、借りる all as exceptions?!!
    Please read this:

  5. Ok, I’m starting to get confused. Obviously there are lots of verbs in both groups, but I’ve always felt that most new verbs I come across with -i(masu) tend to be group I.
    Thanks for the link. For Toshiharu, a quick quote:
    “Almost all verbs in Japanese can be classified into two categories: ru-verb (一段動詞) and u-verbs (五段動詞).”

  6. >but I’ve always felt that most new verbs I come across with -i(masu) tend to be group I.
    Your thinking is reversed. ALL type 1 verbs conjugate to a “imasu” ending. But that doesn’t mean all type 2 verbs do NOT end in “imasu”. In fact, almost all verbs that have an “iru” ending are type 2 with means that it will conjugate to “imasu”. The previous list is just what I could think of off the top of my head.
    To go back to さびる, think of it the opposite way. Can you think of a verb that ends in “iru” like さびる that is NOT type 2? Here’s a list:
    God, I hate how 一段動詞 is type 2. How unintuitive is that? That’s why I prefer ru-verb and u-verb.

  7. I concede your point. However, there’s no need to sound so worked up at my mistake.
    Maybe my thinking could be improved not by thinking in terms of -(i)masu and by thinking in terms of -(i)ru.
    Thanks for the lesson =)

  8. Oh sorry about the all caps, I was just too lazy to put it in italics or bold.

  9. My favorite reference on verbs is Rita L. Lampkin’s “Japanese Verbs and Essentials of Grammar”. I also hate the “type 1/type 2” designation because books differ on which is which. I prefer the terms “ichidan” (one-step) and “godan” (godan) because it is more descriptive, but ru-verb (or consonant stem) and u-verb (or vowel stem).
    I made verb flashcards years ago. They don’t have every conjugation because I was still taking Japanese I when I made them…but someone might find them useful.

  10. Thanks for the book recommendation and also your flashcard link. I’m sure they’ll come in handy for many people studying Japanese.