6.2 Verb Conjugation

In this module, we will guide you through a step-by-step process of transforming the dictionary forms of verbs, enabling you to politely express actions in both present and future tenses.

Introduction to verb conjugation

When you want to talk about present and future actions in a polite way in Japanese, you need to change the verb from its dictionary form – the basic, unmodified version found in dictionaries – to its polite form (ます-form).

This process is known as conjugation, which allows you to effectively convey politeness and formality in your speech.

You might be unfamiliar with the concept of verb conjugation, but don’t worry!

The good news is that there are clear patterns to follow based on the type of verb you’re using. In Japanese, we will explore three types of verbs, each with its own conjugation rules:


1. Ru-verbs (or ichi-dan verbs): Verbs ending in る (ru)

2. U-verbs (or go-dan verbs): Verbs ending in the /u/ sound, except for those in (1) and (3)

3. Irregular verbs: 来(く)る (kuru: to come) and する (suru: to do)


Now let’s take a look at the following video (about 5 minutes long) created by Shiro Neko Japanese to learn how each type of verb follows a conjugation pattern:


To recap, here is a table showing how verbs in each category conjugates:

1. Ru-verbs (or ichi-dan verbs)

For ru-verbs, simply replace る with ます.

Dictionary Form ます-form
食(た)べる (taberu: to eat) 食べます
見(み)る (miru: to see, to watch, to look at) 見ます
起(お)きる (okiru: to wake up) 起きます

2. U-verbs (or go-dan verbs)

For most u-verbs, replace the final /u/ sound with an /i/ sound and then add ます.

Dictionary Form ます-form
飲む (nomu: to drink) 飲みます
読む (yomu: to read) 読みます
帰る (kaeru: to return: X ‘returns’) 帰ります

3. Irregular verbs

There are two main irregular verbs, くる (come) and する (do), that have unique conjugations in the ます-form.

Dictionary Form ます-form
来(く)る (kuru: to come) 来(き)ます
する (suru: to do) します

Exclamation Icon する is also used to form many compound verbs. Any verb that ends with する, such as 勉強(べんきょう)する (benkyou suru: to study), is considered an irregular verb. These verbs conjugate in the same way as the verb する itself. So 勉強する is conjugated to 勉強します in its ます-form.

Differentiating between Ru-verbs and U-verbs

As highlighted in the video, some u-verbs end in る.

To differentiate between ru-verbs and u-verbs that end in る, pay attention to the vowel sound just before る.


Ru-verbs ending in る

Typically, when the vowel sound preceding る is /i/ or /e/, the verb classifies as a ru-verb in most cases. For example, 見(み)る is a ru-verb because the vowel sound preceding る is /i/.

Nonetheless, exceptions to this rule are detailed at the conclusion of this section.

U-verbs ending in る

Conversely, if the preceding vowel sound is /a/, /u/ or /o/, the verb is consistently classified as an u-verb.

Now, let’s test your understanding:

Consider the verbs 食(た)べる (taberu) and 分(わ)かる (wakaru).

Which category do each of these belong to?

Here’s the answer:

食べる (taberu), meaning ‘to eat’, is a ru-verb, due to the preceding vowel sound /e/. On the other hand, 分かる (wakaru), meaning ‘to understand’, is an u-verb, as its preceding vowel sound is /a/. Consequently, their polite forms (ます-form) are 食べます and 分かります, respectively (not 分かます).

Exceptional cases of u-verbs ending in る

It’s important to remember that while verbs preceding る with /i/ or /e/ are generally ru-verbs, there are exceptions. Notable beginner-level exceptions among u-verbs ending in る, which precede an /i/ or /e/ sound, include:

U-Verb Romaji Reading Meaning ます-form
帰(かえ) kaeru to return ます
知(し) shiru to know ます
入(はい) hairu to enter ます
要(い) iru to need (…が) 要ます
切(き) kiru to cut ます
走(はし) hashiru to run ます
しゃべ shaberu to chat しゃべます
減(へ) heru to decrease ます


Tips for changing dictionary form to ます-form

  • Memorise the patterns for each type of verb by using resources, such as verb conjugation charts or apps.
  • Practise regularly to get used to the patterns.
  • Read the verbs aloud in their ます-form to describe activities or actions you engage in. For example, if you regularly read books, you might say 本(ほん)を読(よ)みます for ‘I read books’.


Exercise 1

Use the resource provided by Steven Kraft to practise the conjugation of basic verbs. Visit this page and type in the ます-form of verbs for practice.




1 Exclamation IconExclamation Icon” by Dave Gandy. Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC by SA 3.0.



Kraft, Steven. “Polite Form Practice.” Accessed December 12, 2023. https://steven-kraft.com/projects/japanese/politeform/.

———. “Steven Kraft’s Japanese Projects.” Accessed December 12, 2023. https://steven-kraft.com/projects/japanese/.

Shiro Neko Japanese. “Japanese [#3-6] [GENKI L3]—Conjugate from DICTIONARY Form to MASU Form (Verb Conjugation #3).” YouTube video, 4:51. September 10, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=su0kg2-BI6E.




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