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Grammar page 1

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The first page of the grammar lessons.

Before you start you may want to learn the Kana, see Learn Hiragana and Katakana lesson 1 (and later lessons).


Practice Text 1

This text uses some concepts explained in this page

Paul is at the airport having just arrived in Japan and approaches someone while holding a photograph.

  • ポール:すみませんが、田中さんですか。
  • じょせい:いいえ、山本ですが・・・。
  • ポール:しつれいしました。ひとちがいです。

  • po-ru:sumimasenga, tanakasan desu ka.
  • josei:iie, yamamoto desu ga...
  • po-ru:shitsurei shimashita. hitochigai desu.

  • Paul : Excuse me, are you Mrs Tanaka?
  • Woman : No, I'm Mrs Yamamoto ...
  • Paul : Excuse me. I mistook you for someone else.

すみません (exp) (uk) sorry; excuse me; (P)
女性 【じょせい】 (n) woman; (P)
いいえ(P); いえ(P); いや (int) no; nay(P)
失礼 【しつれい】 (n,vs,adj-na,exp) (1) discourtesy; impoliteness; (2) Excuse me; Goodbye; (P)
する(plain) します(polite) (vs-i) (uk) to do; to try; to play (game) (P)
人違い 【ひとちがい】 (n,vs) mistaking one person for another; (P)

Basic Word Order

The sentence order is different from English. In English we use Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) but in Japanese it is usually Subject-Object-Verb (SOV) - observe:

Cats eat mice.

ねこはネズミをたべます。 neko wa nezumi o tabemasu.

Don't worry! It isn't as bad as it seems. You will get used to it.


Desu is a copula - a grammatical form that can act like to be (You know - is, are, am...) in English in the sense of explaining who or what something / one is or equating one thing with another. Let's take a look:

ゾウは大きいです。 zou wa ookii desu. Elephants are large.
これはねこです。 kore wa neko desu. This is a cat.

Most of the time you want to use the to be verb you will use desu. Later we will learn other forms to show existence.


  • is, are, am
  • always at the end
  • In the present tense the final 'u' is usually devoiced, sounding a little like "dess" HEAR IT! WAV 11 k

Existance あります and います

います is the verb for (animate) existance. That is to say "Something (that is alive) exists".

あります is the verb for (inanimate) existance. That is to say "Something (that is not alive) exists".

Both are used in the same way ○○が(あります / います) = ○○ exists.

ke-ki ga armasu.
There is a cake (lit. a cake exists).

With nothing else specified you can assume (like in English) that it 'exists' somewhere near to hand. You'd only say "There is a cake" if you'd seen one in the cuboard (or similar).

neko ga imasu.
There is a cat.

Now that should remind you of the previous section on です. It is quite easy for new learners to confuse です and います / あります so I will go over the difference again.

Imagine you are walking to school with a friend and she suddenly stops and says


you can assume that she has just seen a cat nearby (and if you look round you should see it too).

Next imagine the following day you are walking to school again and your friend sees something moving in the bushes, points to it and says


You've already been 'introduced' to the topic of "something in the bushes" and she is defining what is in the bushes.

neko desu.
It is a cat.

In other words です defines something to be something else while あります states that something exists (and brings it to people's attention).

Advanced students may want to look at ある vs いる.

Two Basic verb forms ~dictionary、~ます

There are many ways to change verbs, but here we will focus on 2 present tense forms "dictionary form" (also known as 'plain form') and "~masu form" (also known as 'polite form'). Note that these do not change the meaning of the verb but that the dictionary form is a more casual.

The dictionary form gets its name because it is what is found in the dictionary. Dictionary form verbs ends in -u (many end in -ru). ~Masu form verbs are so called because they always end in -masu in the present tense.

The way to transform between dictionary form and ~masu form depends on whether you are dealing with a godan verb or an ichidan verb.

Godan verb dictionary vs ~masu

Final 'u' (when written in romaji) is changed to 'i' and 'masu' added.

(To walk) 歩く aruku -> 歩きます arukimasu.

Ichidan verb dictionary vs ~masu

Final 'ru' is removed and 'masu' added.

(To eat) 食べる taberu -> 食べます tabemasu.

All ichidan verbs end in 'iru' or 'eru' when written in romaji but not all verbs ending in 'iru' or 'eru' are ichidan verbs.

  • (To run) 走る hashiru (Ends in 'iru' but is a godan verb).
  • (To go down e.g. a slope) 下りる oriru (Ends in 'iru' and is an ichidan verb).

Irregular verbs dictionary vs ~masu

する suru, 来る kuru and 行く are special cases. They are amoung the irregular verbs in Japanese (at this level the only irregular verbs you will encounter).

The ~masu form of する suru is します shimasu.

The ~masu form of くる kuru is きます kimasu

The ~masu form of いく iku is いきます ikimasu

The copula desu

です desu is the '~masu' form. That sounds odd because there is no ~masu in desu, so instead I'll say です desu is the polite form. The plain form of the copula is だ da. There are nuances to the use of だ that don't apply to other plain forms but those will be dealt with later. For now ...

The polite form of だ da is です desu.

STOP and test yourself.

To keep this page as simple as possible, I am writing all examples (for other grammar points) in the masu form.

Conjugating ~masu verbs

  • Present ~ます (MASU) -> Past ~ました (MASHITA)

たべます tabemasu (to eat) -> たべました tabemashita (ate)
のみます nomimasu (to drink) -> のみました nomimashita (drank)

  • Positive ~ます (MASU) -> Negative ~ません (MASEN)

たべます tabemasu (to eat) -> たべません tabemasen (to not eat)

  • Present positive ~ます (MASU) -> Past Negative ~ませんでした (MASEN DESHITA)

たべます tabemasu (to eat) -> たべません でした tabemasen deshita (didn't eat)
のみます nomimasu (to drink) -> のみません でした nomimasen deshita (didn't drink)

Note that でした is the same as the past tense of です (see next section).

Conjugating Desu

です doesn't conjugate like normal Japanese verbs.

  • です desu present tense.
  • でした deshita past tense.
  • ではありません negative.
  • ではありませんでした negative past tense.

mae no kuruma wa borubo deshita.
(My) previous car was a Volvo.

byouki dewa arimasen deshita.
(I) wasn't ill.

Making questions か

Making questions in Japanese is easy! -- REALLY! Usually you can change a statement into a question by just adding a か ka to the end!

amerikajin desu.
(I am) American.

amerikajin desu ka.
(Are you) an American?


ka is added to the end of statements.
Word order is not changed as in English
In Japanese (see right example) the ? (Question mark) is not required (optional)
Just like in English, the last syllable goes up in intonation
In spoken Japanese sometimes the ka can be dropped if you have the upwards intonation at the end. But for now, let's stick to using ka

Question words

By mastering these question words, your conversational skills will be much stronger!

  • いつ itsu - when

いつきましたか。 itsu kimashita ka. When did you come?

  • どこ doko - where

どこからきましたか。 doko kara kimashita ka. Where did you come from?

  • どうして doushite - why

どうしてきましたか。 doushite kimashita ka. Why did you come?

  • なぜ naze - why

なぜ naze? Why? [used in the same way as doushite]

  • だれ dare - who

だれがきましたか。 dare ga kimashita ka. Who came?

And last, but certainly not least

  • nani - what

なにを買いましたか。nani o kaimashita ka. What did you buy?
You can do a lot more with 何, see later lessons.


  • Even with the question word a か ka is used. (Except in casual spoken Japanese).
  • The question word is at the beginning, but after the は wa if there is one.

hirumeshi wa nani desu ka?
What is for dinner? (the question word dare is after the wa)
more on this


The equivalent to Mr. or Mrs. or Miss. is ~さん

USAGE: Right after the name. It is often used even with friends, however you should never use it after your own name.

くれいさん kurei san - Mr. Clay
山田さん yamada san - Mr. (or Mrs...) Yamada

Other honorifics: (used the same way)

~さま sama - very polite - reserved for royalty, important people, and customers of stores
~ちゃん chan - used for young girls (kiti-chan = Hello Kitty)
~くん kun - used for young boys
~先生 sensei - used for teachers [クレイ先生 kurei sensei], doctors, and professionals

For more detail see this article on 敬称 keishou.

For now just use san. It is the most common. More advanced students may want to check out Keigo for more on this.

STOP and test yourself.

Continue to lesson 2

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