Sunday, November 24, 2019

Godan Verbs

In Japanese, godan verbs are verbs which undergo godan katsuyou 五段活用, "five-column conjugation." This means that, when conjugated, their stem ends at the consonant, and the vowel of the last syllable can change into any of the five vowels: a-i-u-e-o.

They're also called "group 1 verbs," among the three groups of verbs that exist in Japanese.


The godan verbs are classified according to their endings, according to the last kana 仮名 of the verb in base form. The possible endings are u う, ku く, gu ぐ, su す, tsu つ, nu ぬ, bu ぶ, mu む, and ru る. For example:
  • kau
    To buy.
  • kaku
    To write.
  • oyogu
    To swim.
  • asobu
    To have fun. To play.
  • sagasu
    To kill.
  • katsu
    To win.
  • shinu
    To die.
  • yomu
    To read.
  • kiru
    To cut.

Note that, in a verb like kanashimu 悲しむ, "to feel sad," the okurigana is ~shimu ~しむ, but the classification is a godan verb ending in ~mu ~む. We only care about the last syllable of the verb, not what comes after the kanji.


The conjugation of godan verbs varies according to the ending of the godan verb. For some verb forms, it's very systematic and easy to understand, but for a few ones, it's more complicated. Naturally, we'll start by learning the easy one first.

First, let's take a lot at the conjugation of a godan verb ending in ~su ~す.
  1. ~sa ~さ
    ~so ~そ
    mizenkei 未然形
  2. ~shi ~し
    ren'youkei 連用形
  3. ~su ~す
    shuushikei 終止形
  4. ~su ~す
    rentaikei 連体形
  5. ~se ~せ
    kateikei 仮定形, or izenkei 已然形.
  6. ~se ~せ
    meireikei 命令形

The rest of the verb forms are created by adding a suffix called a jodoushi 助動詞 or other auxiliaries to these six basic forms.
  • korosu
    To kill. (non-past form, predicative form, shuushikei, attributive form, rentaikei.)
  • koroshita
    Killed. (past form.)
    • koroshitara
      If killed. (tara-form.)
    • koroshitari
      Killed and. (tari-form.)
  • korosanai
    To not kill. (negative form.)
    • korosanakatta
      Did not kill. (past negative form.)
  • koroshi
    Killing. (noun form, ren'youkei.)
    To kill and.
  • koroshimasu
    To kill. (polite form.)
    • koroshimashita
      Killed. (past polite form.)
    • koroshimasen
      To not kill. (negative polite form.)
      • koroshimasen deshita
        Didn't kill. (past negative polite form.)
  • koroshite
    Kill and. (te-form.)
  • koroshitai
    To want to kill. (desiderative tai-form.)
    • koroshitakatta
      Wanted to kill. (past desiderative form.)
    • koroshitakunai
      To not want to kill. (negative desiderative form.)
      • koroshitakunakatta
        Didn't want to kill. (past negative desiderative form.)
  • koroseru
    To be able to kill. (potential verb.)
    • korosenai
      To not be able to kill. (negative potential form.)
  • korosareru
    To be killed. (passive form.)
    To be able to kill. (potential form.)
    • korosareta
      To have been killed. (past passive form.)
  • korosaseru
    To cause to kill. (causative form.)
    To force [someone] to kill [someone].
    To let [someone] kill [someone].
    • korosasenai
      To not let [someone] kill [someone]. (negative causative form.)
    • korosaserareru
      To have been caused to kill. (passive causative form.)
      To have been forced to kill [someone] by [someone].
      To have been let kill [someone] by [someone].
  • korosou
    Let's kill. (volitional form.)
  • korose
    Kill. (imperative form, meireikei.)
  • koroshinasai
    Kill. (imperative nasai-form.)
  • koroseba
    If kill. (conditional ba-form.)
  • korosanu
    To not kill. (negative nu-form.)
    • korosaneba
      If not kill. (conditional ba-form of nu-form.)
  • korosazu
    Without killing. (zu-form.)

The potential form of godan verbs is supposed to be the mizenkei, korosa~, plus the ~reru jodoushi, forming korosareru. However, in practice, the word koroseru is used instead for the potential form. This is a verb formed by slapping ~eru on the koros~ consonant-stem.

The jodoushi suffixed to the basic six forms can be conjugated into further complex forms. I include some of such forms above, but not all of them, since the same jodoushi always means the same thing.

For instance, the ~ta ~た jodoushi always means the past form of something: koroshita, korosanakatta, koroshimashita, korosareta, etc.

Besides the forms above, there are other forms created from auxiliary verbs and auxiliary adjectives.

Those that attach to the ren'youkei create compound words:

The hojo-doushi 補助動詞 and hojo-keiyoushi 補助形容詞 are those that attach to the te-form.
  • koroshite-iru
    To be killing.
    • te-iru form.
  • koroshite-oku
    To kill [in preparation for something].
    • te-oku form.
  • koroshite-ageru
    To kill [for someone].
    • ageru あげる auxiliary verb of giving.
  • koroshite-kudasai
    Please kill [for me]..
    • kudasai ください auxiliary verb of requesting.
  • koroshite-hoshii
    [I] want [you] to kill [someone].
    • hoshii ほしい auxiliary adjective.

With this we've covered pretty much all forms of a godan verb.

As you can see, the base form of the verb is korosu 殺す, ending with an ~u, but depending on the conjugation, the ending changes into sa-shi-su-se-so さしすせそ, before jodoushi and other auxiliaries are suffixed to it.

Note that the romaji of shi し is shi with an "h" in it. Don't mind that. It doesn't matter. In some romanization systems it's sa-si-su-se-so, just combining consonants and vowels, but in the Hepburn system it tries to approach the pronunciation, which is why it becomes an ungodly mess.

The important thing is that, when you lay out the kana 仮名 as a table, in the gojūon format, the vowels are assigned "columns," dan 段, and the consonants are assigned "rows," gyou 行. Observe:
  • a-i-u-e-o
  • ka-ki-ku-ke-ko
  • sa-shi-su-se-so
  • ta-chi-tsu-te-to

So a godan verb is a verb whose six basic forms range across all "five columns," all five vowels. Why does this happen? Because the godan verb actually ends before the ~u. It ends at the consonant.

The consonant is the stem, it's the root which all other forms branch out from. This is true even though Japanese doesn't have a native way to spell out the consonant separate from the vowel. Observe:
  • koros-u

  • To kill.
  • koros-i-tai (koroshitai)
    To want to kill.
  • koros-a-nai
    To not kill.
  • koros-o-u

    Let's kill.
  • koros-e-ru

    To be able to kill

All godan verbs follow this pattern, regardless of ending.
  • kak-u

    To write.
  • kak-i-tai
    To want to write.
  • kak-a-nai
    To not write.
  • kak-o-u

    Let's write.
  • kak-e-ru

    To be able to write.
  • kat-u (katsu)

    To win.
  • kat-i-tai (kachitai)
    To want to win.
  • kat-a-nai
    To not win.
  • kat-o-u

    Let's win.
  • kat-e-ru

    To be able to win.

Therefore, although godan verbs can end in u う, ku く, gu ぐ, su す, tsu つ, nu ぬ, bu ぶ, mu む, and ru る, you don't need to memorize each conjugation of each ending. You just need to memorize one of them, like su す, and the rest will follow the same pattern.

For example, say you want to conjugate yomu 読む, "to read," to its negative form, and you know that the negative of korosu 殺す is korosanai 殺さない, with an ~a plus ~nai, You can guess the negative form of yomu 読む will be yomanai 読まない, "to not read," with an ~a plus ~nai, too.

That's pretty much the gist of it, however, unfortunately, it's not so simple. There are few things to watch out for.

Past Form and Te-Form

The past form and the te-form of most godan verbs are affected by all sorts of changes of pronunciation, according to the ending of the verb.

Grammatically, the past form is composed of the ren'youkei form plus the ~ta ~た jodoushi, while the te-form is the same thing, but with the ~te ~て jodoushi instead. This ren'youkei form is the one that ends in ~i.

For the ~su ~す ending, it works as you would expect:
  • korosu, koroshita
    , 殺
  • Replace ~ta by ~te and you get koroshite 殺して, the te-form.

This is the only ending that works as you would expect.

For the ~ku ~く ending, a change happens:
  • kaku, kaki-ta, kaita
    , 書た, 書

This is called i-onbin イ音便, because ki き becomes i い. Basically, if you say kaki-ta 書きた very fast, you end up skipping the consonant of ki き, and pronouncing it as just i い. In modern Japanese there's no kaki-ta 書きた, it's always kaita 書いた, with the i-onbin already applied.

There are other kinds of onbin 音便 that apply to the ren'youkei form of godan verbs. In any of them, the term onbinkei 音便形 refers to the modified ren'youkei. For example, kaki 書き is the normal ren'youkei, while kai~ 書い~ is an onbinkei.

For the ~gu ~ぐ ending, the i-onbin also happens.
  • oyogu, oyogi-ta, oyoida
    , 泳た, 泳いだ

Note that ~gi ~ぎ has a dakuten 濁点 (゛). That means it's a voiced syllable. When it turns into i い, that vocalization has to go somewhere, and it ends up in the ~ta ~た jodoushi, turning it into ~da ~だ.

This process, which turns ~ta ~た into ~da ~だ, is called renjoudaku 連声濁, and it applies to the te-form, too, changing ~te ~て into ~de ~で.

That is, the past form of kaku is kaita 書い. The te-form is kaite 書い. The past form of oyogu is oyoida 泳い. The te-form is oyoide 泳い. The dakuten of the past form always matches the te-form and vice-versa.

For the ~bu ~ぶ ending, since it has a dakuten, too, renjoudaku happens, too. However, instead of i-onbin, the ~bu ending undergoes hatsuonbin 撥音便, which adds the nasal vowel n ん, which is called a hatsuon 撥音.
  • asobu, asobi-ta, asonda
    , 遊た, 遊んだ
    • asonde 遊ん

This same nasal hatsuonbin happens with the n-m sounds in ~nu ~ぬ endings and ~mu ~む endings. Although there's no dakuten in this case, renjoudaku happens anyway, probably because of the n ん sound.
  • yomu, yomi-ta, yonda
    , 読た, 読ん
    • yonde 読ん
  • shinu, shini-ta, shinda
    , 死た, 死んだ
    • shinde 死ん

The rest of the godan verbs, ending in ~ru ~る, ~u ~う, ~tsu ~つ, undergo sokuonbin 促音便, which adds a sokuon 促音, represented by the small tsu, which means a double consonant, also called a geminate consonant.
  • kiru, kiri-ta, kitta
    , 切た, 切
    • kitte 切っ
  • kau, kai-ta, katta
    , 買た, 買
    • katte 買っ
  • katsu, kachi-ta, katta
    , 勝た, 勝
    • katte 勝っ

The conjugation rules above govern practically all godan verbs.

The only exception is the verb iku 行く, "to go," which doesn't conjugate like other ~ku ~く ending godan verbs. It doesn't get i-onbin. If it got i-onbin, it would become iita いいた, which sounds pretty weird.

Instead, iku gets sokuonbin, making it homonymous in certain forms with the verb iu 言う, "to say."
  • iku, itta
    , 行
    To go. Went.
    • itte 行っ
  • iu, itta
    , 言
    To say. Said.
    • itte 言っ

Here's a chart showing the conjugation:

Past form conjugation of godan verbs. 殺す, 殺した, 書く, 書いた, 泳ぐ, 泳いだ, 遊ぶ, 遊んだ, 死ぬ, 死んだ, 読む, 読んだ, 切る, 切った, 買う, 買った, 勝つ, 勝った, 行く, 行った. The くぐ endings are affected by イ音便. くぐぬむ are affected by 連声濁. ぶぬむ are affected by 撥音便. るうつ, and the verb 行く are affected by 促音便.

In general, the onbinkei forms apply only to the past form, the te-form, and its related forms. It doesn't apply to everything that needs a ren'youkei.

For example, the conditional tara-form has the ~tara ~たら jodoushi, which is derived from the ~ta ~た jodoushi. Consequently, when ~ta ~た is ~da ~だ, ~tara ~たら becomes ~dara ~だら.
  • kattara
    If won.
  • shindara
    If died.

More exactly, it seems ~ta ~た comes from ~taru ~たる, which comes from ~te-aru ~てある.

Since this ~te would become ~de, ~ta also becomes ~da. Another related word is the ren'youkei form of ~taru, ~tari ~たり, which becomes ~dari ~だり.
  • kattari
    Win and.
  • shindari
    Die and.

On the other hand the desiderative tai-form has the ~tai ~たい jodoushi, which, despite starting with ~ta, is NOT related to ~ta ~た jodoushi. It's instead related to an older ~tashi ~たし jodoushi.

Since it isn't related to ~ta, or ~te, it doesn't become ~dai ~だい, and it doesn't use the distorted onbinkei, it uses the normal ren'youkei, ending in ~i.
  • kachitai
    To want to win.
  • shinitai
    To want to die.

Polite Form

The normal way to conjugate a godan verb to polite form is simply the ren'youkei suffixed by the ~masu ~ます jodoushi.
  • kachimasu
    To win. (polite.)
  • shinimasu
    To die. (polite.)

The verbs gozaru ござる, nasaru なさる, kudasaru くださる, ossharu おっしゃる, and irassharu いらっしゃる, undergo i-onbin when suffixed by ~masu.
  • gozaimasu
    To be. (polite.)
  • nasaimasu
    To do. (polite.)
  • kudasaimasu
    To give. (polite.)
  • osshaimasu
    To say. (polite.)
  • irasshaimasu
    To go. (polite.)
    To come. (polite.)

The expression irasshaimase いらっしゃいませ, used to welcome someone in a store, is the imperative of irasshaimasu.

The auxiliary kudasai, often translated to "please," is an abbreviation of the imperative kudasaimase.

~う Ending

The godan verbs with ~u ~う ending work a bit different from the rest. Instead of a-i-u-e-o あいうえお, its five columns are wa-i-u-e-o いうえお. Observe:
  • ka-u
    To buy,
  • ka-i-tai
    To want to buy.
  • ka-wa-nai
    To not buy.
  • ka-o-u
    Let's buy.
  • ka-e-ru
    To be able to buy.

It's easier to imagine it's actually wa-wi-wo-we-wo, but wu just sounds like u, wo like o, wi like i, and we like e.

That's because, indeed, in modern Japanese wo を is pronounced exactly like o お. And it's only used in the wo を particle.

There used to be kana 仮名 for wi ゐ and we, but these characters were pronounced exactly like i い and e え in modern Japanese. They were redundant, so the Japanese government got rid of them.

~る Ending

Verbs ending in ~u ~う, ~ku ~く, ~su ~す, etc. are always godan verbs, but verbs ending in ~ru ~る aren't always godan verbs. For example:
  • kiru
    To cut.
    • A godan verb.
  • kiru
    To wear.

Naturally, verbs that aren't godan verbs don't conjugate like godan verbs. And thus everything that's written in this article becomes irrelevant with them.
  • kitta
    Cut. (past form.)
  • kita
    Wore. (past form.)
    • Note how there's sokuon っ in the ichidan verb.

So there are godan verbs and ichidan verbs that end with ~ru ~る, and they're conjugated differently.

Besides these, the verbs suru する, "to do," and kuru 来る, "to come," which also end in ~ru ~る, are kind of irregular, since they are neither godan nor ichidan, and are conjugated according in an unique way.

Besides those, you should also watch out for the verb of existence aru ある, which is a godan verb for the most part, except that its negative form isn't ar-a-nai あらない, it's just nai ない.

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