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Monday, April 11, 2022

-u Verbs

In some Japanese textbooks, the term -u verb (or u-verb) means the same thing as a godan verb. Such verbs always end in the ~u vowel in their nonpast form (or dictionary form, shuushikei 終止形), however, they aren't the only ones to do so: ALL Japanese verbs end in the ~u vowel, including, for example, ichidan verbs (-ru verbs), which aren't -u verbs, so not all verbs that end in the ~u vowel are actually -u verbs, making the term extremely confusing for lots of people trying to learn Japanese.(Steffanick, 2010:20)

Grammar

See the article about godan verbs for details on grammar and conjugation. This article is mainly about the term -u verb itself.

Explanation of the Term

The reason why the term -u verb appears to be completely useless is because it refers to the morphology of the verb: when an -u verb is conjugated, everything before the ~u vowel stays the same (i.e. the stem is before ~u), so the last syllable's consonant (if any) stays the same, and only the vowel and everything gets replaced by a new suffix.

By contrast, with -ru verbs, the ~ru syllable gets replaced, so it's the ~u vowel PLUS the ~r consonant that can disappear, i.e. it's not ONLY the ~u vowel, so it's not an -u verb. Observe:

-ru verb -u verb
Nonpast form ki-ru
着る
Will wear.
kir-u
切る
Will sever.
Past form ki-ta
着た
Wore.
*kir-ita
切りた
(merges by sokuonbin 促音便.)
kitta
切った
Severed.
Negative form ki-nai
着ない
Won't wear.
kir-anai
切らない
Won't sever.
Volitional form ki-you
着よう
Let's wear.
kir-ou
切ろう
Let's cut.

So -u verb means "the -u ending gets replaced"-verb, and -ru verb means "the -ru ending gets replaced"-verb.

To make matters more confusing, suru する and kuru 来る are irregular verbs that end in ~ru (sahen サ変 and kahen カ変 conjugation, respectively). These are neither -u verbs nor -ru verbs, because they don't follow a godan or an ichidan conjugation, e.g. their past forms are shita した and kita きた, respectively, so it's not only the ~u or ~ru that changes..

References

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