Apprentice Ninja Level

2 primary tenses : present and past

There are 2 primary tenses in Japanese: "Finished" and "Not finished".
Finished

Action / state already in the past
such as :
- I watched a movie yesterday.
- She has moved.
- I was sad.

Not finished

Action / state at the present or in the future
such as :
- I am watching a movie.
- She will move.
- I am sad.

As long as it is "Not finished", Japanese language does not distinguish the present from the future. I use the terms "present tense" for "Not finished" and "past tense" for "Finished". There is no particular form for the future tense in Japanese. We use the "present tense" for future action / state.

A verb comes at the end of the sentence

Like English, the subject comes at the beginning of the sentence. But the verb comes at the end of the sentence. All other information (what, when, where...) comes in between the subject and the verb.

subject

わたし

other information

when, where, with, by ....

verb

いきます

Equivalent of the verb "to be""です"

"The auxiliary verb です(desu) is the equivalent of the verb "to be". です(desu) conjugates (changes form) according to past / present tense and affirmative / negative. But, です(desu) does not conjugate according to the subject and can be used for any subject (I, you, he, they...). Just like all verbs, です(desu) comes at the end of the sentence. See the conjugation chart below.

present

です

past

でした

ではありません

ではありませんでした

Examples

わたし

せんせい

です

I am a teacher.

わたし

せんせい

ではありません

I am not a teacher.

わたし

せんせい

でした

I was a teacher.

わたし

せんせい

ではありませんでした

I was not a teacher.

Auxiliary verb of politeness "ます"

There is a clear distinction between the polite (when you speak to an unknown person, your superior etc) and casual speaking style (when you speak to friends, family etc) in Japanese. When you speak (or write) politely to people, the verb is always used with the auxiliary verb of politeness ます (masu). There is no direct translation of the word ます(masu) in English, but it just turns the sentence into the polite style. ます(masu) can be used for any subject (I, you, he, they…). In the Apprentice Ninja level, ます (masu) is always being used. Polite speaking style is appropriate in most situations and it would be useful for you to learn it first.

present

verb + ます

past

verb + ました

verb + ません

verb + ませんでした

Examples

はなし + ます = はなします

のりこ

はなします

Noriko talks.

あなた

はなしません

You don't talk.

わたし

はなしました

I talked.

かれ

はなしませんでした

He didn't talk.

Grammatical element called "particle"

In Japanese, there is a grammatical element called "Particle" which does not exist in English. In general, the particles are 1 or 2 syllables (sounds) and indicate the role of the preceding word in a sentence. They are similar to "prepositions" (to, on, at, with, for...) in English, but particles are placed after the related word. Click here for more information and a list of frequently used particles.

subjectother informationverb

わたし

かぞく

レストラン

いきました

I went to the restaurant with family.

Particle "wa" indicates that the immediately preceding word is the topic / subject of the sentence

Particle "to" indicates the accompaniment. It means "with someone" in English

Particle "ni" indicates the destination. It means "to" in English

How to form a question sentence

Simply add the question particle "ka" at the end of the sentence. It transforms the sentence into a question sentence. It is so easy ! The word order does not change.

これ

ほん です

This is a book.

これ

ほん です

Is this a book ?

ケビン

にほんご

はなします

Kevin speaks Japanese.

ケビン

にほんご

はなします

Does Kevin speak Japanese ?

For sentences using WH words, click here

Omitting the subject

Japanese sentences often omit the subject (what / who) when the subject is obvious from the contextual clues. This is hard to imagine for English speakers ! Let's understand how omitting the subject works.

1 - As long as the subject remains the same, it is often omitted in the following sentences.

まゆみさん

スーパー

いきました

Mayumi went to the supermarket.

それから

ぎんこう

いきました

Then, she went to the bank.

2 - The subjects « It » and « I » are often omitted.

とても

たかい です

It is very expensive

きのう

えいが

みました

Yesterday, I saw a movie.

3 - In general, the implied subject is « you » in question sentences.

しゅうまつ

なに

しましたか

What did you do during the weekend ?

How did you do on those 5 points ?
Once you have got these down, let's move on to the sentence structure !

Go to Top