An Introduction to Japanese Verbs – “masu” Form

A lot of Japanese grammar is based in it’s verbs which when conjugated (changed into a different form) can give a very different meaning to the sentence.

The Basics of Japanese Verbs – “masu”* Form
*Pronounced “mass” rather than “ma-su”, but in Japanese characters is spelt ま”ma” す “su”

A few examples:
かきます – “kakimasu” = to write
いきます – “ikimasu” = to go
たべます – “tabemasu” = to eat
ねます – “nemasu” = to sleep
します – “shimasu” = to do
きます – “kimasu” = to come

Most people when they begin to learn Japanese learn the “masu” form of verbs because they are polite, and easy to conjugate later into past, negative and present continuing tenses.

When put into a simple sentence these verbs always comes at the end.
てがみをかきます – “tegami wo kakimasu” = I write a letter
りんごをたべます – “ringo wo tabemasu” = I eat an apple
スキーします – “sukii shimasu” = I ski

Although these sentences do not use the word “watashi ha” meaning “I…” they are still read as if they do. In Japanese unless you are specifically mentioning another person in the sentence it is assumed that you are talking about yourself.
かれはがっこうにいきます – “kare wa gakkou ni ikimasu” = he goes to school
おかあさんはテレビのまえにねます – “okaasan wa terebi no mae ni nemasu” = (my) mum sleeps in front of the TV.

Changing “masu” Form into Past, Negative and Past Negative Tenses

I mentioned that this verb form was very easy to conjugate, which it is. When changing the tense of a “masu” form verb all you do is change the end of “masu”

Past Tense (I did)  ます “masu” -> ました “mashita”
かきました – “kakimashita” = I wrote
いきました – “ikimashita” = I went
たべました – “tabemashita” = I ate
ねました – “nemashita” = I slept
しました – “shimashita” = I did
きました – “kimashita” = I came

Negative Tense (I don’t) ます “masu” -> ません “masen”
かきません – “kakimasen” = I don’t write
いきません – “ikimasen” = I don’t go
たべません – “tabemasen” = I don’t eat
ねません – “nemasen” = I don’t sleep
しません – “shimasen” = I don’t do
きません – “kimasen” = I don’t come

Past Negative Tense (I didn’t) ます “masu” -> ませんでした “masendeshita”
かきませんでした – “kakimasendeshita” = I didn’t write
いきませんでした – “ikimasendeshita” = I didn’t go
たべませんでした – “tebemasendeshita” = I didn’t eat
ねませんでした – “nemasendeshita” = I didn’t sleep
しませんでした – “shimasendeshita” = I didn’t do
きませんでした – “kimasendeshita” = I didn’t come

How to Study These Verb Forms

The best way to learn these verb forms and tenses is to practice writing your own sentences. This is also a good way to practice using vocabulary and particles. (I have written a similar post to this which focuses on sentence constructions using verbs and particles so if you’re stuck look at that.)
You could write a simple mini-diary by using sentences like “I wake up at 8:00. Today I woke up at 12:00. I did not sleep last night”. Or try to think of simple sentences when you’re out and about watching other people. If you can’t think of a word look it up online or with a dictionary and make a note of it. Remember to learn this vocabulary later on (a good way to do this is will a flashcard program like Memrise).

Writing mini-diaries or thinking up simple sentences like this when you’re starting Japanese is a good way to expand your vocabulary and practice constructing your Japanese. If you don’t have a Japanese teacher you can ask native Japanese via sites like Lang-8 to correct your Japanese for you.

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