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Intro to Japanese

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1Intro to Japanese Empty Intro to Japanese on Thu Jul 09, 2015 12:56 pm



I heard there was some interest in learning Japanese. I've been studying Japanese for a few years now, and have taught Japanese I for three years or so. I'm by no means fluent, but I can hold a conversation and can read enough to play most Final Fantasy games, which is probably enough for you guys too.

I'm hoping to use this thread to just post a series of lessons and resources over the course of however long I feel like doing this. I'll use this first post as a table of contents to link to all of the lessons, so between lesson posts you can feel free to ask me questions or just chat or something. Don't feel like you'd be cluttering the thread by posting.


Last edited by Kiyoko on Thu Sep 17, 2015 10:56 am; edited 12 times in total

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2Intro to Japanese Empty Re: Intro to Japanese on Thu Jul 09, 2015 1:17 pm



You may or may not already know, Japanese has three writing systems:


Hiragana is the phonetic alphabet. It's used for a lot of little grammatical things, like particles (e.g. subject markers, object markers, etc.) and at the ends of verbs for conjugation.

Katakana is also a phonetic alphabet, but it's used almost exclusively for loan words. In modern times, it's also used as a way to emphasize a word, the same way you would use italics or ALL CAPS in English.

Kanji are characters that come from Chinese. For the most part, they have a similar meaning to their Chinese counterparts, but are used differently. Kanji is kind of optional; you could write the word 猫 (cat) or its hiragana pronunciation ねこ in a sentence, and both versions would be completely understandable. What's the point of using kanji, then? Once you learn a few, it actually makes sentences much faster to read, since you can get the meaning of a phrase at a glance, rather than just the pronunciation.

For the purpose of these lessons, I'll mostly be writing in hiragana with romaji (romanized, i.e. using the Latin alphabet) transcriptions. I suggest you learn hiragana early on, because if you don't you'll eventually hit a brick wall in your Japanese studies and will have to learn it anyway, but don't feel pressured to memorize all of that just yet. At the bottom of this post, I'll link some useful resources for practicing.


Mostly focusing on hiragana for now. If people are interested I can add more for other writing systems, but honestly this is more than enough to occupy you guys for a few weeks.

  • Hiragana course on Memrise - Requires a memrise account, but memrise is awesome and you should make an account anyways.

  • Sheets for practicing writing hiragana - Shows the proper stroke order for writing hiragana and provides some space for practicing writing them. If you have the paper and ink to spare, I'd print these out because they're kinda useful. Otherwise you can practice with whatever scratch paper you've got.

  • Kana Invaders - This is literally space invaders, only with hiragana and katakana. It shows you hiragana and you type in what the character is. This is best for when you already know most of them, and want to practice in a fun and fast-paced setting.


Assignments are generally optional anyway, but this one is more optional than most. Just practice hiragana on your own time. I recommend writing them all out by hand at least once, just to get a feel for the weird loopy bits.

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3Intro to Japanese Empty Re: Intro to Japanese on Thu Jul 09, 2015 1:40 pm


LESSON 2.1: A は B です

So here's a phrase:

わたし は にんげん です。
watashi wa ningen desu.
I am human.

Usually, Japanese doesn't have spaces. At all. This is another reason why hiragana-only sentences are a pain in the ass to read. I'm adding spaces for these first few lessons so that you can actually tell where the word breaks are. So let's break this down.

わたし (watashi) just means "I" as in me, myself and I kind of I.

は (wa) * is the subject marker. It goes after the subject of a sentence, and it means, "this thing right before me? That's the subject of the sentence." In this case, the subject is わたし (watashi), or I, as mentioned above.

にんげん (ningen) just means "human." Not really a super useful word, but I thought of all the things I am and human is definitely one of those things.

You probably recognize the phrase です (desu). You were probably told it's the Japanese equivalent for "is." This is not entirely true, but since the word "copula" probably means nothing to you, let's just say it's usually equivalent to "is."

That little circle thing at the end is a Japanese period.


The sentence structure

A は B です。
A wa B desu.

just means "A is B."

You can put anything in there. "A" has to be a noun, since it's the subject, but "B" can be anything. Noun, adjective, whatever.

Barack Obama は president です。
Those shoes は old です。
My name は Kiyoko です。
That cat over there は a lazy fat-ass です。

So there you go. Now you know a single sentence structure in Japanese. This is a half-lesson, because next lesson I'm going to talk about how you build on this structure to say actual useful phrases.

* If you studied hiragana like I suggested in Lesson 1, you might be thinking, "Wait hold on a bit, isn't the character は pronounced 'ha,' not 'wa'?"

And you are correct! Good eye.

Particles are a little weird, some of them have irregular pronunciations. Just remember that if は is being used as a subject marker, you pronounce it "wa."

Luckily, this is one of the very very few times a hiragana character isn't pronounced the way you'd expect, so there aren't too many extra pronunciation rules to learn.

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4Intro to Japanese Empty Re: Intro to Japanese on Thu Jul 09, 2015 2:31 pm



This is a continuation of lesson 2.1 where we use that structure to actually build relevant sentences. But first, some vocabulary.

Subject Vocab:

あなたたちanata-tachiyou guys
かれらkare-rathey (masc.)
かのじょたちkanojo-tachithey (fem.)
これkorethis (near me)
それsorethat (near you, but not me)
あれarethat over there (not near either of us)


わたし は きよこ です。
watashi wa Kiyoko desu.
I am Kiyoko.

Cool, what's that chick's name?

かのじょ は はるひ です。
kanojo wa Haruhi desu.
She is Haruhi.



わたし は 5さい です。
watashi wa 5-sai desu.
I am 5 years old.

This is 100% true. I am a very prolific 5-year-old. I'll do a separate lesson on numbers later, so it's okay if you read that in your head as "five-sai" for now. Japanese has its own set of kanji for numbers (same as the Chinese characters), but they also occasionally use Arabic numerals, so if you were to type an Arabic numeral some Japanese person online would understand you.

So hey, how old are those dudes?

かれら は 24さい です。
kare-ra wa 24-sai desu.
They are 24 years old.

This implies that all of those dudes are all 24, but hey, still useful to know how to say.

Also easy.


Nationality Vocab:

かんこくkankokuSouth Korea

There is one country slipped in there specifically for a certain member on this forum.

You're gonna notice that all the Asian countries on that list are written in hiragana, and all the non-Asian ones are written in katakana, and some of them are just plain weird. Like, where the hell did イギリス (igirisu) come from? Apparently, it comes from the Portuguese word for England, because the Portuguese got there first and were like "Hey this is what those guys are called" and Japan was like "Oh okay cool. We can't pronounce this."

If you want to learn all the Japanese country names really, really well, go watch Hetalia.

Okay so now, what country are you from?

わたし は アメリカ じん です。
watashi wa amerika-jin desu.
I am American.

じん (jin) means "person," so literally I guess this would be, "I am an America-person" which is exactly what I am. Just like with age and "sai," you can just stick "jin" at the end of any country name to say that you are someone from that country.

Stalin は ロシア じん です。
Stalin wa roshia-jin desu.
Stalin is Russian.

Mao Zedong は ちゅうごく じん です。
Mao Zedong wa chuugoku-jin desu.
Mao Zedong is Chinese.


Tell me your name, age, and nationality in Japanese.

Then, pick someone else, and tell me their name, age, and nationality.

If you don't want to share, just make shit up. If you don't know the Japanese word for for a country, stick the English word there instead. It's okay, this is just practice.

You don't have to actually submit this to me, this is an on-your-own kind of thing. If you do actually want to send it to me though, you can either post it in this thread (you can use English letters, you don't need to type in hiragana or anything) or PM me and I'll let you know if you made any mistakes. You probably didn't make any mistakes. This is all very straightforward stuff.

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5Intro to Japanese Empty Re: Intro to Japanese on Thu Jul 09, 2015 4:18 pm



In English, when you want to turn a sentence into a question, you move the word order around a bit.

That is a dog. → Is that a dog?

In Japanese, to turn a sentence into a question, you just add the particle か (ka) to the end.

あれ は いぬ です。 → あれ は いぬ です か。
are wa inu desu. → are wa inu desu ka.
That is a dog. → Is that a dog?

You might notice that the question version still uses a period. That's because the "ka" is already a question indicator, so a question mark is not needed. In some sentences where a "ka" is omitted, for example in more casual dialogue where sometimes words are dropped, a question mark might get introduced to clear up any ambiguity.

So now you know how to ask yes or no questions. How do you answer them?



There are a few more ways to say yes or no depending on politeness, but use these ones for now. For the record, いいえ (iie) is pronounced as "ee-eh" with the first syllable kind of drawn out a bit. So, two syllables overall.


If your answer to a question is affirmative, it's pretty straightforward. You already know this.

あれ は いぬ です か。はい、あれ は いぬ です。
are wa inu desu ka. hai, are wa inu desu.
Is that a dog? Yes, that is a dog.

So now how do you say "that is not a dog"?

The negative equivalent of です (desu) is じゃ ありません (ja arimasen).

They totally look related, right? If they were siblings, they'd be twins. Except different ages, and also different races, and one of them is actually adopted.

In any case, you use じゃ ありません (ja arimasen) the same way you'd use です (desu).

あれ は いぬ です か。いいえ、あれ は いぬ じゃ ありません。
are wa inu desu ka? iie, are wa inu ja arimasen.
Is that a dog? No, that is not a dog.

And of course, if you want to be more useful, you can always answer like this:

あれ は いぬ です か。いいえ、あれ は ねこ です。
are wa inu desu ka? iie, are wa neko desu.
Is that a dog? No, that is a cat.

Look at you, now you can hold an entire conversation in Japanese. Assuming that conversation consists of asking each other nothing but yes or no questions about your names, ages and nationalities, or whether or not something is canine in species and form.

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6Intro to Japanese Empty Re: Intro to Japanese on Thu Jul 09, 2015 10:21 pm



Are commas actually used in Japanese?

... I totally had other questions, but I've forgotten them. Hm. Oh, does じゃありません have any connection to anything? Or... hm. How to word it? It seems like quite the leap from です to じゃありません. I think I remember hearing about "na" and "i" adjectives in the context of negative sentences? Or... with a word like kunai or something. Ah, I'm so silly. That'll probably come later, anyway.

Kana Invaders was so fun. I was able to eventually reach level 23 on Hiragana before I imploded from mental fatigue. Will try katakana later.


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7Intro to Japanese Empty Re: Intro to Japanese on Thu Jul 09, 2015 11:46 pm


Yes! Commas are used in Japanese. They actually slant the opposite direction from English commas.

English comma: ,,,,,,,,
Japanese comma: 、、、、、、、、

I didn't actually know the specific rules for Japanese commas so I looked them up. Turns out there are no rules. You use them when you think you ought to take a breath.

じゃありません (ja arimasen) is a shortening of ではありません (de wa arimasen), I believe. In this case, the で (de) in ではありません (de wa arimasen) is similar to です (desu).

ではありません (de wa arimasen) is used spelled as is, but it's considered more formal than じゃありません (ja arimasen), which is already fairly formal to begin with.

ありません (arimasen) is the negative -masu form of the verb ある (aru) which means "there is/there exists." The negative plain form of ある (aru) is ない (nai), like you mentioned in your post. So for clarity:

-masu form plain form
positive あります ある
negative ありません ない

For the record, and I'll do a separate lesson on this later, ある (aru) is used only to refer to inanimate objects existing. For living creatures, there's a different "there is" verb: いる (iru).

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8Intro to Japanese Empty Re: Intro to Japanese on Fri Jul 10, 2015 12:45 pm

It did seem like they had their own comma, given the unique character, but at a glance it looked so out of place in the Japanese writing system. I'm guessing it has to be a result of outsider influence, especially if it's lacking any particular rule set.

Hm! Thanks for answering. I did suspect that there was something related to a -masu form given the masen ending, which is why I was curious as to the root of the word(s).

I shall await your next lesson, sensei!

Intro to Japanese KnbGfg8Intro to Japanese ELMWjY5Intro to Japanese ZjYAjXi
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9Intro to Japanese Empty Re: Intro to Japanese on Sat Jul 11, 2015 4:13 pm



This lesson is for learning how to ask questions. Knowing how to answer, or how to understand the answers, comes with learning the actual rest of the language.

Question Vocab:

なぜnazewhy (more formal)
いくらikurahow much
いくつikutsuhow many
どのdonowhich one
どちらdochirawhich way


You can use the "A は B です" structure with the question marker か as mentioned in previous lessons in order to form simple questions. You want the question word to go in the "B" slot, never the "A" slot. For example:

わたし は だれ です か。
watashi wa dare desu ka.
Who am I?

かれ は どう です か。
kare wa dou desu ka.
How is he?

これ は いくら です か。
kore wa ikura desu ka.
How much is this (how much does this cost)?

But this would be wrong:

だれ は わたし です か。
dare wa watashi desu ka.

So don't do that. You might be tempted to, because it kind of matches the English word order where the question word goes first and then the subject, but no. English and Japanese are separated by an ocean of difference. A Pacific Ocean of difference.


I'm pulling this out because どうして (doushite) and なぜ (naze) don't quite work with the above structure. You can't really ask, "Why is he?" unless you are an existential-minded Juliet wondering wherefore art thou Romeo.

I'll go into this later once you have some more vocab under your belt, but in case you're curious, a "why" question would look something like this:

かれ は どうして [doing that thing] です か。
kare wa doushite [doing that thing] desu ka.
Why is he [doing that thing]?

For the record, どうして (doushite) and なぜ (naze) are more or less interchangeable. The only difference is that なぜ (naze) is a little more formal, but it doesn't really matter which one you use.

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10Intro to Japanese Empty Re: Intro to Japanese on Sat Jul 11, 2015 4:44 pm




よん / しyon / shifour
なな / しちnana / shichiseven
きゅう / くkyuu / kunine

Woah, hold up, what's with those weird slashes? I didn't sign up for this.

No it's okay, calm down. The slashes are alternate pronunciations. You can use them interchangeably in a lot of situations, though there are some words that will almost always pair with one pronunciation. For example, よんじ (yon-ji) is four o'clock, but しがつ (shi-gatsu) is April (fourth month).

You'll learn those individually with each vocab section so don't freak out about it now. When in doubt, use the pronunciation on the left (yon, nana, kyuu) because that's the most common one in my experience.


Counting from 11 through 99 requires no additional vocab once you know the above stuff.

To form a number in the teens, you just say the word ten, and then the number in the one's digit. For example:

11 ten-one じゅういち (juu-ichi)
12 ten-two じゅうに (juu-ni)
13 ten-three じゅうさん (juu-san)
and so on.

To form a multiple of ten, you say the digit, and then the word ten.

20 two-ten にじゅう (ni-juu)
30 three-ten さんじゅう (san-juu)
40 four-ten よんじゅう (yon-juu)
and so on.

And so it should come to no surprise to you that you break down other numbers like this:

21 two-ten-one にじゅういち (ni-juu-ichi)
75 seven-ten-five ななじゅうご (nana-juu-go)
94 nine-ten-four きゅうじゅうよん (kyuu-juu-yon)
For those of you who speak Chinese, this system should seem really, really familiar.


The concept of "zero" isn't really that common in Japanese. When you've go zero of something, you just say, "I don't have any of that thing." You can already see above that you don't really need the word "zero" when counting.

However, for completion's sake, there are two words for "zero."


The latter, the one that comes from English, is actually the one people use most commonly.


Past 99, things start getting weird. Alternate pronunciations and weird exponents and shit. We'll do that later.


Go to and generate a bunch of numbers between 1 and 99. Write down what those numbers are in hiragana.

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11Intro to Japanese Empty Re: Intro to Japanese on Sun Jul 12, 2015 1:55 pm

I always find it funny when Bulgaria is included in a list filled with other well known countries. xDDD

Oh God I've been meaning to do Japanese (and Turkish too. Duolingo-ing at a slow pace) but I've been a bit preoccupied these past weeks. Thanks a lot for these resources, Kiyoko. @___@

Intro to Japanese UOB5SkAIntro to Japanese UOB5SkAIntro to Japanese UOB5SkAIntro to Japanese KnbGfg8Intro to Japanese UOB5SkAIntro to Japanese UOB5SkA

- "Wtf Kyouko stop cosplaying."
- "No."

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12Intro to Japanese Empty Re: Intro to Japanese on Sun Jul 12, 2015 5:34 pm


\ovo/ I've always wanted to write up mini Japanese lessons, anyway. If there's anything in particular you'd like to learn, let me know.

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13Intro to Japanese Empty Re: Intro to Japanese on Tue Jul 14, 2015 12:30 am

This number system is interesting. The logic of it makes sense and is easy to follow and learn. One thing that stands out to me is how if you look into the middle of a word, it's a bit deceptive.


What stands out to me is that if you only look at the latter half, you see


Which would be 17, with a 9 attached onto the front. Obviously, you'd read the number in full, but it's interesting how the ordering so dramatically affects the word, whereas in English it would just be ninety-seven. Each part of that word is essentially self-referencing, if you will. But with Japanese, you can't really take the word apart at all. Hm. I guess my example is flawed, actually, because in this case the jyuu is attached to the kyuu to quantify the latter as 90. So maybe it's more like taking the "ty" off of ninety. I probably sound ridiculous, but I'm keeping this part in here anyway because it made me think about the logic of the numbers.

Also, it is at this point that I just realized I did my entire lesson and random number practice while omitting the う in じゅう but not in きゅう. Sigh...

Hm, so, I don't have any questions right this moment for the grammar behind the questions sections, which looks pretty simple to follow, actually! I'll let you know if something comes up. However, while reading through those examples I remembered two questions I had for the earlier lessons and ended up forgetting.

Previously I meant to ask about some specifics relating to subject pronouns. I can tell that the -tachi is used to pluralize the corresponding singular pronouns. I think I recall seeing something similar for other objects or nouns in the form of -mono. For example, tabemono seems to be a portmanteau of the verb to eat, taberu and the mono modifier. I think it basically amounts to "eat-things"? This is probably a bit far ahead of the current lessons, but I'm curious if -tachi is used in other instances, and also if -mono is kind of similar or what it is for.

Additionally, can you explain why there's an inconsistency between kare-ra and kanojo-tachi? For that matter, I'm guessing that they function like the Romance languages we've studied where kare-ra is used for either masculine or mixed groups, and kanojo-tachi is used only for female groups?

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14Intro to Japanese Empty Re: Intro to Japanese on Tue Jul 14, 2015 1:06 pm


もの (mono) literally means "thing," so you're correct.

たべもの (tabemono) = eat+thing = food
のみもの (nomimono) = drink+thing = drink
たてもの (tatemono) = construct+thing = building
のりもの (norimono) = ride+thing = vehicle

This isn't a super common pattern, though, so you can't just arbitrarily stick "mono" to the end of verbs.

たち (tachi) is a pluralizing suffix, and this you can arbitrarily stick onto things. I should probably do a lesson on this in and of itself, but Japanese doesn't really have plurals. こども (kodomo) can either mean "child" or "children," for example.

If you say こどもたち (kodomo-tachi) it's emphasized that it's "children, plural." An article on another site I once read described たち (tachi) as having a meaning closer to "and company," so こどもたち (kodomo-tachi) is like "(a child/children) and company."

To further support the "and company" translation, you can also use たち (tachi) for something like きよこたち (Kiyoko-tachi) which means "Kiyoko and her group" rather than "multiple Kiyokos."

You don't really use たち (tachi) for inanimate objects, unless you're trying to personify the inanimate object. It'd be like saying, "Oh yeah, I have cheese and friends in the pantry."

ら (ra) is kind of the same as たち (tachi), but has a more specific usage. For the record かのじょら (kanojo-ra) is acceptable but かれたち (kare-tachi), while grammatically correct, isn't commonly used.

ら (ra) and たち (tachi) are not quite interchangeable, because using one instead of the other can change subtle things like the level of politeness of the sentence. I'm not going to get into that here. If you want to be safe for now, just use ら (ra) for かれら (kare-ra) and then たち (tachi) for everything else.

There are also other ways to pluralize, but that's probably going to be a separate full lesson because if I go into it now this post will get longer than it already is.

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15Intro to Japanese Empty Re: Intro to Japanese on Tue Jul 14, 2015 2:29 pm



There are two types of verbs in Japanese. We'll call them う (u) and る (ru) verbs. You'll see why in a bit.


So Japanese is one of those languages that has a billion things you can append to the end of verbs to change things like politeness, subtle nuances, etc. etc.

For these early lessons, I'm going to focus on two types of verb forms.

The first verb form is plain form, which is what a verb looks like when you look it up in the dictionary. Plain form verbs all end with -う (-u) or る (ru), which is why I called them う (u) and る (ru) verbs above. Don't worry about this form yet, except to know that this is what it looks like in the dictionary.

The second verb form is ます (-masu) form, which is when you stick the suffix "masu" at the end of the verb. This is the form we care about right now. ます (-masu) form is the polite way to conjugate all verbs, and it's the form that's taught to beginners. When you're speaking, just use "-masu" form all the time and you can't go wrong.


る (ru) verbs end with る in plain form. For example.

たべる (taberu) = to eat
みる (miru) = to see
ねる (neru) = to sleep

To turn a る verb into its ます (-masu) form, you just take off the る and add ます. So.

たべる (taberu) → たべます (tabemasu) = to eat
みる (miru) → みます (mimasu) = to see
ねる (neru) → ねます (nemasu) = to sleep


う (u) verbs in plain form don't always literally end with the hiragana う. They end in the "u" sound, which means things like く (ku), す (su), む (mu), ぬ (nu), etc. etc.

Some examples.

のむ (nomu) = to drink
きく (kiku) = to hear
はなす (hanasu) = to speak

To turn these ones into their ます (-masu) forms, you change the "u" into an "i", and then add masu to the end. So "kiku" becomes "kikimasu."

のむ (nomu) → のみます (nomimasu) = to drink
きく (kiku) → ききます (kikimasu) = to hear
はなす (hanasu) → はなします (hanashimasu) = to speak


So you know how cuckoo birds are assholes, and they hide their eggs in other birds' nests so that the other birds will raise the cuckoo as their own? Well, these verbs are the asshole cuckoo verbs of verb land. They end in る but they follow the う verb rules. They're still classified as う verbs, it's just hard to tell which one they are without a dictionary.

わかる (wakaru) → わかります (wakarimasu) = to understand
かえる (kaeru) → = かえります (kaerimasu) = to return
はしる (hashiru) → = はしります (hashirimasu) = to run

If you want to see the way you transform every possible u verb ending, expand the spoiler.


あう (au) → あいます (aimasu) = to meet
かく (kaku) → かきます (kakimasu) = to write
はなす (hanasu) → はなします (hanashimasu) = to speak
たつ (tatsu) → たちます (tachimasu) = to stand
しぬ (shinu) → しにます (shinimasu) = to die
よむ (yomu) → よみます (yomimasu) = to read
はしる (hashiru) → はしります (hashirimasu) = to run
およぐ (oyogu) → およぎます (oyogimasu) = to swim
あそぶ (asobu) → あそびます (asobimasu) = to play


Yeah like the above bit wasn't irregular enough, right? No, those ones are actually regular. They follow the rules, just not the rules you might expect at first. These next ones are actually irregular irregular.

So some courses like to tell you that there are only two irregular verbs in Japanese. This is only kind of true. These are the only two verbs that are irregular in most of their conjugations. There are other verbs that have some weird spelling quirks when conjugated, just to make them easier to pronounce and shit.

tl;dr, There are more than two irregular verbs in Japanese, but there are only two super-irregular ones.

する (suru) = to do
くる (kuru) = to come

Hey those look like normal verbs, right? Except then they go ahead and do this shit.

する(suru) → します(shimasu) = to do
くる (kuru) → きます(kimasu) = to come

So these greedy-ass double-dipping verbs drop the "ru" and then do the whole "u → i" change anyway.


So now you know how to make all these -masu verbs. Look at you just -masu-ing all over the place. Now where do you actually put these verbs?

In Japanese, the verb goes at the end of a sentence.

わたし は たべます。
watashi wa tabemasu.
I eat.

For the record, when asking a question, か still goes at the very end.

かれ は はしります か。
kare wa hashirimasu ka.
Does he run? / Is he running?

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