How to Make and Use Japanese Volitional Form
Volitional Form in Japanese is a set of two conjugation patterns that turn verbs from statements into suggestions. (For instance, conjugating “We will eat” into “Let’s eat,” or “We will practice” into “Let’s practice”).
Volitional Form is certainly useful in and of itself, but (as is true of many Japanese conjugation patterns). Volitional Form is important to know because it also appears in several other unrelated grammar patterns.
What can you learn in this post:
- Polite Volitional Form and how to use it
- Plain Volitional Form and how to use it
- Other grammar patterns that use Volitional Form verbs but are not volitional patterns.
1. Polite Volitional Form
Conjugating a verb from your dictionary into Polite Volitional Form is the exact same process as conjugating that verb into -Masu Form. In fact, it may be helpful to think of Polite Volitional Form as being just an additional -Masu Form conjugation.
(If you are not familiar with -Masu Form, or if you would like to review it, click here for our first -Masu article (present tense -Masu Form) and here for our second -Masu article (past tense -Masu Form)).
How to create polite volitional form:
First, conjugate the verb in question into stem form. Then, add “-mashou” to the end of the stem. For example, the stem form of the verb “yomu” (to read) is “yomi;” so the Polite Volitional Form of “yomu” is “yomi mashou.”
読む → 読み → 読みましょう
That’s it! To make a suggestion, all you need to do is construct a present-tense sentence, and then change the final verb to “[verb stem]-mashou”:
外で教科書を読む／読みます。 → 外で教科書を読みましょう。
Soto de kyoukasho o yomu/yomi masu (I read the textbook outside) → Soto de kyoukasho o yomi mashou (Let’s read the textbook outside).
Regardless of whether the suggestion that you want to make has only one action (e.g. read) or multiple actions (e.g. buy tea and read), only the final verb in the sentence needs to be changed to Volitional Form.
Ocha o katte, soto de kyoukasho o yomi mashou
(Let’s buy tea, and read the textbook outside).
Volitional sentences often have no subject/topic, so if you are changing a statement sentence into a volitional sentence, you may need to remove the subject/topic.
Watashi tachi wa kafe ni ikimasu
(We will go to a café)
is fine, but generally you would not want to say
Watashi tachi wa kafe ni ikimashou
(Let’s us go to the café).
If you would like to make your suggestion into a question, simply add the question particle “ka” to the end of the sentence:
Soto de kyoukasho o yomi mashou ka
(Shall we read the textbook outside?)
2. Plain Volitional Form
The conjugation pattern for Plain Volitional Form differs depending upon whether the verb in question is a Ru Verb or an U Verb.
How to create plain volitional form:
a. If the verb is a Ru Verb, simply remove the final “ru” syllable and replace it with “you:”
食べる → 食べよう (Taberu → Tabeyou)
b. If the verb is an U Verb, its final vowel must be changed to “o,” which means its final syllable must be replaced (for example, if the verb in question is “yomu” (よむ), change it to “yomo” (よも). Then, add a singular “u” to the end.
読む → 読もう (Yomu → Yomou)
c. If your verb ends with a syllable that is just a vowel (e.g. “kau,” to buy), the pattern is the same:
買う → 買おう (Kau → Kaou)
d. The irregular verbs “suru” (to do) and “kuru” (to come) conjugate thusly:
する → しよう (Suru → Shiyou)
来る → 来よう (Kuru → Koyou)
e. Plain Volitional Form can be used in the same way as Polite Volitional Form.
If you were to translate both 外で教科書を読みましょう (Soto de kyoukasho wo yomi mashou) and 外で教科書を読もう (Soto de kyoukasho o yomou) to English, it would be hard to differentiate between the two sentences. Their essential meaning is identical.
The only real difference between “yomi mashou” and “yomou” is that the latter is much more casual, and should be used primarily with peers or with those younger than oneself. (This is as opposed to bosses, adults older than oneself, strangers, etc).
f. Just as with Polite Volitional Form, a “ka” question particle can be added onto the end of a Plain Volitional Form suggestion if you would like to turn the suggestion into a question.
Soto de kyoukasho o yomou ka
(Shall we read the textbook outside?)
One note about this:
If you read our article about sentence ending particles, you may be tempted to use the particle “no” instead of “ka” with the Plain version of Volitional Form, since “no” is often used in place of “ka” to make Plain Form sentences into questions.
While usually “no” and “ka” as question particles are fairly interchangeable, in this case you must stick to “ka.” 外で教科書を読もうの？ (Soto de kyoukasho o yomou no?) would sound irregular.
3. Grammar Patterns that Use Volitional Form
a. Volitional Form can be applied to the final verbs of compound verbs or verbs linked by -Te Form. For instance, you can apply Volitional Form to the “miru” of “-te miru” sentences to say “let’s give [verb] a try:”
Kawa chan ni denwa shite mi mashou/miyou
(“let’s give calling Kawa-chan on the phone a try”)
Adding “to omou” or “to omotte iru” (~と思う, ~と思っている) after a verb that is in Volitional Form changes the meaning from “let’s [verb]” to “I am thinking that I will [verb].” Since “to omou” means “I think,” you can picture this grammar pattern as expressing a volitional thought or feeling that you are holding in your mind.
For example, a person who has said “let’s do it” to themselves, internally. The difference between “to omou” (which is present/future tense) and “to omotte iru” (which is progressive tense) in this pattern is that the former implies a new thought (something you have just now begun to think that you will do). The latter implies a longer-term thought (something that you’ve been thinking for a while that you will do).
Okaasan ni tegami o kakou to omoi masu
(I think I will write a letter to my mother).
Okaasan ni tegami o kakou to omotte imasu
(I’m thinking I will write a letter to my mother).
b. Adding “to suru” after a verb that is in Volitional Form changes the meaning from “let’s [verb]” to “I will make an effort to [verb].” Similarly to the “to omou / omotte iru” patterns, “to suru” implies that you will make an effort to do the action in question. While “to shite iru” implies that you are and have been making the effort (“shite iru” is the progressive tense of “suru”):
Roku ji ni okiyou to shimasu
(I will make an effort to wake up at 6:00).
Roku ji ni okiyou to shite imasu
(I am making an effort to wake up at 6:00).
That’s all on Volitional Form for now! What do you think of Volitional Form conjugation patterns? Which Japanese verb conjugation patterns do you find the easiest to hear and use, and which do you find the hardest?
As ever, if you have any questions or comments, we love to hear from you!