How to Use the Plain Forms of Japanese Verbs (Past and Negative Past)

  • February 5, 2018 / Lily Cernak

This article is a continuation of our series of articles on Japanese verbs and verb conjugation, and our second article on Plain Form. For the first Plain Form article, click here. In this blog, we will discuss the plain form of Japanese verbs in past and negative statements.

For our articles on using -Masu Form, read more about  (-masu and -masen) and here (-mashita and -masen deshita). Our -Masu/-Masen article also contains a lot of general information on Japanese verbs and verb types. If you are not familiar with Japanese verbs you may want to look over that article before reading this one.

Plain Form Japanese verbs – Past Tense

There are some good news and some bad news about this conjugation pattern.

Bad news

  • The bad news is that it may be a bit more complex than the patterns you have learned so far, and memorizing it can be a bit of a pain.

Good news

  • The good news is that if you know how to conjugate verbs into -Te Form, you already know the Plain Form past tense conjugation pattern!

And, conversely, if you do not know how conjugate verbs into -Te Form, you will once you have learned how to make Plain Form verbs past tense.

This is because, though -Te Form verbs end with an “e” and Plain Form past tense verbs end with an “a,” the conjugation pattern for these two forms is exactly the same.

Ru verbs

As usual, if your verb is a Ru Verb, you simply need to remove the final る ru. This time, replace it with a た ta.

起きる → 起きた (Okiru → Okita)

U verbs

For U Verbs, we can reuse the chart from our -Te Form article, slightly modified. Again, the only difference between Plain Form past tense and -Te Form is the final vowel of all the verbs.

Note: Remember, because Japanese is written in syllables, this means that when writing in ro-maji only the final letter is different. But when writing in hiragana the entire final character will be different.

For example,  かいて kaiteかいた kaita:

ru” or “tsu” ending replace final syllable with “tta 乗る noru乗った notta
ku” ending replace final syllable with “ita 書く kaku書いた kaita
su” ending replace final syllable with “shita 話す hanasu話した hanashita
bu,” “mu,” or “nu” ending replace final syllable with “nda 遊ぶ asobu遊んだ asonda
gu” ending replace final syllable with “ida 泳ぐ oyogu泳いだ oyoida

Irregular verbs

Irregular verbs, too, will follow the -Te-Form-with-“a”-ending-instead-of-“e”-ending pattern. Just as is the case in -Te Form, “iku” in Plain Form past tense conjugates differently from other -ku ending U Verbs:

suru shita


Plain Form Japanese verbs – Negative Past Tense

Negative past tense in Plain Form is quite simple – far simpler than positive past tense!

Essentially, all you need to know is how to conjugate a Plain Form verb into negative present/future tense (to review this, click here to view the first Plain Form article).


All verbs that are in Plain Form negative present/future tense end with ないnai. Therefore, all Plain Form negative present/future tense verbs conjugate into past tense in the same way. Simply change the final vowel (i) to “katta,” and the verb is now in negative past tense! You will recognize this pattern if you have learned about conjugating i-adjectives.


Hachi ji ni okinai

I won’t/don’t wake up at 8:00.



Hachi ji ni okinakatta

I didn’t wake up at 8:00.



Tomodachi ni awanai

I won’t/don’t meet my friend.



Tomodachi ni awanakatta

I didn’t meet my friend.

Here is a short past tense narrative about Kawa-chan and her weekend!


Doyoubi wa gogo juuni ji made neta

Saturday, she slept until 12 pm.



Nichiyoubi wa Ami-go to pa-ti- ni itta

Sunday, she went with Amigo to a party.



Piza o ippai tabeta kedo, hottodoggu o tabenakatta

She ate lots of pizza, but she did not eat hot dogs.



Sawagashikatta kara, toranpu de asobanakatta

It was noisy, so she did not play cards.



Kawa-chan wa kamereon da kara, bi-ru o nomanakatta

Kawa-chan is a chameleon, so at the party she did not drink beer.

Additional Uses for Plain Form

In the first Plain Form article, we discussed some uses for Plain Form (aside from simply speaking casually), including grammar patterns that contain Plain Form verbs whether or not your overall sentence is a polite sentence.

Here are a few more examples of grammar patterns in which Plain Form verbs are a necessary component:

One of the common grammar patterns for giving suggestions uses Plain Form verbs: “[Plain Verb phrase] hou ga ii desu.” If one is giving a positive suggestion, the verb phrase will use a Plain Form past tense verb. If one is giving a negative suggestion, the verb phrase will use a Plain Form negative present/future verb.


Shinbun o yonda hou ga ii desu

You ought to read the newspaper.



Shinbun o yomanai hou ga ii desu

You ought not to read the newspaper.

 If you add one syllable – ら (ra) – onto the end of a Plain Form past tense verb, it is no longer past tense; instead, it becomes “if/when [verb].” Whether [Plain Form past tense verb + ra] means “if [verb]” or “when [verb]” depends upon the context:


Shinbun o yondara, iroiro na jouhou ga nyuushu dekimasu

If one reads the newspaper, one can acquire various information.



Kyou no shinbun o yondara, aru kiji ni bikkuri shimashita

When I read today’s newspaper, there was an article that surprised me.


If you add a り (ri) and the verb する suru (to do) onto the end of a Plain Form past tense verb, it means “do things such as [verb].” You can have multiple verbs + “ri” before the “suru,” or just one; in either case there is only one “suru” and it comes last. If one of the verb + “ri” verbs is a “suru” verb, you must still end with “suru”:


Hima na toki wa shinbun o yondari, chuugokugo o benkyou shitari shimasu

When I have free time, I do things such as read the newspaper and study Chinese.


That’s all in Plain Form for this article! There are more grammar patterns that use Plain Form that we did not have room to discuss in our two Plain Form articles – if there are any that we did not cover that you would like us to write about, leave us a comment and let us know!

More grammar articles are coming soon. In the meantime, check out our Library for a series of Free verb flash cards! Try making a few sentences or a short narrative, and share what you’ve written as a comment! If you’d like a refresher on particles (wa, ga, wo, ni, etc) and how to use them before you make your sentences, click here to view all of our particle articles.

And, as always, leave us a comment if you have any questions!



Please wait a moment …