How to Use the Plain Forms of Japanese Verbs (Present/Future and Negative Present/Future)
This article is a continuation of our series of articles on Japanese verbs and verb conjugation. For our articles on using -Masu Form, click here (-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, so if you are not familiar with Japanese verbs you may want to look over that article before reading this one. In this article, we will be introducing Plain Form, and how to use plain form of Japanese verbs for present/future and negative present/future.
What is Plain Form
Plain form has many alternative names. Other books or resources may refer to it as Dictionary Form, Short Form, or Casual Form. Plain Form is so called because it is the form commonly used in casual (plain) conversation, and because it is most closely related to the way verbs are displayed in dictionaries.
Plain Form – Present/Future Tense
When you read a verb in the dictionary, it is already in plain form, and in present/future tense. Technically, you don’t need to do anything to it in order to use it.
In Japanese, the same verb tense is used when talking about the present and about the future.
８時に起きる。 Hachi ji ni okiru.
can mean “I wake up at 8:00” (as in, I generally wake up at 8:00) or “I will wake up at 8:00” (as in, tomorrow/on a certain day specifically I will wake up at 8:00). This is true of other patterns such as -Masu Form as well.
The -masu form of okiru (okimasu) can mean both “I wake up” and “I will wake up.” Generally speaking, Plain Form verbs in present/future tense mean exactly the same thing as -Masu Form verbs in present/future tense – the primary difference is that -Masu Form verbs are more polite.
As is the case with -Masu Form verbs, if no person is mentioned in your sentence, it will probably be assumed that you are talking about either yourself or whoever was most recently a topic of the conversation. “Okiru” could technically mean “I/he/she/they/etc will wake up,” all depending on context.
Plain Form – Negative Present/Future Tense
Conjugating a Plain Form verb from present/future tense to negative present/future tense is a bit more complex than conjugating -Masu Form verbs, but still does follow a fairly simple pattern.
For Ru Verbs:
If your verb is a Ru Verb, all you need to do to make it negative present/future tense is remove the る (ru) and replace it with ない (nai).
８時に起きない。 Hachi ji ni okinai (I won’t/don’t wake up at 8:00).
Similarly to present/future tense, negative present/future tense can refer to something you do not do, or will not do. It depends on the context.
For u Verbs:
If your verb is an U Verb, you must change the final vowel of the verb, and then add ない (nai). Because Japanese has a syllable-based writing system, changing the final vowel means you must change the entire final syllable of the verb.
To determine which syllable you will change it to, first check your verb to see what consonant its final syllable begins with. Then, find that consonant row on a hiragana chart, and slide along the row until you intersect with the “a” column.
For example, to conjugate the Plain Form verb “nomu,” slide along the “m” row until you get to the “a” column. There you will find “ma.” Replace the “mu” with “ma,” and add “nai”:
飲む → 飲まない (Nomu → Nomanai)
Remember to be careful of verbs ending with “ru,” since some of them are Ru Verbs and some are U Verbs. An U Verb ending with “ru” will conjugate like any other U Verb, and not like a Ru Verb:
乗る → 乗らない (Noru → Noranai)
Also, be careful of verbs ending with “tsu,” and verbs ending with just a vowel (“u”). The “t” row of the hiragana chart goes “ta chi tsu te to,” with two irregular sounds (chi and tsu); and so when conjugating verbs such as “tatsu” they do not become “tatsanai,” but rather “tatanai”:
立つ → 立たない (Tatsu → Tatanai)
For verbs ending with just the vowel “u,” the final syllable will change to “wa”:
買う → 買わない (Kau → Kawanai)
This is so that the verb does not become awkward-sounding. “Kaanai” would be much harder to pronounce than “kawanai,” right?
If your verb is one of Japanese’s two common irregular verbs, it will conjugate as follows:
する → しない (Suru → Shinai)
来る → 来ない (Kuru → Konai)
Let’s use some Plain Form verbs and linking words to make a short narrative:
今日は日曜日だから、友達とトランプで遊ぶ。 Kyou wa nichiyoubi da kara, tomodachi to toranpu de asobu
(Today is Sunday, so I will play cards with my friends).
新しいシャツを着る。 Atarashii shatsu o kiru (I will wear my new shirt).
明日はテストがあるけど、勉強しない。 Ashita wa tesuto ga aru kedo, benkyou shinai
(Tomorrow I have a test, but I will not study).
明日は仕事もあるけど、早く寝ない。 Ashita wa shigoto mo aru kedo, hayaku nenai
(Tomorrow I also have work, but I will not go to sleep early).
朝は多分コーヒーを飲まないといけない。 Asa wa tabun ko-hi- o nomanai to ikenai (In the morning, I will probably have to drink coffee).
What is Plain Form for?
- Plain Form can be used anytime you are speaking casually with friends or family members. This is why it is the form you will tend to hear in music, anime, film, and TV shows (not that you will never hear polite verbs or -Masu Form in these media, but Plain Form is what you will more frequently hear — unless you are watching a workplace or historical drama, most TV or anime characters speak quite casually, and frequently quite rudely).
- Even when speaking politely, you will often need to include Plain Form verbs in your sentences. The final verb of a sentence is truly what determines how polite the sentence is (for more on this, please see our -Masu Form articles here and here).
- There are many grammar patterns which must contain or be built off of Plain Form verbs. For example, let’s look one more time at the last sentence of our short narrative above:
朝は多分コーヒーを飲まないといけない。 Asa wa tabun ko-hi- o nomanai to ikenai
(In the morning, I will probably have to drink coffee).
Plain Form Grammar Patterns:
1. “[Plain Form negative present/future verb] to ikenai” is a common pattern that means “must [verb].”
It can be made polite by changing the “ikenai” to -Masu Form (ikemasen).
2. A common pattern which uses both the Plain Form present/future and negative present/future tenses is the “[Plain Form present/future verb] tsumori da” pattern, which means “I intend to [verb].”
コーヒーを飲むつもりだ。 Ko-hi- wo nomu tsumori da (I intend to drink coffee).
コーヒーを飲まないつもりだ。 Ko-hi- o nomanai tsumori da (I intend to not drink coffee).
3. Another common pattern which uses the Plain Form negative present/future conjugation is “[Plain Form negative present/future verb] de kudasai,” which means “please do not [verb]”: コーヒーを飲まないでください。 Ko-hi- o nomanai de kudasai (please do not drink coffee).
That’s all on Plain Form for this article, but there are two more plain form patterns (past tense and negative past tense) that we did not have time to discuss. We will be going over those in our next article, which will be posted 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!