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More basic Japanese

Like in lesson 1, this lesson too is split up into five distinct aspects of Japanese:

And like lesson 1, this lesson has several notes that explain and illustrate certain elements in the language:


 

expressions

More expressions to work with is always good. In fact, you could probably fake knowledge of Japanese if you have a proper control over standard expressions. You might come off as the picture poser for the word 'timid' in the encyclopedia, but at least you'd know Japanese formalities and that's just as essential as good language control. So, let's look at some more of them:

- expressions of gratitude

One of the key issues in Japanese is that rather than revolving mostly around the distinction of subject/object in the world, the mindset behind Japanese revolves around (process) interactions. For instance, a Western mother playing with her child will give her child a toy and say "look at the toy. isn't it pretty? it's all red and shiney, it's a firetruck, isn't it fun? would you like to play with it?" whereas a Japanese mother is more likely to say "Here is a toy. I give you the toy. Now you have the toy, please give me the toy back. Thank you for giving the toy back. I give it to you again". This kind of interaction lies at the core of Japanese, and the example (taken from comparative research on cross-cultural mother-child interaction) demonstrates how deeply rooted formality is in Japanese.

Thanking people in the proper manner is of course an integral part of formality, and depending on the setting one finds oneself in there are various ways to express varying degrees of gratitude, so we will look at the various situations and the expressions that are used in it. We can distinguish two types of expression in this, namely the general expressions of gratitude, and the situational-dependent expressions of gratitude.

 

General expressions of gratitude

The following three expressions are expressions for saying "thank you" in general context. This does not mean you can use them interchangably - they may all be general expressions, but express varying degree of gratitude - but they are suited for expressing gratitude where no specific expression exists.

どうも

どうも as word means "how-ever" (not the contrasting "however", but the "in which ever way possible" version) and as expression of gratitude is considered an informal thank you similar to the English "thanks". It is typically used if you're only saying thanks because that's what you do. For instance, if you ask your friend to pass the ketchup, and he does, you say thanks. It's not really gratitude as such but more just good manners that makes you say it.

A - はどこですか。
B - はい、どうぞ。 [hands the book]
A - どうも

This very short conversation is "Where's the book?" - "here it is" - "thanks". Clearly this is informal and not something you use with people you don't really know, but in an informal setting, it works fine.

どうぞ is a general purpose word used when asking someone to accept something. If you hold open a door for someone and wish them to go through first, you use どうぞ. If you pour someone some tea and hand it to them for the purpose of having them drink it, you use どうぞ. If someone is trying to fix your Windows XP install because it's given you a blue screen of death once again, and they ask if it is okay to delete all those adware and virus infected files they found and you wish them to, then you use どうぞ. An English translation for it is generally "please", but if you use this translation be very aware of the fact that you are using an English expression, not just a word, and that it is a different "please" from "could you please pass the ketchup". Confusing expressions with just words is always a dangerous thing, and can lead to such oddities as saying "please have a seat with you" when you actually mean to say "please sit down" because you literally translated "have a seat". Bad stuff, be careful!

ありがとう

ありがとう is the 'meaningful' version of the English "thank you", and is used to thank someone for doing something for you. The kanjiform that we saw in lesson 1 is 有難う, which is a combination of the 連用形 of the verb る which we saw in lesson 1 (ある, to be for inanimate things) and う, which comes from the verbal adjective ~い meaning "hard to ..." and put together they form "hard to be thus".

In Japan, if someone does something for you, no matter how small, you are endebted to them for it. This has been the social backbone of Japan for centuries (hence the term "debt-based society") and as such, accepting something meant extending your debt towards this person, which was something one should never do frivolously. The expression for what once meant "this act of yours is hard for me to accept yet I will accept it nonetheless", has come to mean "thank you".

The more formal version, ありがとうございます is ありがとう suffixed with the polite affirmative of ござる. This is a 五段 verb, but (along with four other verbs) has the peculiarity that instead of getting a り as its 連用形 it gets い. Which explains why it's ございます and not ござります.

A - これはおいしいです。えてもらえませんかね。
B - いいえ、いいですよ。
A - どうもありがとうございます

This conversation runs as follows:

A - This is delicious. I don't suppose I could have you teach me [how to make it]
B - (literally:) No, [I]'m okay [with that].
A - Thank you very much.

B's response seems very strange: why would A thank B if B is declining? In fact, B is not declining at all. Because A asked a negative question, B is actually doubly negating by answering "no", and as we all know a double negative is a positive. Still, this might be a tad confusing, so a quick note on negative questions will follow.

"Negative questions in Japanese"

We know negative questions from our own language. "Didn't you understand me?" is an example where the question concerns a negative premise. These questions are fairly easy to understand, but the answer to them is really, really weird when you think about it. If you answer "no", you probably "I did not understand you", but you *could* also mean "no, I did understand you". In Japanese this ambiguity doesn't exist.

For real questions such as the one just used, in Japanese you use "yes" (formally はい, slightly less formal ええ, informal うん) to confirm or agree with the speaker's question:

A: かりませんか。
B: はい、かりません。

Conversely, you use "no" (formally いいえ, less formal いや, informal ううん) is you wish to negate or disagree with the speaker's question:

A: かりませんか。
B: いいえ、かります。

This doesn't apply to the more "expression" version of negative questions, such as invitations or requests:

A: おみせんか。
B: ええ、ありがとうございます。

This is not a literal question, it does not ask whether someone is currently not drinking tea, but is an invitation expression to have someone accept being served tea.

すみません

In lesson 1 you saw すみません as meaning "excuse me", but it also has an element of gratitude in it. The English "excuse me, could I pass please" would in Japanese be "Excuse me (and thank you if you honour the following request), please let me pass":

日本語:すみません、してさい。
English: Excuse me, please let me pass.

It is also used to mean 'thank you' when someone for instance catches your hat in a gust of wind. You have been careless to let it fly off, and the person that has helped you had no reason to do so (for doing so with full intention would imply they want you to be indebted to them, which is not quite virtuous). However, since they have fetched your hat, you both excuse yourself for having them through the selfless trouble of catching and return it to you and thank them at the same time.

A - 手伝いましょうか。
B - あっ、すみません

This very short conversation figuratively runs as follows: "Shall I help you?" - "Ah, thank you, and excuse me for making you volunteer this". In this example, B does not refuse the help in any way, but they excuse themselves for causing A to volunteer helping in the first place, and expresses gratitude for this help at the same time.

 

Specific expressions of gratitude

The previous three (or five, depending on how you look at the versions of ありがとう) expressions are general expressions of gratitude. What follows are expressions of gratitude that are used in particular situations, which make more contextual sense than just saying "thank you".

This expression is used as an expression of gratitude when you have had someone perform a task for you. Technically this is a wider expression, acknowledging the fact that someone has exerted considerable effort, and can be used to praise someone who has performed a tiring job, but in terms of gratitude this expression is mostly used when you are the one responsible for them being tired now.

Let us look at the scenario that you're remodelling your house and you asked some friends to help you out. At the end of the day when everything's done, you use this expression to signify your gratitude. You do this, because your friends (much like you) will probably be tired and sore from carrying couches and washing machines to and fro, but (unlike you) they are so because you asked them to help you.

This word comes from the verb れる, which means "to tire", turned into a noun form, れ, which translates (badly) to tire-ness (English lacks a true verb-turned-noun form, only having a verb gerundive, which is a representational form and thus completely different), suffixed with , which indicates seemingness. Combined it literally forms "[honorific] seemingly worn-out-ness", which is pretty much exactly what you're observing in someone when you say it.

苦労

This expression is used to thank someone for performing their job, but not because you are responsible for making them do it. People who work at an office may use this expression to thank each other for putting in another day of hard work, which is what 苦労 means: toil, hardship.

Again we see the suffix , indicating seemingness. This word then literally comes down to "seems like hardship"

Both this expression and the preceding one can be followed by でした, which is the past tense of です (as you will see later in the lesson), and is usually added a short while after the job is done, rather than at the moment it's done.

ります

When someone has done something for you which, really, you shouldn't deserve under normal circumstances, such as an act of kindness from someone who is miles above you on the social ladder, or through this act has caused the distance between you to widen significantly, you use this expression to express that you are not worthy of the act but accept it, thereby lowering yourself even further because you admit you really shouldn't accept it.

The literal translation would be "I am filled with awe". You are thankful, but for all intents and purposes, accepting would stand tantamount to admitting you are worth nothing in comparison. It should be obvious that this is a very powerful form of expressing gratitude and should be used with some care.


 

particles

This lesson sees two things particle-wise: firstly, new particles. Secondly, a refining of already seen particles. I know that makes it look like I cheated you in lesson 1, but giving you all the meanings of a particle at the same time just causes information overload. That said, the particles that we will be looking at in this lesson are:

  • が - weak "but"
  • か - question marker
  • を/が/に - verb objects
  • へ/に - targeted verb actions
  • に/で - location of verb action

This is not the same が as we saw in lesson 1. Instead, this is actually not quite a real particle, so explaining it won't take much time: が acts as the English weak 'but' in for instance "Excuse me, but do you know the time?" It doesn't really throw up any contrasts or pose any problems, it justs "eases in" the next statement. In the same way, the Japanese が eases in the next statement, except it typically does it with the comma after it instead of in front of it like in most Western languages.

日本語: すみません何時ですか。
English: excuse me (but), what time is it?

We saw this particle used in the last lesson, and "explained" in the wordlist - There is a surprising amount to say about the question marking particle, actually. It is sometimes called the Japanese equivalent of the question mark, but this is not entirely true. Instead, think of it as a question marker, rather than a mark. It usually ends a sentence, because most of the time the entire sentence is the question, but you can find it used inside sentences as well, where it turns only part of the sentence into a questioning phrase. We already saw the regular use in the example phrase of the previous section, so another example - where it is used inside a sentence - would be:

日本語: しようった。
English: I thought [about] whether I should do it.

The first part in the sentence is really just しようか, meaning "shall [I] do?" (しよう is the shall/let's form for the verb する - a form that will be explained in a later lesson). This is then used in the larger sentence [...]と う, "think ..." (in past tense in this case), to somewhat literally form "thought: shall I do?" A more normal translation is of course "I thought about whether I should do it".

This "whether" has the more complex construction "whether or not [...]" in English, which has a Japanese equivalent involving か, which is [...]かどうか which uses か twice.

We see this double pattern in Japanese sentences for choices that in English involve the word "or" as well. Where in English you could ask the question "Would you like coffee or tea", where the question is about which of the two you would like, not whether you would like "coffee or tea" at all. In Japanese, these sentences are actually formed as two consecutive questions:

日本語: コーヒーにします、おにします
English: Will you have coffee or tea?

A note on the rather special verb する

We know that する, which has the elegant kanji form る, means "do". How can it mean "decide" in a phrase like おにしますか?

The secret is that する is more complex, and only commonly means "do". We need to go back in time and look at the kanji form to understand why it can also mean "decide". The core meaning of the kanji is representing some objective, and as verb form its core meaning is actually "to act in a way that accomplishes [your] objective", and of course there are several ways in which you can do this

The most obvious way is to just "do" something. If your objective is to have the laundry done and you do laundry, objective reached. This is the typical interpretation of する, and uses the direct object marker を to mark what it is you will do. On the other hand, there is also the kind of objective that you don't have to do anything for, you just have to make the right choices. If you want tea, and someone is offering you a choice between tea and coffee, then the only way to reach your objective of drinking tea is not to make it yourself, but simply to act in accordance with your desire: you "pick", "decide on", "choose" or even the more literal "do for your purpose" the option "tea".

This use of する has the objective marked with に, indicating it as a relational object to する. In effect, おにします means "act in a way that results in tea", for which "choose tea", "decide on tea" and "pick tea" are all simply more natural translations in English. To see the relational object in English, think "to do, for tea"

So what else does する "mean"? The real answer is that する really only "means" to act in a way that reaches your objectives, and that all possible translations simply flow from this core meaning. Practically speaking though, する translates to various things:

  • [...]をする: "do" (reaching an objective by acting directly)
  • [...]にする: "pick","choose" or "decide" (reaching an objective by chosing sensibly)
  • [...]とする: "considering [something] [something else]" or "as [something]" (changing perspective, usually in the pattern として)

Getting back to the lesson:

日本語: コーヒーにします、おにします
English: Will you have coffee or tea?

Quite often people will get this use of か wrong, which is why it is listed here - the normal English "or" is in Japanese a double question. The problem arises from the fact that か can also be used on its own, in a fashion similar to the noun listing と, in which case it creates a single option that is valid if any of its parts is valid. For instance, if you can choose to go to school or work by car or train, then you can go to school or work by [car or train]. It doesn't really matter which of two you actually pick, as long as it's either that statement will be true. This is called the "logical" or, because in logics if a list of options is listed with "or", then only one of the options has to be true for the entire collection to be considered true. This is uncannily like the Japanese listing か:

日本語: 電車バスできますか。
English: Will you go by [train or bus]?

Note that this question does not ask which of those you will be using, but only asks whether you will be going by either bus, or a train. If you go by bus or train, you answer "yes, I am", and if you're not you answer "no I am not", typically followed by what you will be using instead then. It is very important to realise that this is a yes/no question, any other answer will simply be the wrong type of answer to this kind of question. Only questions such as the double pattern from the previous example will allow you to answer in a non yes/no fashion:

日本語: 電車きますか、バスできますか。
English: Will you go by train, or by bus?

Here, the answer can be "by train" or "by bus".

The triplet を, が and に

This will be a reasonably short section, as we've looked at this already in lesson 1 in the special notes that were part of the lesson. However, just to make sure you get enough exposure to the whole issue of transitivity and objects, a quick review.

Verbs can be either transitive or intransitive, depending on whether or not they require an object to which they have to be applied. If such an object is required, a verb is said to (in the role it is used in) be transitive, while if it does not require this object it is said to be (in the role it is used in) intransitive.

Examples of verbs being used transitive are: "I throw the ball", "She opens the window" and "The dog eats its dinner". In all these examples, the verbs only "work" because they are applied to something, namely a ball, the windows and dinner respectively. When a verb is intransitive, it has no verb object, it applies directly to the subject of the sentence.

We can also give some examples of verbs being used intransitively: "I walk", "The windows open" and "The dog eats with enthusiasm". In all three cases, the verbs "work" on their own. There are no objects that the verbs can be said to apply to.

Finally, there are relational objects which are used to further nuance a verb action. Examples of these being used with a verb are: "I throw the ball at John", "She closes the windows for Mia" and "The dog eats the gourmet dinner made by its owner". In these sentences "at John", "for Mia" and "by its owner" all show a relational object that gives extra nuance to not so much how the verb is performed, but what is involved in this particular verb action.

In Japanese, subjects are marked with が, direct objects are marked with を and relational objects are marked with に. That's about it. As added note you could say that what people call indirect objects are also marked with に, but indirect objects are just a subclass of relational objects, so it's kind of obvious they are marked with に anyway.

Traversal verbs and transitivity

Even though traversal verbs in Japanese are technically intransitive (walk, run, fly, swim), they can still take direct objects. This sounds a bit odd, and quite honestly it just is, which is why you will just have to memorise this bit about Japanese verbs: traversal verbs are transitive in respects to what is being traversed.

In Japanese you "walk the road", "swim the water" and "fly the sky", rather than walking "on" the road, swimming "in" the water, or flying "through" the sky.

日本語: きます。
Literal English: I walk the road.
Normal English: I walk on the road.

日本語: ぎます。
Literal English: I swim the sea.
Normal English: I swim in the sea.

日本語: 部屋ます。
Literal English: I exit the room.
Normal English: I exit the room.

This last one is to show you that sometimes the use of a traversal verb is seemingly the same in English. However, to the Japanese, る is still a traversal verb and therefore not transitive. Just because it happens to use を for what it traverses, and the English translation uses a transitive verb, does not change this "fact".

へ/に

There are many verbs that can be said to target a specific location, which means there are two things that can be remarked about the verb's action. 1) it happens at a certain location and 2) if that location is not "here", then it happening somewhere at some distance in a certain direction from "here".

The verb "going" is probably the most obvious choice to illustrate this. I can go to school, and I do this in the direction of school. This sounds a bit silly, because it seems to say the exact same thing, but let's replace "school" with "Malaysia". I can either go to Malaysia, or if I'm backpacking through Asia I might just go in the direction of Malaysia, but stop somewhere before I reach it, or keep going, effectively never actually going "to" Malaysia even though I travel in its direction.

It is exactly this difference that trips up beginning students constantly confuse へ (pronounced え) and に at the strangest times. So, the more I hammer on the differenence now, the more you're likely to remember it and not make those mistakes too:

  • This particle へ is used to indicate direction, not destination.
  • This particle に is used to indicate destination, not direction.

For example,

日本語はマレーシアきます。
English: I go towards Malaysia.

While this is the only possible right translation, it's not the best English translation in terms of natural English grammar. In English, this sentence would usually be written as "I go to Malaysia" instead, and whether this means as direction or destination is left to the reader entirely. Not so in Japanese.

However this has as danger that the assumption may be made that Malaysia is the destination, which in the Japanese sentence, it is not. In the Japanese sentence, if I depart from India, and I go towards Malaysia, there isn't anything that prevents me from just going on once I reach Malaysia. In English this is considered abusing the word "to", but in Japanese there are two very different particles to indicate going towards something, and going to something.

Why do beginners confuse these two particles so much? The main reason is probably because the Japanese themselves use the two interchangably. If it's clear enough from the conversation that even though へ is used, arrival at that location occurs, then it is clear enough from the conversation and therefore doesn't matter that へ is used instead of に. However, as a beginning student of Japanese this is typically anything but obvious, and it is very important that you don't go using the two particles interchangably until you know why you actually can.

There are some examples in which you cannot interchangably use the two. For instance, when talking about visiting places in past tense, it rarely makes sense to talk about the direction of travel, because one is already emphasising the destinations of the travel instead. に would be the obvious choice, へ would just sound odd. Also, if someone asks you where you have been, using へ makes no sense at all, you are asked about a location so only に would lead to a sensible answer.

To recap: if one is talking about a direction of travel, use へ. If one is talking about a destination of travel, or a location, use に.

日本語 光根さんはレストランきました。
English: Me and Mitsune went to a restaurant.

As the restaurant is clearly a location, we use に to indicate that this is a destination rather than merely a direction.

日本語: どこきますか。
English: Where are you going?

Rather than asking about the destination of the journey, the direction of travel is asked about. This is a lot safer than asking the actual destination, as it might be some not-even-obscure small town that you will have never heard of. This way, the answer will most likely be a place name that most people will know, after which further questions can be asked concerning the actual destination of travel.

So one last time: へ is for direction, に is for destination/location.

Got that? One more time ...

で/に

The distinction between へ and に should be fairly obvious by now (direction vs. location), but there is another distinction that is implied in English that is explicit in Japanese: whether the focus of a verb taking place somewhere is on the verb, or the place itself.

For instance, the following two sentences translate the same into English:

日本語: ホテルまりました。
日本語: ホテルまりました。
English: We stayed a night at a hotel

However, while in English these translate to the same thing, they represent two very different things:

日本語: みはをしましたか。
English: What did you do on your holiday?

日本語: ホテルまりました。
English: We stayed at a hotel

Here the question focuses on the action performed ("what did you do"), and so the where is completely unimportant in our answer as long as we stress the action: we use で. Contrast this to:

日本語: みはどこにきました。
English: Where did you go on your holiday?

日本語: ホテルまりました。
English: We went to stay at a hotel

Here the question focuses on the where ("where did you go"), and so the what is completely unimportant in our answer as long as we stress the location: we use に.

A choice between に or で is important when you have a verb action taking place somewhere, and you need to stress either the action, or the location. Pick に if you want to stress the location (which makes sense given the meaning of に so far), and pick で if you want to stress the action. If you want to stress both, you're going to have to be much more detailed, such as "We went to a hotel. There, we stayed throughout our vacation"

This last particle section covers the instrumental particle で that was mentioned in lesson 1, in the note on relational objects. It's a fairly short section, with as main point "this is not the same で as the one for focusing on location".

When you wish to express some verb action is being performed by or with something, then you use this particle. Things like "writing with a pen" or "going to the airport by car" are examples of this use, and it is fairly evident that "pen" and "car" are essentially the instruments with which writing and going are performed respectively.

It is fairly easy to tell when で is the event focussing or the instrumental particle, because what their interpretations are so different. For instance, it is very hard to interpret で as instrumental particle in the previous example of

日本語: ホテルでまりました。
English: We stayed at a hotel
English: We stayed by means of a hotel (clearly nonsense)

And of course the converse is also true

日本語: 空港きます。
English: We will go to the airport by car
English: We will go to the airport, next to the car (as in we will be doing the entire going and arriving right where the car is) - more nonsense


 

Verb Grammar - Some more basics

In the last lesson we looked at the simple conjugation scheme, which involved the plain and polite present affirmative and negative forms. It is only fair to in this lesson double that scheme by also teaching you how to turn everything into past tense.

Past tense in verbs in Japanase is formed using the helper verb of past tense, た. When suffixed to the 連用形 of verbs this is creates a verb's plain past tense, which sounds pretty easy. For 一段verbs, this is actually all you have to do, but for 五段 some contractions occur in modern Japanese...

If we look at the four example 一段verbs we used in lesson 1, the plain past tense for each is really, really simple:

連体形 連用形 past tense
see
sleep
strech びる
eat べる

For 五段 verbs, sound changes (音便) occur depending on what the verb's 連用形 syllable is. The past tense conjugation is no longer quite as straight forward as it was in classical Japanese, but at least except for one verb, the rules apply uniformly. The follow table shows the past tense changes for any 五段 verb, based on its 連体形 / 連用形:

連体形 連用形 +た changed form
~く ~き ~きた ~いた
~ぐ ~ぎ ~ぎた ~いだ
       
~す ~し ~した ~した
       
~ぬ ~に ~にた ~んだ
~ぶ ~び ~びた ~んだ
~む ~み ~みた ~んだ
       
~う ~い ~いた ~った
~つ ~ち ~ちた ~った
~る ~り ~りた ~った

So with this table you should be able to construct the past tenses for all the 五段 verbs we encountered in the last lesson. The irregular verbs する and る have した and きた as past tense, and the only exception to the above table that I mentioned is the verb く, "go", which has った as past tense, for reasons that I do not know.

Classical sound changes: 音便

You may be wondering particularly why the 五段 verbs have these odd sound changes in their past tense (and actually, in their て form too, which is treated in lesson 3 but of which I can tell you the conjugation is exactly the same as for た, just with て instead).

The answer is actually that this is not something that happened to just verbs. 音便 have historically affected pretty much every word class, and can for what we care about in this lesson, be categorised by three changes:

い: The syllables き, ぎ and し became い in many words. For the (at the time) 四段 verbs this meant that for instance て forms like おぼして (from the verb おぼす) became おぼいて. In modern Japanese we see that し has changed back again, changing from being turned into an い back into staying a し. An interesting detail is that り sometimes became い too, and we see this remnant of classical sound change in the five verbs こざる (polite ある), さる (to give down on the social ladder), いらっしゃる (honorific be/come/go), おっしゃる (honorific say) and なさる (honorific do), which all have an い instead of り as 連用形 base suffix.

ん: The syllables び, み and に got nasalised to ん when followed by て or another infected form form for 四段 verbs. て also changed to で. ひ, び and み syllables could also change to う, but this has not presevered as sound changed during the change from classical to modern Japanese. What we do still see is a sound change for る to ん, when followed by な- or ま-column syllables.

As an added detail, the ん (called the 発音) was not part of the original 五十音, and entered Japanese in the 平安 era (794-1185ad).

Compressed sound: The compressed sound (called 促音便 is something that we only find in verbs in classical Japanese, and was initially - quite confusingly! - written as either つ or っ without any real rule as to why one would write it one way or another. 四段 verbs ending on ち, ひ and り had this syllable replaced with つ by virtue of the vowel sound "dropping off".

The reason this means it also applies to う is because other than at the start of words, the classical は, ひ, ふ, へ and ほ were actually pronounced わ, い, う, え and お. Again, with the linguistic reforms of the last century, rather than keep the oddness, a move was made to turn ふ verbs into う verbs, and straighten out the わ sound to an あ sound instead.

This leaves us with three questions. Firstly, how do we form the polite past tense?. This is actually now very simple, because in order to turn a verb into polite past tense, first turn it into polite present tense, and then turn ます into past tense according to the above table: it ends on す so it should end on した in its past tense - ました.

The second question is more special: how do we form the past tense for the copula verb です? In fact, there are a few copula verbs, of which we've already seen です (polite) and だ (plain). The past tense for です is pretty much what you'd expect given the above table, namely でした, but the past tense for だ is actually the past tense for a third copula, である (a combination of the instrumental particle で, and the verb ある), and its past tense is a contraction of this: である -> であった -> だった.

The last question is "what are the negative forms for all these past tense forms?" Just like for polite past tense, negative past tense is a matter of turning something into a negative, and then turning the negative into a past tense. But here we stumble on a problem: while the polite negative past tense is fairly easy now that we now how to turn ます into past tense, the plain negative uses ない, which is an adjective. And if there is one thing that I have not explained to you yet, it's how to inflect adjectives. So in order to properly explain what the plain negative past tense is for any verb, I will have to explain the verbal adjective to you first.


 

Verb Grammar - Verbal adjectives

Adjectives like ない and actually all the adjectives introduces in this lesson, are of a category called 'verbal adjectives'. They are called 'verbal', because unlike English adjectives, they can be conjugated in a manner very closely to verbs, which means that this type of adjective can actually be placed in polite, plain, present and past tenses. This is probably a pretty new concept to you, so after introducing verbal adjectives and completing the whole plain/polite-affirmative/negative-present/past conjugation schemes for all verbs and verbal adjectives, we'll stop learning new verb things; it'll be complicated enough already with the verbal adjectives lobbed on your plate too.

Adjectives are words which are combined to nouns to say something about the noun, like "round car" or "blue computer". In Japanese, there are two types of adjectives, the verbal and the noun adjective, and both are prefixed to the word they add specification for, just like in English, but unlike for instance French where the adjective comes after what it modifies. Verbal adjectives in modern Japanese all consist of a stem followed by some 送り仮名 of one or more syllables, ending in い, and for this reason they are also refered to as "い-adjectives" in many books. Noun adjectives look just like nouns, being complete kanji-form writable, and do not hint at their adjectival nature until you try to use them as such, when instead of the pattern XのY that you get for nouns, you must use XなY. For this reason noun adjectives are also refered to as "な-adjectives", and we will look at those in a later lesson, mostly because they are really not that interesting at all as a word class ^_^

Verbal adjectives, because they are verbal, also have a series of inflectional bases, though because they are adjectives, they don't really have a 命令形 base:

未然形 replace い with く
連用形 replace い with く
連体形 ~い
已然形 replace い with けれ

You will get an idea of how this works if we look at a few verbal adjectives in their four bases:

good new square fun white not
未然形 よく しく 四角 しく なく
連用形 よく しく 四角 しく なく
連体形 よい, いい しい 四角 しい ない
已然形 よけれ しけれ 四角けれ しけれ けれ なけれ

Those paying especially close attention will have noticed that the adjectives for "good" are よい and いい, but that the rest of the bases only use the よい adjective. This is because いい is technically not actually a real adjective, just a different pronunciation for よい in its 連体形. In modern Japanese, the pronunciation いい is favoured for plain present use, but for everything else you have to use an inflection of よい, which explains why the we will see that the past tense of いい is よかった (aha, so that's what it means!)

Because verbal adjectives are still just adjectives and not truly verbs, many of their conjugations actually involve using the verb ある in some form or another, such as negation, as a suffix. This is good to know, because this is exactly the thing we needed to look at in the first place when we noted some gaps in our conjugation schemes for verbs due to ない being an adjective!

Present tense verbal adjectives are, like in English, used in combination with the copula verb: "It is big", "It is new". Using the copula is considered the polite form, the plain form simply has nothing following the adjective:

affirmative
plain 連体形
polite 連体形 + です

Negation is done using either ない for plain negation, just like for verbs, or using ある for polite negation, just like for です:

negative
plain 未然形 + ない
polite I 未然形 + ないです
polite II 連用形 + ありません

You will notice there are two politeness forms, and this is no mistake. Because ない is an adjective itself, we can already make it polite simply by adding です to it, like we saw one table up, but we can make the negation more polite by using the ある addition instead. It's the almost unwritten rule: if it's longer, it's more polite.

Those of you who like thinking about things a bit too much: yes, it is of course grammatically entirely possible to put ない into a plain negation using ない again, but this would also be rather silly. While なくない would be grammatical, "not not" is pretty much universally understood as "using too many words for what you mean" ^_^;

So that means that all that is left to bring verbal adjective conjugation in line with where we are for verbs, is to explain the past tense. Again, ある is used for this (in its plain past tense あった) and we see a contraction between the く and あ occuring:

連体形 連用形+あった contracted past tense
good よい, いい よく + あった かった
new しい しく + あった かった
square 四角 四角く + あった 四角かった
fun しい しく + あった かった
white く + あった かった
not ない なく + あった かった

This covers the plain form, and the polite form is again just the plain form with です slapped onto it, so that's easy. The last two thing to complete this set of conjugations is then the negative past tense, but secretly we already know how to do this now. We place the adjective in its plain negative form, and then turn the negative suffix ない into past tense: なかった. For the polite negative past tense, we need to know how ます inflects to negative past tense. This is simple the negative form of ます, ません, followed by the past tense of です, でした. And now we have our first complete conjugation scheme:

present affirmative negative present past affirmative negative past
plain 連体形 未然形 + ない 連用形 + あった (かった) 連用形 + なかった
polite I 連体形 + です 未然形 + ないです 連用形 + あった + です 未然形 + なかった + です
polite II 連用形 + ありません 連用形 + ありません + でした

Make sure to observe the contraction for く+あ to か in the past tense. You will be practicing this a lot in the practice session, so I'm sure that you'll be able to memorise it, but it is something you need to pay some attention to.


 

The conjugation schemes

We can now list the four conjugation schemes that collectively define the very essence of basic Japanese verb grammar. If you know these five schemes, you can honestly say you *know* basic Japanese verb grammar. You'll be able to conjugate any verb or verbal adjective that someone can throw at you into its plain and polite, affirmative and negative present and past tense. Quite simply, you will rock.

Make no mistake, if you have mastered these four schemes, you will know as much about basic verb conjugation as there is to know, and you can pat yourself on the back knowing that you know as much about it as university students do after a full sememster. I will admit, for two lessons, this was a lot of material, but to be honest, it was worth it. I am not joking when I say these are the most important things you will ever learn in terms of Japanese: there is nothing that comes after this that is as important to know if you want to use Japanese as this.

So then without further ado, the schemes.

Polite helper verb ます

present affirmative negative present past affirmative negative past
ます ません ました ませんでした

The copula (です, だ)

present affirmative negative present past affirmative negative past
plain じゃない だった じゃなかった
polite I です じゃないです でした じゃなかったです
polite II じゃありません じゃありませんでした

Verbal adjectives

present affirmative negative present past affirmative negative past
plain 連体形 未然形 + ない 連用形 + あった (かった) 未然形 + なかった
polite I 連体形 + です 未然形 + ないです 連用形 + あった + です 未然形 + なかった + です
polite II 連用形 + ありません 連用形 + ありません + でした

五段 and 一段 verbs

  present affirmative negative present past affirmative negative past
plain 連体形 未然形 + ない 連用形 + た (*) 未然形 + なかった
polite 連用形 + ます 連用形 + ません 連用形 + ました 連用形 + ませんでした

The (*) stands for the fact that for 五段 verbs you must remember to use the proper sound change for the past tense. This is something which if you keep up with Japanese you will be able to do in your sleep soon enough, but for now it needs some extra warning.


 

Phrase Grammar - こそあど

Before wrapping up this lesson I want to talk about one more thing: the こそあど, also sometimes (a tad mistakenly) called the Japanese pronoun system. I say tad, because if it weren't for one series this would indeed be a pure pronoun system. Instead, one of the series in the system is actually not a pronoun series at all, so let's just call them what the Japanese call them. The こそあど ^_^

The こそあど is a system of indicative/interrogative words which start with こ-, そ-, あ- and ど- depending on whether the words apply to things close to the speaker, close to the listener, close to neither, or as general question word respectively. This might need some explainig: these prefixes as it were indicate which personsal zone the word applies.

Personal "zones" in Japan

In Japan, rather than "here" and "there", most indicative words can apply to three zones instead. The personal zone, or うち, the zone that is some other person's personal zone, and the zone that is not within anyone's personal zone.

This means that rather than "here" and "there" like in English, There are location(1), location(2) and location(3) in Japanese, where the 1, 2 and 3 stand for the zone the location falls in, and these correspond to the prefixes こ-, そ- and あ- in the Japanese indicative system.

The personal zone is an important concept in Japanese, extending beyond the "pronoun" system. The concept of in and out group (admitted to one's personal zone, and not admitted to one's personal zone) is fundamental in determining formality in conversation - people that are part of one's in-group, and considered admitted into one's personal zone, may be address in a casual way, while people who are not admitted into one's personal zone should only ever be addressed formally.

This is so fundamental to Japanese society that problems that arise may be attributed to considering people part of the wrong group, engaging them in conversation as if they are part of your in-group while they consider themselves part of your out-group. This is not something that you can freely decide on, and interpersonal relations change drastically when two people move from out-group acquantainces to in-group acquaintances. Usually this process takes careful social interaction and a transition can typically be clearly identified by an agreement to address each other in more informal style.

It almost goes without saying that moving someone from the out- to the in-group, or from the in- to the out-group without their consent is considered failing at social interaction in Japan. While common in Western culture, informing someone you consider them part of a different group can be experienced as highly insulting, especially if you declare you now consider someone part of your in-group without there being a properly established relationship to justify this: you will have taken a liberty that was not yours to take.

Getting back to our こそあど, I want to teach you a few series that will be useful in further lessons, as well as in general of course (the more you know, the more you can say).

Noun-replacing referal

This series is used as pronoun series in sentences, and replaces nouns entirely. This last bit seems redundant, but as we will see in the next series, can cause a lot of confusiong for beginning students of Japanese. The series is:

this これ
that それ
that (over there) あれ
which どれ

Examples of this series are:

日本語: これは私のです。
English: This is my bag.

This is a standard AはBです pattern to mark A as B. Nothing really remarkable going on.

日本語: あれ山本さんがいた文です。
English: That is the sentence that Yamamoto wrote.

Here we're using a 連体形 attributively (which is one of its important roles) to say that something not close to either speaker or listener is the sentence that Yamamoto wrote. An example of where this sentences might work is two children in a classroom looking at sentences written on the blackboard.

日本語: どれがいいですか。
English: Which do you want? (lit: which will do?)

As you can see, these words are basically nouns, but instead of standing for something concrete they just refer to something, in the same way we use this, that, and which in English.

Noun-inclusive referal

This series is not used as pronoun series in sentences, but augments the noun used, refering directly to it by using the noun paired with the reference, just like in the English "this book" or "that car". This is radically difference from "I like this", where whatever "this" refers to has been replaced by it. The series is:

this [...] この[...]
that [...] その[...]
that [...] (over there) あの[...]
which [...] どの[...]

Beginning students tend to confuse this series with the previous one for seemingly no good reason, so be sure to learn them properly. これ/それ/あれ/どれ are pronouns, この/その/あの/どの are not pronouns in any way.

Let's look at the previous こそあど word and compare it to this one:

日本語: これは私のです。
English: This is my bag

We can create a similar, but more explicit sentence by using この[...] instead:

日本語: このは私のです。
English: This bag is my bag.

日本語: このは私のです。
English: This bag is mine.

Also, the same difference in the question word:

日本語: どれがいいですか。
English: Which do you want? (lit: which will do?)

日本語: どの[...]がいいですか。
English: Which [...] do you want? (lit: which [...]will do?)

In contract to the sentence with どれ, we need to suddenly explicitly say what's this all about, such as "which fruit to you want":

日本語: どの果物がいいですか。
English: Which fruit do you want?

So the difference here is quite obvious, both in the Japanese and English: where (こそあど)れ completely replaces nouns, as a pronoun is supposed to do, (こそあど)の[...] really, really needs that noun explicitly in there.

Manner

This series is used to typify some manner in which something is done, and you will probably recognise the interrogative word in this series from words like どうも and どうぞ. Words from this series are not "pronouns" but are adverbial, and are used in the same way as any other adverb. We'll look at adverbs a bit more in lesson 3, but it helps to explain what they are: principally they are a bit like adjectives for verbs, such as "quickly" or "correctly" do in English (to walk quickly, to write correctly). Much like how in English you postfix them to a verb, in Japanese you prefix them to a verb, and that's really all there is to it. The series is:

this way こう
that way そう
that way ああ
which way どう

Notice that rather than あう (which should contract to おう if we follow modern rules of contraction), the not-in-any-personal-zone version for this series is ああ.

Examples of this adverbial こそあど are easy to give:

日本語: お箸はこう使います。
English: You use chopsticks like this (lit: you use chopsticks this way).

In this sentence we see こう indicating the manner, or way, in which 使う, "use" is to be performed. The question word is used in the exact same fasion:

日本語: お箸はどう使いますか。
English: How do you use chopsticks?

This どう is the same as seen in どうした and どうして, where it is simply used adverbially with する ^_^

This こそあど series is related to two, more complex, constructions, namely (こそあど)のに and (こそあど)んなに, which both explicitly state manner/way, but with different nuance. We have seen 様 earlier pronounced さま to mean likeness, and it is in this respect that 様 should be understood to mean "way" or "manner"; a way that is similar in likeness to some established thing. 風 on the other hand means "style", and so the nuance of why it can be interpreted to mean "way" or "manner" differs. Typically this second word is used for personal behaviour. This second pattern uses a こそあど we haven't seen yet, so let's look at that instead, and note that these two more complex patterns are probably best left alone as passive knowledge until we get to more advanced Japanese.

Comparative degree

This series is used to indicate degree of some state or action, similar to the English use of "as ... as" in "as heavy as this is, you can still easily move it". Words from this series are not "pronouns" but are adjectival, and is used in the same way as noun adjectives. The series is:

as ... as this こんな
as ... as that そんな
as ... as that あんな
as ... as what どんな

You will probably want examples for this series, but problematically this series works best with constructions we'll learn about in lesson 3 and on... so I shall offer a small apology for this and just show you the example sentences without fully explaining the grammar of them:

日本語: こんなになって、じられない。
English: I cannot believe it turned into a situation like this.

The なって comes from なる, and is a continuative form for verbs. The 信じられない construction is the negative potential form of 信じる, meaning "believe". 信じられる means "can believe", and so 信じられない means "cannot believe".

日本語: あんな人がいです。
English: I dislike people like him/her (lit: people like that one - English lacks a neutral gender third person pronoun...).

In addition to the normal series, the word そんな can also be used as an expression of disbelief at the gravity of a situation, in which case it's still the same word, just in a completely and utterly implied context:

日本語: そんな……
English: You can't mean that / This can't be happening / You're joking / [random cultural equivalent]

Location

This series is used to refer to a location. There's not much to explain in terms of special use, it's just location... the words are as pronouns in that they take the place of nouns or nounphrases. The series is:

here ここ
there そこ
over there あそこ (あすこ)
where どこ

Notice that the not-in-any-personal-zone for this series, too, has a different version from what you would expect, and can be pronounced in two ways. Typically one uses あそこ. An example phrase employing two of these words is:

日本語: あのう……ここどこですか。
English: Umm... where are we?

Of course, the sentence literally says "where is here", which translates to natural English as "where am I", "where are we", or anything in between.

Direction

The counterpart to location, the こそあど series for direction indicates, quite obviously, a direction in which something is moving, or is generally located in. The words in this series too act as replacements for nouns or nounphrases. The series is:

here こちら
there そちら
over there あちら
where どちら

Aside from the obvious, these words can also be used to politely refer to people, indirectly referencing them in the same way you would in the English "Over here we have mrs. Dupoint":

日本語: すみません、谷崎さんはどちらですか。
English: Excuse me, which [of these people] is ms. Tanizaki?

There is also a more informal version, which is a shortened, contracted version of this normal series. Like the normal series, the words in this series too act as replacements for nouns or nounphrases:

here こっち
there そっち
over there あっち
where どっち

日本語: 入口こっちてすよ。
English: [Oh,] the entrance is over here.

And with that we have reached the end of (a rather full) lesson 2!

 


What did we cover?

I won't lie: when you finished reading this lesson for the first time, you absorbed a massive chunk of information. We're well on the way to getting down basic Japanese at 新幹線 [bullet train] speeds, but remember that speed alone is usually counter-productive in the whole learning stage, so be sure to read this material at least twice, and try not to read the entire lesson in one go... Why say this at the end of lesson 2 instead of the beginning of lesson 1?

I'll leave that one to you. But the hint is "If you made it this far, you can only get better" ^_^

- Pomax