Introduction to Japanese: Volume 1

Chapter 6

Continuation of Particles and Verb Conjugation

Last chapter, we learned the basics of writing sentences in Japanese, namely, sentence ordering and particle use (particles are used to denote the grammatical function of a word or words in a sentence).

So far we have studied three particles: は, also called the topic marker, which for now we treat as the particle that introduces the subject of a sentence (this is a simplification, but one that is helpful for our studies now); を, used to indicate the direct object; and に, which, among its many uses, indicates the place of existence or location of something (similar to the prepositions “in” or “at”).

In this chapter, we will continue our studies about Japanese particles and learn the basics of verb conjugation in Japanese.

へ and に: Particles of destination

The next particle we will study is (read as “e” rather than “he”), which is used to indicate direction, as in the sentences below:

私は学校いきます。(I go to school.)

かよこは日本かえります。(Kayoko returns to Japan.)

みどりはしごときます。(Midori comes to work.)

私たちはこうえんあるきます。(We walk towards the park.)

You may have noticed that in the last example, I wrote “towards” rather than “to”. In reality, へ is mostly used to indicate overall direction of movement rather than necessarily the final destination.

To pinpoint the exact place you are heading to, there is another particle you might use – one that we have already seen before.

私は学校いきます。(I go to school.)

かよこは日本かえります。(Kayoko returns to Japan.)

みどりはしごときます。(Midori comes to work.)

私たちはこうえんあるきます。(We walk to the park.)

The sentences are almost identical. The only sentence whose meaning was significantly changed was the last one – now we are walking to the park, rather than only towards it. When used to indicate direction or destination, へ and に are virtually interchangeable. Because に is used more often than へ, you might prefer to stick to にrather than worrying when に would be appropriate but へ would not.

から and まで: indicating start and end of actions or periods of time and limits.

The next two particles we will study are often used as a pair, being equivalents of the English prepositions “from” and “to”: から and まで. Differently from the particles we have seen so far, they are composed of more than one Hiragana character.

ヒロキは大学からいえまであるきます。(Hiroki walks from work to home.)

The first particle (から) is used to indicate the beginning or origin of something – in this case, Hiroki started walking from university – while the second particle (まで) indicates the place where Hiroki finished walking: home. In addition to distance, から and まで can also be used to indicate time or price range.

たなか先生はあさからよるまではたらきます。(Tanaka-sensei works from morning to night.)

ぎんこうのえいぎょうじかんは8じから16じまでです。(The bank’s business hours are from 8h to 16h (4pm).)

Just like English’s “from” and “to”, から and まで do not necessarily need to be used together: it is perfectly fine to write たなか先生はあさからはたらきます (Tanaka-sensei works from morning) or ぎんこうのえいぎょうじかんは16じまでです (the bank is open till 4pm).

In some cases, から and まで cannot be used together at all. This is because から and まで possess a wider range of meaning, including words such as “since” and “until”. から in particular tends to indicate origin as in where one comes from or what something is made from, and まで tends to indicate limits such as until what point someone is willing to do something (から can also be used to express reasoning or explanation, although that is something we will be leaving to another chapter to cover).

たなか先生: ヒロキくん、どこからきましたか?
ヒロキ: ブラジルからきました。

(Tanaka-sensei: Hiroki, where do you come from?)
(Hiroki: I come from Brazil.)

ワインはぶどうからつくられます。(Wine is made from grapes.)

いつまで日本にいますか? (Until when will you be in Japan?)

で:Indicating the place or method of action

While the particles へ and に indicate destination or direction, the particle で indicates the place where an action is happening. In this sense, it is often similar to the prepositions “at” or “in” used in English.

みどりはレストランパンを食べます。(Midori eats bread at a/the restaurant.)

私はへやねます。(I sleep in my room.)

The particle で can also be used to indicate the means or method of how something is done, as we often do using “by”, “in” or “with” in English.

私ははし食べます。(I eat with chopsticks.)

かよこ: みどり、どうやってしごとへいきますか?
みどり: 私はくるまいきます。かよこは?
かよこ: でんしゃいきます。

(Kayoko: How do you go to work, Midori?)
(Midori: I go by car. What about you?)
(Kayoko: I go by train.)

の: Indicating possession or connection between words

Finally for this chapter, we will see the particle の, used to indicate possession. In Japanese we do not have specific possessive pronouns as we would in English (her, mine, their, etc.). The particle の indicates that the word that comes after it belongs to the word before it, so 私の means “my” or “mine”, みどりの means “Midori’s”, and so on.

なまえは_____です。 (My name is _____.)

みどりこいびとはハンサムです。(Midori’s boyfriend is handsome.)

ちちたんじょうびはあしたです。(My father’s birthday is tomorrow.)

As the last sentence shows, we can use successive の to indicate further relationships, as seen in the third sentence. As in English, do not overuse it: a sentence such as “I am your father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate” would be as obnoxious in Japanese as it is in English.

The particle の isn’t simply a makeshift possessive pronoun. What it does is to establish connections between the words it links.

While the sentences below cannot be as easily compared to the possessive pronouns in English, but you may notice that the logic of establishing relationships between words is similar.

かれは日本語先生です。(He is a teacher of Japanese (Japanese language teacher).

本はつくえうえにあります。(The book is on top of the table.)

かよこいえはえきちかくにあります。(Kayoko’s house is near the station.)

A common hint given to learners of Japanese is to think of the particle の as the English word “of”, which is true to an extent. 日本語の先生 obviously does not mean that the professor “belongs” to Japanese, but it indicates his or her affiliation or connection to the language: a teacher of Japanese. In the second sentence, つくえのうえ indicates “top of the table”; we would also use の similarly to indicate “under the rug”, “next to the bank” or “in front of you”. The third sentence is interesting because the first の indicates a simple relation of possession (Kayoko’s house) while the second の establishes a connection between “station” and “near”, i.e., “near the station”.

Just take care to not go too far trying to apply the logic of a language in its entirety to another very different language. For example, the third sentence, if literally translated equating の with “of”, would be rendered as “Kayoko’s house is in the station’s near”, which would be ungrammatical in English. Understanding how we can use の to establish connections between words is the most important thing.

Verb conjugation – present, present negative, past and past negative

Now that we already know enough (but not all) particles to be able to express ourselves with some competence, I would like to like to talk a bit about verbs and verb conjugation in Japanese for the rest of this chapter.

One thing I have to mention is that the Japanese language has many honorifics and many levels of respectful or polite language, and one way that politeness can be expressed in Japanese is through verb conjugation. I mention this because all the verbs we have seen so far were written in their polite form.

This is a conscious choice. First, the system of honorifics and polite language in Japan can be hard to navigate even for native Japanese speakers; since the polite form of verbs taught so far is appropriate to most daily interactions, you are less likely to sound rude or indelicate. Second, due to its regularity, the polite form is easier for beginners. For example, you may have noticed that all the verbs in their polite form end in “ます”. That is a feature of the polite form of Japanese verbs.

In this chapter, we will learn about the present affirmative, present negative, past affirmative and past negative tenses – again, always in their polite form. As an example we will use the verb “to go”, いきます. For each verb, the part before the ます – in this case, いき – is called the verb stem.

Knowing the verb stem is very useful for many reasons, but for now we just need to know that to conjugate the verb in the polite form, we keep the verb stem and add the proper declination to indicate present or past and affirmative or negative.

私はしごとへいきます (I go to work.)
私はしごとへいきません (I do not go to work.)
私はしごとへいきました (I went to work.)
私はしごとへいきませんでした (I did not go to work)


Adding ます to the verb stem forms the now familiar present tense (いきます). If instead we add ません, we have the present negative tense (いきません). This can be challenging at first, since English speakers are accustomed to indicate the negative using an auxiliary verb (do, will, should, etc.) plus “not”, rather than having one specific conjugation to do so.

The past tense is obtained by adding ました (いきました), while the past negative tense, being a mix of the two previous ones, is the longest one, requiring the addition of ませんでした (いきませんでした). In the polite form, all verbs follow this pattern – there are no irregular verbs.

Although not a verb proper, the copula です is also conjugated.

私は学生です。 (I am a student.)
私は学生ではありません。 (I am not a student.)
私は学生でした。 (I was a student.)
私は学生ではありませんでした。 (I was not a student.)


One thing we need to notice is that “は” is pronounced “wa” in ではありません, just as we pronounce it when using it as a particle. This is why the negative of です is simply the particles で and は together, plus the negative of the verb あります (to exist) – in a way, the literal translation might be “the thing of me being a student does not exist”.

To wrap up this part, let’s rewrite some example sentences from the previous chapter using the present negative, past and negative past tenses.

みどりはみずを飲みません。(Midori does not drink water.)

かよこはビールをかいました。(Kayoko bought beer.)

私は日本人ではありません。(I am not Japanese.)

ドウドウはこうえんにいませんでした。(Doudou was not at the park.)

Shukudai section


Complete the sentences below using を, に, へ, から, まで, で, or の:










Rewrite the sentences below, converting the present tense to the present negative, past and past negative tenses.









We will study the following five Kanji this time:

This Kanji means “to go”, “journey”, and, sometimes, “conduct”. It has more than one native Japanese reading, but by far the most common is い, in the verb きます (to go).

It also has more than one Chinese reading, but for now we only need to remember the most common, こう, appearing in words such as 行動こうどう (action, conduct), 旅行りょこう (travel, trip) and 銀行ぎんこう (bank; since the first Kanji means silver, I like to think that that is where all the silver goes to).

Sample sentence: 私は銀行ぎんこうきます. (I go to the bank.)

This Kanji means “to come”, “next” or “future”. This character is read as き in the verb きます (to come). When used in Kanji compounds its most common reading is らい, seen in very common words such as 来週らいしゅう (next week), 来月らいげつ (next month), 来年らいねん (next year), 将来しょうらい (near future), 未来みらい (distant future) and 来日らいにち (arrival/coming to Japan).

Sample sentence: ゆきはしごとからます. (Midori comes from work.)

This definitely not-round Kanji originally meant “round”; since coins are also round, it today also means “yen”, and therefore this would be one of the most commonly found Kanji in your daily life in Japan. Despite saying “yen” in English, in Japanese we pronounce it as えん.

Sample sentence: ほんは1500えんでした。(The Book was 1,500 yen.)

This Kanji means “serve” or “attend”, and therefore is used in many work-related words, such as 仕事しごと (work, occupation). It is also used in one of the most spoken expressions in Japanese, 仕方しかたない (it can’t be helped).

As you can see, its common Chinese reading is し. Of note, the radical on the left, which is very similar to Katakana イ, means “person”; we will see this radical in many Kanji from now on.

Talk about a Kanji with many meanings: this one literally means “thing”, and therefore it is used in a myriad of words ranging from, 事務じむ (“office thing” i.e. business), 家事かじ (“thing of house” i.e. housework) or 火事かじ (also かじ, “fire thing”, i.e. fire!); normally it is written as じ in these compounds.

Its native Japanese reading is こと, and occasionally it can also be read as ごと, such as in the above seen 仕事.

Sample sentence: みどりは仕事しごときます。(Midori goes to work.)