As in English, the present tense often doesn't refer to this very moment but to some habitual action, such as "I eat dinner every day at 6:00."|
If you know a verb's te-form, expressing that verb in the past tense is easy. You simply change the final vowel from an e to an a. For example, tabete (tah-beh-teh; eat) becomes tabeta (tah-beh-tah; ate), and nonde (nohn-deh; drink) becomes nonda (nohn-dah; drank).
To say that you didn't do something in the past, you need to fashion verbs into their negative past forms. Simply take the negative form, drop the final vowel, i, and add -katta. For example, tabenai (tah-beh-nah-ee; don't eat) becomes tabenakatta (tah-beh-nah-kaht-tah; didn't eat). Cool, huh?
In Japanese, the verbs you choose say a lot about you. Although using the plain/informal verb form when you talk with close friends or family members is fine, if you use them in a business situation or with strangers, the listener may think you're unsophisticated or even rude. Judging the situation and knowing what level of formality is appropriate is an integral part of speaking Japanese. Making polite/neutral verb forms is easy. You just have to remember four verb endings (one each for the affirmative present, negative present, affirmative past, and negative past) and add one of them to the end of the verb's stem form.
|Negative Past||tabemasen deshita||mimasen deshita||nomimasen deshita|
Japanese has a rich inventory of verb suffixes that add either concrete meaning or subtle implications. Different suffixes require different verb forms: plain/ informal form (dictionary form, negative form, past tense, or negative past tense), stem form, or te-form. You may think that I'm slipping a whole new form in on you, but plain/informal form is just the term I use to indicate that the verb form isn't the stem or the te-form. Dictionary form, negative form, past tense, and negative past tense verbs all follow the same pattern, so I call them all the plain/informal form.
Note:In this table, I use hyphens to show you the boundary between the verb and the verb suffix, but you pronounce the verbs as one word or phrase.
|Suffixes that Follow Plain/Informal Forms|
|should||-beki desu||taberu- beki desu||1 should eat.|
|probability||-desho||taberu-desho||I'll probably eat.|
|possibility||-kamo shiremasen||taberu- kamo shiremasen||1 might eat.|
|person||-hito||taberu-hito||the person who eats|
|because||-kara||taberu-kara||because 1 eat|
|noun-maker||-koto||taberu-koto||the act of eating|
|things||-mono||taberu-mono||things to eat|
|time||-toki||taberu-toki||when 1 eat|
|intention||-tsumori desu||taberu-tsumori desu||1 plan to eat.|
|Suffixes that Follow Stem Forms|
|purpose||-ni||tabe-ni||in order to eat|
|difficulty||-nikui||tabe-nikui||It's hard to eat.|
|desire||-tai||tabe-tai||1 want to eat.|
|Suffixes that Follow Te-forms|
|doing a favor||-ageru||tabete-ageru||1 eat for you.|
|present perfect||-aru||tabete-aru||1 have eaten.|
|present progressive||-iru||tabete-iru||1 am eating.|
|attempt||-miru||tabete-miru||I'll try to eat.|
|completion||-shimau||tabete-shimau||I finish eating.|
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