Japanese verb classification

It is very important to be familiar with the classification of Japanese verbs when you compose your first Japanese sentences. In addition, when you are learning about advanced grammar structures you will need a decent knowledge on Japanese verbs. In the future similarly to grammar books I will refer to the group number which the given verb belongs to when I explain specific grammatical rules. Linguists and Japanese teachers classify the verbs into three big groups. As always exceptions exist. The good news is that the third group is created for the exceptions, but in the same time the bad news is that the first and the second group overlap, which means you will have to learn these verbs one by one. Before diving into the classifications, you will need to master the Katakana and Hiragana alphabets. This is not only important because I will use these characters to write down Japanese words, but many of the grammatical rules are based on the vowel system of the language. If you are still not familiar with these alphabets, you can practice them on my site for free.

Japanese verbs can be classified into three big groups

These two alphabets are used for writing down syllables. These syllables are made of five vowels: a, i, u, e, o. The Katakana and Hiragana alphabets are basically created by putting consonants before these vowels. As such if we use "k" for example:

  • か ー ka
  • き ー ki
  • く ー ku
  • け ー ke
  • こ ー ko
Using "s":
  • さ ー sa
  • し ー shi
  • す ー su
  • せ ー se
  • そ ー so
And the list could go on.

You need the master the hiragana and the katakana alphabets before learning Japanese verbs

All right, after this short introduction, let's see the groups. I have already talked about conjugation of the Japanese adjectives in one of my previous articles. I have already mentioned that the Japanese words basically have two forms. One is called the "dictionary form(辞書形)" which you can find if you look up a word in a dictionary and the other one is called the "conjugated form" which is created by changing the ending of a specific word. If you are looking for a Japanese verb in a dictionary you will find it in a form that ends in a "u" sound.

る、ゆ、む、ふ、ぬ、つ、す、く、う 「I am not sure if there is an example for all the letters...」

As I have already mentioned the Japanese verbs can be classified into three big groups. Among them the easiest to remember is the third group since it only has two members.

Group 3(不規則動詞):

  • 来る 「くる」 ー to come
  • する ー to do
Differentiating group number one and two is a little bit more difficult.
  • Rule 1: verbs that don't end in 'る' belong to the group 1
  • Rule 2: verbs ending in 'る' with a high vowel (e,i) before 'る', belong to group 2
  • Rule 3: verbs ending in 'る' with a low vowel (a,u,o) before 'る', belong to group 1
What is this for? Read: Practical and polite Japanese verb conjugation

Exceptional verbs belong to group 1, even though they look like group 2 verbs

Let's see some example for clarification

Group 1(五段動詞) ( the list is not complete):

  • to write: 書く 「かく」
  • to talk: 話す 「はなす」
  • to drink: 飲む 「のむ」
  • to have fun: 遊ぶ 「あそぶ」
  • to take off: 脱ぐ 「ぬぐ」
  • to be angry: 怒る 「おこる」(according to rule 3)
  • to decorate: 飾る 「かざる」(according to rule 3)
  • to sell: 売る 「うる」(according to rule 3)
The previous list doesn't require too much explanation. Verbs that don't end in 'る', or the vowel is low before 'る', do belong to the group number one.

Group 2(一段動詞) ( the list is not complete):

  • to eat: 食べる 「たべる」
  • to look: 見る 「みる」
  • to get off: 降りる 「おりる」
  • to get up, to happen : 起きる 「おきる」
  • to wear: 着る 「きる」
The rule for group number two is pretty straightforward. If there is a high vowel before 'る', then it belongs to group number two. Based on the previous rules the following verbs should belong to the group number two however they belong to group number one (the list is not complete):
  • to decrease: 減る 「へる」
  • to slide: 滑る 「すべる」
  • to kick: 蹴る 「ける」
  • to run: 走る 「はしる」
  • to cut: 切る 「きる」
  • to need: 要る 「いる」
  • to get wet: 湿る 「しめる」
  • to talk: 喋る 「しゃべる」
  • to go home: 帰る 「かえる」
These verbs are exceptions because even though there is a a high vowel (e,i) before 'る', they belong to a group 1, fortunately there is only a few of these verbs.
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