Verb Types

I hate talking about Japanese verb types.

They confuse me, and I'm always getting their arbitrary labels mixed up.

But, it's necessary. So here goes nothing...


From this Wikipedia article:

The Japanese language has two types of regular verbs that involve the stem, and can be referred to as Japanese consonant and vowel verbs.

The two groups of verbs are:

1. consonant-stem,
godan-katsuyō (五段活用, "5-class conjugation"), Group I, or -u verbs; and

2. vowel-stem,
ichidan-katsuyō (一段活用, "1-class conjugation"), Group II, or -ru verbs.

Most verbs are consonant-stem, but vowel-stem verbs are also common, hence the numbering "Group I" (consonant-stem, more common) and "Group II" (vowel-stem, less common). Sometimes categorization is expanded to include "Group III" (special cases) for the irregular verbs
する suru and 来る kuru; note however that there are other Japanese irregular verbs, though they are generally only slightly irregular.


This is me not listening: <(*_*)>

I avoided ever studying these labels, and I still made it through my Japanese studies unscathed. But maybe I should have paid attention to them more.

It is arguably important to know the different labels for verbs because it makes reading grammar books and lessons a lot easier (I don't think it really matters much for actually using the language, as you'll just get a sense for which verbs are which type over time).

So, we need a trick to memorize the differences.

We'll start with godan and ichidan verbs:

First, note that 飲む (のむ // to drink) is a godan verb, also known as a Group I verb or a u-verb. 

Second, note that 食べる (たべる // to eat) is an ichidan verb, also known as a Group II verb or a ru-verb.

Now let's explore why we need to know which type a verb is...


You may remember from previous lessons that we can often make sentences without conjugating a verb at all.

For example:

ビール のむ?
Do you want a beer?
Literally: "beer + drink?"

Literally: "drink."


We could do the same thing with 食べる (たべる // to eat):

これ たべる?
Do you want to eat this?
Literally: "this + eat?"

Literally: "eat."


But what if we wanted to say "No, I won't eat/drink?"

Alas, then we would have to conjugate these verbs.

And when conjugating, we would have to take into account that 飲む is a godan / Group I / u-verb, while 食べる is an ichidan / Group II / ru-verb.



ビール のむ?
Do you want a beer?
Literally: "bear + drink?"

Literally: "don't drink / won't drink."


With 食べる, it becomes...

これ たべる?
Do you want to eat this?
Literally: "this + eat?"

Literally: "don't eat / won't eat."


Did you catch the difference?

Because it's pretty easy to miss. Let's look at these verb conjugations side by side with romaji:

→ 飲まない
→ のまない
nomu → nomanai
drink → don't drink / won't drink

食べ → 食べない
たべ → たべない
taberu → tabenai

eat → don't eat / won't eat

Generally speaking, conjugating an ichidan / Group II verb will be easier, because we just drop of the final る and add some other string of characters. This is why ichidan verbs are also called "ru-verbs." Furthermore, all ichidan verbs end in る (ru).

In other words, there is only ONE possible ending for an ichidan verb: る.

一 (いち // ichi) means "one." Accordingly, an 一段動詞 (いちだんどうし // ichidan verb [literally: one (一) + step / grade (段) + verb (動詞)]) is the type of verb with only one ending: る.

Remember that, if you can. And also remember that 食べる is an ichidan verb / Group II verb / ru-verb.


Some of you may now be wondering this:

If ichidan ("one step") verbs only have one possible ending (=る), maybe godan ("five step") verbs only have five possible endings?

Uh, not quite.

A godan verb can end in any of the following:


That's nine possible endings. Not five! And in old, obsolete Japanese, there were even more.

(Note that the number of possible final syllables for ichidan and godan verbs is not the reason for their labels being that way, in any case. I could talk about the purported reasons for using these labels, but I don't really care [if you do care, check out this Reddit thread]. In this lesson, we are just using the fact that ichidan ("one step") verbs have only one possible ending and godan ("five step") verbs have many possible endings as a mnemonic device ー we're using this distinction to help us know which category a verb is just by seeing it's final kana.)


Getting your Japanese basics solidly figured out means doing a lot of conjugations. And virtually all conjugations will rely on knowledge of which type a verb is (godan / Group I or ichidan / Group II). As such, I recommend memorizing one verb for each possible ending (for each possible final kana).

I have a list of the verbs I would recommend here (though I don't normally do this, I've also included romaji in the list):


Godan Verbs // Group I Verbs // u-verbs

// kau // to buy
// iku // to go
// nugu // to take off [e.g. shoes]
// osu // to push; to press
// tatsu // to stand
// shinu // to die
あそ // asobu // to play
// nomu // to drink
すわ // suwaru // to sit down


Ichidan Verbs // Group II Verbs // ru-verbs

(Note: All of these verbs will end in る, but I have included two examples, since most [but not all] of these verbs will end in -eru or -iru. Compare that to the godan verb above, 座る [すわる // suwaru // to sit down], which ends in -aru.)

食べたべ // taberu // to eat
起きおき // okiru // to get up; to wake up


Memorize all of the verbs listed above.

You absolutely will need to know them to even hold a basic conversation in Japanese.


Hey, uh... what about those "Group III" verbs, the irregular ones?

Those would be:

する(to do; to make
来る(くる // to come

These two verbs almost always have random conjugations that don't fall into either ichidan or godan verb conjugation rules. Thus, they are irregular.

We'll see lots of examples of exactly how they are irregular in future lessons.


That is A LOT of information to process.

Luckily, we'll be seeing all of these verbs and distinctions constantly throughout our studies, so we'll have lots of time to drill this information in.

Also, we'll soon look at a concrete example of the difference in conjugation between godan and ichidan verbs: Conjugating verbs into their plain negative forms.

Something to look forward to. Or dread, depending on your outlook.

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