-ます Form

Generally speaking, the -ます form is used for formal Japanese language.

Since it's more formal than the plain form, which is what we've been using so far, Japanese classrooms tend to focus on the -ます form immediately.

I think that's whack because the plain form is easier to use, and mastery of the plain form is essential for forming complex sentences using a variety of grammatical constructions (all of which we'll learn in future lessons).

Also, if you make Japanese friends, then in most cases you'll probably be using the plain form with them (i.e. speaking casual language).

If you've completely forgotten what I'm talking about when I say "plain form," go back and review our earlier lessons.

To give a quick example, I could say:

明日行く
あした いく。
I'll go tomorrow.
Literally: "tomorrow + go."



...and that would be a casual sentence because my verb is in plain form.

Compare that with:

明日行きます
あした いきます。
I'll go tomorrow.
Literally: "tomorrow + go."



This sentence has the verb 行く (いく // to go) being conjugated into the -ます form. In other words, the sentence using 行きます (いきます) is more formal than the sentence using 行く (いく). So maybe you'd say the first sentence while talking to your friend, but you'd use the second one when talking to your boss at work.

Mastering levels of formality takes time, both because the language can be a bit complicated and because most native English speakers are not accustomed to changing the formality of their speech as much as is required in Japanese.

I still mess up my formal language quite a bit. This is mostly because 90% of my conversations in Japanese have been with friends and family, so I have much less experience speaking formally... causing me to occasionally slip into casual language when speaking with someone I should be using formal language with.

The good news? People understand that we're students of Japanese, so in most cases they don't think that we're being rude when we mess up the formality of our speech. So instead of sounding like a jerk, you get to sound ignorant. Congratulations. ^^

 



As is usually the case for conjugations, we need to know which verbs are which verb types in order to conjugate them into -ます form. You may wish to go back and review our lesson on verb types.

Here are a selection of verbs in plain form [dictionary form]:

1) 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


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

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


3) Irregular Verbs // Group III Verbs

する(suru // to do; to make
来る(くる // kuru // to come


To put these verbs into -ます form, we...
 

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

Take the final kana, which ends in a 'u' sound, and change it so that it ends in an 'i' sound.

In other words, the last kana changes like this:

-う (-u) → -い (-i)
-く (-ku) → -き (-ki)
-ぐ (-gu) → -ぎ (-gi)
-す (-su) → -し (-shi)
-つ (-tsu) → -ち (-chi)
-ぬ (-nu) → -に (-ni)
-ぶ (-bu) → -び (-bi)
-む (-mu) → -み (-mi)
-る (-ru) → -り (-ri)

If you're wondering why -す (-su) becomes -し (-shi) (and not -si) and why -つ (-tsu) becomes -ち (-chi) (and not -tsi), you probably need to review your kana charts:



↑ We're going from the "u" column to the "i" column. 

(Note: The full size of this and other charts are available in our kana course.)

After we change the ending to an 'i" sound, we add -ます to the end of that:

-う (-u) → -います (-imasu)
-く (-ku) → -きます (-kimasu)
-ぐ (-gu) → -ぎます (-gimasu)
-す (-su) → -します (-shimasu)
-つ (-tsu) → -ちます (-chimasu)
-ぬ (-nu) → -にます (-nimasu)
-ぶ (-bu) → -びます (-bimasu)
-む (-mu) → -みます (-mimasu)
-る (-ru) → -ります (-rimasu)

Shocking revelation: This verb form is called "-ます form" because all of the verbs end in -ます after being conjugated.




Let's see these conjugation changes in action:

// kau // to buy
いますいます // kaimasu // buy

// iku // to go
きますきます // ikimasu // go

// nugu // to take off [e.g. shoes]
ぎますぎます // nugimasu // take off [e.g. shoes]

// osu // to push; to press
しますします // oshimasu // push; press

// tatsu // to stand
ちますちます // tachimasu // stand

// shinu // to die
にますにます // shinimasu // die

あそ // asobu // to play
びますあそびます // asobimasu // play

// nomu // to drink
みますみます // nomimasu // drink

すわ // suwaru // to sit down
りますすわります // suwarimasu // sit down


So those (↑) are godan verbs. Next, let's look at ichidan verbs (↓).

 

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

These are even easier.

Just drop -る (-ru) and add -ます (-masu):

食べたべ // taberu // to eat
食べますたべます // tabemasu // eat

起きおき // okiru // to get up; to wake up
起きますおきます // okimasu// get up; wake up


Last of all, we have irregular verbs, which you just need to memorize...

 

3) Irregular Verbs // Group III Verbs

する(suru // to do; to make
します(shimasu // do; make

来る(くる // kuru // to come
来ます(きます // kimasu // come

 

There you have it. Now you can conjugate verbs into -ます form.

You're one step closer to using eloquent, formal Japanese. Nice!

You'll need to master these conjugations, so you might want to read through this lesson a few times. Also, every time you come across a verb, try conjugating it into the -ます form in your head. After a while, the conjugation patterns will feel like second nature to you.

In the next lesson, we'll look at some key differences between the usage of casual and formal language. It will be a good chance to practice some of these conjugations!



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