How to conjugate Japanese verbs into past tense form

Conjugation rules of Japanese verbs are easy to understand. However it requires you to study the classification of Japanese verbs. Showing a respectful attitude when speaking Japanese might be a little bit more challenging. In the following article I will show you how to conjugate verbs into their past tense form with respect to the groups they belong to. Moreover, since Japanese language uses different forms of conjugation, I will show you how to create honorific phrases.

The ta-form of a Japanese verb is basically is its past tense form as well

If we compare Japanese with English, we find that Japanese does not have as many tenses as English. Obliviously simple past tense is widely used, however there is no differentiation between past tenses. This makes English a very difficult language for Japanese people to study. Past perfect and simple past for example can be expressed using the same conjugation rules.

First of all let's review the classification of Japanese verbs.

  • 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

I have talked about the importance of the groups when I explained the so called te-form(て形). The following grammatical structure is called the ta-form(た形). You might have realized the similarity in their names. And yes! My good news is that the te-form and the ta-form are almost the same. For those, who would like to learn fast, I can recommend to learn the te-form(て形) first and then just substitute て with た in the rules to get the ta-form(た形).

To make it simple, the ta-form of a Japanese verb is basically is its past tense form as well. However it's better to remember it as "the ta-form" instead of past tense form, because later on, when I explain advanced Japanese grammatical structures I will refer to the ta-form.

Conjugation rules of the ta-form:

  • Rule for group 1: You need to change the final hiragana based on the following list:
  • る、う、つ ー> った
  • む、ぶ、ぬ ー> んだ
  • ぐ ー> いだ
  • す ー> した
  • く  ー> いた

For example:

  • 送る(おくる)(to send) ー 送った 
  • 買う(かう) (to buy)ー 買った 
  • 打つ(うつ) (to hit)ー 打った 
  • 飲む(のむ) (to drink)ー 飲んだ 
  • 死ぬ(しぬ) (to die)ー 死んだ 
  • 脱ぐ(ぬぐ) (to take off)ー 脱いだ 
  • 貸す(かす) (to lend)ー 貸した 
  • 書く(かく) (to write)ー 書いた 

  • Rule for group 2: You need to replace 'る' with 'た' at the end of the verb

For example:

  • 食べる(たべる) ー 食べた(to eat)

  • Rule for group 3:
  • する ー した
  • 来る (くる) ー 来た (きた)
Read more >> How to use conjugated Japanese verbs

Let's create a few sentences using the past form of Japanese verbs. (Group numbers are in parentheses)

  • 友達(ともだち)はメールを送った「1」。
  • (My) friend sent the mail。
  • 私(わたし)はアイスを買った「1」。
  • I bought an ice-cream。
  • 母(はは)はワインを飲んだ「1」。
  • My mum drank wine。
  • 父(ちち)は本(ほん)を書いた「1」。
  • My father wrote a book。
  • ピーターはりんごを食べた「2」。
  • Peter ate and apple。
  • 僕(ぼく)は宿題(しゅくだい)をした「3」。
  • I did my homework。
  • 妹(いもうと)は昨日(きのう)来た「3」。
  • My sister came yesterday。

These sentences can be used when talking to your friends or relatives. However they lack any form of politeness. As such I discourage you to use the verbs in there simple form when talking to your superior or a stranger.

I will briefly show you how to use polite past forms of Japanese verbs. As I have already explained before, if you would like to make your speech polite you will need to use the form so called "masu-form". If you are not familiar with that, I highly recommend you to check out my previous article.

Polite past tense conjugation of Japanese verbs:

  • Rule: Create its "masu-form" and conjugate it using the following rule:
  • ます → ました

And now let's see a few examples (Group numbers are in parentheses):

  • to go: 行(い)きます → 行きました「1」
  • to drink: 飲(の)みます → 飲みました「1」
  • to send: 送(おく)ります → 送りました「1」
  • to write: 書(か)きます → 書きました「1」
  • to eat: 食(た)べます → 食べました「2」
  • to sleep: 寝(ね)ます → 寝ました「2」
  • to forget: 忘(わす)れます → 忘れました「2」
  • to do: します → しました「3」
  • to come: 来(き)ます → 来ました「3」

Finally here are some sentences that could be used when you are talking to a stranger or superior:

  • 友達(ともだち)はメールを送りました「1」。
  • (My) friend sent the mail。
  • 私(わたし)はアイスを買いました「1」。
  • I bought an ice-cream。
  • 母(はは)はワインを飲みました「1」。
  • My mum drank wine。
  • 父(ちち)は本(ほん)を書きました「1」。
  • My father wrote a book。
  • ピーターはりんごを食べました「2」。
  • Peter ate and apple。
  • 僕(ぼく)は宿題(しゅくだい)をしました「3」。
  • I did my homework。
  • 妹(いもうと)は昨日(きのう)来ました「3」。
  • My sister came yesterday。

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I test my ta-form knowledge!

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