Fact corner

  • Language: Japanese
  • Alternate names: Nihongo, Nipongo, 日本語, にほんご
  • SIL-code: Ethnologue:jpn
  • Language family: Japonic
  • Number of speakers: 122,433,899
  • Script: Kanji, Hiragana, Katakana


Japanese is a language spoken in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is an agglutinative language and is distinguished by a complex system of honorifics reflecting the hierarchical nature of Japanese society, with verb forms and particular vocabulary to indicate the relative status of the speaker, the listener, and a person mentioned in conversation.

Japanese vocabulary has been heavily influenced by loanwords from other languages. A vast number of words were borrowed from Chinese, or created from Chinese models, over a period of at least 1,500 years. Since the late 19th century, Japanese has borrowed a considerable number of words from Indo-European languages, primarily English. Because of the special trade relationship between Japan and first Portugal in the 16th century, and then mainly the Netherlands in the 17th century, Portuguese and Dutch have also been influential.

The Alphabet

The Japanese language is written with a combination of three different types of scripts: modified Chinese characters called kanji (漢字), and two syllabic scripts made up of modified Chinese characters, hiragana (平仮名) and katakana (片仮名). The Latin alphabet, rōmaji (ローマ字), is also often used in modern Japanese, especially for company names and logos, advertising, and when entering Japanese text into a computer. Western style Indian numerals are generally used for numbers, but traditional Sino-Japanese numerals are also commonplace.

The verb

Japanese verb conjugation is the same for all subjects, first person ("I", "we"), second person ("thou", "you") and third person ("he/she/it" and "they"), singular and plural. The plain form of all verbs ends in u. There are very few irregular verbs.

Japanese Verb Conjugation

Click verbs to conjugate them in the following verb conjugation tables:

聞く - kiku

Indicative INFORMAL 聞く kiku 聞かない kikanai
FORMAL 聞きます kikimasu 聞きません kikimasen
Imperative INFORMAL I 聞け kike 聞く な kiku na
INFORMAL II 聞きなさい kikinasai 聞きなさる な kikinasaru na
INFORMAL III 聞いて ください kiite kudasai 聞かない で ください kikanai de kudasai
FORMAL お聞き なさいませ okiki nasaimase お聞き なさいます な okiki nasaimasu na
INFORMAL I 聞こう kikō 聞くまい kikumai
INFORMAL II 聞く だろう kiku darō 聞かない だろう kikanai darō
FORMAL I 聞きましょう kikimasyō 聞きますまい kikimasumai
FORMAL II 聞く でしょう kiku desyō 聞かない でしょう kikanai desyō
Provisional INFORMAL 聞けば kikeba 聞かなければ kikanakereba
FORMAL 聞きませば
聞きません なら kikimasen nara

Tense Inflected form
Informal Past (~ ta Form) 聞いた
Formal Past 聞きました
Informal Past Negative 聞かなかった
Formal Past Negative 聞きませんでした
~ te Form 聞いて
Conditional 聞けば
Passive 聞かれる
Causative 聞かせる
Potential 聞ける

Grouping of Japanese Verbs

Group 1: ~ U ending verbs

The basic form of Group 1 verbs end with "~u". This group is also called Consonant-stem verbs or Godan-doushi (Godan verbs).

  • hanasu (話す) - to speak
  • kaku (書く) - to write
  • kiku (聞く) - to listen

Group 2: ~ Iru and ~ Eru ending verbs

The basic form of Group 2 verbs end with either "~iru" or "~eru". This group is also called Vowel-stem-verbs or Ichidan-doushi (Ichidan verbs).

Iru ending verbs
  • kiru (着る) - to wear
  • miru (見る) - to see
Eru ending verbs
  • akeru (開ける) - to open
  • ageru (あげる) - to give

Group 3: Irregular verbs

There are only two irregular verbs, kuru (来る) 'to come' and suru (する) 'to do'.

External links


  • Lange, Roland. Japanese Verbs. Barron's Educational Series. New York. 1991.
  • Tanimori, Masahiro. Handbook of Japanese Grammar. 1 edition. Tokyo. 1994.
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