Distinguishing between う verbs and る verbs in Japanese: A Helpful Guide

In the Japanese language, like any other language, conjugation is an essential skill. Fortunately, it is an easy task to conjugate any word once you know the type of word that it is.

Types of Verbs

In Japanese, there are three types of verbs. There are irregular verbs, such asする(suru) and 来る/くる(kuru), there are る-verbs, such as 食べる/たべる(taberu)and there areう –verbs, such as 飲む/のむ(nomu).

Conjugating

When conjugating a verb, the first most important thing to know is whether it is aる-verb or anう-verb. This refers to the plain form of the verb, as it is found in the Japanese dictionary. This form is also commonly called the dictionary form. When studying vocabulary and learning new words, it is useful to know what kind of verb you are learning. If you can’t remember, that’s okay! A good dictionary will tell you what kind of verb it is. However, we don’t always have access to a dictionary and we don’t always have time to look up a word. So, here are some helpful tips to tell if a verb is a る-verb or anう-verb:

Aる-verb is almost always proceeded by a consonant sound followed by the vowel sound ‘i’ or ’e’. For example, 見る/みる(miru) and 寝る/ねる(neru). These are both る-verbs. You will note that る of みる is proceeded by み. In this circumstance, the ‘i’ sound follows the consonant sound ‘m’.  Notable within the verb ねる is a similar structure. る is proceeded by ね, which is the ‘e’ sound following the consonant sound ‘n’.

It’s easy to get tricked by う-verbs that follow a similar format, however. For example, 帰る/かえる(kaeru) and  変える/かえる(kaeru) are spelled the same and sound the same, but they are not both る-verbs (only変える is). As you can see in these circumstances, the ‘e’ sounds proceeding る are immediately proceeded by the vowel sound ‘a’ and not a consonant sound. Most verbs that end in a double vowel followed by るare not る-verbs.

How to Test a Word

A good way to test a word is to ask yourself how it is said in polite, or ~ます(~masu) form.  If you are returning home, you say 「かえります」(kaerimasu), but if you are changing planes, you say「かえます」(kaemasu). When conjugating to polite form, the last syllable takes on its い form (かえる becomes かえります as る becomes り). So you know that if you’re correctly conjugating to   ~ります(~rimasu), it’s an う-verb.

わかりましたか? (wakarimashitaka?)

We know that if it’s not an う-verb, it’s a る-verb and vice versa, so here’s another easy way to find out what kind of verb it is:

Does it end in る? No ⇒ う-verb  (のむis an う-verb)

If it ends in る, is the second to last vowel ‘e’ or ‘i’? No ⇒ う-verb (とるis an う-verb)

If it ends in る, is there a consonant before ‘e’ or ‘i’? No ⇒ probably う-verb (かえるis an う-verb)

If it ends in る, when you put it in ~ます form, does it end ~ります? Yes ⇒ probably う-verb (はじまりますis an う-verb)

This process is not fool proof and there are many verbs that defy these rules, but more often than not, these tips will help you to identify types of verbs so that they can be easily conjugated into the form that you need.

Happy learning!


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