Godan Verbs in Japanese | Everything you need to know

Author Sandro Maglione for article 'Godan Verbs in Japanese | Everything you need to know'

Sandro Maglione

9 min reading time

Updated on 27 January 2023

Godan Verbs in Japanese | Everything you need to know

Godan verbs (五段) are a class of verbs in Japanese. These are called Godan (五 = 5) because their conjugations use all 5 sounds of the Hiragana alphabet (あ, え, い, お, う).

These verbs are also referred to as Verbs in う (u), since they all end in Hiragana characters belonging to the う column.

Some of these verbs also end in る, so be careful not to confuse them with Ichidan verbs.


How to recognize Godan verbs

As we have seen, Godan verbs or verbs in う (u) have the particularity of ending all with Hiragana characters of the う column.

Specifically, these characters and their readings are the followings:

  • ku
  • gu
  • su
  • tsu
  • nu
  • bu
  • mu
  • u
  • ru (special case)

Whenever you encounter a verb that ends with one of these characters you can identify it as a Godan verb.

The only exception are verbs ending in る, which can also be Ichidan verbs.

Let's see some examples for each of these characters:

  • ()to write
  • (およ)to swim
  • (はな)to speak
  • ()to win
  • ()to die
  • (えら)to choose
  • ()to read
  • ()to buy
  • ()わる to change

()ぬ is the only verb in modern Japanese that ends with the Hiragana character ぬ

Non-past form of Godan verbs

In Japanese there is only one verb form for both the present tense and the future tense; this is often called the non-past form.

To distinguish whether the sentence is in the present or in the future tense you need to know the context around the sentence.

Same as for Ichidan verbs, the plain (non-past) form of Godan verbs is the same as the base form, also called dictionary form, and requires no conjugation.

(しょう)(せつ)()く。

To write a novel.

In this first example the verb write (()く) does not need any conjugation to form the present tense:

  • (しょう)(せつ) novel (noun)
  • を: indicates the object of the sentence, the thing that... (particle)
  • ()to write (Godan verb)

How to conjugate Godan verbs

Godan verbs are different from Ichidan verbs in that their conjugation changes based on their base. In fact, Godan verbs have 5 bases, each with a different conjugation.

()(だん) (Godan) actually means "5 bases" (5:五, bases: 段).

Ichidan verbs (いち)(だん) instead have "1 base" (1: 一).

The 5 bases correspond to the columns of the syllabary: か, き, く, け, こ.

However, the basic idea is similar for each of these conjugations:

  1. Remove the last Hiragana character of the verb Godan
  2. Replace the removed character with its respective character based on the specific conjugation
  3. Add a verbal suffix (when needed, such as ます (masu) for the polite form)

The character to be replaced depends on the verb base to be conjugated, let's see some examples below:

  • ku becomes ki (the k remains, while the last vowel changes)
  • su becomes sa
  • nu becomes ne
  • mu becomes mo

Each of these bases forms a different conjugation. You can learn more about each of these conjugations in the article dedicated to the 5 verb bases.

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Polite plain form of Godan verbs

The polite non-past form is formed by changing the last syllable from the column う to equivalent in the い column, and then adding the suffix ~ます.

Let's see step by step an example with the verb ()to listen:

()
()
()
()ます

In the example above, the verb to listen (()く) modifies the syllable く from the う (ku) column to its counterpart in the い column: き (ki).

We then add ~ます to complete the polite form.

(はなし)()く。

To listen to the story.

(はなし)()きます。

To listen to the story.

As you can see, the polite form has the same translation as the dictionary form seen above. If you want to learn more about the polite form in Japanese we recommend reading the dedicated article.

Let's look at some other examples of conjugation in the polite form for Godan verbs:

()
()
()
()ます
(はな)
(はな)
(はな)
(はな)ます
()
()
()
()ます
()
()
()
()ます

日本(にほん)()わります。

Japan will change.

Non-past negative form of Godan verbs

The negative non-past form is formed by changing the last syllable from the う column to the corresponding one in the あ column, and then also adding the suffix ~ない (ない means to not exist).

There is an exception for the vowel column: う in fact becomes わ and not あ.

Let's see step by step an example with the same verb seen previously ()to listen:

()
()
()
()ない

In the example above, the verb to listen (()く) changes the syllable く from the column う (ku) to its counterpart in the column あ: か (ka).

We then add ~ない to complete the negative form.

(はなし)()く。

To listen to the story.

(はなし)()かない。

To not listen to the story.

Polite negative form for Godan verbs

The polite form introduces a conjugation and an alternative suffix for the negative.

In fact, in the polite form the last character is changed from the う column to the い column, the same as seen previously with the non-past form.

In the negative, however, ません is used instead of the suffix ます:

()
()
()
()ません

(はなし)()きません。

To not listen to the story.

It is also possible to find the conjugation with ない with the addition of the suffix です (desu) in the polite negative form.

(はなし)()かないです。

To not listen to the story.

Conjugate Godan verbs in the past tense

The conjugation of Godan verbs becomes more complex when introducing the past tense (た form).

In this case the conjugation changes based on the last Hiragana character of the verb in question.

This variation occurs for many verb forms, including the て form, the ば form, as well as the た form.

Each of these variations requires memorization, and is specific to the class of Godan verbs.

Let's now look at each of these variations individually.

Godan verbs in column K

  1. Remove the Hiragana character k (く)
  2. Add the equivalent in the column (き)
  3. Remove k from the base: ki becomes just i (い)
  4. Add the suffix た (for the た form)
()
()
()
()
()
kiku
kiku
kiki
kiki
kiita

Godan verbs in column G

  1. Remove the Hiragana character k (ぐ)
  2. Add the equivalent in the column (ぎ)
  3. Remove k from the base: gi becomes just i (い)
  4. Add the suffix だ (for the た form)
(およ)
(およ)
(およ)
(およ)
(およ)
oyogu
oyogu
oyogi
ogogi
ogoida

Godan verbs in column S

  1. Remove the Hiragana character s (す)
  2. Add the equivalent in the column (し)
  3. Add the suffix た (for the た form)
(はな)
(はな)
(はな)
(はな)
hanasu
hanasu
hanashi
hanashita

Godan verbs in columns N, B, M

  1. Remove the Hiragana character n, b, m (ぬ, ぶ, む)
  2. Add the equivalent in the column (に, び, み)
  3. Change n, b, m all to n and remove i
  4. Add the suffix だ (for the た form)
()
()
()
()
()
shinu
shinu
shini
shini
shinda
()
()
()
()
()
yomu
yomu
yomi
yomi
yon
yonda

Godan verbs in column T, R, W

  1. Remove the Hiragana character t, r, w (つ, る, う)
  2. Add the equivalent in the い column (ち, り, い)
  3. Change t, r, i all to a double t and remove i
  4. Add the suffix た (for the た form)
()
()
()
()
()
katsu
katsu
kachi
kachi
kat
katta

Past polite form for Godan verbs

Fortunately, when conjugating the polite form for Godan verbs in the past tense the process is easier.

In fact, it is enough to add the suffix ました instead of ます, which follows the rules we have seen above for conjugation in the past tense:

masu
masu
mashi
mashita

(はなし)()きました。

Have heard the story.

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