Japanese Present Tense to Discuss Current Happenings with Confidence

Boy do we have a gift for you—a Japanese one, to be precise.

We’ll be teaching you how to use the present tense in Japanese!

What, did you think we’d give you a お土産(おみやげ)— a charm often bought as a souvenir or a きのこの山(きのこのやま)— a type of candy which looks like a mushroom? No way! We only give out knowledge here.

After you finish this post, you’ll be able to say things in the present tense, like expressing where you work, explaining what you enjoy doing, stating what you’re doing at this very moment and declaring your love for that girl you met a year ago and didn’t think much about until you reconnected recently and realized how wonderful she was.

Wait, that last one’s awfully specific…

Anyway, mastering the present tense in Japanese is the stepping stone to having actual conversations. So what are you waiting for? Start reading and open the present that we’re giving to you!

Discover the Present Tense with 2 Types of Japanese Verbs

You can’t do some serious workouts until you warm up properly and since your brain is a muscle, you also have to warm it up before you start studying.

Here’s today’s warm-up: You’ll need to learn that there are two types of verbs in Japanese because it’s important to know which verb you’re using when you start constructing sentences.

Ichidan verbs are verbs that end with a る syllable. There are some exceptions but you’ll have to learn them as you study.

Godan verbs are the rest (including the exceptions we just mentioned).

Another thing you should keep in mind before you start building Japanese present tense sentences is that the Japanese future and present tense have a lot in common. In fact, they’re practically identical!

Are you all warmed up now? Great! Now let’s learn exactly how to create some present tense Japanese sentences.

Learn to Use the Japanese Present Tense and Enjoy the Gift of Gab

This post will give you a solid introduction to using the Japanese present tense in both formal and informal speech. To really master the tense, though, try to hear it in use. If you don’t have a Japanese-speaking friend or a language exchange partner, we recommend you get both!

Formal Japanese Present Tense

As always, it’s best to start with formal language, so let’s cover that first.

Ichidan Verbs

Constructing the present tense with ichidan verbs is quite simple, actually: Just remove the last syllable and add ます or ません for the negative form.

寝る(ねる)→ 寝ます(ねます)— To sleep

煮る(にる)→ 煮ます(にます)— To cook

捨てる(すてる)→ 捨てません(すてません)— (Negative) to throw

Here’s an example:

佳代子は御飯食べます。(かよこはごはんをたべます。)— Kayoko eats rice.

Wait a second. You may be wondering why the translation here isn’t “Kayoko is eating rice” since it’s in the perfect tense. But think about it: In English, when you say something in the present tense, you’re making a general statement rather than stating a current action (think “I drink tea” versus “I’m drinking tea”).

In Japanese, the rules are a little less rigid and you could actually translate the example sentence as “Kayoko is eating rice.” However, since we’ll be showing you how to build a continuous form later in this post, we’re making the difference between the two clearly visible from the start.

You see, when you use the continuous form in Japanese, then you’re clearly pointing out that something lasts longer.

However, when you use the plain present tense, then that action is usually somewhat short lasting. Our friend Kayoko is eating rice but it’ll be over soon. If she’s seriously taking her time eating that rice and you wanted to bring attention to that fact, you’d use the continuous form.

Don’t worry about this too much right now, as it’ll all become clear later on in this post!

Having said that, all further examples will be translated to make the difference clear. Now let’s continue with the examples.

>彼は父親に似ます。(かれはちちおやににます。)— He looks like his father.

問題を見ません。(もんだいをみません。)— I don’t see the problem.

今日は、先生が居ません。(きょうはせんせいがいません。)— The teacher isn’t here today.

Remember to remove the last syllable before adding ます or ません at the end. If you end up with an incorrect word like 見るます or 寝るません then you may look silly and nobody wants that!

Godan Verbs

Godan verbs are just a little bit more complex to work with but they’re not too difficult once you get the hang of them.

As you already know, with ichidan verbs you remove the last syllable and add an appropriate suffix instead. But with godan verbs, you transform that last syllable so it ends with an i, then add ます or ません for negations. In other words, る becomes り, む becomes み, す becomes し and so on.

泳ぐ(およぐ)→ 泳ぎます(およぎます)— To swim

書く(かく)→ 書きます(かきます)— To write

持つ(もつ)→ 持ちません(もちません)— (Negative) to carry

Here are some examples for you:

和夫は本を読みます。(かずおはほんをよみます。)— Kazuo reads a book.

私は犬を飼います。(わたしはいぬをかいます。)— I keep a dog.

何も聞きません。(なにもききません。)— I don’t hear anything.

本当に知りません。(ほんとうにしりません。)— I really don’t know.

That last verb ends with a る syllable but as you can see, it’s a godan verb. There are quite a few verbs like that out there so keep that in mind!

Try not to mix up the verb types and construct them incorrectly in the present tense. Consult a dictionary if you aren’t certain what type a word is. Otherwise, you may end up with words like 知ます or 読ます, which don’t mean anything.

Informal Japanese Present Tense

It’s time for the fun part: the type of speech you use with your pals or younger peers.

Ichidan Verbs

Bear with me because this one’s hard. In order to construct informal present tense with ichidan verbs, you need to do nothing and just write out the verb in its original form. I fooled you there, didn’t I?

There’s still some work to do, but only if you’re writing a negative sentence. In that case, you remove the last syllable and add ない instead.

伝える(つたえる)→ 伝えない(つたえない)— (Negative) to transmit

勤める(つとめる)→ 勤めない(つとめない)— (Negative) to work

数える(かぞえる)→ 数えない(かぞえない)— (Negative) to count

Enough with the boring stuff, let’s move on to some examples of proper use:

雀の鳴き声がよく聴こえる。(すずめのなきごえがよくきこえる。)— The sparrow’s cry can be heard well.

運転出来る。(うんてんできる。)— I can drive.

質問に答えない。(しつもんにこたえない。)— I won’t answer the question.

あのりんごは木から落ちない。(あのりんごはきからおちない。)— That apple won’t fall from the tree.

You can’t really mess these up so feel free to use them liberally (just not with your boss!).

Godan Verbs

Godan verbs must be more difficult than ichidan verbs… right? Nope! Godan verbs in the informal present tense are constructed by doing absolutely nothing to the verb.

The negative form is a bit more of a headache, though: You build it by changing the last syllable in to end with an a. In other words, る becomes ら, く becomes か, つ becomes た and so on.

撮る(とる)→ 撮らない(とらない)— (Negative) to capture a photo or a video

作る(つくる)→ 作らない(つくらない)— (Negative) to create, to prepare

踊る(おどる)→ 踊らない(おどらない)— (Negative) to dance

Example time!

僕はプールで泳ぐ。(ぼくはぷうるでおよぐ。)— I swim at the pool.

光はギターを弾く。(ひかりはぎたあをひく。)— Hikari plays the guitar.

ビールを飲まない。(びいるをのまない。)— I don’t drink beer.

春奈は宝飾を買わない。(はるなはほうしょくをかわない。)— Haruna doesn’t buy jewelry.

As far as mistakes go, just don’t forget to transform the last syllable when constructing negative sentences and you’ll be all set.

Constructing the Continuous Form

We mentioned this a while back so you knew it was coming. We’ll be dealing only with the continuous form related to present tense in this post. (There’s also a continuous past tense but let’s leave that for some other time.)

In short, the continuous form of the present tense represents an ongoing action with a prolonged duration, so if you want to point that out, use this construction.

Formal Continuous Form: Ichidan Verbs

Making the contuous form is similar to the normal formal present tense, but instead of adding ます you add ています and instead of ません you add ていません.

Let’s skip to the examples and you’ll understand right away:

佳代子は御飯を食べています。(かよこはごはんをたべています。)— Kayoko is eating rice.

By using the continuous form this time, you’re pointing out that the action lasts for a while. Maybe you’re waiting for Kayoko to finish her food so you can order dessert or maybe someone asked if they could speak to her but you want to let them know that she’s busy. Let her enjoy her food.

彼は父親に似ています。(かれはちちおやににています。)— He looks like his father.

You might remember that we used this sample sentence earlier in this post, and the translation is the same in both cases. So what’s the difference? Let’s take a look.

Say you went to your friend’s house and see his baby son. You might say, “He looks like his father” without using the continuous form. That means he looks like his father right now, but you never know, babies change so maybe he won’t look like his father when he grows up.

Then you see their older, 25-year-old son and you say, “He looks like his father” with the continuous form. His face won’t be changing (probably) so that’s a long-lasting, prolonged action.

Here’s another example, which you’d use after you’ve been trying to figure out what’s wrong for a while:

問題を見ていません。(もんだいをみていません。)— I’m not seeing the problem.

Formal Continuous Form: Godan Verbs

This time really is the hard part, no joke. In order to create the continuous form with godan verbs, you’ll have to transform their last syllable by following these rules:

  • Verbs ending with つ、う、る change to a っ syllable.
  • Verbs ending with む、ぬ、ぶ change to a ん syllable.
  • Verbs ending with ぐ or く change to an い syllable.
  • Verbs ending with す change to a し syllable.

Then, just add ています or ていません for negative sentence at the end.

Remember that with the ん syllable, the suffix becomes でいます or でいません for negative sentences.

和夫は本を読んでいます。(かずおはほんをよんでいます。)— Kazuo is reading a book.

私は犬を飼っています。(わたしはいぬをかっています。)— I’m keeping a dog.

何も聞いていません。(なにもきいていません。)— I’m not hearing anything.

Informal Continuous Form: Ichidan Verbs

This form is very similar to its formal counterpart. The only difference is that instead of ています you use ている and instead of ていません you use ていない and you’re done!

Moving on to the examples now.

雀の鳴き声がよく聴こえている。(すずめのなきごえがよくきこえている。)— The sparrow’s cry can be heard well.

質問に答えていない。(しつもんにこたえていない。)— I’m not answering the question.

あのりんごは木から落ちていない。(あのりんごはきからおちていない。)— That apple isn’t falling from the tree.

Informal Continuous Form: Godan Verbs

Just like the previous section, this one’s very similar to its non-continuous counterpart. Only replace ています and ていません with ている and ていない and you did it.

Get ready for your final examples!

僕はプールで泳いている。(ぼくはぷうるでおよいている。)— I’m swimming at the pool.

光はギターを弾いている。(ひかりはぎたあをひいている。)— Hikari is playing the guitar.

ビールを飲んでいない。(びいるをのんでいない。)— I’m not drinking beer.


Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called present, right? The present tense is also a gift, so you should treasure it!

Now go on an talk about any present event or action that you want. We hope you liked your gift!

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