A few years ago when I was learning Japanese at an intermediate level I visited Japan and happened to pop by a convenience store.
I bought some fried chicken, known as 唐揚げ (からあげ), and took it to the cashier and she asked me a question which, despite being very simple, confused me.
唐揚げを温めますか？(からあげをあたためますか？) — “Do you want me to warm up the karaage?”
Logically the whole sentence made sense, and I knew the adjective “warm,” 温かい (あたたかい), but I had never come across the verb “to warm,” 温める (あたためる) in this way.
Later I talked with a Japanese friend about it and realized that I was entering an area of Japanese that was quite complicated.
There are a number of verbs that indicate change, which for some reason I never encountered in class. My teachers had only ever covered a grammatical construct consisting of an adjective plus narimasu to show that something becomes colder, hotter, faster, etc.
For example, when I wanted to say something “became hot,” I’d use: 熱くなりました (あつくなりました).
When I entered advanced classes I became intrigued by the fact that classes never covered verbs that indicate change, and my fellow students were unaware of them as well—even though they are quite important to know. After all, change is good!
So in this blog post, I’m going to give you a Japanese verb list of not only 36 essential verbs, but also 14 that indicate change, just like the verb I learned while buying chicken in Japan.
Let’s dive in!
How Japanese Verb Conjugation Works
But before we actually learn any verbs, it would be helpful to know how to use them.
I’m assuming by now you’ve learned how to make basic sentences in Japanese. But do you understand the ins and outs of Japanese verb conjugation?
Unlike languages like Spanish, in Japanese, verb conjugations don’t depend on the pronoun.
So whether you’re talking about “he,” “she” or “they,” you’d conjugate Japanese verbs the same.
This is because Japanese verb forms can appear in polite form or plain form.
How to Conjugate Japanese Verbs in a Nutshell
There are three main types of verbs that appear in Japanese:
一段 （いちだん）— verbs that end with いる or える
五段 （ごだん）— verbs that don’t end in いる or える
Two irregular verbs: 来る（くる）— to come and 行く（いく）— to go.
With 一段 verbs, you can negate them by adding ~ない to the verb stem.
For example, the verb 食べる（たべる）— “to eat” becomes:
食べた（たべた）— I ate (plain past form)
食べました（たべました）— I ate (polite past form)
To change the verb to the past tense, you’d simply add ~た to the stem. For the polite form, ~ない becomes ~ません and た becomes 〜ました.
The same would work with the past negative. ない becomes なかった in plain form, ません becomes ませんでした in polite form.
食べなかった（たべなかった）— “I did not eat” (past negative plain form)
食べませんでした（たべませんでした）— “I did not eat” (past negative polite form)
The second type of verbs—the 五段 verbs—form different Japanese verb stems. These verbs can end in う、く、 ぐ、す、ぶ、つ、ぬ、む、or る.
If you’re not familiar with hiragana, now would be a good time to brush up on it! The pattern will give you a better idea of how to conjugate.
It does take some time to remember how to properly use the negative, past and stem form of 五段 verbs that don’t end in いる or える.
But to start, you can use this song my Japanese language teacher had us memorize to help us remember verb conjugation!
Japanese Verb List: 50 Must-know Verbs for Leveling Up Your Language Skills
36 Must-know Japanese Verbs
1. To eat: 食べる（たべる）
This is a transitive verb, meaning it takes an object and is marked by the を particle. But sometimes intransitive verbs (verbs that don’t take objects) can take objects in Japanese.
I eat vegetables for my health.
2. To run: 走る（はしる）
走る is an example of an intransitive verb that can take objects, like we mentioned above.
Marathoners run 41 kilometers.
3. To sleep: 寝る（ねる）
This verb refers to sleeping as in lying down, but is sometimes used interchangeably with 眠る（ねむる）— to sleep (not necessarily lying down).
The students pulled an all-nighter and didn’t sleep at all.
4. To see, to look, to watch: 見る（みる）
My mother saw a celebrity at the supermarket.
5. To walk: 歩く（あるく）
This verb usually takes on a direction, hence why the particle indicating direction, に, is used.
The owner and dog walked together.
6. To say, to speak: 言う（いう）
Not to be confused with another verb used for “to speak,” this verb can usually name things or is linked to quotes.
When a customer enters the shop called “Zen,” the store owner says, “Welcome!”
7. To buy: 買う（かう）
You’ll use this word a lot, especially when shopping in Japanese!
I bought a new game.
8. To teach, to tell: 教える（おしえる）
While it can mean “to teach” in the academic sense, this verb also refers to simply giving information.
I told him my name.
9. To create, to make: 作る（つくる）
This verb also appears with several different kanji: 創る（つくる）and 造る（つくる）.
The baker makes delicious red bean bread.
10. To think, to consider: 考える（かんがえる）
This verb is usually seen in the て form. This form shows that an action is continuously happening.
A mother is thinking about the future of her children.
11. To speak, to talk: 話す（はなす）
I speak with my host family.
12. To listen, to ask: 聞く（きく）
Ask the person in charge.
13. To sing: 歌う（うたう）
I sing a song that I like.
14. To write: 書く（かく）
I write to my pen-pal.
15. To read: 読む（よむ）
I read a romance novel.
16. To meet: 会う（あう）
I met my friend.
17. To separate, let go: 離す（はなす）
The child let go of the parent’s hand.
18. To send, to transmit: 届く（とどく）
The message didn’t send.
19. To take someone along: 連れて行く（つれていく）
My husband is taking me to Disney Land.
20. To take: 取る（とる）
Take a photo.
21. To put: かける
To iron (lit. put the iron on) a t-shirt.
22. To cut: 切る（きる）
The person I was speaking with suddenly hung up on me.
23. To wear: 着る（きる）
The family wears kimonos.
24. To put on (lower body clothing): 履く（はく）
Put on new shoes.
25. To put on one’s head: 被る（かぶる）
Wear a crown.
26. To understand, to know: わかる
To finally understand Japanese verb conjugation.
27. To do: する
He did it at last.
28. To come: 来る（くる）
I came to the wedding.
29. To begin: 始まる（はじまる）
School starts at eight o’clock.
30. To give: くださる
This verb is commonly seen in its command form.
Give me water, please.
31. To be, to exist: ある
This verb is only for inanimate objects.
My aunt has a mansion. (lit. a mansion exists.)
32. To receive: いただく
Usually used in polite form.
Say, “I humbly receive” before eating.
33. To give: くれる
Someone gave me a gift.
34. To receive: もらう
I received a scholarship from the university.
35. To give: あげる
I gave someone my hand-me-downs.
36. To say, be called: 申す（もうす）
I am called Suzuki.
Why You Should Know These Verbs
Learning the most essential Japanese verbs is important for many reasons, mainly so you can have more fluent and enjoyable conversations where you can express yourself more easily.
But familiarizing yourself with these verbs can also prove useful in many other ways!
For example, the kanji for all these verbs are included in the 常用漢字表（じょうようかんじひょう）— list of most commonly used kanji.
Knowing how to use these verbs will have you reading at a basic JLPT 4 level!
Plus, let’s not forget that knowing frequently used verbs means you’ll be able to understand more of your favorite Japanese songs, dramas, TV shows and animes.
And not only will you learn to understand them more, but you can actually become fluent with Japanese media!
Allow me to introduce you to FluentU.
With FluentU, you can browse a library with hundreds of Japanese videos that native speakers actually watch and enjoy, like clips from dramas and popular anime.
Each video is sorted according to level, which ranges from beginner to advanced. Simply select the level that applies to you, choose an interesting video and start learning!
At the beginning of each video, you’re introduced to new vocabulary and grammar. But if you still happen to come across a word you don’t understand while watching, simply tap (or click) on the word in the subtitles. You’ll instantly see the word’s meaning, example sentences and find other videos that use it in-context.
If learning Japanese through authentic internet videos sounds like a good idea to you, you can sign up for a free trial of FluentU today.
14 Must-know Japanese Verbs That Indicate Change
Now, let’s move on to the 14 Japanese words that indicate change and see how they’re used in action!
1. To widen/spread: 広げる (ひろげる), 広がる (ひろがる)
This verb is slightly different, as it ends in ~げる/~がる, but it’s important to understand these and the similar-looking 広まる (ひろまる), 広める (ひろめる) that are introduced in the next point.
This version means something got physically wider or bigger.
At first, the protest was limited to Tokyo, but in the weeks that followed they spread across the country.
(さいしょ、こうぎは とうきょうだけで おこなわれましたが、つづいて すうしゅうかんで ぜんこくにひろがりました。)
2. To expand/spread: 広まる (ひろまる), 広める (ひろめる)
In contrast, 広まる/広める has a slightly different meaning.
In this version something expands or spreads in an intangible way.
You can see in the below sentence a 広まる example, which as we learned before only applies to things. It’s easy to think that because the sentence is about an actor, it should be 広める, but the subject is actually the actor’s reputation.
After appearing in a drama the reputation as an actor spread.
ドラマに出た後で、その役者の評判が広まりました。(どらまに でたあとで そのやくしゃのひょうばんが ひろまりました。)
3. To get higher/taller: 高まる (たかまる), 高める (たかめる)
This verb can be deceptive, as it’s formed from one of the first kanji that any Japanese learner will study. We can all quickly assume that it’s related to height, but not in the same way. In the example below, for instance, it can be used in a set phrase for expectations to get higher.
I have high expectations for Shinzo Abe’s policies.
安倍晋三の政策について期待が高まりました。(あべしんぞうの せいさくについて きたいが たかまりました。)
4. To get deeper: 深まる (ふかまる), 深める (ふかめる)
This verb is one that we all think in terms of holes in the ground, but it also refers to deepening something in other ways.
After I properly read the book my understanding of physics got deeper.
その本をちゃんと読んだら、物理学の理解が深まりました。(そのほんをちゃんと よんだら、ぶつりがくの りかいが ふかまりました。)
5. To get quieter: 静まる (しずまる), 静める (しずめる)
This verb is very similar in meaning to the English verb “to quiet down.”
Although the typhoon has reached Japan, it seems that tomorrow the winds will quiet down.
台風は日本に来ていますが、明日には風が静まるそうです。(たいふうは にほんに きていますが、あしたには かぜがしずまるそうです。)
6. To curl up: 丸まる (まるまる), 丸める (まるめる)
It’s easy to remember this verb if you keep your hand in mind; use it with anything that you can put in your hand and curl up.
In the instant that the husband got angry he scrunched up the paper.
7. To get harder: 固まる (かたまる), 固める (かためる)
The below example is somewhat tricky, despite being so simple. The literal translation of the Japanese sentence doesn’t mention a subject, so you might think that the jelly is in the fridge, which would lead you to the verb 固まる.
However, for Japanese people, the subject is hidden. They would interpret the sentence to mean someone put jelly in a fridge, which will therefore cause it to get cold and become hard.
Have a headache yet?
The jelly will get cold and will get hard.
8. To dilute/weaken: 薄まる (うすまる), 薄める (うすめる)
Most of us drink coffee or tea every day, so this may be an essential verb for you!
The coffee is too strong, so put some milk in to dilute it.
コーヒーが強過ぎたら、牛乳を注ぐと、コーヒーが薄まります。(こーひーが つよすぎたら、ぎゅうにゅうをそそぐと、こーひーが うすまります。)
9. To get weak: 弱まる (よわまる), 弱める (よわめる)
This verb is quite straight forward in that you just need to remember the adjective form and its meaning—something is weak.
As the disease progressed their body got weaker.
病気が進むにつれ、体が弱まりました。(びょうきが すすむにつれ、からだが よわまりました。)
10. To become strong: 強まる (つよまる), 強める (つよめる)
It’s relatively easy to understand what’s happening when you see this verb. But it’s important to remember the rule that ~まる can only apply to things and ~める to people, so in the below sentence the subject is criticism: 批判 (ひはん).
When I heard the politician talk on TV, my criticisms of their policies got stronger.
テレビで政治家の話を聞いて、私は政治家の政策への批判が強まりました。(てれびで せいじかの はなしをきいて、わたしは せいじかの せいさくへの ひはんが つよまりました。)
11. To get faster/earlier: 早まる (はやまる), 早める (はやめる)
This refers to time getting faster or something becoming earlier.
The sunset will get earlier.
夕暮れの時間が早まります。(ゆうぐれの じかんが はやまります。)
12. To get faster: 速まる (はやまる), 速める (はやめる)
This version of “get fast” refers to speed.
The plane entered the runway and then its speed increased just before taking off.
滑走路に入り、飛ぶ直前に飛行機のスピードが速まりました。(かっそうろに はいり、とぶちょくぜんに ひこうきのすぴーどが はやまりました。)
13. To warm up: 暖まる (あたたまる), 暖める (あたためる)
Even Japanese people will get this verb mixed up with our final verb on this list. So it’s quite complicated to explain the difference between the two, but at a basic level this verb refers to temperature.
The house is old, so it takes time to heat up.
家が古いので、暖まるのに時間がかかります。(いえが ふるいので、あたたまるのに じかんが かかります。)
14. To warm up: 温める (あたためる), 温まる (あたたまる)
At a very basic level this version of warming up refers to things, feelings and liquids.
Enter the onsen and your body will warm up.
温泉に入って体を温めます。(おんせんに はいって からだをあたためます。)
Why These Verbs Are Skipped in Japanese Class
My best answer to why these verbs were not taught is that it requires the student to take something quite easy to learn, such as “it’s cold,” “it’s slow,” etc., and study two different verb forms that are pretty hard to get your head around.
In terms of kanji they are easy to recognize, but become confusing in verb form. For example:
- It’s fast: 早い。(はやい。)
- It’s getting faster: 早まる。(はやまる。) or 早める。(はやめる。)
Logically it’s simple to read the above kanji and to understand it’s about speed. However, if I tell you that 早まる can only apply to things and 早める to people, then you will start to see the problem.
If a sentence includes these verbs, you have to think about what or who it’s referring to. If you are in an exam, or even just plain tired, you are bound to make mistakes.
It seems that in order to avoid possible confusion, teachers stay away from these kinds of verbs, or perhaps it’s difficult for beginners while considered easy for advanced level students.
Unfortunately, if a student doesn’t learn the proper way to use both the ~まる and ~める forms, then they’ll have an incomplete understanding of both their meaning and usage.
Why You Should Know These Japanese Verbs
As my encounter in the shop demonstrates, this is basic vocabulary for Japanese people. If you think about your own native language, it’s perfectly natural on a daily basis to say things like: “The weather is getting hot outside,” or “That car is getting really fast,” and more.
It’s really hard to be able to describe something changing in another language, and for this reason it’s important to study verbs of change properly.
Even if these verbs of change were skipped in your regular classes, that’s all the more reason to learn them now.
Understanding and using these verbs correctly will boost your Japanese level, too.
So remember: Change is good!
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