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How to Use the Volitional Form of Japanese (AKA the “Let’s” Form)

The volitional form, or “let’s” form, was easily my favorite Japanese verb form to learn.

It’s used to tell people you want to do something, or to give people an invitation or suggestion to do something together. It also imbues your statement with a positive, eager vibe. 

As a beginner wandering Japan, trying to immerse myself in the language and achieve some semblance of basic communication skills—man, what a relief it was to know I could tack on a simple ending to a verb and tell people “Let’s do X!”

Fair warning: After reading this post you’re going to fully know how to use this verb form and want to use it constantly.

In fact, it’s so easy, I started using it as a crutch rather than learning more nuanced (and more contextually appropriate) verb conjugations.

But don’t be like me. Make sure you branch out after reading this post.


Polite Volitional Form in Japanese

So, the polite form is super straightforward and making it comes to a grand total of three steps.

  1. Pick a verb. Any verb.
  2. Conjugate the verb into its ~ます form.
  3. Replace the ~ます with ~ましょう.


Let’s see this in action.

Group one (う) verbs:

話す (はなす) — to talk:

聞く (きく) — to listen:

– 待つ (まつ) — to wait:

買う (かう) — to buy:

帰る (かえる) — to return:

Group two (る) verbs:

食べる (たべる) — to eat:

見る (みる) — to see:

寝る (ねる) — to sleep:

Group three (irregular) verbs

する — to do:

Casual Volitional Form in Japanese

The casual form looks a bit trickier because you have to know if you’re dealing with a る or う verb, but if we take another glance at the polite conjugation, you’ll see that something quite similar is actually going on.

The result of changing ~ます into ~ましょう is basically that an oh sound slips in, though it’s a little muddied by the sh sound.

We’re basically doing the same thing in the casual form, even though it might look different because there are more sounds involved than just the す of ます.

Just follow these steps:

  1. Pick a verb. Any verb.
  2. If it’s an う verb, add an o sound before the final u.
  3. If it’s a る verb, replace the る with よう.

If you’re struggling, try turning the hiragana into romaji, conjugating the verb that way, then turning the romaji back into hiragana.

It’s easy to imagine simply adding an o between the s and u in hanasu to get hanasou, which can then be easily converted into はなそう, while it might be a bit difficult at first to picture す turning into そう.

Below are some examples.

Group one (う) verbs:

話す (はなす) — to talk:

聞く (きく) — to listen:

待つ (まつ) — to wait:

買う (かう) — to buy:

帰る (かえる) — to return:

Group two (る) verbs:

食べる (たべる) — to eat:

見る (みる) — to see:

寝る (ねる) — to sleep:

Group three (irregular) verbs:

する — to do:


Just like in English, the most basic use of the volitional case is to say let’s… or shall we…, as you can see below.

(きょうも いちにち がんばりましょう!)
Let’s do our best again today! (If you ever work in Japan, you’ll hear this one a lot!)

ファミマに行くんだけど、一緒に行こうか? うん、行こう!
(ふぁみま に いくんだけど、いっしょに いこうか? うん、いこう!)
I’m going to Family Mart, do you want to come with me? Yeah, let’s go!
Literally: (I’m) going to Family Mart, let’s go together? Yeah, let’s go!

Just like in English, note how we’ve casually made a suggestion.

Now say that you do go to Family Mart, pick out one of the lunches from the cooler and hand it to the cashier. They might say something like this:

(こちら あたためましょうか?)
Would you like me to warm this up for you?
Literally: Shall I warm this up?

As a customer, you’re in a position of higher power than the cashier. When the cashier uses the volitional form, they aren’t suggesting that you heat it up (because it’ll be tastier that way), rather they’re offering to do something for you.

Other Uses of the Volitional Form in Japanese

The volitional form goes far beyond a simple “shall we?” in Japanese but this gets a bit complicated the further you delve into it.

Here are two useful and straightforward structures you can try adding to your speech once you get the basic form down.

To attempt

This structure is used to indicate that an attempt to do something was made. Just like in English, emphasizing that you’ve “tried” to do something suggests that it wasn’t necessarily successful.

(めろんぱんを じゅっこ たべようと しました。)
I tried to eat 10 melon breads.

(かんこくごで はなそう としたが、 ことばが でてこなかった。)
I tried to speak in Korean but the words just wouldn’t come out of my mouth.

To be thinking about doing something

Adding 思う (おもう) ― to think after the volitional tense gives a sense of “thinking about doing” something.

Remember that in Japanese, although ~ている is often translated as -ing, it really means that a given state is continuing. Thus, saying ~ようと思う tends to refer to something that’s just occurred to you whereas ~ようと思っている indicates that you’ve been thinking about something for awhile.


(きょうは えいがを みようと おもう。)
I think I’ll watch a movie today.

(きかいが あれば、てんしょく しようと おもっています。)
I’ve been thinking about changing jobs, should an opportunity come along.

If you’re a bit more advanced, check out Self Taught Japanese’s page for a more expansive list of ideas you can express with the volitional tense.

How to Practice the Volitional Form in Japanese

If you aren’t feeling as confident as you’d like, let’s practice a bit!


Hopefully that wasn’t so hard.

Although learning verb forms in any language can be confusing, one nice thing about Japanese is that verb forms tend to be tied to certain sounds. If you hear an oh sound at the end of a verb, it’s probably in the volitional form!

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