Japanese Godan and Ichidan Verbs
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Japanese Godan and Ichidan Verbs

The Japanese language has two main types of verbs which are referred to as godan verbs (?, godan-d?shi) and ichidan verbs (?, ichidan-d?shi).

Verb groups

Categories are important when conjugating Japanese verbs, since conjugation patterns vary according to the verb's category. For example, (kiru) and (miru) belong to different verb categories (godan and ichidan, respectively) and therefore follow different conjugation patterns. Most Japanese verbs are allocated into two categories:[1]

  1. Godan verbs (?, godan-d?shi, literally: "Class-5 verbs")
  2. Ichidan verbs (?, ichidan-d?shi, literally: "Class-1 verbs")

Statistically, there are far more godan verbs[2] than ichidan verbs.[3]

Sometimes categorization is expanded to include a third category of irregular verbs--which most notably include the verbs (suru, to do) and (kuru, to come). Classical Japanese had more verb groups, such as nidan verbs (?, nidan-d?shi, "Class-2 verbs")[4] and yodan verbs (?, yodan-d?shi, "Class-4 verbs"),[5] which are archaic in Modern Japanese.


Within the terms "godan verbs" (?) and "ichidan verbs" (?), the numbers go (?, 5) and ichi (?, 1) correspond with the number of rows that a verb stem (or inflectional suffix) can span in the goj?on kana table. This is best visualized by comparing various verb conjugations to an extracted column of the goj?on table:

Godan Verb
(to read)
Goj?on table
'ma' column
Negative Polite form Plain form Potential form Volitional form
Negative ??
? (ma)
Polite form ??
? (mi) ?
Ichidan Verb
(to see)
Plain form ??
? (mu)
Potential form ???
? (me) ??
Ichidan Verb
(to stop)
Volitional form ???
? (mo)

In the table above, the verb (yomu, to read) uses kana from all 5 rows of the goj?on table in its inflectional suffix--? (ma), ? (mi), ? (mu), ? (me) and ? (mo)--amongst its conjugations. Thus, it's classified as a "class-5" (or more formally "pentagrade") verb. Meanwhile, the verbs (to see) and (to stop) each use kana from only 1 row of the goj?on table in their verb-stem's suffix--? (mi) and ? (me) respectively. Thus, they are classified as a "class-1" (or more formally "monograde") verbs.

Advanced terminology

As ichidan verbs only fall into the (-i) or (-e) rows, they can be further classified into the (kami ichidan, "upper monograde") and (shimo ichidan, "lower monograde") subgroups respectively. This is due to ? (i) being above ? (e) in the (a-i-u-e-o) vowel ordering. In full terminology, the goj?on column name of the verb stem's suffix becomes a prefix of these subgroups. For example, the ichidan verb (miru) has its verb stem in the upper row of the 'ma' column (??, magy?) and is formally classified as a ? (magy? kami ichidan katsuy?) verb; meanwhile, the ichidan verb (tomeru) has its verb stem in the lower row of the 'ma' column and is formally classified as a ? (magy? shimo ichidan katsuy?) verb. Godan verbs are also formally classified into subgroups, but instead use the column name of the verb's inflectional suffix. For example, the godan verb (yomu) is in the 'ma' column, so it's formally classified as a ? (magy? godan katsuy?) verb.

Japanese language education

Within Japanese language education, various terminologies are used in lieu of the Japanese nomenclature for "godan" and "ichidan" verbs.

Godan verbs Ichidan verbs Irregular verbs Example literature
Common terminology Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar[6]
Group I Group II Group III
Uncommon terminology ?-verbs (u-verbs) ?-verbs (ru-verbs) Irregular verbs GENKI[1]
Rare terminology Consonant stem verbs Vowel stem verbs -

In literature adopting the "Group I / II / III" terminology, the terms (I), (II) or (III) may be notated beside verbs. Similarly, (?) or (?) may be notated beside verbs in literature adopting the "?-verbs / ?-verbs" terminology.

Consonant and vowel nomenclature

The terms "consonant stem verbs" and "vowel stem verbs" come from a pattern that emerges after transliterating verbs into r?maji. When considering the invariant part of the verb (the verb stem), the final letter determines the classification of the verb group. If the verb stem's final letter:

  • is a consonant, then it's a consonant stem verb (godan verb)
  • is a vowel, then it's a vowel stem verb (ichidan verb)
(to read) (to run) (to see) (to eat)
Negative yom.anai
Polite form yom.imasu
Plain form yom.u
Potential form yom.eru
Volitional form yom.ou
Invariant r?maji yom hashir mi tabe
Final letter m -> consonant r -> consonant i -> vowel e -> vowel
Classification Consonant stem Consonant stem Vowel stem Vowel stem

There are several flaws with the consonant and vowel nomenclature:

  1. When godan verbs end with "?" (u), the verb's invariant stem always ends with a vowel, yet is still classified as having a consonant stem. For example, (kau, to buy) has the vowel "a" as the invariant suffix, yet it's still categorized as a "consonant stem verb".
    In these cases, this contradiction is resolved by a technicality where the verb's invariant stem is considered to end in the consonant w. The w is normally suppressed, but surfaces in the negative form, as seen in ? (kawanai, to not buy). Traditionally these verbs ended in -hu, which is still seen on occasion in historical kana usage, and thus unambiguously ended in h.

  2. When godan verbs end with "?" (tsu), the verb's invariant stem always ends with an "s" rather than a "t". Since the consonant stem terminology focuses on r?maji, this could lead to conjugation errors. For example, (matsu, to wait) in its negative conjugation does not become "" (matsanai) as the consonant stem system might have one believe; the correct conjugation is ? (matanai, to not wait).

  3. This nomenclature is an abstract perspective, since a consonant stem itself never occurs independently; Japanese words are concretely formed with morae, where pairs of consonant and vowel phonemes are indivisible. Therefore, while the stem of (yomu) is "yom-", the bare yom is not an independent word and is impossible to write in kana.
    This means, ironically, that the concepts of "consonant stems" and "vowel stems" are unfathomable to the Japanese psyche and unteachable in Japanese.

  4. Paradoxically, consonant stem verbs conjugate to include all 5 Japanese vowels, whilst the vowel stem verbs are limited to manifesting the same vowel in all conjugates. As such, the consonant stem verb and vowel stem verb terminologies are prone to nomenclature confusion.

Verb classification

Classifying verbs is simple in theory:

  1. Take the verb in its plain, negative form. The result will be: verb-stem + (nai)
  2. If the last character of the verb-stem (ignoring the ""):
  • rhymes with ? (a), then it's a godan verb
  • rhymes with ? (i) or ? (e), then it's an ichidan verb
Negative verb Last character of verb stem Rhymes with Group
?? (omowanai, to not think) ? (wa) ? (a) -> Godan verb
?? (ikanai, to not go) ? (ka) ? (a) -> Godan verb
?? (okinai, to not wake up) ? (ki) ? (i) -> Ichidan verb
?? (tabenai, to not eat) ? (be) ? (e) -> Ichidan verb

This classification system works for all Japanese verbs, with three exceptions: (aru) is a godan verb, and both (shinai) and (konai) are instead classified as irregular verbs.[6]

Dot notation

In some Japanese dictionaries, the readings of conjugable words may have the stem and the inflectional suffix separated by a dot (?). For example, the adjective (akai, red) may be written as ? (aka·i) to separate the static prefix from the dynamic suffix.

This system also describes the verb group classification: in godan verbs, the dot is placed before the last kana; in ichidan verbs, the dot is placed before the last 2 kana (except for 2-kana ichidan verbs, which have no dot).

3-kana verbs 2-kana verbs
Godan verbs ? (kae·ru, to return) (i·ru, to need)
Ichidan verbs ? (ka·eru, to change) (iru, to exist)

However, regardless of the dot's position, the inflectional suffix is always the last kana of any ichidan verb.

Naive verb classification

A caveat of accurately classifying verb groups is that you must have pre-existing knowledge of the verb's negative form. In practice, people tend to learn the verb's plain form first. As such, Japanese language educators usually teach strategies for naive verb classification. Whilst such strategies aren't comprehensive, they generally remain useful in the context of regular daily conversations that language beginners will likely encounter. Here is one such strategy:

Step Verb (Plain Form) If Yes If Not
1 Is the verb one of the most common "exceptions":

(iru, to need), (hairu), (hashiru), (kaeru), (kiru), (shiru), (shaberu)

Godan verb
Group 1
Go to Step 2
2 Does the verb suffix rhyme with (-iru) or (-eru)? Ichidan verb
Group 2
Go to Step 3
3 Is the verb (suru, to do) or (kuru, to come)? Irregular verb
Group 3
Godan verb
Group 1

Naive strategies, such as this one, tend to misidentify godan verbs ending with ? (ru)--specifically, when godan verbs rhyme with (-iru) or (-eru). Therefore, when an ichidan verb is concluded from a naive strategy, it's more efficient to confirm the verb's classification in a dictionary. However, there are other rules-of-thumb to more accurately discriminate such verbs.

Rules of thumb

If a dictionary is unavailable, it's difficult to discriminate godan verbs from ichidan verbs when they rhyme with (-iru) or (-eru). The following heuristics aim to improve the accuracy of naive classification:

  • There are far more godan verbs[2] than ichidan verbs.[3]
  • Verbs that DON'T rhyme with (-iru) or (-eru) are godan verbs.
This includes verbs that rhyme with (-aru), (-uru) and (-oru), which are godan verbs.
  • The majority of verbs that rhyme with (-iru) are godan verbs.
248 of the 419 (-eru) verbs [ca. 60%] listed in JMdict are godan verbs.[]
  • The majority of verbs that rhyme with (-eru) are ichidan verbs.
2886 of the 3013 (-eru) verbs [ca. 95%] listed in JMdict are ichidan verbs.[]
  • Kana and kanji based heuristics for (-iru) and (-eru) verbs:
    • Verbs written entirely in hiragana are godan verbs. For example, (bibiru, to be surprised) and (nomeru, to fall forward) are godan verbs.
    • Kanji verbs with 1 okurigana and 3+ syllables are godan verbs. For example, (chi-gi-ru, to pledge) and (a-za-ke-ru, to ridicule) are godan verbs.
    • Kanji verbs with 2 okurigana are usually ichidan verbs. For example, (okiru, to get up) and (taberu, to eat) are ichidan verbs.
    • Kanji verbs with 2 syllables are inconclusive. For example, (ki-ru) and (mi-ru) are both 2-syllable verbs, yet belong to different categories (godan and ichidan, respectively)

Godan verbs resembling ichidan verbs

There are many godan verbs which may be mistaken for being ichidan verbs in some cases . On the surface, this may seem like a problem that only affects conjugation patterns, since godan verbs and ichidan verbs conjugate differently . However there are many homophone verbs that, despite sharing the same pronunciation, having different meanings and belong to different verb groups. For example:

Godan verbs Identical
Ichidan verbs
(to need) iru (to exist)
(to cut) kiru (to put on clothing)
(to go home) kaeru (to change)
(to be damp/wet) shimeru (to close)

When reading homophone verbs such as these, the correct word meaning can be ascertained through the different kanji or through context. In the case of speech, the correct word meaning can still be ascertained because many homophones have different intonations. However, ambiguity is usually removed if the homophone verbs have been conjugated somehow, because different word groups conjugate with slightly varying pronunciations. For example:

kiru kaeru
Godan verb
(to cut)
Ichidan verb
(to put on clothing)
Godan verb
(to go home)
Ichidan verb
(to change)
Negative ??

Polite form ??

Potential form

Volitional form ???

Since there are so many godan verbs that resemble ichidan verbs, it's impractical to create or memorize an exhaustive list of words.

See also


  1. ^ a b Banno, Eri; Ikeda, Yoko; Ohno, Yutaka; Shinagawa, Chikako; Tokashiki, Kyoko (2020). "Lesson 3, Grammar 1: Verb Conjugation". GENKI: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese I (3 ed.). Tokyo, Japan: The Japan Times. pp. 86-88. ISBN 978-4-7890-1730-5.
  2. ^ a b "JMdictDB - Godan Verbs - 7434 Search results". www.edrdg.org. Retrieved 2021.
  3. ^ a b "JMdictDB - Ichidan Verbs - 3733 Search results". www.edrdg.org. Retrieved 2021.
  4. ^ "JMdictDB - Nidan Verbs - 61 Search results". www.edrdg.org. Retrieved 2021.
  5. ^ "JMdictDB - Yodan Verbs - 62 Search results". www.edrdg.org. Retrieved 2021.
  6. ^ a b Makino, Seiichi; Tsutsui, Michio (1989). A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar (80 ed.). Tokyo, Japan: The Japan Times. p. 578. ISBN 978-47-89004-54-1.

External links

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