Learning Past Tense of Japanese -
Free Japanese Lessons: 17

In this lesson I will touch on the past tense of Japanese for verbs, nouns, na-adjectives and i-adjectives.

Past Tense of Japanese Verbs

So far you have come across the positive and negative forms for Japanese verbs in a verb sentence.

For example, the positive or affirmative form of "to eat" is たべます (tabemasu) and the negative form is たべません (tabemasen).

Positive or Affirmative form of Japanese verb is known as ます-form (masu-form).

masu-form of Japanese verb is also normally considered as the polite-form.

When talking to strangers, Japanese usually speak in masu-form in order to be polite.

Stem of masu-form

To learn about past tense of Japanese verbs, you need to first know about "stem of masu-form". Stem of masu-form is actually the word before ます (masu). For example in the above case of the verb "to eat", the stem of masu-form is たべ (tabe). For the verb いきます (ikimasu), the stem of masu-form is いき (iki).

masu-form is actually derived from dictionary-form of verbs but I will go through dictionary-form in next few lessons. For now please take a look at the following expressions to see how to form past tense of Japanese verbs...

Present Affirmative: Verb {stem of ます-form} ます
Present Negative: Verb {stem of ます-form} ません
Past Affirmative: Verb {stem of ます-form} ました
Past Negative: Verb {stem of ます-form} ませんでした

From the above expressions, the past affirmative form of the verb "to eat" is たべました (tabemashita). The past negative form is たべませんでした (tabemasen deshita).

Let's make some sentences using (Affirmative) past tense of Japanese verbs...

  • わたしはろくじにおきました。
    watashi wa rokuji ni okimashita
    Meaning: I got up at 6 o'clock.

  • わたしはにほんりょうりをたべました。
    watashi wa nihon ryouri wo tabemashita
    Meaning: I ate Japanese meal.

  • わたしはけさコーヒーをのみました。
    watashi wa kesa ko-hi- wo nomimashita
    Meaning: I drank coffee this morning.

  • わたしはゆうべテニスをしました。
    watashi wa yuube tenisu wo shimashita
    Meaning: I played tennis last night.

  • わたしはせんしゅうくつをかいました。
    watashi wa senshuu kutsu wo kaimashita
    Meaning: I bought shoes last week.

The following sentences are using (Negative) past tense of Japanese verbs...

  • わたしはけさあさごはんをたべませんでした。
    watashi wa kesa asagohan wo tabemasen deshita
    Meaning: I didn't eat breakfast this morning.

  • わたしはきのうテレビをみませんでした。
    watashi wa kinou terebi wo mimasen deshita
    Meaning: I didn't watch television yesterday.

  • わたしはゆうべはをみがきませんでした。
    watashi wa yuube ha wo migakimasen deshita
    Meaning: I didn't brush my teeth last night.

Past Tense of Japanese Nouns

Past tense of Japanese nouns is quite straight forward. You just need to append different suffixes to the noun as you can see in the following expressions...

Present Affirmative: Noun です
Present Negative: Noun ではありません
Past Affirmative: Noun でした
Past Negative: Noun ではありませんでした

Let's use one simple example to demonstrate how to make sentences using the above expressions. Assuming Mr Tanaka is working as a teacher now. But he was an office worker last year. And the year before last year he was still a student. Using this information, we can make these sentences...

  • たなかさんはいませんせいです。
    tanaka san wa ima sensei desu
    Meaning: Mr Tanaka is a teacher now.

  • たなかさんはきょねんせんせいではありませんでした。
    tanaka san wa kyonen sensei dewa arimasen deshita
    Meaning: Mr Tanaka was not a teacher last year.

  • たなかさんはきょねんかいしゃいんでした。
    tanaka san wa kyonen kaishain deshita
    Meaning: Mr Tanaka was an office worker last year.

  • たなかさんはおととしかいしゃいんではありませんでした。
    tanaka san wa ototoshi kaishain dewa arimasen deshita
    Meaning: Mr Tanaka was not an office worker the year before last year.

  • たなかさんはおととしがくせいでした。
    tanaka san wa ototoshi gakusei deshita
    Meaning: Mr Tanaka was a student the year before last year.

Let's take a look at another example. Assuming today is a sunny day in Tokyo. However the weather was cloudy yesterday. And the day before yesterday was a rainy day. You should be able to make sentences using this information...

  • とうきょうはきょうはれです。
    toukyou wa kyou hare desu
    Meaning: Tokyo is sunny today.

  • とうきょうはきのうはれではありませんでした。
    toukyou wa kinou hare dewa arimasen deshita
    Meaning: Tokyo was not sunny yesterday.

  • とうきょうはきのうくもりでした。
    toukyou wa kinou kumori deshita
    Meaning: Tokyo was cloudy yesterday.

  • とうきょうはおとといくもりではありませんでした。
    toukyou wa ototoi kumori dewa arimasen deshita
    Meaning: Tokyo was not cloudy the day before yesterday.

  • とうきょうはおとといあめでした。
    toukyou wa ototoi ame deshita
    Meaning: Tokyo was raining the day before yesterday.

Past Tense of Japanese na-Adjectives

Past tense of Japanese na-adjectives is exactly the same as that for Japanese nouns. Therefore you can simply use the same expressions as the following...

Present Affirmative: な-Adjective です
Present Negative: な-Adjective ではありません
Past Affirmative: な-Adjective でした
Past Negative: な-Adjective ではありませんでした

Assume that you are living in a town which is very busy and lively now, but it was quiet in the past. Using this information, you can make the following sentences using past tense of na-adjectives...

  • このまちはいまにぎやかです。
    kono machi wa ima nigiyaka desu
    Meaning: This town is lively now.

  • このまちはむかしにぎやかではありませんでした。
    kono machi wa mukashi nigiyaka dewa arimasen deshita
    Meaning: This town was not lively in the past.

  • このまちはむかししずかでした。
    kono machi wa mukashi shizuka deshita
    Meaning: This town was quiet in the past.

Past Tense of Japanese i-Adjectives

Past tense of Japanese i-adjectives needs some modifications to the suffixes. For past affirmative form, remove the い (i) in the い-adjective and replace it with かったです (katta desu).

For past negative form, remove the い (i) in the い-adjective and replace it with くなかったです (kunakatta desu) or くありませんでした (kuarimasen deshita). Check with the following expressions...

Present Affirmative: い-Adjective {~い} です
Present Negative: い-Adjective {~} くないです OR
Present Negative: い-Adjective {~} くありません
Past Affirmative: い-Adjective {~} かったです
Past Negative: い-Adjective {~} くなかったです OR
Past Negative: い-Adjective {~} くありませんでした

Assume that last week's exam was kind of easy. How do you say it in Japanese using the above expressions?

  • せんしゅうのしけんはやさしかったです。
    senshuu no shiken wa yasashi katta desu
    Meaning: Last week's exam was easy.

  • せんしゅうのしけんはむずかしくなかったです。
    senshuu no shiken wa muzukashi kunakatta desu OR
    せんしゅうのしけんはむずかしくありませんでした。
    senshuu no shiken wa muzukashi kuarimasen deshita
    Meaning: Last week's exam was not difficult.

What if the exam was difficult? How do you say that?

  • せんしゅうのしけんはむずかしかったです。
    senshuu no shiken wa muzukashi katta desu
    Meaning: Last week's exam was difficult.

  • せんしゅうのしけんはやさしくなかったです。
    senshuu no shiken wa yasashi kunakatta desu OR
    せんしゅうのしけんはやさしくありませんでした。
    senshuu no shiken wa muzukashi kuarimasen deshita
    Meaning: Last week's exam was not easy.

Related Page

Lesson 26: Japanese Past Tense in Plain Form.

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