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Understanding Japanese Past-Tense

Updated: Feb 4, 2019

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こんにちは、everyone! Welcome back to Teach Me Japanese

Today we are going to be discussing past tense in Japanese. Understanding past tense is vital in order to be able to properly express yourself in a language.

For simplicity's sake, In this lesson we are only going to be teaching the past tense of masu-form/polite form, so if you are looking for a lesson on casual form, make sure to sign up for our mailing list so you can be notified when we post!

Let's go!


です -----------> でした

ます -----------> ました


In Japanese non-past form, simple declarative sentences are ended using です:



-------->I'm a university student.

To put this sentence in to past form requires just a slight change. You must change です slightly by dropping and adding した. Like so:



--------->I was a university student.



--------->The Black Panter was the best!

Luckily, sentences using verbs are the same. For a reminder, here is what a non-past sentence looks like using a verb:



--------->I swim in the pool./I will swim in the pool.

Just like with です, all you need to do to make ます past tense is to drop the す and add した:



--------->I swam in the pool.



---------->I forgot the camera.


ません -----------> ませんでした

ないです -----------> なかったです

じゃありません -----------> じゃありませんでした


Making negative form into the past tense is not particularly any more difficult than positive form, but it is different.

A non-past sentence with a verb in the negative form looks like this:



----------->I will not break up with her.

When you change a negative sentence with a verb into past form, you simply add でした:



----------->I didn't break up with her.



------------>I didn't eat lunch.

There is of course another way of saying a verb in the negative non-past form:



------------->I don't take medicine./I won't take medicine.

Changing this into the past form simply requires replacing with かった:



------------->I didn't take medicine

A simple negative declarative sentence in the non-past form looks like this:



------------>I am not a doctor.

Changing a simple negative sentence in to the past form is the same as above, you simply add でした after ません:



------------>I wasn't a doctor. (back then)



------------->That wasn't Mount Fuji.

*では and じゃ are the same, but じゃ is more colloquial*

Again, there is another way of phrasing a simple negative declarative sentence. Non-past form:



------------->That person isn't my friend.

So following the same example from earlier, we simply replace い with かった to make it past form.



------------->That person wasn't my friend.



------------->Yesterday wasn't a day off.


And that is how you can use past-form to express yourself in Japanese. I hope that I was able to make it easy to understand, but if you have any questions please do not hesitate to leave a comment and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

Make sure to come back soon as we update with new lessons often, and check out our resources tab for even more fun ways to study Japanese!

As always, がんばってね!


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