Desu – The verb to be in Japanese

Learn more about Desu – The verb to be in Japanese!

The verbs in Japanese are something quite different from the concept of verbs existing in the Portuguese language.

Desu – The verb to be in Japanese

One of the main difficulties for students of Japanese is the fact that the Japanese language has only four verb tenses: present affirmative, past affirmative, present negative and past negative. That's right, it has no conjugation for the future tense.

Another interesting fact is that the Japanese language has levels of formality. This means that most Japanese verbs have two forms for each tense. One form for the formal mode and the other for the informal mode. Complicated? Not so much.

Although these concepts are important, it is not necessary to worry about them now, in future articles, we will talk more about the subject.

What is Desu and what is it for?

です is a politeness auxiliary that indicates the verb tense of the sentence and can assume the meaning of “ser” or “estar”. Although not a verb, です has the same characteristics as verbs in Japanese. It can be inflected in all tenses.

To summarize, today we are going to know the push-ups of です and its formal and informal ways.

For now, I don't intend to dwell on explanations of what a politeness assistant is. Just know that the です can assume the meaning of our verb ser or estar in the Portuguese language.

See too:
Download now the book unraveling the Japanese language!
Download audio from Google translator

The formal mode of desu

the present affirmative

The present affirmative usually refers to an action or state existing at that very moment.



By itself, です is the formal way and can be used in the most diverse situations of everyday life. Another interesting feature is that the syllable  in です is almost not pronounced. The pronunciation would be closer to a “des” than a “desu”.

the negative present

The present negative is not complicated to learn and conjugate. Just understand that it is just a negation of the verb used. In our case, we will just change the です per ではありません.



the affirmative past

The affirmative past tense speaks of an action or state that has been modified, determining something that has already happened. To perform this task, simply change the です per でした at the end of sentences.



the negative past

Like the present, the past negative demonstrates an action (or state) contrary to the meaning of the verb. Only this time the verb is in the past tense. To do this, we just need to put the です in the negative present followed by でした, staying ではありませんでした. Check it out:



Another interesting feature of でした is that the  is hardly pronounced, or is spoken more quickly than usual. It's like saying "this" instead of "deshita".

Desu's informal way

This second topic about です will be faster and easier to learn since we already know the verb tenses and the standard form of the です in each of them. Now we are going to know forms of conjugations for です not very publicized, but widely used in the Japanese language.

The affirmative present and the affirmative past

In some cases, Japanese sentences may end with . This is just a simplified way of です in the present affirmative and their meaning is the same.

In the negative past, です can take another simplified form: だった. As in the previous situation, だった has the same function and meaning as でした.

These two forms seem to me to be little used, despite appearing in some books and grammars. Just in case, I decided it would be better to add this information in this article.

The negative present and the negative past

This is where the most used part of the alternative forms of です. Many Japanese people use it in informal conversations, and sometimes these forms seem to me to be used more than the forms studied in the previous article.

じゃありません , じゃない and ではない
じゃありません it's more formal than じゃない and ではないではない seemed to be out of use. I've never seen anyone use this expression. In contrast, じゃありません and じゃない are widely used and both have the same function and meaning of ではありません in the negative present.

じゃありませんでしたじゃなかった and ではなかった
Following the same pattern as the previous item, じゃありませんでした it's more formal than じゃなかった and ではなかった. Furthermore じゃありませんでした It is much more used than the other two.

When it comes to the negative past tense, the three forms mentioned above have the same function and meaning as ではありませんでした.

To conclude the article, I will leave some examples of using the alternative forms of です. Below are the examples:




Kanji calligraphy exercise

Below are the Japanese ideographic symbols used in this article. Selecting the desired kanji, copy and paste them into Worksheet for Kana and Kanji Practice , a new window will open where you can view the printable file and practice Japanese calligraphy by covering the gray symbols and then trying to write yourself. Just print and practice.