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Japanese is Possible!

Lesson 11

The good old days

  • Introduction
  • The past copula
  • Past adjectives
  • The present progressive
  • Popular words
  • Hiragana: ka and ki

Way back when

This week, we're going to be talking about using the past tense for nouns and adjectives. We'll also use a verb tense to express what's going on in the present. So come along, and learn a thing or two.

The past copula

A while ago (in lesson 5), I briefly showed you the past tenses of desu and da, which are deshita and datta, respectively. You can use these two verbs to express the past tense of nouns. Just have a look at these examples:

Kare ga sensei deshita.
[He sj teacher was.]
He was a teacher.

Watashi wa kashu datta.
[I (as for) singer was.]
I was a singer.

Adjectives in the past

In lesson 9, I explained how to use adjectives as predicates in a "Noun is adjective" relationship. You place the noun as the subject of the sentence, and the adjective at the end of a sentence. If it's an i-adjective, desu or nothing goes after the adjective, depending on your politeness level. For na-adjectives, desu or da follows the adjective.

Using adjectives as predicates in the past tense is similar, but with a few changes:

  The adjective conjugates in the past tense by changing the -i at the end to -katta. If you are speaking politely, the sentence still ends with desu. If you are speaking casually, the sentence still ends with just the adjective. This will probably seem strange at first, since desu is a present tense verb. Just remember that the adjective expresses the past tense and the desu just expresses that the adjective applies to the subject. Observe:

Watashi no kuruma ga aoi desu.
My car is blue.

Watashi no kuruma ga aokatta desu.
[I 's car sj "was blue" (is).]
My car was blue.

  Using a na-adjective as a predicate in the past tense is just like using a noun in the past tense. Just place the adjective at the end of the sencence, followed by deshita or datta.

Ano hon wa rippa deshita.
That book was magnificent.

Right now

A person uses what's called the present progressive tense to express what's going on right now in the present. In English, this tense consists of a form of the verb "to be" and the gerund (present participle/-ing form) of a verb, as in "I am going" or "he is watching. This tense can also express an ongoing state of being, as in "I am attending college." In Japanese, however, the progressive can also express a permanent conditon which would not be the progressive tense in English such as marriage. You'll have to keep an eye out for these things and see where the progressive is appropriate for certain situations. I'll do my best to help you out as much as possible with this task.

To form the present progressive in Japanese, you have to use the -te form, which I introduced in lesson 10, followed by the verb iru ("to exist"). In this case you can think of the -te form as a sort of gerund so more or less, the Japanese progressive tense literally means "I/he (etc.) exists" Let's look at some examples:

Satou san wa shukudai o shite iru.
[Satou homework oj doing exists]
Satou is doing homework.

Terebi o mite ita ka.
[TV oj watching existed ?]
Was he watching TV?

Popular Words

New words for this week:

kare - he

kashu - singer
kuruma - car
sensei - teacher
shukudai - homework
terebi - television

aoi - blue (i-adjective)
rippa - magnificent

suru (-te form shite) - to do
miru - to watch


If you see garbled letters in the brackets below, you need to set up your computer to read Japanese text. The Japanese encoding page should be able to solve your problem. If it doesn't, somebody in the JIP forum will surely help you out.

As you may have noticed, Japanese words mostly consist of distinct syllables with 0, 1 or 2 consonants followed by a vowel. 46 different syllables make up the system of basic hiragana, and by modifying some of those 46 characters, one can form all of the remaining sounds. This will all make perfect sense to you eventualy.

You've already learned all of the lone vowels and it's time to move on to syllables that consist of the consonant 'k' followed by a vowel. Today I will show you "ka" and "ki." Here they are:

ka is [] and ki is [ ]

To write ka, start with the stroke that goes from the top left to the bottom right, and hooks up at the bottom, then write the second stroke, which goes from top to bottom but slopes to the left.  Finally write the dash from its top-left tip to the bottom write tip.

For ki, first draw the two horizontal strokes from left to right.  They slope upward a bit and you should write the top one first.  Then draw the center stroke, which should start at the top center, slope to the right a bit, and then curve around at the bottom.

By now you should be getting a feel for writing these characters.  In general, the strokes at the top or to the left come first, and the writing instrument travels in that general pattern as the strokes are drawn as well.  Left-to-right and top-to-bottom can't always coexist, such as in the second stroke of ka, so the top-to-bottom tendenct wins out because the stroke is more vertical than it is horizontal.

Here are some words that you can write with these new characters:

[かい] (kai-shellfish) [いき] (iki-breath) [かう] (kau-to buy)

That's all folks, seeya next time!

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