GrammarLearning Tips

Why you shouldn’t learn -masu form first if you are a self-learner

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Why you shouldn’t follow the textbook order
if you are learning Japanese on your own.
– Don’t learn masu form first!

First, masu form is a type of a verb form that is used for formal speech.
You can tell which ones are masu form by looking at the ending.
For example, 話しますhanashi-masu” – ” I / you / he / she / they speak(s)”.
The tense of this type of verb is future tense and present tense.
The present tense is not “I am doing ~now”
but “I do ~ ( regularly/ often / frequently / rarely and etc…).

So, why do teachers and textbooks teach “masu form” first?
The reasons are :
1.  Those textbooks are made for use in classrooms.

So one teacher and students.
In Japan you are supposed to talk to teachers politely.
In Japanese language schools, teachers usually talk to you in formal speech as well.
However, in real Japanese schools, it depends on the teacher.
There are teachers who speak casually, and some of them stick to formal speech.
But teachers who speak casually still expect you to speak in formal speech.


2.  Masu form is a lot easier to conjugate. (esp. past tense.)

You can make negative, past and past negative forms very easily without really thinking.
Since the classroom usually has lots of students, they need to adjust to all the levels.
If you change ます into ません, it’s negative,
ます into ました, it’s past.
And ます into ませんでした makes past negative.
And even ます into ましょう / ませんか – ” Shall we ~?“. Easy!
So it can help students’ confidence grow for sure. Because it’s easy.


So it seems fair to learn masu form first,
but here’s the reasons why you should learn
plain / dictionary form” before starting “masu-form“.

For those who are not familiar with it,
The plain / dictionary / casual form” is like the infinitive in English.
“to do” is infinitive. “does” is not.
The plain form of “話します hanashi-masu” is “話す hanasU“.
The tense is completely the same.

Then when do we use it?
We use it when we talk casually, for instance,
it would be very weird to talk to friends or parents in formal speech using masu form.
It can be even rude a bit, since it creates distance in the relationship.
Also, these forms combine with a lot of other forms and create other meaning,
whilst “masu form” is always and only at the end of the sentence,
it doesn’t have any place to use besides from “I / you / he… (will) do ~”.
You cannot create a sentence like “I like to do~” or “I haven’t done~”.
You will have to learn this form anyway.
And making this form from masu form is quite a pain in the neck.
The other way around, however, is easy.
So it’s best to memorize verbs in this form first and then change into masu form.

There are two types of verbs
-iru / eru ending vebrs” and “others“.

If the verb ends in -iru /eru, get rid of る and put ます.
食べる tabE-RU – to eat -> 食べます tabe-MASU
見る mI-RU – to see / look / watch -> 見ます mi-MASU

For other verbs, such as
話す hanasU – to speak,

Change U into I and put ます.
話す hanasU -> 話します hanash-IMASU.
*We don’t have “si” sound, but only “sHi”.

買う kaU – to buy -> 買います kaIMASU

The other way around, i.e from masu form to plain form, is tricky.
For example, “聞きます kiki-masu”, you cannot guess if its plain form is :
ききる kiki-RU or 2. きく kikU.
And the correct one is the second one. 聞く kikU -> 聞きます kikI-masu.

So whenever you take notes or put verbs in Anki, always memorize verbs in plain form.
It just makes more sense to learn the plain form first.
Learning plain forms after masu-form is like non-English speakers,
say me, trying to learn verbs like “doES” before “do” or “has” before “have”.

If you are learning Japanese in Japan, then the situation could be different,
but if you are trying to learn on your own or online,
then you will want to make some friends or language-partners
through websites like lang-8, italki or interpals, right?
To be honest, getting messages from someone in such a formal speech is quite…boring.
On the internet, Japanese people talk more frankly than in real life. Haha
Chatting with someone in formal speech is very weird and feels distant.
Try to message them in informal speech, it definitely impresses them more.
Well, if they are not too much older than you…
My non-Japanese friends who speak Japanese well know this fact very well.


But still I want to be polite no matter what!!!!
Oh…then you do still need to learn this plain form.
Because in order to say “Could you…?” “May I…?”,
you will have to conjugate verbs.
And again, it’s 100 % easier to conjugate from plain form than “masu form”.
For making these forms, it’s a bit difficult
and you need to learn the form called “TE-form“,
I explained in this article, so check it out.

Also if you learn the negative form of plain verbs, which is easy,
you’ll be able to make a sentence like
“- must do~” , “- don’t have to~” and “Don’t do~”, too.


But I need to learn business Japanese ASAP!
…then masu-form doesn’t help too much anyway…
Yes, masu-form is indeed for formal speech.
However, Japanese has such a huge levels of formality. And it sucks.
You’ll have to learn 尊敬語 “sonkei-go”, 謙譲語 “kenjou-go” and 丁寧語 “teinei-go”.
Learning them even before mastering “plain form” is impossible.
It’s like trying to learn the longest German words possible before learning the short ones.


After all I said though, if you are planning a trip to Japan
and don’t have plenty of time to study before the trip,
go ahead and learn masu form so that you can at least make
simple questions like “Will you…?” “Shall we…?” and so on.

For anyone who is interested in learning with me one on one,
good news! I always introduce plain forms first : )


Also if you are an anime fan, learning casual speech
will help you greatly 
when watching your favourite series x 

Translator / Linguist / Japanese Teacher / Happy World Traveler/ manga, anime, comedy lover. Speaks Japanese, English, Russian and German.


  1. Very informative post! I struggled with this, learning tons of -masu form verbs through self-study. When I listened to conversations in Japanese, I couldn’t understand a word, despite having what I thought was a good foundation of vocabulary and verbs. ありがとうみささん! I love your blog!

    1. デーモンさん、コメントありがとう!^^
      If you watch anime or drama, you’ll mostly hear this plain form, so no wonder it’s hard for beginners to understand some words.
      Now you know what to do! :) I hope your listening comprehension will improve soon.

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