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I've come across two different ways (at least, apparently for me) to classify verbs. Please note that this question is fundamentally different from Verb classifications by japanese learners.

The first classification is to divide verbs into Godan and Ichidan, which I think is good for reference, but not clear at all for learners (you can't really guess the number of conjugations by just looking at the verb).

The second, which I personally find clearer, is to divide them into る- and う-verbs. According to this last division:

With the exception of two verbs, all verbs fall into る- or う-verbs.

All る-verbs end in る, while う-verbs end in -う (including る). Therefore, if a verb does not end in る, it'll be necessarily a う.verb.

For verbs ending in る, if the vowel preceding る is /a/, /u/, /o/, it will always be an う-verb. If the vowel is /e/ or /i/, it will be a る-verb in most cases.

So what's the difference between the two? Is one system adopted by Japanese and the other adopted by learners (e.g. in JLPT)? Or they totally coincide but just have different names?

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I think "ru verb" and "u verb" are Tae Kim's terms for the same thing: Group 1 vs Group 2, Type 1 vs Type 2, consonant verbal vs vowel verbal, 五段動詞 vs 一段動詞, v5 vs v1, u verb vs ru verb. –  snailboat Nov 29 '12 at 12:54
    
possible duplication of japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/1348 ? - oops, sorry didn't see you'd linked that in - but I don't see how it's different. To me the comments/answers on that make it clear that these are all just ways of naming the same thing. –  nkjt Nov 29 '12 at 13:02
    
@nkjt Even then my question is pointing in a different direction. That question didn't answer mine (otherwise I wouldn't have asked in the first place). :P –  Alenanno Nov 29 '12 at 13:15
    
It has some work to go before it reaches acceptable "FAQ"-level material, but there is a cross-reference for a few terms on meta –  jkerian Nov 29 '12 at 16:55

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Answer: They're not different. Not exactly, anyway. Each group ends up describing the same verbs; they just arrive at their classification by different routes.

  • All う-verbs are 五段【ごだん】 verbs (and vice-versa).
  • All る-verbs are 一段【いちだん】 verbs (and vice-versa).

う-verbs and る-verbs

I learned the う-/る- distinction as well (as likely most English-speakers did), though under the guise of "Class 1", "Class 2", and "Class 3" (the two irregulars). How I learned to classify them is by the past-tense form, however. For example:

Class 1

~う、~つ、~る ⇒ ~った
~ぬ、~む、~ぶ ⇒ ~んだ
~す ⇒ ~した
~く ⇒ ~いた
~ぐ ⇒ ~いだ

Class 2

~る ⇒ ~た

Class 3

する ⇒ した
くる ⇒ きた

There was even a catchy song to go along with it!

One advantage of this method is that it kills two birds with one stone: you learn verb classification at the same time as you learn the past-tense conjugation. It also avoids confusing or intimidating new learners by throwing big words at them.

五段【ごだん】 verbs and 一段【いちだん】 verbs

On the other hand, the 五段【ごだん】・一段【いちだん】 distinction, like you noted, is derived from the number of different forms in the base stem forms of Japanese grammar -- a concept which second-language learners of Japanese usually are not even taught.

One advantage of this distinction is that the names actually describe something deeper about how the verbs work. But isn't it hard to guess the number of conjugations by looking at the verb? Actually, not really. Any verb that matches your "う-verb" definition will have those five conjugations, always.

That's all the difference is.

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Thanks for the answer, Rintaun... Do you happen to have the link to the catchy song? :P –  Alenanno Nov 29 '12 at 13:31
    
I'm looking for it, but I can't find it. There are various ~て form songs, but they're just not the same. I still remember it, though! –  rintaun Nov 29 '12 at 13:45
    
Ahah ok, if you find it, please ping me here. By the way, in your last paragraph, there is a mistake: "One advantage of the this distinction". –  Alenanno Nov 29 '12 at 13:47
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I don't think I've ever seen them referred to as う-verbs, always "u-verbs". The reason is somewhat obvious, only one type of u-verb ends in う, but they all end in "u" in the dictionary form. This looks like a case of overzealous anti-romaji-ness. –  jkerian May 13 at 7:36
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@jkerian Honestly, I'd never seen either name. In any case I'm not sure that "u-verbs" is a very good name either, since "る-verbs" also end in "u"... which is confusing. –  rintaun May 13 at 11:10

The following terms are synonyms:

  • consonant-stem verb
  • u-verb
  • class 1 verb, group 1 verb, type 1 verb, ...
  • godan (五段) verb

The following terms are synonyms:

  • vowel-stem verb
  • ru-verb
  • class 2 verb, group 2 verb, type 2 verb, ...
  • ichidan (一段) verb

Nowadays linguists prefer the terms consonant-stem verb and vowel-stem verb.

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