Auxiliary verbs

All auxiliary verbs attach to a verbal or adjectival stem form and conjugate as verbs, but they differ from standard verbs in having no independent meaning. In modern Japanese there are two distinct classes of auxiliary verbs:

Pure auxiliaries (助動詞 jodōshi)
are usually just called verb endings or conjugated forms. These auxiliaries cannot possibly function as an independent verb.

Helper auxiliaries (補助動詞 hododōshi)
are standard verbs that lose their independent meaning when used as auxiliaries.

In classical Japanese which was more purely agglutinating than modern Japanese, the category of auxiliary verb included every possible verb ending after the stem form, and most of these endings were themselves active participants in composition. In modern Japanese, however, some auxiliaries have stopped being productive. The most classic example is the classical auxiliary たり (-tari) whose forms た (-ta), て (-te), etc. are now no longer viewed as verbal endings, i.e., they can take no further affixes.

Some pure auxiliary verbs

auxiliarygroupattaches tomeaning modificationexample
ます (masu)1continuativemakes V polite書く (kaku, to write) → 書きます (kakimasu)
られる (rareru) 12bcont. of grp. 2makes V passive/polite/potential見る (miru, to see) → 見られる (mirareru, to be able to see)

増える (fueru, to increase) → 増えられる (fuerareru, to have the ability to increase)

る (ru)-hyp. of grp. 1-飲む (nomu, to drink/swallow) → 飲める (nomeru, to be able to drink)
させる (saseru) 22bcont. of grp. 2makes V causative考える (kangaeru, to think) → 考えさせる(kangaesaseru, to cause to think)
せる (seru)-imperf. of grp. 1-思い知る (omoishiru, to realize) → 思い知らせる(omoishiraseru, to cause to realize/to teach a lesson)

1 られる (rareru) is often shortened to れる (reru, grp. 2); thus食べれる (tabereru, to be able to eat) instead of 食べられる(taberareru).

2 させる (saseru) is sometimes shortened to さす (sasu, grp. 1), but this usage is somewhat literary.
Much of the agglutinative flavour of Japanese stems from helper auxiliaries, however. The following table contains a small selection of an abundant store of such auxiliary verbs.

Some helper auxiliary verbs

auxiliarygroupattaches tomeaning modificationexample
ある (aru, to be (inanimate))1-te form only for trans.indicates state modification開く (aku, to open) → 開いてある (aite-aru, opened and is still open)
いる (iru, to be (animate))2a-te form for aspect寝る (neru, to sleep) → 寝ている (nete-iru, is sleeping)
-2a-te formindicates state modification閉まる (shimaru, (intransitive) to close) → 閉まっている(shimatte-iru, is closed)
いく (iku, to go)1-te form“goes on V-ing”歩く (aruku, to walk) → 歩いていく (aruite-iku, keep walking)
くる (kuru, to come)ka-te forminception, “start to V”なる (naru, become) → なってくる (natte-kuru, start becoming)
始める (hajimeru, to begin)2bcontinuative


V begins”, “begin to V”書く (kaku, to write) → 書き始める (kaki-hajimeru, start to write)

punctual & subj. must be plural

-着く (tsuku, to arrive) → 着き始める (tsuki-hajimeru, have all started to arrive)
出す (dasu, to emit)1continuative“start to V”輝く (kagayaku, to shine) → 輝き出す (kagayaki-dasu, to start shining)
みる (miru, to see)1-te form“try to V”する (suru, do) → してみたい (shite-mitai, try to do)
なおす (naosu, to correct/heal)1continuative“do V again, correcting mistakes”書く (kaku, to write) → 書きなおす (kaki-naosu, rewrite)
あがる (agaru, to rise)1continuative“do V thoroughly” / “V happens upwards”立つ (tatsu, to stand) → 立ち上がる (tachi-agaru, standup)

出来る (dekiru, to come out) → 出来上がる (deki-agaru, be completed)

得る (eru/uru, to be able)2b/1continuative only for group 1 verbsindicates potentialある (aru, to be) → あり得る (arieru, is possible)
かかる (kakaru, to hang/catch/obtain)1continuative only for intrans., non-volit.“about to V”, “almost V”溺れる (oboreru, drown) → 溺れかかる (obore-kakaru, about to drown)
きる (kiru, to cut)1continuative“do V completely”食べる (taberu, to eat) → 食べきる (tabe-kiru, to eat it all)
消す (kesu, to erase)1continuative“cancel by V”, “deny with V”揉む (momu, to rub) → 揉み消す (momi-kesu, to rub out, to extinguish)
込む (komu, to enter deeply/plunge)1continuative“V deep in”, “V into”話す (hanasu, to speak) → 話し込む (hanashi-komu, to be deep in conversation)
下げる (sageru, to lower)2bcontinuative“V down”引く (hiku, to pull) → 引き下げる (hiki-sageru, to pull down)
過ぎる (sugiru, to exceed)2acontinuative“overdo V”言う (iu, to say) → 言いすぎる (ii-sugiru, to say too much, to overstate)
付ける (tsukeru, to attach)2bcontinuative“become accustomed to V”行く (iku, to go) → 行き付ける (iki-tsukeru, be used to (going))
続ける (tsuzukeru, to continue)2bcontinuative“keep on V”降る (furu, to fall (eg. rain)) → 降り続ける(furi-tsuzukeru, to keep falling)
通す (tōsu, to show/thread/lead)1continuative“finish V-ing”読む (yomu, to read) → 読み通す (yomi-tōsu, to finish reading)
抜ける (nukeru, to shed/spill/desert)2bcontinuative only for intrans.“V through”走る (hashiru, to run) → 走り抜ける (hashiri-nukeru, to run through (swh))
残す (nokosu, to leave behind)1continuativeby doing V, leave sth behind思う (omou, to think) → 思い残す (omoi-nokosu, to regret (lit: to have sth. left to think about))
残る (nokoru, to be left behind)1continuative for intrans. onlybe left behind, doing V生きる (ikiru, live) → 生き残る (iki-nokoru, to survive (lit: to be left alive))
分ける (wakeru, to divide/split/classify)2bcontinuativethe proper way to V.使う (tsukau, use) → 使い分ける (tsukai-wakeru, to indicate the proper way to use)
忘れる (wasureru, to forget)2bcontinuativeto forget to V聞く (kiku, to ask) → 聞き忘れる (kiki-wasureru, to forget to ask)

Japanese Grammar Contents

  • Part 1: Textual classifications; nouns, pronouns, and other deictics
  • Part 2: Conjugable words: verbs
  • Part 3: Conjugable words: adjectives
  • Part 4: Conjugable words: the copula だ da
  • Part 5: Euphonic changes, colloquial contractions
  • Part 6: Adverbs, sound symbolism, conjunctions and interjections
  • Part 7: Particles
  • Part 8: Auxiliary verbs