Japanese Language Blog

How to talk about past in Japanese? Posted by on Jun 18, 2014 in Grammar

In this article, I thought it will be interesting to cover “how to express past events in Japanese”. In English, each verb has its own past tense form, and that some of them are a bit unique in that you have to know how to “convert” from present tense to past tense.  In Japanese, grammar is a bit more simpler believe it or not.  I will show you using the examples below.

The basic rule is to convert

“~ masu (~ます)” to “~mashita (~ました)” 

Example 1:

Benkyo shimasu (べんきょうします) ===> Benkyo shimashita(べんきょうしました)

Watashi wa Nihongo o benkyo shimasu. – I study Japanese. ==>

Watashi wa Nihongo o benkyo shimashita – I studied Japanese.

Example 2:

Sushi o tabemasu(すしをたべます)  ==> Sushi o tabemashita(すしをたべました)

Watashi wa kono sushi o tabemasu.- I eat this Sushi. ===>

Watashi wa kono sushi o tabemashita. – I ate this Sushi.


Example 3:

shigoto o shimasu(しごとをします)  ==> shigoto o shimashita(しごとをしました)

Watashi wa imakara shigoto o shimasu- I start working now ===>

Watashi wa kinou shigoto o shimashita.- I worked yesterday.


Example 4:

undo shimasu(うんどうします) ==> undo shimashita(うんどうしました)

Watashiwa kyo undo shimasu. – I will exercise today. ==>

Watashiwa kinou undo shimashita. – I exercised yesterday.


Example 5:

nomimasu(のみます) == > nomimashita (のみました)

Watashiwa sake o nomimasu. – I drink Sake. ==>

Watashiwa kinou sake o takusan nomimashita. – I drank lots of sake yesterday.


As you can see, the rule is pretty simple here. As long as you know the rule to change ~masu to ~mashita, you can covert from present tense to past tense. Try practicing by creating your own sentences using the verbs above.

Short video for your review:

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About the Author: keiko

Born and raised in Japan. She currently lives in U.S. with her husband and two kids.