Japanese Grammar

How to Express Volition in Japanese: …(よ)う and つもりだ

Let's protect: 守ろう

Last time, you learned how to express desires like “テレビがしい (I want a TV),” and “テレビがたい (I want to watch TV).” Now, you know how to say what you want to do. Then, if you would like to say “I intend to buy a TV,” what should it be? In this lesson, you will tackle how to express volition.

Explanation for How to Express Volition

Table of Contents
Volitional Form: …(よ)う
つもりだ: to Intend to Do
Other Usage of the Volitional Form: …(よ)うとする

Volition means acts of will, or decisions made by a person’s will. In order to express it, Japanese has a particular form called “volitional form.” Let’s learn the form along with other similar expressions.

Volitional Form: …(よ)う

This can actually be utilized for making invitations and offers. We will focus on expressing volition here. First, take a look at the conjugation.

Ru-verb: To Replace ru with you or mashou

  Volition Volition (Polite)
見る (miru) よう (miyou) ましょう (mimashou)
着る (kiru) よう (kiyou) ましょう (kimashou)
食べる (taberu) 食べよう (tabeyou) 食べましょう (tabemashou)
答える (kotaeru) 答えよう (kotaeyou) 答えましょう (kotaemashou)

U-verbs: To Replace u with ou or imashou

  Volition Volition (Polite)
書く (kaku) こう (kakou) きましょう (kakimashou)
話す (hanasu) そう (hanasou) しましょう (hanasimashou *si = shi)
立つ (tatu *tu = tsu) とう (tatou) ちましょう (tatimashou *ti = chi)
飲む (nomu) もう (nomou) みましょう (nomimashou)

Two Exceptions

  Volition Volition (Polite)
する (suru) しよう (shiyou) しましょう (shimashou)
来る (kuru) 来よう (koyou) 来ましょう (kimashou)

The volitional form expresses what you are willing to do and therefore you cannot apply the negative form or the ta-form to it.

Examples

[わたしは / が] あのテレビを おう / いましょう
[Topic / Subject] Direct Object Verb: Volitional Form
[I] will buy that TV over there.
*Talked to yourself when you find a good TV during shopping.

The basic function is to express volition which is used when you make a resolution or a decision and talk to yourself. When you use this with other people, it will indicate an invitation like “let’s do it.” Thus, when you would like to just tell your volition to others, you need to utilize the quotation marker と with verbs like “思う: to think.” If you say 思っている, it indicates you made a decision a while ago and are continuously willing to do so. By contrast, the plain form: 思う indicates a decision is made on the spot.

きょうこう。
[I] will go to Kyoto.
*Talked to yourself when the idea to go to Kyoto suddenly occurred to you.
きょうに(こう / きましょう)。
Let’s go to Kyoto.
*Said when you ask your friend to go to Kyoto with you.
きょうこうとおもって(いる / います)。
[I] am going to Kyoto.
*Said when you are asked “what will you do this weekend?

As you can see, the contexts are important. Here is another example.

ほんこう。
[I] will write a book.
*Said to yourself when you decide to write a book.
ほんを(こう / きましょう)。
Let’s write a book.
*Said when you ask your friend to write a book with you.
ほんこうと(おもう / おもいます)。
 [I] will write a book.
*Said when you tell your resolution to your friend.

Difference between the Plain Form and the Volitional Form

結婚けっこん(する / します)よ。
[I] am going to get married. (*Fixed plan)
結婚けっこんしようとおもって(いる / います)。
[I] am going to get married. (*Unfixed plan)
結婚けっこんしようおもって(いる / います)。
[I] am thinking about getting married.

The background behind the above examples is something like you are talking about marriage with your friend. Then, if you use the plain form, it means future tense and indicates a fixed plan. If you use the volitional form + と思う, it certainly indicates your will, but the plan is not fixed. If you attach か to the volitional form, it indicates that your decision is yet to be made.

つもりだ: to Intend to Do

[わたしは / が] 来年らいねん てんしょくするつもり(だ / です)
[Topic / Subject] Temporal Noun Verb + つもりだ
[I] intend to change [my] job next year.

The function is to express what you intend to do. One important point here is that the decision should have been made a while ago. Therefore, you cannot use this for decisions made on the spot.

さけをやめるつもり(だ / です)。
[I] intend to quit drinking.
明日あしたいえにいるつもり(だ / です)。
As for tomorrow, [I] intend to stay at home.
海外かいがい大学だいがくくつもり(だ / です)。
[I] intend to go to a foreign university.

As you learned above, the volitional form + と思っている indicates you made a decision a while ago and are continuously willing to do so. That is to say, it’s very similar to つもりだ. However, つもりだ more strongly express your will. For example, if you seriously say “I will become a singer in the future,” the second example below is more suitable.

しょうらいしゅになろうとおもって(いる / います)。
しょうらいしゅになるつもり(だ / です)。
=> Stronger than the above

There are two negative expressions. The first is to conjugate verbs into the negative form and the second is to replace だ of つもりだ with はない. The first one is frequently used because the second one sounds strong and is suitable to refuse something.

あやまらないつもり(だ / です)。
[I] don’t intend to apologize.
あやまるつもりは(ない / ありません)。
=> Stronger than the above

Difference between つもりだ and てい

ほんべんきょうするつもり(だ / です)。
[I] intend to study Japanese.
ほんべんきょうするてい(だ / です)。
[I] have a schedule to study Japanese.

With the above examples, the result should be the same: to study Japanese. However, the process is different. 予定 indicates “plan” or “schedule” and doesn’t indicate your feelings. Therefore, when you express your volition, you have to use つもりだ and vice versa.

Other Usage of the Volitional Form: …(よ)うとする

なかさんは はや ようと(した / しました)
Topic / Subject Adverb Volitional Form + する
Tanaka-san attempted to go to bed early.

The volitional form + とする indicate attempts at doing something. When you use this, attempts should be uncompleted or failed. If you would like to plainly say “I try to do it,” you need to use the te-form + みる.

よく宿しゅくだいをサボろうと(する / します)。
[I] often attempt to neglect [my] homework.
どもうそをつこうと(する / します)。
Children attempt to lie.
ゴミをてようと(した / しました)。
[I] attempted to throw away the trash.
まどけようと(した / しました)。
[I] attempted to open the window.

This function can be even applicable for non-volitional verbs such as “降る: to fall” and “壊れる: to break.” This is often used in progressive tense and it indicates something is about to happen.

あめろうとして(いる / います)。
It is about to rain.
はしこわれようとして(いた / いました)。
The bridge was about to break.

Summary

  1. The volitional form indicates talking to yourself or invitations.
  2. The volitional form should be used with と思う when telling your volition to someone.
  3. つもりだ indicates what you intend to do.
  4. The volitional form + とする indicate attempts which are uncompleted or failed.

We guess that the usages of volitional form can be difficult for English speakers to master. In fact, there are some people who try to use only つもりだ to express volition. However, there are some situations in which the volitional form is more suitable. Thus, please learn both of them here. Next, you will learn the utilization of the volitional form: how to express invitations and offers.

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