Japanese Grammar

Japanese Compound Verbs


Last time, you learned how omissions of particles works in conversation, e.g. “バスをりる (We will get off the bus),” and “電車でんしゃる (We will take the train).” Omissions have a very important role in Japanese. Then, if you’d like to express two actions at the same time like “get off of one vehicle and take another” how do you say it? In this lesson, you will learn compound verbs.

Explanation for How Compound Verbs Work

Table of Contents
Conjugation Rule
Main Four Groups

You are actually able to express two actions at the same time by using what you have learned in the compound sentence section. For example, you can utilize the te-form which indicates sequential actions like “バスをりて、電車でんしゃる (We will get off the bus and take the train).” However, by utilizing compound verbs, you can express it in a more sophisticated way like “バスから電車でんしゃえる (We will transfer from the bus to the train).”

Conjugation Rule

All Verbs: To Attach Verbs to the Polite Form Instead of です

る: to take (transportation) + える: to interchange => える: to transfer
べる: to eat + あるく: to walk => あるく: to try out foods at various restaurants
る: to look at + げる: to raise => げる: to look up
かる: to understand + う: to fit, match => かりう: to understand each other

Some of the compound verbs can work as a noun by further conjugation. If you apply the polite form for the second verb without です, it will become a noun. In the above examples, える and あるく are applicable. They can be a noun like and あるき.

Main Four Groups

1. Verb + Verb The combination of two verbs expresses sequential actions or states, or simultaneous actions.
2. Verb + Helping Verb The second verb works as a helping verb and adds some meaning onto the main first verb.
3. Prefix + Verb The first verb works as a prefix and modifies the main second verb.
4. Verb (One Word) Two verbs are recognized as one word and indicate a new meaning.

Compound verbs are categorized into the above four groups. Unfortunately, there is no certain pattern to categorize verbs. Thus, you need to memorize which function each compound verb has. Here is a wonderful database named “Compound Verb Lexicon.” Please refer to it when you encounter words that you are unfamiliar with. For the sake of better understanding, we would like to show some examples below.

Group 1. Verb + Verb

どもあそつかれてて(しまった / しまいました)。
The children got tired by playing and went to bed.
よこさんは戦争せんそうからのこった / のこりました)。
Yokoi-san survived from the war.
二人ふたりはげしくあらそっていた / いました)。
The two people were intensely disputing.
なかさんは恋愛れんあいのことでおもなやんでいる / います)。
Tanaka-san is troubled with things about romances.

The first and the second examples indicate sequential events. You can reword them by using the te-form, i.e. 遊んで疲れる (to play and then get tired) and 生きて残る (to live and then remain). By contrast, the third and the fourth examples indicate simultaneous actions. You can reword them by using the sentence pattern: ながら, i.e. 言いながら争う (to compete while saying) and 思いながら悩む (to be troubled while thinking). One important point here is that the seconds verbs determine the proper particles. For example, with the fourth example, the particle で indicates reasons which corresponds to 悩む.

Group 2. Verb + Helping Verb

どもいえなかはしまわっている / います)。
The children are running around inside of the house.
こまったらこのいえはらおう / はらいましょう)。
If [we] are in trouble, let’s sell out this house.
なかさんははしはじ / ました)。
Tanaka-san started running.
きゅうあめりだし / ました)。
It has suddenly started raining.

You can actually subdivide Group 2 based on whether it has grammatical functions or not. With the first and the second examples, the helping verbs: “回る: to turn” and “払う: to clear away” indicate the additional meaning with the main verbs. The third and the fourth examples indicate the aspect of the main verb, that is to say, they have grammatical functions. Depending on the sub-group, the usages will change, e.g. Suru-verb can only connect with helping verbs that have grammatical functions. We recommend you memorize each combination as a set phrase. However, if you would like to know the grammatical pattern, please visit here: Syntactic and Lexical Compound Verbs. In the page, they use the word “syntactic.” You can (very) roughly consider the meaning as “grammatical.”


Group 3. Prefix + Verb

調ちょうちゅうった / りました)。
[We] stopped the investigation halfway.
あたまよう / ましょう)。
Let’s change our thinking.
発言はつげん簡単かんたんない / ません)よ。
As for statements, [You] cannot easily take [it] back.
ジャイアンはドローンをぶちこわ / ました)。
Gian completely broke the drone.

Here, the second verbs hold the main meaning. The second verbs may work alone, e.g. with the third example, if you say, 発言は簡単に消せない (As for statement, yon cannot easily delete it), it still somehow makes sense. However, by using the first verbs as a prefix, you can express more detailed or stronger meanings. Particles are determined by the second verbs.

Group 4. Verb (One Word)

Please fill this blank with kanji.
ってすぐに / ました)。
Soon after [we] met, [we] got friendly.
Please calm down a little.
先生せんせいひっがった / がりました)。
[I] ask the teacher [questions] desperately and persistently.

In general, you should consider verbs which are categorized into this group as one word. Most of them are not related to the original meaning, but create new ones.


  1. For the conjugation, you attach verbs to the polite form instead of です.
  2. Some can become a noun by applying the polite form without です for the second verbs.
  3. There are four structures which are “Verb + Verb,” “Verb + Helping Verb,” “Prefix + Verb,” and “Verb (One Word).”

Compound verbs may be closer to vocabulary than grammar. Thus, you need to memorize words one by one, not by the grammatical rule. Again, this database: “Compound Verb Lexicon” is the best tool to learn compound verbs. Please make the most use of it.

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