Japanese Grammar

Present and Future Tense with Temporal Nouns

Japanese Future Tense

You will start learning Japanese tenses and aspects. In the previous sections, we didn’t mention them, and generally used future tense. By understanding the usages of tenses and aspects, you will be able to communicate with people more accurately. Here, you will learn both present and future tense.

Plain Forms Express Constant States, Customary Actions and Future Tense

Table of Contents
Present Tense
Future Tense
The Particle に with Temporal Nouns

Present tense can be further divided, e.g. constant states, customary actions, progressive actions, and resultant states. In this lesson, we’d like to focus on the ones expressed by the plain form. Since the plain form can express both present and future tense, you should have a clear picture about its usage.

Present Tense

Constant States

あつ みず たくさん る / ります
Topic Subject Adverb Verb
As for hot days, we need a lot of water.
*る is an intransitive verb in Japanese.

Constant states are states that last constantly and are usually represented by nouns and adjectives as the following examples show because those kinds of states don’t normally change. Then, some verbs like “要る: to need” and “値する: to deserve” also indicate constant states. Just like English doesn’t say “I’m needing it,” Japanese just uses those verbs in the plain (dictionary) form.

ひとたすけることはしょうさんに(あたいする / あたいします)。
Helping people deserves praise.
Cats are cute.
どもげん(だ / です)。
Children are lively.
わたし本人ほんじん(だ / です)。
I’m Japanese.

You can also express constant states in future tense by using the plain form with temporal nouns.

明日あしたみずがたくさん(る / ります)。
As for tomorrow, [we] will need a lot of water.

Customary Actions

なかさんは いつも おおきいこえ わらう / わらいます
Topic / Subject Adverb State Verb
Tanaka-san always laughs with a loud voice.

Customary actions are actions that you are not doing right now, but are habitual. You can express such actions by using the plain form. This concept is often used with adverbs or temporal nouns such as “いつも: always” and “毎日まいにち: everyday.”

さけを(む / みます)。
[I] drink alcohol.
とうさんはタバコを(う / います)。
Sato-san smokes.
毎朝まいあさかおを(あらう / あらいます)。
[I] wash my face every morning.
よくほんうたを(うたう / うたいます)。
[I] often sing Japanese songs.

Future Tense

[わたしは] いまから 学校がっこう く / きます
[Topic / Subject] Adverb Destination Verb
[I] will go to school from now on.

The plain form of verbs expresses future tense if not describing constant states or customary actions. Since we use the same form for different usages, you need to judge which function verbs work based on the context. Here is a comparison.

毎朝まいあさ、ごはんを(べる / べます)。
[I] eat a meal every morning.
いまからごはんを(べる / べます)。
[I] will a meal, starting now.

The following example can be interpreted as both a customary and future action. The context will determine the meaning. If you’d like to specify, you need to use adverbs or temporal nouns.

朝7あさしちにごはんを(べる / べます)。
[I] (will or generally) eat a meal at 7:00am.

The Particle に with Temporal Nouns

As you may have noticed, adverbs and temporal nouns are the keys to determining tense. Since you have already learned adverbs in the previous lesson, we will focus on temporal nouns here. Some learners are confused by the placement of the proper particle.

Specific Time

The particle に expresses specific time, and thus you have to attach に when you use words like the following.

いち: 1 o’clock
1日ついたち: 1st (date)
1月いちがつ: February
月曜げつよう: Monday
2000にせんねん: year 2000

よるしちきゃくさんが(る / ます)。
[My] guest will come at 7:00pm.
15じゅうごにちアメリカへ(く / きます)。
[I] will go to the US on the 15th.

Don’t be confused. Other particles such as は and が can be used when temporal nouns are a topic or a subject.

As for 11:00pm, [it] is dangerous.
15じゅうごにちわたしたんじょう(だ / です)。
The 15th is my birthday.

Relative Time

It is not necessarily the case that temporal nouns always indicate specific time. For example, if you have only the word: “明日あした tomorrow,” you cannot specify what date it is. In this case, you don’t have to use に. Here is the vocabulary list.

今日きょう: today
昨日きのう: yesterday
明日あした: tomorrow
いま: now
こんしゅう: this week
らいしゅう: next week
せんしゅう: last week
今月こんげつ: this month
来月らいげつ: next month
先月せんげつ: last month
とし: this year
来年らいねん: next year
去年きょねん: last year
毎日まいにち: every day
毎朝まいあさ: every morning
毎晩まいばん: every evening

毎日まいにちを(みがく / みがきます)。
[I] brush my teeth every day.
がみはいつ(とどく / とどきますか)? => らいしゅうとどく / とどきます)よ。
When will the letter arrive? => [It will] arrive next week.

In practice, some native speakers use the particle に with the above words even if it’s not grammatically correct. In addition, there is an expression to emphasize specific time by using the combined particle には (specific time + contrast). This is applicable for the above words and very natural.

がみはいつ(とどく / とどきますか)? => らいしゅうにはとどく / とどきます)よ。
When will the letter arrive? => (Emphasis) [It will] arrive next week.

Time with Range

If temporal nouns can be specified, but have some ranges, either using the particle に or not is natural. If you’d like to emphasize time, you should use に.

あさ: morning
ひる: daytime
夕方ゆうがた: evening
よる: night
はる: spring
なつ: summer
あき: fall
ふゆ: winter

つぎはる大学だいがくそつぎょう(する / します)。
[I will] graduate from university next spring.
しゅあささんをすること(だ / です)。
[My] hobby is walking around during the morning.


  1. The plain form expresses present tense (constant state and customary actions) and future tense.
  2. Specific time requires the particle に while relative time does not.
  3. If temporal nouns have a range, either using the particle に or not is natural.

You have learned future tense and some usages of present tense. Since we use the exact same form, you need to judge functions based on the context. Then, what about other usages of present tense? In English, you change the form to express progressive actions like “I’m doing it.” This is what you will learn next.

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