JGram – The volitional

Meaning: Desire and Suggestions
JLPT Level: 0
Category: lesson
Author: TaeKim

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OutlineHow to get your way in JapanVerbs you want to do with 「たい」Indicating things you want or want done using 「欲しい」Making a motion to do something using the volitional form (casual)Making a motion to do something using the volitional form (polite)Making Suggestions using the 「ば」 or 「たら」 conditional

How to get your way in Japan

We will now learn how to say what you want by either by just coming out and saying it or by making discreet suggestions. The major topics we will cover will be the 「たい」 conjugation and the volitional form. We will also learn specialized uses of the 「たら」 and 「ば」 conditionals to offer advice.

Verbs you want to do with 「たい」

You can express verbs that you want to perform with the 「たい」 form. All you need to do is add 「たい」 to thestem of the verb. However, unlike most conjugations we learned where the verb turns into a ru-verb, this form actually transforms the verb into an i-adjective (notice how 「たい」 conveniently ends in 「い」). This makes sense because the conjugated form just becomes a description of something that you want to do. Once you have the 「たい」 form, you can then conjugate it the same as you would any other i-adjective. However, the 「たい」 form is different from regular i-adjectives because it is derived from a verb. This means that all the particles we normally associate with verbs such as 「を」、「に」、「へ」、or 「で」 can all be used with the 「たい」 form, which is not true for regular i-adjectives. Here’s a chart just for you.

「たい」 conjugationsPositiveNegativeNon-Past行きたい行きたくないPast行きたかった行きたくなかった


(1) 何をしたいですか。- What do you want to do?
(2) 温泉に行きたい。- I want to go to hot spring.
(3) ケーキ、食べたくないの?。- You don’t want to eat cake?
(4) 食べたくなかったけど食べたくなった。- I didn’t want to eat it but I became wanting to eat.
Example (4) was very awkward to translate but is quite simple in Japanese, refer to "Using 「なる」 with i-adjectives". The past tense of the verb 「なる」 was used to create, "became want to eat". Here’s a tongue twister using the negative 「~たくない」 and past-tense of 「なる」: 「食べたくなくなった」 meaning "became not wanting to eat".

This may seem obvious but 「ある」 cannot have a 「たい」 form because inanimate objects cannot want anything. However, 「いる」 can be used with the 「たい」 form in examples like the one below.
(1) ずっと一緒にいたい。- I want to be (lit: exist) together forever.

Also, you can only use the 「たい」 form for the first-person because you cannot presume to be able to read someone else’s mind to see what he/she wants to do. For referring to anyone beside yourself, it is normal to use expressions such as, "I think he wants to…" or "She said that she wants to…" We will learn how to say such expressions in a later lesson. Of course, if you’re asking a question, you can just use the 「たい」 form because you’re not presuming to know anything.

(1) 犬と遊びたいですか。- Do you want to play with dog?

Indicating things you want or want done using 「欲しい」

In English, we employ a verb to say that we want something. In Japanese, ‘to want’ is actually an i-adjective and not a verb. We saw something similar with 「好き」 which is an adjective while ‘to like’ in English is a verb. While I didn’t get too much into the workings of 「好き」, I have dedicated a whole section to 「欲しい」 because when combined with the te-form of a verb, it becomes, "to want something done". We will learn a more polite and appropriate way to make requests in the "Making Requests" lesson instead of saying, "I want this done." Though not a set rule, whenever words come attached to the te-form of a verb to serve a special grammatical function, it is normal to write it in hiragana. This is because the kanji is already used for the verb and the attached word becomes part of that verb.


(1) 大きい縫いぐるみが欲しい!- I want a big stuffed doll!
(2) 全部食べてほしいんだけど・・・ – I want the whole thing eaten but…
(3) 部屋をきれいにしてほしいのよ。 – It is that I want the room cleaned up, you know.
Like I mentioned, there are more appropriate ways to ask for things which we won’t go into until later. This grammar is not used too often but is included for completeness of this lesson.

Making a motion to do something using the volitional form (casual)

The term volitional is here means a will to do something. In other words, the volitional form actually indicates that someone is set out to do something In the most common example, this simply translates into the English "let’s" or "shall we?" but we’ll also see how this motion to do something can be used to express an effort to do something in a lesson further along.

To conjugate verbs into the volitional form for casual speech, there are two separate rules for ru-verbs and u-verbs. For ru-verbs, you simply remove the 「る」 and add 「よう」. For u-verbs, you replace the / u / vowel sound with the / o / vowel sound and add 「う」.

Conjugations rules for the casual volitional formFor ru-verbs: Remove the 「る」 and add 「よう」
例) 食べ → 食べ + よう → 食べようFor u-verbs: Replace the / u / vowel sound with the / o / vowel sound and add 「う」
例) 入 → 入 + → 入ろう

Here is the same chart you should be used to seeing.Sample ru-verbsPlainVolitional食べ食べようよう信じ信じようよう起き起きようよう掛け掛けよう Sample u-verbsPlainVolitionalローマ字ローマ字 (Vol.)そうhanasuhanasouこうkikukikouぼうasobuasobouとうmatumatouもうnomunomouろうnaorunaorouのうshinushinou Exception VerbsPlainVolitionalするしようくるこよう


I doubt you will ever use 「死のう」 (let’s die) but I left it in for completeness. Here are some examples.
(1) 今日は何をしようか? – What shall we do today?
(2) テーマパークに行こう! – Let’s go to a theme park!
(3) 明日は何を食べようか? – What shall eat tomorrow?
(4) カレーを食べよう! – Let’s eat curry!
Remember, since you’re setting out to do something, it doesn’t make sense to have this verb in the past tense. Therefore, there is only one tense and if you were to replace 「明日」 in (3) with, for example, 「昨日」 then the sentence would make no sense.

Making a motion to do something using the volitional form (polite)

The conjugation for the polite form is even simpler. All you have to do is add 「~ましょう」 to the stem of the verb. Similar to the masu-form, verbs in this form must always come at the end of the sentence. In fact, all polite endings must always come at the end and nowhere else, as we’ve already seen.

Conjugations rules for the polite volitional formFor all verbs: Add 「~ましょう」 to the stem of the verb
例) 食べ → 食べ + ましょう → 食べましょう
例) 入 → 入 + ましょう → 入りましょう

Sample verbsPlainVolitionalするしましょうくるきましょう寝る寝ましょう行く行きましょう遊ぶ遊びましょう
Again, there’s nothing new here, just the polite version of the volitional form.
(1) 今日は何をしましょうか? – What shall we do today?
(2) テーマパークに行きましょう! – Let’s go to a theme park!
(3) 明日は何を食べましょうか? – What shall eat tomorrow?
(4) カレーを食べましょう! – Let’s eat curry!

Making Suggestions using the 「ば」 or 「たら」 conditional

You can make suggestions by using the 「ば」 or 「たら」 conditional and adding 「どう」. This literally means, "If you do X, how is it?" In English, this would become, "How about doing X?" Grammatically, there’s nothing new here but similar to 「~たくなる」 and 「~てほしい」, this is a set phrase.


(1) 銀行に行ったらどうですか。- How about going to bank?
(2) たまにご両親と話せばどう?- How about talking with your parents once in a while?

← Previous (Expressing "have to")Table of ContentsNext (Quoted subordinate clauses) →

Copyright © 2003-2006 Tae Kim (kimchi314)


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