How to Use the Japanese Past Negative Verb Form なかった for “Was Not” :Boy, do we have great lesson for you today! Today, we’re going to expound upon your Japanese verb conjugation skills by learning the NEGATIVE PAST TENSE. In other words, we’re going to learn how to say that someone or something WAS NOT there, or that they did NOT do something. For this lesson, we’re only focusing on the casual form and will not be covering the formal form. Let’s get ready rumble!

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Japanese Verb Review (Positive)

Before we begin with the negative past tense, let’s review some basic Japanese verbs in their positive form.

JapaneseRomajiEnglish
ある(non-living things)aruto be (present)
いる(living things)iruto be (present)
食べるtaberuto eat
飲むnomuto drink
寝るneruto sleep

Now, let’s use the above verbs to create sentences in the positive form!

テーブルがある。
Teeburu ga aru.
There is a table.
今夜私は12時間寝る。
Konya watashi wa juu-ni jikan neru.
I will sleep 12 hours tonight.

Japanese Verb Review (Negative)

Now that we’ve reviewed some verbs in their positive form, let’s review them in their negative form. 

Remember, conjugating the verb into its negative form depends on the type of verb

If it’s a uverb, you change the last hiragana character into the corresponding character that ends in an “a” sound. After that, you add ない (nai) to the end (e.g. 話す ➝ 話さない, 聞く ➝ 聞かない). If the uverb ends with the character う (u), you change it into a わ (wa) (NOT あ [a]) (e.g. 会う➝会わない, 歌う ➝ 歌わない).

If it’s a ruverb, you simply change the last character る (ru) into ない。

Irregular verbs like する (suru) and 来る (kuru) abide by their own rules; and ある (aru) simply becomes ない (see the table below). 

JapaneseRomajiEnglish
飲む  ➝ 飲まないnomu  ➝ nomanaito drink  ➝ to NOT drink
使う  ➝ 使わないtsukau  ➝ tsukawanai to use  ➝ to NOT use
食べる  ➝ 食べないtaberu  ➝ tabenaito eat  ➝ to NOT eat
ある  ➝ ない(non-living things)aru  ➝ naito be (present)  ➝ to NOT be (present)
いる  ➝ いない(living things)iru  ➝ inaito be (present)  ➝ to NOT be (present)
する  ➝ しないsuru  ➝ shinaito do  ➝ to NOT do
来る  ➝ 来ないkuru  ➝ konaito come  ➝ to NOT come

Now that we’ve reviewed how to conjugate verbs into their negative form, let’s create a few sentences!

明日私はバスケットボールをしない。
Ashita watashi wa basukettobooru wo shinai.
I won’t play basketball tomorrow.
彼女はお肉を食べない。
Kanojo wa o-niku wo tabenai.
She won’t eat meat.

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Japanese Past Tense Review (Positive)

Now that we’ve reviewed both the positive and negative forms of some Japanese verbs, let’s take some time to review the past tense. Remember, we are only focusing on the casual form.

JapaneseRomajiEnglish
飲む  ➝ 飲んだnomu  ➝ nondato drink  ➝ drank
使う  ➝ 使ったtsukau  ➝ tsukatta to use  ➝ used
食べる  ➝ 食べたtaberu  ➝ tabetato eat  ➝ ate
ある  ➝ あった(non-living things)aru  ➝ attato be  ➝ was
いる  ➝ いた(living things)iru  ➝ itato be  ➝ was
する  ➝ したsuru  ➝ shitato do  ➝ did
来る  ➝ 来たkuru  ➝ kitato come  ➝ came

Now that we’ve reviewed some verbs in the past tense, let’s create some sentences about past states of being!

先週ここで犬がいた。
Senshuu koko de inu ga ita.
There was a dog here last week.
昨日友達がパーティーに来た。
Kinou tomodachi ga paatii ni kita.
My friend came to the party yesterday.

Japanese Negative Past Tense Verbs

The negative past tense expresses that someone or something was NOT present, or that they did NOT do something. 

The negative past tense for あった (atta) becomes なかった (nakatta), and いた becomes いなかった。 

JapaneseRomajiEnglish
NON-LIVING THINGSあった  ➝ なかったatta  ➝ nakattawas (present)  ➝ was NOT (present)
LIVING THINGSいた  ➝ いなかったita  ➝ inakattawas (present)  ➝ was NOT (present)

Example sentences:

今年桜はなかった。
Kotoshi sakura wa nakatta.
This year there were no cherry blossoms.
マネジャーはお店にいなかった。
Manejaa wa o-mise ni inakatta.
The manager was not at the shop.

Conjugating the rest of the verbs into the negative past tense is simple! You just conjugate them into their negative form (see earlier table), remove the ない (nai) at the end, and replace it with なかった (nakatta)!

JapaneseRomajiEnglish
飲まない  ➝ 飲まなかったnomanai  ➝ nomanakatta  to not drink  ➝ did not drink
使わない  ➝ 使わなかったtsukawanai  ➝ tsukawanakatta to not use  ➝ did not use
食べない  ➝ 食べなかったtabenai  ➝ tabenakattato not eat  ➝ did not eat
ない  ➝ しなかったshinai  ➝ shinakattato not do  ➝ did not do
ない  ➝ 来なかったkonai  ➝ konakattato not come  ➝ did not come

Example sentences:

私はビールを飲まなかった。
Watashi wa biiru wo nomanakatta.
I didn’t drink beer.
彼はお箸を使わなかった。
Kare wa o-hashi wo tsukawanakatta.
He didn’t use chopsticks.
彼女はお寿司を食べなかった。
Kanojo wa o-sushi wo tabenakatta.
She didn’t eat sushi.
学生は質問しなかった。
Gakusei wa shitsumon shinakatta.
The student didn’t ask a question.
友達はパーティーに来なかった。
Tomodachi wa paatii ni konakatta.
My friend didn’t come to the party.

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In Summary

The negative past tense is created by taking the negative verb form (ending in ない) and substituting the ない with なかった. This expresses that someone or something was NOT present, or that someone or something did NOT do something.

Now that you have the above four grammar points under your belt, it’s time to get out there and practice! The only way to master any language is to get out there and practice, practice, practice!    

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