The Optative - Japanese Language

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The Optative

By Morowindmaster

The optative is a simple verb form which allows you to express desires and ambitions. The most common English equivalent is to say "I want to do (this)". For example saying "I want to walk home" or "I don't want to drink that water!" are both optative. To do this, we simply change the form of the verb. So, your average verb like ikimasu - "to go" could mean "I'll go" in the right context. To make it "I want to go", we simply remove the -masu ending so that we are left with the stem of the verb, iki. Then, all we've got to do is add  -tai to that stem and it becomes ikitai which by itself can mean "I want to go".

We can do this to lots of verbs. Here's a few examples: ("I" is the unspoken subject)

nomimasu - nomitai
I want to drink

tabemasu - tabetai
I want to eat

shimasu - shitai
I want to do

unten shimasu - unten shitai
I want to drive

When you hear a -tai sentence being used, it almost always refers to the speaker's desires. People don't often say "You want to eat", unless it's a question, "Do you want to eat?" Thus, questions almost always refer to the listener, not many people say things like "Do I want to go?" to themselves.

A great thing about optatives are that like adjectives, they're completely conjugative. So you can end a sentence with one without having to use desu. Of course, you may tag desu onto the end of a optative, for politeness' sake. However, ikitai and ikitai desu mean exactly the same thing. So do ikitai? and ikitai desu ka?

To conjugate an optative, you'll be pleased to know they work in the exact same was as adjectives. The present positive form of an optative is -tai. To change it to the past positive form, we simply drop the i on the end of -tai and add katta. This makes takatta, added to a verb stem like iki it would be ikitakatta - "I wanted to go".

For present negative, again we drop the i and we add ku nai. This would make taku nai. Or again with a verb stem, ikitaku nai - "I don't want to go." Finally, for the past negative we drop the i from tai and ku nakatta to make taku nakatta. In this case, the i is dropped from nai also, and katta is added, indicating the statment is in the past tense. ikitaku nakatta - "I didn't want to go".

Let's look at a few examples:

Hatarakitaku nakatta
I didn't want to work

I want to watch

I wanted to read

Souji shitaku nai
I don't want to clean

So, now we know how to express what we want in various tenses. But we may need to make out desires a little clearer. We might need to give our optative an object. This is as straightforward to do as you'd expect. To say "I want to drink a beer" all we would have to do is mark the noun "beer" with the direct object particle, o, and use the correct verb stem and optative tense. biiru means "beer" and nomimasu means "to drink", so "I want to drink a beer" would be biiru o nomitai.

Here's a few examples:

Gakkou ni arukitai
I want to walk to school

Nihongo de hanashitakatta
I wanted to speak Japanese

Ashita tenpura o tabetai desu
I want to eat tenpura tomorrow

Densha de ikitai
I want to go by train

That about wraps up this lesson. I'll write more guides on Japanese language in the future, until then you can contact me at with any questions. Also, I'll be writing a book within the next few months, with lots of pictures taken by me from all around Japan, it will be a guide and information book about life in Japan, the language, where to shop and eat in the big cities, the best sites, and about my own life there. I'll be selling it in ebook format, so expect to see it on eBay soon!

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