What does desu mean and how can you use it?

Desu is the Japanese sentence ender used to make statements while also adding formality…

Keep in mind that desu is to be used when ending a statement with a noun, e.g. kore wa (inu) desu – this is a (dog), or boku wa (gaikokujin) desu – I am a (foreigner). Do not use desu in a sentence ending with a verb. There are other sentence enders you can learn more about later used in that case. For now, this Japanese study tip will help you:

  • Understand the common forms of desu (positive, negative, present, or past tense)
  • Learn simple phrases to practice using desu.
  • Fill in the blanks below to clarify if you have mastered this subject before moving on.

See below to review all the common forms of the desu (です) sentence ender.


1. PRESENT TENSE, DESU (です)

Positive Form

Desu (です)

  • e.g: it is, I am…
  • E: this is coffee
  • R: kore wa kōhī desu
  • K: これはコーヒーです

Question Form (positive)

Desuka (ですか)

  • e.g: is it? am I?
  • E: is this coffee?
  • R: kore wa kōhī desuka
  • K: これはコーヒーですか

Negative Form (semi formal)

Ja nai desu (じゃないです)

  • e.g: it is not, I am not…
  • E: this is not coffee
  • R: kore wa kōhī ja nai desu
  • K: これはコーヒーじゃないです

Negative Form (formal)

Dewa arimasen (ではありません)

  • e.g: it is not, I am not…
  • E: this is not coffee
  • R: kore wa kōhī dewa arimasen
  • K: これはコーヒーではありません

Question Form (negative)

Dewa arimasenka (ではありませんか)

  • e.g: is it not? am I not?
  • E: is this not coffee?
  • R: kore wa kōhī dewa arimasenka
  • K: これはコーヒーではありませんか

2. PAST TENSE, DESHITA (でした)

Positive Form

Deshita (でした)

  • e.g: it was, I was…
  • E: this was coffee
  • R: kore wa kōhī deshita
  • K: これはコーヒーでした

Question Form (positive)

Deshitaka (でしたか)

  • e.g: was it? was I?
  • E: was this coffee?
  • R: kore wa kōhī deshitaka
  • K: これはコーヒーでしたか

Negative Form (semi formal)

Ja nakatta desu (じゃなかったです)

  • e.g: it was not, I was not…
  • E: this was not coffee
  • R: kore wa kōhī ja nakatta desu
  • K: これはコーヒーじゃなかったです

Negative Form (formal)

Dewa arimasen deshita (ではありませんでした)

  • e.g: it was not, I was not…
  • E: this was not coffee
  • R: kore wa kōhī dewa arimasen deshita
  • K: これはコーヒーではありませんでした

Question Form (negative)

Dewa arimasen deshitaka (ではありませんでしたか)

  • e.g: was it not? was I not?
  • E: was this not coffee?
  • R: kore wa kōhī dewa arimasen deshitaka
  • K: これはコーヒーではありませんでしたか

3. ADDITIONAL FORMS OF DESU

Here are two common additions that you can use to add personality to your Japanese statements using desu.

Desu ne (ですね)

ne (ね), is used to ask for a casual confirmation. Such as to say “this is good, isn’t it?”, or “this is a good book, don’t you think so?” Unlike yo (よ), this does not come across as strong or rude. It is light, fun, and very commonly added when conversing with others.

Desu yo (ですよ)

yo (よ), is a strong way of declaring your statement to be true. When added, it makes the implication of “this is right”, or “don’t you know?” Be careful to use this only in a situation where who you are speaking with does NOT know what you are stating. As it may come across as arrogant otherwise.


FILL IN THE BLANKS PRACTICE

Do your best to fill in the blanks with the correct form of desu. Check your answers below.

PHRASEFILL IN BLANKDESU FORM
1. this was not coffeewhat form of desu?past, negative
2. this is coffeewhat form of desu?present, positive
3. was this coffee?what form of desu?past, positive, question
4. this was coffeewhat form of desu?past, positive
5. is this coffee?what form of desu?present, positive, question
6. was this not coffee?what form of desu?past, negative, question
7. this is not coffeewhat form of desu?present, negative
8. is this not coffee?what form of desu? present, negative, question
Reveal Answers
1. ja nakatta desu (semi formal), or dewa arimasen deshita (formal)
2. desu
3. deshitaka
4. deshita
5. desuka
6. dewa arimasen deshitaka
7. ja nai desu (semi formal), or dewa arimasen (formal)
8. dewa arimasenka

JAPANESE VOCABULARY REVIEW

Desu ExampleDesu Form
desu (です)present, positive
desuka (ですか)present, positive, question
ja nai desu (じゃないです)present, negative *semi formal
dewa arimasen (ではありません)present, negative *formal
dewa arimasenka (ではありませんか)present, negative, question
deshita (でした)past, positive
deshitaka (でしたか)past, positive, question
ja nakatta desu (じゃなかったです)past, negative *semi formal
dewa arimasen deshita (ではありませんでした)past, negative *formal
dewa arimasen deshitaka (ではありませんでしたか)past, negative, question

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