How to Use the Volitional Form in Japanese

The volitional form of a verb in Japanese expresses an invitation or suggestion. In English, the volitional form is often translated as “let’s ~,” suggesting an action that involves the listener in some way. The volitional form also expresses one’s will or intention when referring to an action done by the speaker (but that does not involve the listener).

Known in Japanese as 意向形 (ikōkei, intentional form)—or literally,” the direction of our thought”—the form’s meaning changes depending on how the verb in question involves the listener, the speaker, or both. Let’s read on and learn the basics of how to use it!  使い方を習いましょう! (Tsukai kata o naraimashō!)

Polite Volitional Form

To form the polite volitional form of a verb, take its 〜ます (masu)-form and replace the ending with 〜ましょう (mashō), as seen in the examples below. This can be used in situations requiring politeness, such as work environments or conversations with people who are not necessarily friends.

Group 1 / Godan Verbs (う-Verbs)

Let’s first look at how to form polite volitional forms of う-Verbs. まずは五段動詞を見てみましょう! (Mazu wa godan dōshi o mite mimashō!)

Take the ます (masu) form of a group 1 verb and change the “ます” to “ましょう (mashō).”

Group 1 Verb Conjugation Examples: Polite Form

Group 1 VerbVerb in ます (masu) FormChange ます (masu) to ましょう (mashō)
買う (kau)
to buy
買います (kaimasu)買いましょう (kaimashō)
(let’s buy)
行く (iku)
to go
行きます (ikimasu)行きましょう (ikimashō)
(let’s go)
立つ (tatsu)
to stand
立ちます (tachimasu)立ちましょう (tachimashō)
(let’s stand)
飲む (nomu)
to drink
飲みます (nomimasu)飲みましょう (nomimashō)
(let’s drink) 
歩く (aruku)
to walk
歩きます (arukimasu)歩きましょう (arukimashō)
(let’s walk)

Example Sentence:

(Kyō wa tenki ga ii no de, daigaku made arukimashō.)
Since the weather is nice today, let’s walk to university.

Group 2 / Ichidan Verbs (る-Verbs) 

Group 2/る-verbs work in the same way as group 1 verbs for forming polite volitional forms. Let’s practice! 練習しましょう! (Renshū shimashō!)

Take the ます (masu) form of a group 2/る-verb replace the “ます” with “ましょう (mashō).”

Group 2 Verb Conjugation Examples: Polite Form

Group 2 Verb in Plain Dictionary FormVerb in ます (Masu) FormChange ます (Masu) to ましょう (Mashō)
食べる (taberu)
to eat
食べます (tabemasu)食べましょう (tabemashō)
(let’s eat)
出かける (dekakeru)
to go out
出かけます (dekakemasu)出かけましょう (dekakemashō)
(let’s go out)
着る (kiru)
to wear
着ます (kimasu)着ましょう (kimashō)
(let’s wear)
寝る (neru)
to sleep
寝ます (nemasu)寝ましょう (nemashō)
(let’s sleep)
見せる (miseru)
to show)
見せます (misemasu)見せましょう (misemashō)
(let’s show)

Example Sentence:

(Yatto owatta! Kono atarashii purezentēshon o chīmu no minna ni mo misemashō.)
It’s finally done! Let’s show this new presentation to everyone on the team too.

Group 3 / Irregular Verbs 

For the two 不規則動詞 (ふきそくどうし, irregular verbs), just remember their 〜ます-forms, and you’ll be set.

Group 3 Verb Conjugations

  • する (suru, to do) → します (shimasu) → しましょう (shimashō): let’s do    
  • 来る (kuru, to come) → 来ます (kimasu) → 来ましょう (kimashō): let’s come

Example Sentence:

(Konkai no Nihon ryokō wa totemo ii tabi deshita ne. Mata rainen mo kimashō.)
This Japan trip was a very good one. Let’s come again next year.

Plain Volitional Form

You can also use plain volitional forms of verbs when making suggestions or sharing one’s intentions with close friends. Let’s try changing the dictionary form to the plain volitional form! 

意向形に変えてみましょう! (Ikо̄kei ni kaete mimashо̄!)

Group 1 / Godan Verbs (う-Verbs)

To change う-Verbs to their plain volitional forms, simply change the -u sound (row 3 on the hiragana chart) to an sound (row 5 on the hiragana chart).

Group 1 Verb Conjugation Examples: Plain Form

Group 1 Verb
Plain Dictionary Form
Replace Final う (u) Sound with ~おう (ō) SoundGroup 1 Verb in Plain Volitional Form
会う (au)
(to meet)
→ 会おう会おう ()
let’s meet
書く (kaku)
to write
→ 書こう 書こう (kakō)
let’s write
座る (suwaru)
to sit
→ 座ろう座ろう (suwarō)
let’s sit
笑う (warau)
to laugh
→ 笑おう笑おう (waraō)
let’s laugh
使う (tsukau)
to use
使 → 使おう使おう (tsukaō)
let’s use

Example Sentences:

1. 昨日は給料日だったから、今日は沢山お金を使おう
(Kinō wa kyūryōbi datta kara, kyō wa takusan okane o tsukaō!)
Yesterday was payday, so let’s spend (lit. use) a lot of money today!

(Ashita mata aō.)
Let’s meet again tomorrow.

Group 2 / Ichidan Verbs (る-Verbs) 

To change る-Verbs to their plain volitional forms, simply drop the final 〜る and add 〜よう to the end.

Group 2 Verb Conjugation Examples: Plain Form

Group 2 Verb in Plain Dictionary FormDrop the Final 〜る (ru)Add よう () to the End
教える (oshieru)
to teach
教え (oshie)教えよう (oshieyō)
let’s teach
信じる (shinjiru)
to believe
信じ (shinji)信じよう (shinjiyō)
let’s believe
遅れる (okureru)
to be late
遅れ (okure)遅れよう (okureyō)
let’s be late
電話をかける (denwa o kakeru)
to make a phone call
電話をかけ (denwa o kake)電話をかけよう (kakeyō)
let’s make a phone call
別れる (wakareru)
to break up, to separate
別れ (wakare)別れよう (wakareyō)
let’s break up, let’s separate

Example Sentences:

1. 他に好きな人ができたから、別れよう
(Hoka ni suki na hito ga dekita kara, wakareyō.)
There is someone else I like, so let’s break up.

2. お腹が空いてきた。お昼を食べよう。
(Onaka ga suite kita. Ohiru o tabeyō.)
I’m hungry.  Let’s eat lunch.

Group 3 / Irregular Verbs 

As usual, for the two irregular verbs, let’s do our best to memorize them! 覚えましょう!

Group 3 Verb Conjugation: Plain Form

  • する → しよう (shiyō): let’s do
  • 来る → 来よう (koyō): let’s come

Example Sentences:

1. 日本語を練習するために、趣味について話をしよう
(Nihongo o renshū suru tame ni, shumi ni tsuite hanashi o shiyō!)
To practice Japanese, let’s talk about our hobbies!

2. 時間があればゲームをしよう!
(Jikan ga areba gēmu o shiyō!)
If you have time, let’s play games*!

*Note: ゲーム (gēmu) in Japanese usually means video games, but can also mean board, card, or other types of games, just like in English.

Using the Volitional Form

Meaning and Nuance

Used in both written and spoken Japanese, the volitional form expresses or inquires about the intentions of the speaker and the listener. In essence, it enables people to understand what actions may (or may not) be coming up. 

Example Sentences:

1. 今週末は何をしようか?
(Konshūmatsu wa nani o shiyō ka?)
What shall we do this weekend?

The volitional form can also be used to talk about past events or decisions as well.  

2. 数学の先生:子供の時、私は大学で数学を勉強しようと決めました。
(Sūgaku no sensei: Kodomo no toki, watashi wa daigaku de sūgaku o benkyō shiyō to kimemashita.)
Mathematics teacher: When I was a child, I decided to study mathematics at university. 

Although the teacher already completed their studies, when the decision was made as a child, going to a university was still a point in the future.

Asking Questions With the Volitional Form

Because the volitional form expresses a suggestion (to which the listener can respond with an affirmative or a negative), it can function like a question. We can separate these “questions” with the volitional form into four categories, and they each have slightly different nuances.

1. Suggestive With A Definitive Tone

Said without the question particle か and with a falling intonation—a suggestion with a definitive tone:

(Ashita no dēto wa suizokukan ni ikimashō.)
Let’s go to the aquarium for our date tomorrow.

[The speaker intends to go to the aquarium for the date tomorrow; their partner has no say in the matter.]

2. Suggestive with a Pleading Tone

Said without the question particle か and with a rising intonation—a suggestion with a pleading tone:

(Ashita no dēto wa suizokukan ni ikimashō?)
Can we go to the aquarium for our date tomorrow?

[The speaker wants to go to the aquarium for tomorrow’s date, and they want their partner’s agreement.]

3. Suggestive with a Neutral Tone

Said with the question particle か and with a falling intonation—a suggestion with a neutral tone:

(Ashita no dēto wa suizokukan ni ikimashō ka.)
Perhaps we should go to the aquarium for our date tomorrow.

[The speaker suggests the aquarium for the date tomorrow but is open to other options.]

4. Suggestive With a Directed Tone

Said with the question particle か and with a rising intonation—a suggestion with a directed tone:

(Ashita no dēto wa suizokukan ni ikimashō ka?)
Shall we go to the aquarium for our date tomorrow??

[The speaker suggests the aquarium because the aquarium has been mentioned in a previous conversation—i.e., the aquarium already exists as a possibility or a reference point in the conversation to which the speaker directs the question.]

Add to these nuances the politeness level of the verb, and the volitional form becomes a versatile way to make invitations and proposals.

Three Useful Patterns That Use the Volitional Form

While there are many different ways to use the volitional form, below are three common ways you might see and hear them in daily usage!

Volitional Form + と 思う (To Omou)

Combining the plain volitional form with the verb phrase と 思う (to omou, to think) indicates intention with thought. In this case, the conjugation of the verb 思う can affect the nuance of the sentence. When the と思う is in its plain form, the sentence usually describes an intention that you just thought of doing.  

Example Sentences:

1. もう夜11時だから、今日はこれで家に帰ろうと思う
(Mō yoru jūichi-ji dakara, kyō wa kore de ie ni kaerō to omou.)
It’s already 11 PM, so I think I’ll go home for today.

[The speaker sees that it’s already 11 PM and makes the decision to go home without staying out any later.]

A sentence with 思う conjugated in the progressive tense suggests that the speaker mustered up the intention some time ago.

2. もし明日になっても携帯電話が見つからなければ、新しい電話を買おうと思っています
(Moshi ashita ni natte mo keitai denwa ga mitsukaranakereba, atarashii denwa o kaō to omotte imasu.)
If my cell phone isn’t found by tomorrow, I am thinking of buying a new phone.

[The speaker had previously made the decision about buying a new phone.]

Volitional Form + とする (To Suru)

Combining the plain volitional form with the verb phrase とする (to suru, to think) indicates an attempt at the verb in the volitional form. It literally means something like “I am doing the intending of action X”!

Example Sentences:

1. あの人はいつも付き合っている人と趣味を合わせようとする・・・
(Ano hito wa itsumo tsukiatte iru hito to shumi o awaseyō to suru…)
That person always tries to match their hobbies with the person they’re dating…

Depending on the context, the use of volitional form + する may not express an attempt but rather a declaration of a new intention. It appears most frequently in the present progressive tense or the past tense.[1] 

2. 猫がテーブルの上に登ろうとしている。
(Neko ga tēburu no ue ni noborō to shite iru.)
The cat is trying to climb up on top of the table.

3. 毎日早起きをしようとしたんだけど、できなかった・・・
(Mainichi hayaoki o shiyō to shitan dakedo, dekinakatta…)
I tried to wake up early every day, but I couldn’t…

Volitional Form + かな? (Kana?)

When the plain volitional form ends the sentence with 〜かな?, it indicates that the speaker is trying to determine their intention (they are not completely sure of what to do). 

Example Sentences:

1. 来年の夏の旅行は、どこに行こうかな?
(Rainen no natsu no ryokō wa, doko ni ikō ka na?)
Where shall I go for vacation next summer?

2. この絵葉書は、誰に送ろうかな?
(Kono ehagaki wa, dare ni okurō ka na?)
To whom shall I send this postcard?

In casual conversation, the intonation can lengthen the final な sound.

3. どのアイスクリームのフレーバーを注文しようかな〜?
(Dono aisu kurīmu no furēbā o chūmon shiyō ka na~?)
Which ice cream flavor shall I order?

And finally, we must remember this little gem of a jingle, sung when trying to pick one thing out of many in Japanese:

4. どれにしようかな、天の神様の言う通り!
(Dore ni shiyō ka na, ten no kamisama no iu tōri!)
Which shall I choose? As the gods will!

Volitional Form Vs. 〜つもりだ

Aside from the volitional form, we also learn the verb + つもりだ (tsumori da) construction as a way to indicate intention. While the volitional form can express an intention that is newly formed, the つもり (tsumori) pattern suggests an intention that has been held for some time. 

Overall, the つもり form feels more declarative and serious, while the volitional form can feel more casual and lighthearted. (And of course, the つもり construction cannot be used to make an invitation or suggestion to others.)

Example Sentences:

1. 私はいつか台湾に引っ越そうと思う。
(Watashi wa itsuka Taiwan ni hikkosō to omou.)
I am thinking of moving to Taiwan someday.

2. 私はいつか台湾に引っ越すつもりだ。
(Watashi wa itsuka Taiwan ni hikkosu tsumori da.)
I intend to move to Taiwan someday.

While there are many more ways to use the volitional form, hopefully, these points can give you some basic information to start exploring. Let’s use it from now on! 今度から使ってみましょう! (Kondo kara tsukatte mimashо̄!)

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Satoko Kakihara

Satoko grew up in both Japan and the United States, enjoying the best of both worlds. She now teaches the Japanese language, literature, and culture in California.

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