Japanese Tari Form: Listing Actions Or Qualities

There are multiple ways to string verb phrases together in Japanese, one of which is by using the て (te) form. The て form is used to comprehensively list the actions of someone or something.  

However, another grammar point can also be used to make a list: the 〜たり (~tari) form. But first, let’s take a quick look at examples of sentences using the te form.

Examples: 

1. 夜ご飯を食べて寝た。
(Yoru gohan o tabete neta.
I ate dinner and slept.

2. お湯を沸かしてラーメンを作った。
(Oyu o wakashite raamen o tsukutta.)   
I boiled water and made ramen.

The Tari Form in Japanese

Japanese calligraphy.  A brush in resting on a container filled with black ink.  Pieces of paper with Japanese characters on it can be seen.

The ~tari form of verbs is similar to the te form; it is most commonly created by conjugating verbs and connecting them within a sentence. However, the tari form differs from the te form in its meaning and nuance.

While the te form is used to list all relevant actions necessary to the sentence, the ~tari form can imply one or several of the following:

  1. The subject of the sentence does the listed actions repeatedly.
  2. The list includes only main actions; other related actions may also be implied.
  3. The speaker wants to soften their language.

The ~tari form can be used with nouns and adjectives. In this article, we will discuss how to use the ~tari form in these cases and how to conjugate verbs, nouns, and adjectives into the ~tari form. 

Using the ~Tari Form With Verbs

An Asian woman at a messy office desk lifting yellow dumbbells over her head.

To begin, the standard example that uses the ~tari form follows the pattern below. 

趣味で絵を描いたり音楽を聴いたりします。 
(Shumi de e o kaitari ongaku o kiitari shimasu. )      
I do things like drawing pictures and listening to music as hobbies.  

In this sentence, the two representative actions, drawing and listening to music, are conjugated into their past tense form, and the hiragana ri (り) is added. The actions are then listed in order and are directly followed by the main verb of the sentence, in this case, します (shimasu). While using two verbs in ~tari form is most common, occasionally three or four verbs may often be used. 

The Nuance of the ~Tari Form

The example sentence above tells us that the speaker might have several activities they consider as hobbies and that drawing and listening to music are the main two. In general, this use of the tari form shows a representative list rather than a comprehensive one. 

Another use of the ~tari form with verbs is to show two actions repeated over and over, usually in a cyclical pattern. The following example sentence shows this use. 

私の猫は一日中出かけたり戻ったりします。 
(Watashi no neko wa ichinichi-juu dekatetari modottari shimasu.)
All day my cat comes and goes repeatedly.

The verbs 出かける (dekakeru = go out) and 戻る (modoru = return) are opposites, and so using them with the tari form conveys the meaning of repeated behavior or action.

How to Conjugate Verbs Into the ~Tari Form

Knowing how to conjugate verbs in the ~tari form is important, as said conjugation differs depending on the type. 

Group 1 Verbs (U-Verbs)

To start, let’s discuss how to conjugate group 1 verbs, also known as u-verbs. 

U-verbs in Japanese end in a hiragana other than る (ru):

  • 聴く (kiku, to listen) 
  • 飲む (nomu, to drink) 
  • 泳ぐ (oyogu, to swim) 
  • 話す (hanasu, to talk) 
  • 持つ (motsu, to have)

To make the ~tari form with u-verbs, change the verb to its past tense and add “り” at the end. 

If you don’t know how to create the past tense of group 1 verbs, check out our beginner’s verb conjugation guide. It teaches you everything you need to know to conjugate all 3 types of Japanese verbs.  

If you need a quick refresh, changing group 1 verbs into their past tense form is dependent on which hiragana makes up the end of the verb. 

  • 聴く (kiku = to listen)   → 聴いた
  • 飲む (nomu = to drink) → 飲んだ
  • 泳ぐ (oyogu= to swim) → 泳いだ
  • 話す (hanasu= to speak) → 話した
  • 持つ (motsu= to hold, to have) → 持った

Once you have converted a group 1 verb into its past tense form following this pattern, you can then add “り” to the end to make the tari form. 

  • 聴いた + り = 聴いたり
  • 飲んだ + り = 飲んだり
  • 泳いだ + り = 泳いだり
  • 話した + り = 話したり
  • 持った + り = 持ったり

Group 2 (Ru-Verbs)

The next verb group to discuss is the group 2 verbs, also known as ruverbs. Ru verbs end in the る (ru) hiragana, preceded by either an “ee” sound or an “eh” sound. 

  • 食べる (taberu, to eat)
  • 寝る (neru, to sleep) 
  • 起きる (okiru, to awake) 

To make the tari form with a ru-verb, start by replacing the “る” with “た” (ta) to make the verb’s past tense form. 

  • 食べる   → 食べた (tabeta, ate) 
  • 寝る   → 寝た (neta, slept) 
  • 起きる  → 起きた (okita, awoke) 

Then, add a “り” (ri) to the end of the verb. 

  • 食べた + り = 食べたり (tabetari
  • 寝たり + り = (netari)
  • 起きたり + り = (okitari

Group 3 (Irregular Verbs)

Last but not least are the group 3, or irregular verbs. While there aren’t many irregular verbs in Japanese, they are still important to remember. 

  • する (suru, to do) 
  • 来る (kuru, to come) 

As with the ru-verbs and u-verbs, the ~tari form can be made by adding “り” to the verb’s past tense form, though irregular verbs have unique past tenses. 

Past Tense Form of Group 3 Irregular Verbs

  • する → した
  • 来る → 来た

~Tari Form of Group 3 Irregular Verbs

  • した + り = したり
  • 来た + り = 来たり

All that is left is to list them together in a sentence, and you’ve successfully used the ~tari form!

Tari Form and Nouns

A woman holding a laptop. From the laptop, a lot of products (like a TV, watch, chair, etc.) is flying out (an illustration).

While the main use of the tari form is with verbs, the form can also be used in descriptive sentences. Instead of referring to representative actions, you can refer to objects or descriptors. First, let’s look at combining the ~tari form with nouns. 

Creating the ~tari form with verbs requires conjugating said verbs into their past tense, but as expected, nouns have no past tense or other conjugated form. 

This is where the verb です (desu, to be) becomes essential. The です verb is conjugated into the ~tari form and added to each noun in the list. 

です is conjugated into its past tense form, and “り” is added at the end to make the ~tari form. However, it is important to remember that the casual past tense form must be used for this conjugation. The casual past tense of です is as follows:

です → だ (casual) → だった (past tense)

Then, as with all other verbs, the り is added to the end. 

だった + り = だったり

All that’s left is to pair this form with the nouns you want to list. Here is an example sentence with nouns instead of verb phrases:

祭りのイベントはマジックだったり踊りだったりでした。
(Matsuri no ibento wa majikku dattari odori dattari deshita.)
The festival’s events were things like magic shows and dances.

Tari Form and Adjectives

A young, Asian woman is in front of a camera, with make-up products all around her. She is wiping her cheek with a white cloth.

Continuing with descriptor sentences, the ~tari form can also be used with adjectives. Like nouns and verbs, these adjectives represent the object being described, implying that they are the main points of interest but not exhaustive. Using the ~tari form with adjectives gives the listener a general image or atmosphere for the described item, person, or object. 

To make the ~tari form with adjectives, the adjectives must be conjugated into their past tense, similar to verbs. However, the conjugation depends on whether the adjective is an い adjective or a な adjective. 

  • かわいい = い-adjective: かわいい洋服 (kawaii yofuku, cute clothes)
  • 綺麗 = な-adjective: 綺麗な洋服 (kirei na yofuku, pretty clothes) 

Conjugating い-Adjectives

For い-adjectives, replace the “い” at the end of the word with “かった” to make the past tense. 

かわいい   → かわいかった

After which, you add “り” at the end to make the tari form. 

かわいかった + り = かわいかったり

Conjugating な-Adjectives

For な-adjectives, you drop the な used when combining the word with a noun, and instead use the ~tari form of です described above. 

綺麗な   → 綺麗だった (past tense)

綺麗だった + り = 綺麗だったり

You can then make a list of the adjectives in a sentence to describe the object or person. Here is another example sentence that uses adjectives. 

バスケットボールが上手な人は、背が高かったり足が速かったりします。
(Basuketto booru ga jyouzu na hito wa, se ga takakattari ashi ga hayakattari shimasu.)
Those who play basketball well are tall and able to run fast.

The ~tari form is a useful way to list verbs, nouns, or adjectives as representatives of a larger list and to soften or generalize your Japanese when speaking. Be sure to keep this grammar point in mind when describing something next time! 

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