〜よう (Volitional)

    • Verb Form
    〜よう is a verb suffix that expresses volition, proposition, or invitation, akin to "let's" or "shall we?" in English.

    Table of Contents

    The Basics

    〜よう is a verb suffix that adds a meaning of volition or invitation to a verb. Depending on the context, it might add a meaning of "I will do X," "let's do X", or "shall we do X?" to the sentence. For example, you can say 飲もう! (Let's drink!) after a long day of work and you're ready for beer o'clock. You can also use it in a question to invite someone along, like 飲みに行こうか? (Shall we go for a drink?)🍻 You might hear this called the volitional form in some learning materials. Just in case you're not familiar with this word, "volition" means to have will or purpose.

    Conjugating Verbs to Take 〜よう

    Let's start off by looking at how 〜よう is added to a verb. Depending on the verb's conjugation group, 〜よう might actually take a slightly different form. See if you can identify which group deviates from just adding 〜よう to the verb:

    Godan  → 会おう
     → 立とう
     → 写そう
     → 割ろう
     → 書こう
     → 泳ごう
     → 死のう
     → 学ぼう
     → 休もう
    Ichidan 食べ → 食べよう
    起き → 起きよう
    閉じ → 閉じよう
    Irregular 来るく  →  来ようこ  
    する → しよう

    Godan Verbs

    It's those darn godan verbs that always make things more complicated! Rather than simply adding 〜よう, we have to find the character that comes at the end of the verb in plain form, and transform it to the corresponding お-column character on the kana chart. Then you can add 〜う. So if the plain form ending of your verb is く, the new ending will be 〜こう. Let's make 歩く (to walk) volitional, and change it to "let's walk" as an example:

     + こ + う = 歩こう

    If your verb ends in つ, your new volitional ending will be 〜とう. As in 待つ (to wait):

     + と + う = 待とう

    The same pattern follows for all godan verbs!

    Ichidan Verbs

    For ichidan verbs, just replace the 〜る ending with 〜よう! For example, 食べ (to eat) becomes 食べよう in its volitional form (this is important to know for those of you who love eating).

    食べ + よう = 食べよう

    Irregular Verbs

    As for irregular verbs, the volitional form of く  (to come) is ようこ  , and する (to do) is しよう.

    Fundamental Uses of 〜よう

    While all uses of 〜よう have some meaning related to volition, we can divide up the fundamental meanings into expressing your will to do something and making a proposition or invitation. Before we jump in, we should note that 〜よう is the plain volitional form, so its uses will be more casual. If you want to be polite, you'll need to opt for the 〜ましょう polite volitional form.

    Proposing and Inviting

    Let's start with how 〜よう is used for proposing or inviting someone to do something, since this is typically the first use you'll learn! When 〜よう is translated into English, you'll often see it rendered as "let's" for statements and "shall we…?" for questions.

    • 動物園に行こう!
    • Let's go to the zoo!
    • そろそろ動物園に行こう?
    • Shall we get going to the zoo?

    As you can see in the second example sentence, questions in Japanese do not necessarily require the question particle か. In fact, leaving it off in the plain form is typically seen as more friendly. However, it's perfectly fine to add it too:

    • そろそろ動物園に行こうか。
    • Shall we get going to the zoo?

    For some speakers, this might come across as slightly gruff or masculine. However, using the polite form 〜ましょう and adding か sounds perfectly neutral and can be used by anyone.

    Apart from conversation, 〜よう is also used in slogans for the purpose of encouraging the public to do something or to suggest rules of conduct, such as 地球を守ろう! (Save the Earth!) When it comes to slogans, to emphasize the verb, it's sometimes placed at the beginning of the sentence, as in 守ろう、地球を!

    Expressing Your Will

    This use of 〜よう is useful when you want to clarify that you will carry out an action being discussed. Let's say you're camping and it's time to make dinner. The plan is to make curry, but no one is volunteering. If you want to jump in and say "I will make the curry, then the volitional form is a useful tool. Check it out:

    • 私がカレーを作ろう。
    • I'll make the curry.

    Notice that the subject, 私, is marked by particle が. This is common for this use, since the purpose is to clarify who will make the curry. Depending on your relationship with the other campers, this could sound a bit forceful, so it's pretty common to either turn this into a self-directed question with particle か, or to add 〜と思う (I think that…) to soften the statement.

    • 私がカレーを作ろうか。
    • Shall I make the curry?
    • 私がカレーを作ろうと思う。
    • I think I'll make the curry.

    Beyond the Basics

    In this section we'll expand beyond the fundamental uses and show you more advanced ways of putting 〜よう to use.

    〜よう in the Negative

    What if you want to say let's not do something using the よう form? We've got a couple of options.

    The first way is to make your verb negative with the 〜ない ending, and then combine it with the verb おく (to place) in the volitional form, which is おこう. To combine these, you'll use the て form for negative verbs, which entails adding で after 〜ない. This results in 〜ないでおこう, and effectively means "to leave something undone." It is commonly used when there is a certain reason you should avoid the situation.

    • やっぱり動物園には行かないでおこう。
    • Let's actually not go to the zoo.

    You might utter this sentence if some reason has come up why going to the zoo is no longer a good option. Maybe your favorite elephant is sick and you won't be able to see her today, or maybe it's bad weather outside. Whatever the reason, this allows you to cancel your plans using 〜よう.

    The second way is to use the verb やめる (to quit) or よす (to stop) in the volitional form. While やめる is common in conversation, よす is more common in writing. In this case, you make the whole action into a subject of the sentence by using こと or の. It is more direct than 〜ないでおく.

    • やっぱり動物園に行くのはやめよう。
      やっぱり動物園に行くのはよそう。
    • Let's actually not go to the zoo.

    You can also combine やめる or よす and ておく in the volitional form and say やめておこう or よしておこう, which literally means "let's stop it and leave it as is." It carries the nuance of "let's pass on it this time (but maybe some other time)." Again, this is commonly used when there is a certain reason you should avoid a situation.

    • やっぱり動物園に行くのはやめておこう。
      やっぱり動物園に行くのはよしておこう。
    • Let's actually not go to the zoo.

    Guesses and Assumptions

    Lastly, there is one exceptional usage to mention. When the volitional form is combined with the verb ある (there is/are) and becomes あろう, it indicates a guess or assumption on the part of the speaker.

    • 彼女の方にも色々と文句があろう。
    • I suppose she has many complaints on her side too.

    However, this usage sounds literary and not as common as あるだろう, except for some idiomatic use like こんなこともあろう.

    • こんなこともあろう(か)と思って、これを持ってきたんだよ。
    • I guessed this might be the case, so I've brought this.