Using Verb Plain Volitional Form (〜よう) for "Let's..."

    • Verb
    The volitional form 〜よう is used for propositions and invitations, similarly to "shall we?" and "let's" in English. There are other uses too, such as expressing your own will to do something, rules of conduct, and your presumptions.

    Table of Contents

    What Is Volitional Form よう?

    The volitional form of verbs are those that end in either 〜よう or kana from the お column + う—this includes verbs like 食べよう (let's eat), 飲もう (let's drink), or しよう (let's do).

    It's used to propose actions, like "shall we…?" in English, often with a rising intonation at the end of a sentence, or to invite others to do something together, like "let's…" in English. There are other uses too, such as expressing your own will to do something, rules of conduct, and your presumptions. Because of its function, it's generally attached to a verb that expresses an action over which the speaker has control. In other textbooks, it is also called "hortative form," "invitational form," "volitional form," or "presumptive form." Its polite form is 〜ましょう.

    You can learn how to conjugate verbs into the volitional form on the volitional form conjugation page.

    Now, let's take a look at each use.

    Proposing and Inviting

    First, let's take a look at how 〜よう is used for proposing or inviting someone to do something! Again, this is often translated as "shall I/we…?" often with a rising intonation at the end of a sentence and "let's…" in other cases.

    • 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?

    What if you want to say let's not do something using the よう form? For this, there are a few ways. The first way is to combine the volitional form with 〜ないでおく, making 〜ないでおこう. Oh, what is ないでおく? ない is the negation marker "not" and でおく (which is the rendaku version of ておく) means "leave something." So the final form, ないでおく, means "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.

    The second way is to use the verb やめる (stop) or よす (stop) with the volitional form. While やめる is common in conversations, 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.

    Lastly, if you want to refer to someone's suggestion, simply combine it with と言う (say).

    • 田中さんはまた動物園に行こうと言った。
    • Mr. Tanaka said, let's go to the zoo again.

    It's worth noting that you should use the よう form, even if Mr. Tanaka actually used the polite form ましょう.

    • ❌ 田中さんはまた動物園に行きましょうと言った。
    • Mr. Tanaka said, let's go to the zoo again.

    This is because the politeness added by 〜ましょう is for the benefit of the listener, and it was used when he was talking to you at the time. Thus repeating the statement with 〜ましょう is like you are adding politeness for yourself, which is a weird thing to do. Unless you recite it in a direct speech where you mimic what Mr. Tanaka said word-for-word, 〜ましょう is changed to 〜よう.

    Showing Willingness to Do Something

    The volitional form 〜よう is also used to express, in a casual manner, that the speaker is willing to do something. Thus, it's usually translated to "I/we will…" or "let me/us…" In this case, the speaker usually clarifies that it's themselves who are willing to do something by marking themselves with the subject marker particle が. Here are some examples:

    • 私達がカレーを作ろう。
    • We'll make curry.

    However, you will sound authoritative when you use 〜よう this way in actual conversations, so it's not very common unless you are trying to be funny or actually authoritative.

    If you want to say you think you will do something, you can combine it with the linking particle と and 思う (think). In this case, the authoritative tone disappears.

    • 私達がカレーを作ろうと思う。
    • We think we'll make curry.

    You can also combine it with other thought-related verbs like 考える (think), 決める (decide), or 決心する (to make up one's mind). If you want to add politeness to this sentence, switching 〜よう with 〜ましょう is not the way to do it.

    • ❌ 私達がカレーを作りましょうと思う。
    • We think we'll make curry.

    Instead, you add politeness by adding 〜ます to those main verbs that come at the end of the sentence.

    • ⭕ 私達がカレーを作ろうと思います。
    • We think we'll make curry.

    Indeed, your speech sounds more polite than just saying カレーを作ります because you are telling your plan to your listener more indirectly when you say 作ろうと思います.

    Slogans and Rules of Conduct

    Apart from the above usages, 〜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, sometimes it's placed at the beginning of the sentence, like 守ろう、地球を!

    • 電気はこまめに消そう。
    • The lights should be turned off diligently.
    • 寝る前は歯磨きをしましょう。
    • Brushing teeth should be done before going to bed.

    Question Formation

    To form a question, attach the question marker particle か after 〜よう. In this case, it's usually translated as "shall I/we…?"

    • 何食べようか?
    • What shall we eat?
    • 私がしようか?
    • Shall I do it?

    Guesses and Presumption

    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 presumption 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.

    Now that you've learned all about the volitional form, let's take a break. When you've rested up and are ready for more Japanese study, take a look at the main grammar page to find the grammar point you want to tackle next.