Japanese/Print version

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Permission is granted to copy, distribute, and/or modify this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.




Introduction - Welcome to the Japanese Wikibook[edit | edit source]

Development of this Wikibook began on August 11, 2003. It is an ongoing project that will evolve as users contribute to the content and layout of pages. The end goal of this project is to create an online resource for those wishing to learn Japanese. We will attempt to encompass all aspects of the Japanese language, including pronunciation, reading, writing, and grammar.

Many textbooks and travel guides make use of 'rōmaji' (Romanisation of Japanese characters) to bypass the need for learning the Japanese characters. This Wikibook, however, aims to develop a well rounded student, and as such, will make minimal use of 'rōmaji' except in introducing pronunciation.

Current work[edit | edit source]

In the first five years, this Wikibook went through several rewrites. Seeing all too few contributors keen on picking up the torch where past editors left off, the book had amassed several layers of rewritten material that did little to provide a clear path through the material. Waking to that reality after considerable discussion, we came up with the categorisation scheme now present on the main page. The Japanese/Contents page does not conform with that scheme as it is more an inventory for editors looking for existing material to work with (be it merging, re-factoring, deleting, or rewriting), rather than an index for learners.

Since June 2008, a good deal of merges and rewrites have been done. As a result we've managed to delete over a hundred pages of unnecessary or duplicate material, navbars, printable versions, and templates. See Removal Suggestions for deletion proposals and discussions. For pages to be merged, see the Books to be merged category for a list of pages in this book that have been suggested be merged and Category:Japanese/todo for pages with specific work to be done.

There hasn't been much discussion lately on the actual content since active editors (currently Retropunk and Swift) have been working on somewhat separate aspects of this book. We have a section on pages on structure, lesson plans and syllabus. How much to teach and Levels might also be of interest for those so inclined. For development of a consistent curriculum see User:Retropunk/Japanese Curriculum and Sugu ni Hajimemashō.

Finally; every contributor seems to have a different take on the purpose of this book. In your work, remember that learners have vastly different learning styles and diverse approaches to lesson plans will benefit readers and contributors alike. Until we have fully functioning learning paths, the categorisation scheme on the front page will make the existing material accessible to readers while allowing users to contribute without having to conform to a predefined form.

That said; pick your path and be bold.

Study methods

As with the study of any subject, you need to have self-discipline. Set a certain amount of time that will be devoted to the study of Japanese, and try to make a regular schedule. Don't rush yourself and set yourself achievable goals. The ideal method to study a language is to be exposed to the native environment with access to native speakers and have your own personal tutor. These are, however, not necessary and self-study can be rewarding in itself.

Setting Goals[edit | edit source]

Setting goals is vital.

Kana[edit | edit source]

If you are serious about learning to read and write Japanese, you must first master kana (hiragana & katakana). These are the two syllabaries, and are phonetic just like the English alphabet. Unlike English, however, Japanese pronunciation is almost perfectly regular, meaning that for the most part, one symbol stands for one sound, and there are very few pronunciation rules to learn. As a result, hiragana and katakana can easily be mastered, though fluency in reading will take longer.

The kana are few enough that one can learn them by rote. To reach fluency, one eventually has to drop mnemonic devices anyway. For that transition period, or even for the few that prove difficult to memorise, mnemonics can come in handy.

Once you have mastered the kana, you will be able to pronounce all the kana characters you come across, even if you don't know the meaning. Not to worry, though, once you build up your vocabulary, you'll be amazed how much more you can comprehend.

Kanji[edit | edit source]

You should begin to learn kanji immediately, as it is very time-consuming. The sooner you start, the sooner you will become proficient.

There are a number of ways to learn the kanji.

  • In Japanese skills, they are taught by rote.
  • One can learn the radicals.
  • There are etymology-based mnemonics, and
  • pictorial-based mnemonics.
  • Calligraphy (書道 shodō) can be a mnemonic and pleasurable way to practice kanji.

To learn via radicals (the pieces that make them up), you only need to learn the relatively few components (approximately 200), and pretty soon you will be able to guess the meaning and pronunciation of a new character with some accuracy just by looking at it.

Writing kanji is an entirely different business; think of kanji as something elegant, an art. Calligraphy is commonly studied and a highly revered art in Japan. Skillfully written characters and proverbs are often hung on walls or displayed in museums, and sell for as much as paintings do in the West.

A good strategy to learning all of these characters is to realize that it isn't anything like English, Spanish, or other European languages. When memorizing the sounds of a character, try to forget your native language, and think phonetically, rather than in your native alphabet.

Note: As mentioned earlier, it is important not to rush yourself. The more you try to learn in one go, the easier it is for you to forget.

See also[edit | edit source]

Contributor's Guide

This page aims to help potential contributors better understand the principles behind the current work and give ideas for how best to add new material.

Structure to follow[edit | edit source]

This book has been restructured so many times but there is an effort under way to merge some of the duplicate material.

A syllabus and lesson plan was created for the so-called "Practical Lessons". This may be useful for future contributors, but never turned out any lessons.

User:Retropunk sorted the JLPT 4 grammar list. This is now up at Sugu ni Hajimemashō where it is being sorted into a lesson plan.

Lessons[edit | edit source]

There are many ways to organise a lesson, this is one:

  1. Dialogue (by posters, conversations, or whatever.)
  2. Discussion of Vocabulary in Dialogue
    • Discuss various uses of vocabulary if necessary (e.g., politeness)
    • Optional links to dialogues for previously learned vocabulary
  3. Grammar
    • Discuss grammar points, giving more examples if necessary.
    • Link to previous grammar points (maybe by categories)
  4. Optional Quick Review
  5. Optional link to Wikiversity for practice work.

Reading material[edit | edit source]

  1. Text (poster, conversation, literary text or anything fitting the level)
  2. Vocabulary
    • List new vocabulary.
    • Discuss various uses of vocabulary where appropriate (e.g., politeness)
  3. Grammar
    • Discuss grammar points, giving more examples if necessary.
    • Link to previous grammar points (maybe by categories)
  4. Optional Quick Review
  5. Optional link to Wikiversity for practice work.

Style guide[edit | edit source]

Romanisation[edit | edit source]

Learning the Japanese scripts will give the student useful insight into the language that the simple (and limited) romanisations cannot offer. Romanisation (rōmaji) should, therefore, only be used in introductory lessons to assist with the learning of the kana, and in the reference guides. Kana and kanji should be used in all subsequent lessons.

Please use the Wikipedia:Manual of Style for Japan-related articles. Specifically:

  • Consonants will be written using the Revised Hepburn system (s, sh, z, j, t, ts, ch, f)
  • "n" mora will be written n' before a vowel, or "y" (zen'aku, kon'yaku)


  • しつ: shitsu
  • どうぞ: dōzo
  • えいご: eigo
  • せんぱい: senpai
  • せんや: sen'ya (as different from せにゃ senya)
  • 東京(とうきょう): Tōkyō

The macrons (Ā,ā,Ē,ē,Ī,ī,Ō,ō,Ū and ū) are easily added through the edit interface by choosing "Romaji" in the drop-down list below the "Save page" button.

Furigana[edit | edit source]

The lessons make extensive use of furigana. Please use the following templates to insert furigana:

  • {{furi|楽|たの|しい}}: (たの)しい

Conversations[edit | edit source]

For conversations with Japanese and English side by side, use {{Japanese conversation}}.

Patterns and examples[edit | edit source]

Sentence patterns and examples can be highlighted using the {{Japanese pattern}} and {{Japanese example}} templates.

Related modules[edit | edit source]

Linking to related modules makes it easier for readers to refer to past lessons (e.g. to brush up on topics), vocabulary lists (e.g. when practicing new sentence patterns) or other useful content (such as the Verb conjugation table). The {{Japanese related}} template can be used to consistently style these links.

Vocabulary pages[edit | edit source]

Please place vocabulary lists on subpages of Japanese/Vocabulary and use {{Japanese vocabulary entry}} to structure them. The {{Japanese related|vocabulary}} can be used to conveniently link to the list from lesson pages.

Stroke order[edit | edit source]

Black to red fade
Gif animations

There is a project on the Wikimedia Commons to upload images and animations of the stroke order for characters. There are directions on how to contribute. It's easy with the use of some free programs. Please contribute so that we'll have a standardized reference for our Wikibook users.

See also[edit | edit source]


Japanese is spoken by 130 million people. This makes it the ninth most spoken language by native speakers. Linguists debate over the classification of the Japanese language, and one general theory asserts that Japanese is an isolated language and thus a language family of its own, known as Japonic languages. Another major theory includes Japanese as part of a hypothetical Altaic language family which spans most of Central Asia and would also include Turkic, Mongolic, Tungusic, and Korean languages. Neither of these theories has yet been generally accepted.

Japan is the only country where Japanese is the sole official language (though the island of Angaur has Japanese as one of three official languages). There are, however, numerous speakers in other countries. These are largely due to emigration, most notably to the United States of America (California and Hawaii, in particular), Brazil and the Philippines. Furthermore, when Japan occupied and colonized much of East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific, the locals were educated in the Japanese language. Many elderly locals in Korea, Taiwan, and parts of China still speak Japanese.

Japan has steadily developed for many centuries and, unlike many other cultures, has not been seriously affected by any major invasions until recent times. A substantial part of the vocabulary, though, has been borrowed over the years from Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, German, French, and most recently English.

Grammar[edit | edit source]

While Japanese grammar is very regular, it is markedly different from English. Japanese has been deemed a subject–object–verb (SOV) and topic-prominent language, whereas English is a subject–verb–object (SVO) and subject-prominent language.

To illustrate, the English sentence “Cats eat mice” contains a subject (cats), a verb (eat), and an object (mice), in an SVO order, where the “-s” is a plural marker, and “mouse” → “mice” is a plural marker by ablaut, but only the word order indicates which is the subject and the object—i.e. which is dining and which is the meal.

(ねこ) (ねずみ) ()
Neko wa nezumi o
Cat mouse eat

The topic-prominence is not obvious in this example; “cat” is the subject (the agent) in English, but it is the topic (what the sentence is about) in Japanese. In the above example, “(ねこ)は” is the topic, and “(ねずみ)()う” is the comment.

The verb “kū” means “eat” in the sense of one animal consuming another. To speak about a person eating, it would make more sense to use the word “taberu” which means “eat,” as in to consume a meal.[1]

Japanese does not have articles (the words, “a” or “an”, or “the”), nor is it mandatory to indicate number (singular versus plural). In the sentence above, “(ねこ)” could mean either “cat” or “cats.” The “mouse/mice” ablaut does not occur in Japanese, which is an agglutinative language (inflecting by appending) and highly regular. In Japanese, the plural is formed by adding the ending “-tachi,” or “-ra.” Thus, the word, “cats” would be “nekotachi,” and is always plural, but the word “neko” can be either singular or plural. “Nekora,” however, would sound rather strange, as “-ra” and “-tachi” are not necessarily interchangeable. For the beginner, therefore, it is best not to worry about learning plural endings.

For the English speaking student of Japanese grammar, the greatest hurdles to cross are probably the thought process of the Japanese sentence and learning the seemingly endless variety of endings available for modifying verbs and the order in which they can be strung together.

The grammatical paradigm of SVO or SOV is completely irrelevant in the study of Japanese and other languages outside the Indo-European family of languages. In truth, it is not only unimportant, it is untrue, and will cause the student of the language to fail in acquiring fluency, because it is an artificial imposition of an Indo-European construct on a non-Indo-European language. Japanese, like Tagalog and many other languages, uses affixes to explicitly demonstrate grammatical relationships instead of using syntax. In Japanese, word order will not change the meaning of the sentence. However, it will change the emotional character. An SVO word order is not incorrect in Japanese, and native speakers use it frequently, as a matter of fact to heighten the emotional charge. Thus, “あれは何だ” is a simple question: “What is that?” But “何だあれは” should receive an exclamation point at the end because the word order indicates that the speaker is clearly upset or at least annoyed by whatever “that” is.

Japanese sentences thus are not SOV. They are TV: T stands for topic and V for verb. Verbs are really the secret to success in acquiring fluency in Japanese. Thus, greatest attention should be given to learning the verb forms.

There are two tenses of time: past and present. The present tense is used to describe future events. All past tense verbs have the ending “-た” (“-ta”) or “-だ” (“-da.”) The present tense always ends in the vowel “-u” in the positive and “-nai” in the negative. There is only one exception: the word, “だ” (“da”), which is the present tense of “be” (“am,” “are,” “is.”) As in probably all languages, this verb is highly irregular in Japanese and its usage must simply be memorized. For the English speaker the two time tenses should be quite easy to remember because in English the past tense is usually indicated by a final “-t” or “-d,” and the present tense of the basic positive present tense verb “do” ends in the “u” sound. The “-nai” ending sounds similar to “nay” in English. In conversational Japanese, a complete sentence will end in a present tense or past tense verb. As indicated earlier, there are many other possible endings, but they are not used in the final position to complete a sentence, nor are they used at the end of the active verb.

Beyond the verb, there are words that indicate the function of words and phrases as they relate to the verb. The most important of these are “は” (“wa”), “が” (“ga”), “に” (“ni”), “の” (“no”), “を” (“o”), and “で” (“de.”) “は” marks what is being discussed. “が” follows the word that is the agent of the verb. This means who is doing something is the active tense, and who is receiving the action of a passive verb. In both cases, they mark “the who.” “に” indicates the direction toward and is usually translated as “in,” “to,” “at.” “の” indicates possession or source and usually is translated as “-’s” or “of.” “を” is only appropriate with active transitive verbs because it marks the direct object. Finally, “で” at the end of a place word indicates where a verb happened. It is usually translated “at,” “on,” or “in.” Added to the end of word that represents an object, it marks the instrument of the verb, what was used to perform the verb. It is translated, “with.”

The example

[Cats] (WA)ピッちゃん [Pitchan] (GA) [house] (NI)帰ってきて [came and]台所 [kitchen] (DE) [dog] (NO)えさ [chow] (O)食った [ate]

translates to "Speaking of cats, Pitchan came home and ate the dog’s food in the kitchen." (The “て” verb ending indicates incompletion.)

Thus, every word or phrase in a Japanese sentence takes an ending that explicitly denotes the function of that word or phrase and how it relates to the verb.

Levels of politeness[edit | edit source]

Japanese culture and society is based on a hierarchy of higher status (目上 meue) and lower status (目下 meshita). As such, there are three varying levels of politeness. Because Japanese is primarily a "vertical" society, all relationships contain an element of relative station. For example, a student is a lower station than a teacher, and therefore a student would use polite language when speaking to a teacher, but the teacher would use plain language when speaking to a student. A salesperson talking to a customer would place himself/herself far below the customer, and would therefore use honorific language, whereas the customer would use either plain or polite language.

Honorific language is not a separate category from plain and polite language, but a separate concept that uses different rules. When using honorific language, a Japanese speaker modifies nouns, verbs, and adjectives to either lower himself/herself and their associates, or exalt someone else and that individual's associates. Whereas the use of plain or polite language is determined by the relative station of the person to whom you are speaking, the use of honorific language is determined by the relative station of the person about whom you are speaking. Exalted language is applied when you are speaking about someone who is due respect, such as a professor, an executive, a political official, or a customer. Exalted language is only applied to other people, never to oneself. Humble language, however, is only applied to oneself and people associated with oneself. It would be inappropriate, for example, to use humble language to describe a beggar, even though they would be extremely low on the social ladder.

The Japanese writing system[edit | edit source]

Japanese is written mostly using three writing scripts, kanji, hiragana and katakana. Kanji are Chinese characters that were first introduced to Japan in the 4th century. Unlike Chinese, Japanese is a highly inflected language with words changing their ending depending on case, number, etc. For this reason, the hiragana and katakana syllabaries were created. The hiragana serve largely to show the inflection of words, as conjunctions and such. The katakana are mainly used for loan-words from other languages.

Kanji[edit | edit source]

The Japanese writing system is derived from the Chinese ideographic character set (Japanese: 漢字 kanji, Mandarin: 汉字 hanzi). They are usually very similar to Traditional Chinese characters. Though kanji are Chinese in origin their use is dictated by Japanese grammar. Each character may be read in different ways depending on the context it is in.

The number of existing Chinese characters has been variously estimated at between 40,000 and 80,000; however, only a small subset is commonly used in modern Japanese. An educated Japanese person will generally be able to read between 2,000 and 4,000 characters. In order to be literate in the Japanese language, the student should strive to master at least the 2,136 general-use characters (常用漢字 – jōyō kanji) established by the Ministry of Education.

Hiragana and katakana[edit | edit source]

The syllabaries, known as kana (仮名(かな)), were developed around 900 AD by simplifying kanji to form the hiragana (ひらがな, or 平仮名) and the more angular katakana (カタカナ, or 片仮名). Hiragana can be recognized by the characteristic curved shapes, while katakana are identifiable by their sharp edges and straight lines. The creation of one of the scripts has been attributed to Kūkai (774-835, alias Kōbō Daishi) the famous monk who introduced Shingon Buddhism to Japan.

Hiragana and katakana are almost completely phonetic—much more so than the English alphabet. Each set, however, is referred to as a syllabary rather than an alphabet because each character represents an entire syllable with only a single consonant (which is a more recent addition) (see Pronunciation for more). The syllabary charts in Japanese are referred to as the gojūon (五十音(ごじゅうおん)), meaning "fifty sounds" because they are written in a five by ten chart. However, there are a few gaps in the table where certain sounds have fallen out of use. Modern Japanese can be written using 46 kana.

In practical use, hiragana is used to write, for example, inflectional endings for adjectives and verbs (送り仮名 okurigana), grammatical particles (助詞 joshi) and auxiliaries (助動詞 jodōshi), Japanese words that have no kanji (or not commonly known kanji), and annotations to kanji to indicate pronunciation (振り仮名 furigana). Katakana is used to write, for example, foreign words and names, onomatopoeia, emphasized words (somewhat like italicized words in English text), and technical and scientific words, such as plant, animal, and mineral names.


References[edit | edit source]

Practical Lessons

Lesson Plan[edit | edit source]

A Syllabus exists for this lesson plan.

Lesson Structure[edit | edit source]

Each lesson should have the following sections specified:

  1. Lesson: Lesson name.
    1. Function: One or more functions, appropriate to the stage of learning, chosen from the Syllabus.
    2. Topic: A topic, appropriate to the stage of learning, chosen from the Syllabus.
    3. Vocabulary: Number of new words covered in the lesson, chosen from the Syllabus.
    4. Kanji: Number of new Kanji covered in the lesson, chosen from the Syllabus.
    5. Grammar: One or more grammar topics covered in lesson, chosen from the Syllabus.

Stage I Lessons[edit | edit source]

Reading and Writing Hiragana[edit | edit source]

  1. Lesson: Hiragana overview
    1. Voiced Consonants
    2. Long vowel sounds
    3. Consonant doubling: small つ
    4. small や、ゆ、よ
  2. Lesson: Hiragana vowels
    1. あいうえお
    2. Long vowel sounds
  3. Lesson: Hiragana k row
    1. かきくけこ
    2. Voiced Consonants
    3. がぎぐげご
  4. Lesson: Hiragana s row
    1. さしすせそ
    2. ざじずぜぞ
  5. Lesson: Hiragana t row
    1. たちつてと
    2. だぢづでど
    3. Consonant doubling: small つ
  6. Lesson: Hiragana n row
    1. なにぬねの
  7. Lesson: Hiragana h row
    1. はひふへほ
    2. ばびぶべぼ
    3. ぱぴぷぺぽ
  8. Lesson: Hiragana m row
    1. まみむめも
  9. Lesson: Hiragana y row
    1. や、ゆ、よ
    2. small や、ゆ、よ
  10. Lesson: Hiragana r row
    1. らりるれろ
  11. Lesson: Hiragana wa, wo, n
    1. わをん
  12. Lesson: Historical Hiragana
    1. ゐゑ

Reading and Writing Katakana[edit | edit source]

  1. Lesson: Katakana overview
    1. Voiced Consonants
    2. Long vowel sounds
    3. Consonant doubling: small つ
    4. small ヤユヨ
  2. Lesson: Katakana vowels
    1. アイウエオ
    2. Long vowel sounds
    3. small アイウエオ
  3. Lesson: Katakana k row
    1. カキクケコ
    2. ガギグゲゴ
  4. Lesson: Katakana s row
    1. サシスセソ
    2. ザジズゼゾ
  5. Lesson: Katakana t row
    1. タチツテト
    2. ダヂヅデド
  6. Lesson: Katakana n row
    1. ナニヌネノ
  7. Lesson: Katakana h row
    1. ハヒフヘホ
    2. バビブベボ
    3. パピプペポ
  8. Lesson: Katakana m row
    1. マミムメモ
  9. Lesson: Katakana y row
    1. ヤユヨ
    2. small ヤユヨ
  10. Lesson: Katakana r row
    1. ラリルレロ
  11. Lesson: Katakana wa, wo, n
    1. ワヲン
  12. Lesson: Historical Katakana
    1. ヰヱ
  13. Lesson: Differences between Katakana and English

Dialogue Lessons[edit | edit source]

  1. Lesson: Will you be my friend?
    1. Topic: Friends
    2. Function: Greet and respond to greetings
      1. "Good morning/afternoon/evening." (Goodstuff: Unnecessary?)
      2. "How are you?" (Goodstuff: Unnecessary?)
    3. Function: Introduce and respond to introductions
      1. "Nice to meet you." (Goodstuff: Unnecessary?)
    4. Vocabulary: 20 Words
    5. Kanji: 10 Kanji
    6. Grammar: (Goodstuff: grammar topic chosen from syllabus, need help here!)
      1. The declarative 「だ」
      2. The copula 「です」
        1. Negative Tense
      3. The question marker 「か」
      4. Introduction to particles
        1. Topic Particle 「は」
        2. Inclusive Topic Particle 「は」
  2. Lesson: Hobbies
    1. Topic: Hobbies
    2. Function: Express like and dislike
      1. "What are your hobbies?"
      2. "What kind of [noun] do you like?"
    3. Vocabulary: 25 Words
    4. Kanji: 10 Kanji
    5. Grammar: (Goodstuff: grammar topic chosen from syllabus, need help here!)
      1. Na-adjectives and i-adjectives
        1. Negative Tense
      2. Identifier Particle 「が」
  3. Lesson: Sports
    1. Topic: sport
    2. Function: expressing action
    3. Vocabulary: 20 Words
    4. Kanji: 10 Kanji
      1. 音読み and 訓読み
      2. Stroke Orders
    5. Grammar
      1. Ru-verbs(一段動詞)/u-verbs(五段動詞)/exception verbs
        1. Negative Verbs Tenses
        2. Polite conjugations (~ます)
      2. Object Particle 「を」
      3. Target Particle 「に」
      4. Directional Particle 「へ」
      5. Context Particle 「で」
      6. Specifying Time and Date
        1. Numbers and Counters
      7. Using 「から」 and 「まで」
  4. Lesson: I'm a Cat Person
    1. Topic: Pets and Animals
    2. Function: Expressing Ownership
      1. "Whose cat is this?"
      2. "This is my cat"
    3. Grammar
      1. The 「の」 particle
        1. Nominalizing subordinate clauses (のが/のは)
        2. Numbers and Counters
  5. Lesson: Not Today
    1. Topic: health
    2. Function: obtain information, begin to provide information
      1. "What did you do yesterday?"
      2. "I didn't feel good last night."
    3. Grammar
      1. Past tense conjugations
        1. Nouns/Adjectives
        2. Verbs

Japanese writing system

The Japanese language uses three different systems for writing. There are two syllabaries—hiragana and katakana—which have characters for each basic mora (syllable). Along with the syllabaries, there are also kanji, which is a writing system based on Chinese characters. However, kanji have changed since their adoption, so it would not be recommended to learn both Chinese and Japanese writing at the same time.

Kanji[edit | edit source]

The kanji are logograms (pictures representing words), or symbols, that each represent a morpheme (words or parts of words). Usually, each kanji represents a native Japanese morpheme as well as a loaned Chinese morpheme. This means that each kanji usually has two or more different pronunciations. The different pronunciations of a particular 漢字(かんじ) (kanji) are called “readings.” It may seem daunting at first, but with extensive practice, knowing when to use which pronunciation will become second nature.

A 漢字 usually has two types of readings:

  • 音読み(おんよみ) (on'yomi)
  • 訓読み(くんよみ) (kun'yomi)

音読み readings are approximations of the Chinese pronunciations of that particular 漢字. This reading is mostly used for multi-kanji compound words, except for peoples' surnames where 訓読み-reading is used. A kanji may have multiple 音読み. Some kanji are of Japanese origin and thus do not have on-reading. 訓読み readings are the native Japanese sound(s) associated with that 漢字. There can be multiple or no kun readings for the same kanji.

Although there are over 50,000 漢字, the Japanese government has approved 2,136 so-called “daily use” 漢字, known as 常用漢字(じょうようかんじ) (jōyō kanji) for publications, but usually about 3000 are recognized by an average adult.

Kana[edit | edit source]

The Chinese characters from which the modern hiragana characters are derived. At the top of every triplet is the original Chinese character, in the middle is a simplified cursive form, and at the bottom is the modern day hiragana.

While Chinese characters are useful for writing a language with so many homophones, the inflections of the Japanese language make it necessary to have a phonetic script to indicate the inflection. A set of Chinese characters, the man'yōgana, were used to represent pronunciation and write words that lacked Chinese characters. Around 800 A.D. these had developed into the cursive hiragana script.

This method of writing was used primarily for poetry or by women, and did not gain recognition as an acceptable way to record historical records or scholarly works.[citation needed]

Another script, the katakana also developed from Chinese characters, some from the same source as the hiragana, but others from different ones. This explains the similarities between some hiragana and katakana, while others are completely different. The katakana is primarily used for foreign loan-words. In other words, the katakana syllabary can be said to be the Japanese writing equivalent of writing in italics.

The two are collectively known as the kana (仮名(かな), e. false name). Both are syllabaries, so there are no isolated consonants, with one exception; the moraic nasal, which sounds similar to most pronunciations of the latin character “n.” Each of the kana contains 45 characters and are typically listed in a table formation called gojūonzu (五十(ごじゅう)音図(おんず), e. fifty sounds illustration) but the yi, ye, wi, wu, we sounds are obsolete in modern Japanese, so in fact only 45 sounds exist. n is not counted because it does not constitute a mora.

See also: Japanese/Kana Chart

Punctuation[edit | edit source]

Related vocabulary

Common punctuation marks are the comma "、" which connects two sentences, and the full stop "。" which indicates the end of a sentence. To separate words that the reader might not otherwise know how to read (most often in the case of foreign words written consecutively in katakana), a middle point "・" is used. Instead of quotation marks, the brackets "「" and "」", and "『" and "』" (for quotes inside of quotes) are used.

Examples[edit | edit source]

「ウィキペディアは、オンライン百科事典である。」 (Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia.)
「キャント・バイ・ミー・ラヴ」 (Can't buy me love) (Kyanto·bai·mī·ravu)

Latin alphabet[edit | edit source]

The Latin alphabet (ローマ字, rōmaji) is not part of the Japanese language but it is used as a fashionable way of writing words, mostly nouns such as the name of a company, business, sports team, etc. Rōmaji is also used for the transliteration of Japanese and to input Japanese text online and in word processors. There are two competing transliteration methods: the Kunrei-shiki developed by the Japanese government in the mid-20th century and taught in elementary school; and the more widely used Hepburn-shiki developed by Reverend James Curtis Hepburn in the late 19th century.

Stroke order[edit | edit source]

Japanese characters were originally written by brush, and later by pen and pencil, so the stroke order is important. When writing by hand, and particularly in cursive or calligraphic styles, using proper stroke order is crucial. Additionally, some characters look very similar but are written differently. Students who practice both reading and writing can easily distinguish these characters, but students who only practice reading may find it difficult.

The East Asian Calligraphy wikibook has some material on stroke orders.

Mixed usage and notes of interest[edit | edit source]

There are instances where kanji, hiragana, and katakana may be replaced by another writing style. Frequently, words that have kanji are written in hiragana. Some kanji are simply rarely used but their reading is known. The swallow is called tsubame and has the kanji "燕", but since it is obscure, the word will generally be written out with hiragana: "つばめ".

Reading given on top of kanji.

When writing for an audience that isn't expected to know certain kanji (such as in texts aimed at young people or kanji outside the standard set), their reading is often added on top of, or to the right of the characters, depending on whether they are written horizontally or vertically, respectively. This form of writing is called furigana (振り仮名) or yomigana (読み仮名).

Since kanji can have several different readings, it may not be straightforward to determine how to read a certain word. This problem is particularly pronounced in place names where readings may be highly irregular and archaic.

Though katakana are principally used for loan words from other languages, it can be used for stylistic purposes. Either to highlight a certain word, or give it a different feel (e.g. make it look more hip). Furthermore, since some personal names don't have kanji, but are written in hiragana, personal name readings are generally written in katakana to indicate that these are not the name itself, but simply the pronunciation.

Ateji[edit | edit source]

The word "club", as it is borrowed from English, will typically be written in katakana as クラブ; however, the kanji 倶楽部 kurabu will also sometimes be used; this use of kanji for phonetic value is called 当て字 ateji. Other times, typically in older texts, grammatical particles are also written in kanji, as in 東京迄行く Tokyo made iku ([I] go to Tokyo), where まで made (to/till) is written in kanji (迄) instead of hiragana.

Numerals[edit | edit source]

The Arabic numerals, called Arabia sūji (アラビア数字) or san'yō sūji (算用数字) in Japanese, are used in most circumstances (e.g. telephone numbers, pricing, zip codes, speed limit signs and percentages). Kanji numerals can still be found, however, in more traditional situations (e.g. on some restaurant menus, formal invitations and tomb stones).

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
零 or 〇

Vertical and horizontal writing, and page order[edit | edit source]

Traditionally, Japanese is written in a format called 縦書き tategaki, or vertical writing. In this format, the characters are written in columns going from top to bottom. The columns are ordered from right to left, so at the bottom of each column the reader returns to the top of the next column on the left of the preceding one. This copies the column order of Chinese.

Modern Japanese also uses another writing format, called 横書き yokogaki, or horizontal writing. This writing format is identical to that of European languages such as English, with characters arranged in rows which are read from left to right, with successive rows going downwards.

There are no set rules for when each form has to be used, but usage tends to depend on the medium, genre, and subject. Tategaki is generally used to write essays, novels, poetry, newspapers, comics, and Japanese dictionaries. Yokogaki is generally used to write e-mails, how-to books, and scientific and mathematical writing (mathematical formulas are read from left to right, as in English).

Materials written in tategaki are bound on the right, with the reader reading from right to left and thus turning the pages from left to right to progress through the material. Materials written with yokogaki are bound on the left and the pages are turned from right to left, as in English.

Background reading[edit | edit source]

  • Okurigana Kana used as suffixes to kanji stems for verb conjugations. Historically, katakana was used. Nowadays, hiragana is used.
  • Man'yōgana Kanji used for their phonetic value to write Japanese, especially for poetry.
    • Kana The simplification of Man'yougana into Katakana and Hiragana
      • Katakana Angular script simplified down to constituent elements from kanji by monastary students. Historically used as okurigana by the educated and government. Nowadays used mainly for writing foreign words.
      • Hiragana Cursive script historically used for informal writing and literature. It became popular among women since they were denied higher education. Hence it also became known as 女手(おんなで) "onnade" (female hand -> women's writing). Nowadays, it has replaced katakana as okurigana and for writing native japanese words.
      • Hentaigana These are the remaining variants of hiragana that were not accepted as part of the standardized hiragana syllabary.
    • Iroha poem This famous poem is written using each mora (syllable) just once. It became the system used to organize the kana syllabary prior to reforms in the 19th century Meiji period, when it became reorganized into its current arrangement. ("n" was not part of the syllabary at the time. It was added later, and interestingly it's actually a hentaigana for "mu")
  • Rōmaji Roman characters (including Arabic numerals) There are three different systems.


See also: Japanese/Pronunciation.

There are two aspects to learning the Japanese characters. Recognising the shapes and learning to write them. These are further separated by the fact that the strokes that comprise a specific character have a certain order.

In addition to the base characters, there are special symbols to denote nuanced pronunciation, such as voiced and double consonants.

Stroke order[edit | edit source]

Hiragana: [ a ] [ ka ] [ sa ] [ ta ] [ na ] [ ha ] [ ma ] [ ya ] [ ra ] [ wa, wo, n ] [ ゐ and ゑ (ancient hiragana in disuse) ]
Katakana: [ a ] [ ka ] [ sa ] [ ta ] [ na ] [ ha ] [ ma ] [ ya ] [ ra ] [ wa, wo, n ] [ ヰ and ヱ (ancient katakana in disuse) ]

In the pages linked to from the tables below, you will find stroke order diagrams for each of the hiragana and katakana characters. The voiced and plosive variants of the same row/group are listed on the same page.

Hiragana[edit | edit source]

Clear   Voiced   Plosive
  a i u e o   a i u e o   a i u e o
k g
s z
t d
h b p

Katakana[edit | edit source]

Clear   Voiced   Plosive
  a i u e o   a i u e o   a i u e o
k g
s z
t d
h b p

Long vowels[edit | edit source]

A long vowel is written in hiragana with an extra "あ", "い" or "う" depending on the vowel. In most cases あ follows あ; い follows い or え and う follows う or お.

There are rare exceptions where an え vowel is extended by adding え. Much less rare is an お vowel extended by お. Some examples of this include:

  • "おねえさん", "おおい", and "おおきい".

In katakana, it's written with a chōonpu: "ー".

Voiced and plosive sounds[edit | edit source]

The turbid sound symbol, dakuten (濁点(だくてん)) which looks like two slash marks from the left to right ( ゛) just at the top-right-hand corner of a character indicate that the preceding consonant is voiced. This symbol is also known as tenten 点々(てんてん), meaning "two marks."

The half turbid sound symbol, handakuten (半濁点(はんだくてん)) which looks like a circle ( ゜) located to the top-right-hand corner of a syllabary indicates the preceding consonant is plosive.

Double consonants[edit | edit source]

The double consonant is written by adding a small "tsu" ("っ" or "ッ") in front of the doubled consonant syllable. This is called the sokuon (促音(そくおん)).

The sokuon cannot be at the beginning of a word. In hiragana, the sokuon can only appear before the "か", "さ", "た" and "ば" groups/rows.


Yōon[edit | edit source]

In addition to those represented by the syllables in the kana, Japanese has sounds with a palatal or labio-velar semivowel between the consonant and the vowel. The sound is somewhat like that of the "j" between the "f" and the "o" in "fjord". This is written by appending smaller versions of "ya", "yu" and "yo" to the syllables from the "i" columns ("ki", "shi", "chi", "ni", "hi", "mi", "ri" and their variations). In this case, the two kana are not pronounced individually, but rather as one sound. These are called yōon (拗音(ようおん)).

Clear compounds    Voiced compounds    Plosive compounds
(ゃ ya ャ) (ゅ yu ュ) (ょ yo ョ) (ゃ ya ャ) (ゅ yu ュ) (ょ yo ョ) (ゃ ya ャ) (ゅ yu ュ) (ょ yo ョ)
きゃ kya キャ きゅ kyu キュ きょ kyo キョ ぎゃ gya ギャ ぎゅ gyu ギュ ぎょ gyo ギョ
しゃ sha シャ しゅ shu シュ しょ sho ショ じゃ ja ジャ じゅ ju ジュ じょ jo ジョ
ちゃ cha チャ ちゅ chu チュ ちょ cho チョ ぢゃ ja ヂャ ぢゅ ju ヂュ ぢょ jo ヂョ
にゃ nya ニャ にゅ nyu ニュ にょ nyo ニョ
ひゃ hya ヒャ ひゅ hyu ヒュ ひょ hyo ヒョ びゃ bya ビャ びゅ byu ビュ びょ byo ビョ ぴゃ pya ピャ ぴゅ pyu ピュ ぴょ pyo ピョ
みゃ mya ミャ みゅ myu ミュ みょ myo ミョ
りゃ rya リャ りゅ ryu リュ りょ ryo リョ
Note: The grayed compound characters are rarely used.

Compounds with "yu" and "yo" are often followed by an "u", making it a long vowel.

Special yōon for transliteration[edit | edit source]

There are certain kinds of special yōon which primarily represent pronunciations imported from foreign languages. They commonly appear as parts of names of foreign people or foreign places. Although they were originally considered to be unauthorized, they are nowadays widely accepted even by conservative media such as newspapers. See the table below for commonly used ones among such compounds.

Compounds used for transliteration
(ぁ a ァ) (ぃ i ィ) (ぅ u ゥ) (ぇ e ェ) (ぉ o ォ)
うぃ wi ウィ うぇ we ウェ うぉ wo ウォ
ゔぁ va ヴァ ゔぃ vi ヴィ vu ゔぇ ve ヴェ ゔぉ vo ヴォ
てぃ ti ティ とぅ tu トゥ
でぃ di ディ でゅ du デュ
ふぁ fa ファ ふぃ fi フィ ふぇ fe フェ ふぉ fo フォ

Practice[edit | edit source]

Learning the kana takes some work and is best done by memorisation and drilling. Practice by writing up the table, speaking out the characters and drill yourself on the readings.

There are several online resources that can help you with these:

GNU/Linux users may also download the Kanatest[dead link] software, and Anki.


Kanji (漢字(かんじ)) characters are based on Chinese characters transmitted to Japan during the spread of Buddhism in the 5th century. A large percentage (approx. 70%) of Japanese vocabulary comes from Chinese or Chinese-derived words. While the meaning of individual characters is fairly consistent between the languages, compound words often have different meanings.

Kanji are inflected by hiragana that follow and particles give the case. Most words are written using kanji, though some have none and loan-words from other languages are generally written in katakana. The large number of homophones makes it highly desirable to use kanji and knowing them can help with memorising new words.

Note that writing kanji skillfully is significantly harder than reading kanji skillfully, since one must recall characters, not simply recognize them. Further, with Input Methods allowing one to write Japanese on a computer phonetically (by recognizing the kanji, not needing to produce them), the practical need for kanji writing skills is lower than in the past, but it is still fundamental to mastery of Japanese.

Study methods[edit | edit source]

Kanji can form a difficult hurdle for some in their study of Japanese. Their nature as graphic representations of concepts translating to sounds gives rise to the particularly diverse methods employed for the study of kanji.

Fundamentally, one’s goal is to learn Japanese, not kanji per se and this has two main implications. Firstly, as many words are written as compounds of multiple kanji it is not sufficient learn the individual two thousand odd characters, but also their combinations. Furthermore, just as learning vocabulary in any language, these must be learnt in the context of the language. Not only does it aid memorisation of terms, but enforces the understanding of their nuance. It is finally worth mentioning that one can learn to speak Japanese without learning to read or write it, just as with any language. If one is, however, ever to learn to read, it is advisable to start right away and learn the characters in parallel with vocabulary and phrases.

Throughout, understand that one’s mastery of any skill is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete (see 侘寂, wabi-sabi) – while perfection is a worthy goal, it should not be expected nor demanded – mistakes should be expected, and accept that there are further levels of mastery: not 300 people a year pass the Kanji kentei level 1.

Basic issues, regardless of study methods:

start early
Kanji take a long time to learn; if you start early, kanji will not be the limiting factor, but if you start later in your studies, there will be a dispiriting quantity of catch-up to do.
It is not simply an issue of memorizing 1,945 characters (or more for names) – the same character is pronounced in different ways and used in different contexts. Kanji are simply a large amount of data, and this is best learned over a long period of time.
review regularly
Kanji are easily forgotten, and subtle details and differences fade without review. Regular review, particularly via electronic flashcard programs such as Anki or Mnemosyne, are essential to mastery.
make connections
Rather than learning characters in isolation, drawing connections helps memory. For example, learning a character as part of several words, or learning graphically similar or etymologically related characters can help make them more easily remembered.
It is easy to make minor mistakes with kanji, be it missing a stroke or forgetting a rarely used kanji. A high level of mastery requires attention to detail, as detailed below.

Because there are so many kanji, and they are relatively sparse (of 1,945 kanji, most will not be used and reinforced in any sample of text, unlike kana) simply memorizing the forms and pronunciations (as one does for the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet or the 46 kana, twice) is less practical and effective, and one instead uses more structured mnemonic methods.

There are three aspects to a particular kanji:

The character shape – the strokes.
The pronunciations, of which there are generally many.
The meanings, both of the individual kanji and its combinations.

There are a number of ways to learn the kanji. Rather than pick one, try to see how each of these works for you and combine them in your study.

Rote[edit | edit source]

The most straightforward way of learning kanji is by rote. While few will succeed in retaining even a portion of the two thousand basic characters — not to mention their compounds — rote learning is a good way to practice mnemonic devices such as those mentioned in the following sections. Writing reinforces character details, builds muscle memory and improves handwriting. Thus, regardless of learning system, practicing writing the kanji is a valuable aspect of learning.

Related software

Make flash-cards with one or more characters on one side, the meaning and reading on the other and drill yourself. Make another set of cards with the meaning on one side and the characters and readings on the other and drill yourself on writing the kanji. There are several programs and website applications that offer kanji drilling. Notable spaced recognition software include Anki and Mnemosyne.

Forgetting a rarely used kanji is easy so it is important to regularly review these.

Handwriting[edit | edit source]

Related product

Note that characters have a generally accepted stroke order. While this may seem an extra burden at first, the order is highly regular and will vastly improve your ability to read other people's handwriting, not to mention make yours more intelligible.

As with the handwriting of most scripts, Japanese calligraphy has a long history and is greatly revered to this day. As kanji are somewhat more intricate than Latin characters, the quality of handwriting and the order the strokes are written in matter a great deal. In fact, without a commonly accepted system, cursive styles and hurried handwriting would be illegible, indeed.

There is, of course, only one way to practice handwriting: By writing. Get yourself a nice notebook, preferable one with good sized squares, and practice, practice, practice.

Context[edit | edit source]

The Kanji in Context texts from the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies emphasizes the value of learning not so much kanji characters in isolation, but kanji-based vocabulary, particularly as part of phrases or idioms. In this approach, when learning a kanji, one learns important words that it is part of. Further, one will learn kanji that make up a given word at the same time – for example, one will learn the word 日本 (Nihon, Japan) and, at the same time, the characters 日 (nichi, ni, sun) and 本 (hon, root).

Recognising the constituent parts[edit | edit source]

Related on-line resources

As you progress in learning kanji, you'll start to see patterns emerge; constituent parts of characters that are common among many characters. Recognising these will allow you to see the characters as made up of shapes rather than just strokes and thus simplify retaining them. The general method is to systematically break up characters into graphical components, some of which may not be used as separate characters. Next, one systematically maps these elements to some mnemonic, and then builds a picture or story combining these.

The principles at work are:

Break up a complex character into simple components.
Example: The character 認 which means to notice or to judge is made up of 15 strokes but may be a little bit easier to remember it as a combination of 言, 刃 and 心; word, blade and heart, respectively.
Associate components across characters.
Example: 売 means "to sell", but along with "word", 読, it becomes "to read" and along with "thread", 続, it becomes to continue. This further builds links between characters that share graphical elements or compositional similarities.
Associating stories with characters is a powerful method to remember which components it is made up of.
Example: The character 暖 means "warm weather" and can be broken down into the components 日, 爫, 一 and 友 meaning "sun", "caress", "one" and "friend". This can then be memorised as warm weather being when "the sun caresses a friend".

Useful resources for diagnosing these constituent parts are the book and online version of Kanji ABC. James Heisig's well-known series Remembering the Kanji is the best known study aid that uses this method. Alternatives include Smart Kanji Book which only includes common kanji and the primitives that form them and the Kanji Pict-o-graphix which uses a graphic approach instead of mnemonic stories. A further such resource is Genki’s Kanji Look and Learn. These may not be sufficient in themselves, as they focus purely on the characters, but can be valuable components of one’s learning, helping with remembering character forms and especially minor details.

Chinese-derived reading[edit | edit source]

The vast majority of Chinese characters are composed as phono-semantic compounds: one component (generally the radical) is semantic (about the meaning), and the other component is used for its phonetic value (sound) called . Note that this is how the character as used in Chinese is composed. As kanji usually have several readings, including a Chinese-derived one, this can be used to remember the character and one of its readings.

Understanding this, and decomposing characters into Phonetic + Semantic components and relating them to similar characters using either of these components helps with remembering the character’s form, its meaning, and a Chinese-derived pronunciation (on yomi, 音読み).

For example, the character for small is 小 which has the Chinese-derived reading shō. The characters 少, 炒, 抄, 省, 称, 鈔 and 渉 all share that same Chinese reading. Again, keep in mind that these are only the Chinese readings and the each of these has other different readings as well.

Attention to detail[edit | edit source]

It is easy to make minor mistakes with both recognizing and writing kanji. A high level of mastery requires attention to detail and continual polish (see 改善, kaizen). Even at lower levels, attention to detail yields overlearning and deepens understanding; if you are worrying about the stroke order, you are likely not forgetting the character outright.

Minor errors can be made in writing (e.g. incorrect strokes, strokes touching when they should not, or incorrect stroke order) and pronunciation (e.g. incorrect voicing; especially rendaku/euphonic changes). To achieve a high level requires detecting and correcting such errors. Realizing that one has forgotten a kanji is easy enough. For other errors, one may not notice them, or one may feel a lack of confidence reflecting imperfect mastery. To detect such errors one must review regularly and ensure that all these details are correct.

Particularly useful in subtle errors is to study the character in question with various related characters (both graphically, as in Wiktionary:Appendix:Easily confused Chinese characters, and etymologically), and in the context of various words: this allows one to contrast the character, rather than trying to retain it in isolation.

Readings[edit | edit source]

A single Kanji letter can be read (pronounced) in many different ways, depending on its context. These readings are categorized into two main groups - that of Chinese origin (on-yomi, 音読(おんよ)み) and Japanese origin (kun-yomi, 訓読(くんよ)み). A third group, the nanoriyomi, is used for the names of people and places.

It is often the case that a Kanji letter has more than one reading of Chinese origin. This is because the importing of Chinese letters (with their readings) did not occur just at one time from one region.

Onyomi[edit | edit source]

Onyomi (音読み) is the Chinese-derived reading, which is most commonly used in compound words and for the numbers.

It may be useful to note that in most kanji databases, the on reading is written in katakana instead of hiragana.

一 (イチ), 二 (ニ), 三 (サン), 四 (シ) are the first four numbers and all are onyomi.

Kunyomi[edit | edit source]

Kunyomi (訓読み) is the Japanese reading, which can be read as a separate word or can be used in compounds.

This reading is generally written in hiragana in kanji lists.

月 (つき, tsuki) and 日 (ひ, hi) are the moon and sun and are in kunyomi.

Nanoriyomi[edit | edit source]

Nanoriyomi (名乗り読み) is the name reading, which is used for people's names and for places.

Both "康", read as "やす" (e.g. 徳川家康), and "信", read as "のぶ" (e.g. 織田信長), are written in nanoriyomi.

Kanji Repetition[edit | edit source]

The noma: (々), symbol indicates the repetition of a Kanji. The word われわれ indicates "us" or "our group" and is written as "我々" instead of "我我", although they are both the same. The same is true with "人々" (ひとびと), meaning people).

JLPT[edit | edit source]

Related on-line resource

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (日本語(にほんご)能力(のうりょく)試験(しけん)), or JLPT, is a standardized test to evaluate and certify the language proficiency of non-native Japanese speakers. The JLPT has five levels beginning at level N5 and progressing to level N1 - the most difficult. Each level has a certain set of kanji.

For the time being, the completion index is as follows:
  • : Some characters are missing.
  • : All characters are there, but there are readings missing.
  • : All characters have both onyomi and kunyomi readings, but not all have example words.
  • : All characters have example words, but a template or a stroke order image is missing.
  • : All characters have all their information set up in the template.

JLPT level N5[edit | edit source]

N5 tests students' recognition of 79 kanji and 482 words.

JLPT level N4[edit | edit source]

N4 tests students' recognition of 166 kanji and 453 words.

JLPT level N3[edit | edit source]

N3 tests students' recognition of 367 kanji and 1555 words.

JLPT level N2[edit | edit source]

N2 tests students' recognition of 367 kanji and 1481 words.

JLPT level N1[edit | edit source]

N1 tests students' recognition of 1231 kanji and 2773 words.


Children's texts[edit | edit source]

Simple texts[edit | edit source]

Advanced texts[edit | edit source]

Other texts[edit | edit source]

Rakugo[edit | edit source]

  • ...

Philosophy/Political science[edit | edit source]

Memoirs[edit | edit source]

Old Songs[edit | edit source]

National Song[edit | edit source]

  • Kimigayo (君が代) 君が代は 千代に八千代に

War Songs[edit | edit source]

Hymn[edit | edit source]

Warabe Uta[edit | edit source]

  • Kagome Kagome (かごめ かごめ) かごめかごめ 籠の中の鳥は
  • Hana Ichi Monme (はないちもんめ) 勝ってうれしい花いちもんめ、負けて悔しい花いちもんめ
  • Tōryanse (通りゃんせ) 通りゃんせ 通りゃんせ ここはどこの 細通じゃ
  • ずいずいずっころばし ずいずいずっころばし ごまみそずい
  • Where are you from? (あんたがたどこさ) あんたがたどこさ 肥後さ 肥後どこさ 熊本さ
  • Snow (雪) 雪やこんこ 霰やこんこ。

Old Japanese texts[edit | edit source]

Old Japanese texts written in Classical Chinese[edit | edit source]

Transcription of Classical Chinese into Japanese[edit | edit source]

Classical Chinese was communication language between Japan, Korea, China and Vietnam until WWII.

  • Shunbou (春望) - 国破れて山河在り (国破レテ山河在)
  • Shungyou (春暁) - 春眠暁を覚えず (春眠不)

Weird Books[edit | edit source]

Travel guide[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Transcribing English to Japanese

The transcription of English to Japanese has been done since the earliest cultural contacts between English speakers and Japanese. During the Edo period, kanji were used phonetically to write English and other foreign words, but in the modern period katakana have become the principal target script. Unlike the systems for romaji, there is no standard for transcribing into katakana, and methods vary. However, generally all methods attempt to preserve the pronunciation of English, not the spelling. That is, transcription not transliteration is done.

This article deals with transcription of English words into the nearest phonetic equivalent in Japanese.

Reasons for transcribing[edit | edit source]

The purpose of the transcription partly determines how it is done. There are reasons why one would want to transcribe an English word to Japanese: Many legal documents, such as company registrations, require that only Japanese script is used. A computer database may need entry in Japanese script for the purpose of sorting and collation. Educators want to explain the pronunciation of English words by transcribing. Loan words from English are usually written in a transcribed form. Or one may simply be interested in how one's name looks in Japanese.

Accordingly, there are different priorities for the transcriber. The educator might want to indicate many of the subtleties of English pronunciation whereas a person naming a new product might be more concerned with the ease of pronunciation for native speakers of Japanese.

Difficulties[edit | edit source]

Japanese distinguishes fewer sounds than English. For example, Japanese does not distinguish the vowel sound of "run" and "ran", or the consonant sound of "row" and "low". Moreover the rules by which sounds can be combined in Japanese are generally more restrictive than the English rules. As a result, the pronunciation of the transcribed word can differ quite considerably from the original word in English.

If writing for a Japanese audience, it is worth checking whether there is already an accepted transcription into Japanese, and whether the meaning of the new word has changed in Japanese. The word mishin illustrates both pitfalls: not only is this an unexpected rendering of the English word "machine", but the Japanese word's meaning is limited to sewing machines. It is also worth noting that some terms which may at first glance appear to be mangled English loanwords are, in fact, loans from other languages: koppu (drinking glass) is not a version of the English "cup" but a loan of Dutch kop, and tabako is from Portuguese tabaco, not from "tobacco".

Procedure for transcription[edit | edit source]

Most Japanese people do not use a systematic procedure for transcription; instead they transcribe according to their perception of the English pronunciation, albeit significantly influenced by the spelling. However, the process can be represented formally as a set of transformations, which is presented in one possible order below. Proficient Japanese speakers internalize the transformations and perform them all simultaneously when inserting English words into written or spoken Japanese.

Step 1: Transcribe the English phonetically[edit | edit source]

The first step is to start with a phonetic representation of the English word, as distinct from the spelling. The phonetic transcription should reflect the careful pronunciation of the word. Spelling can often mislead as to what the pronunciation is. If there is any doubt, a dictionary will provide an accurate indication of what the sounds are. The letter x typically corresponds to two sounds (ks) and the digraphs sh, ch, and th each correspond to a single sound. The English sounds in the examples below are in the International Phonetic Alphabet. (See International Phonetic Alphabet for English and IPA chart for English for explanation of these symbols used for transcribing English.)

Step 2: Transform the vowels from English to Japanese[edit | edit source]

Japanese has a different and smaller sound set than English, so many sounds have to be changed to equivalent or similar sounds in Japanese. The Romanization system used here is a variation of the Hepburn system, where long vowels are represented by doubled letters (ii, ee, aa, oo, uu) and the moraic nasal is represented with capital N.

Vowels need to be changed to correspond to use the five Japanese vowels. Typically, the vowels used in a British Received Pronunciation are used as the base English vowels for transcription, using the following system, where doubled vowels mean long (2-mora) vowels:

English Japanese Example word Japanese transcription
ɑː aa, a father, arm, commander fazaa, aamu, komaNdaa
ii she shii
ɪ i pig piggu
ɛ e bed beddo
ɜː aa, a bird baado
æ a hamburger haNbaagaa
æ after k kya (yōon) cat kyatto
æ after g gya (yōon) gamble, gal gyaNburu, gyaru
ʌ a country kaNtorii
ʌ spelt with an "o" o monkey, front, London moNkii, furoNto, roNdoN
ɒ o box bokkusu
ɔː oo straw, port sutoroo, pooto
ʊ u book bukku
uu balloon baruuN
non-final ə not fixed, based on spelling. about, pilot, London abauto, pairotto, roNdoN
final position ə spelt as "-r" aa winner, hamburger uinaa, haNbaagaa
final position ə spelt with an "a" a mama, puma mama, pyuuma
ei, ee, e day, David dei, debiddo
ai my mai
ɔɪ ooi, oi boy, toy booi, toi
əʊ o, oo phone, no foN, noo
au now nau
ɪə ia, iaa queer kuia, kuiaa
ɛə ea, eaa hair hea, heaa
ʊə uaa tour tsuaa
juː yuu cube kyuubu

In rhotic dialects of English, like American English, the letter r sounds at the end of syllables, but for the purpose of transcription into Japanese, this sound transcribes into a vowel sequence ending in a, except for the sequence [ɔɹ], which corresponds to Received Pronunciation [ɔː], and is transcribed as oo. That is, car becomes kaa not karu, and pork becomes pooku not poruku.

Step 3: Transform consonants[edit | edit source]

Some consonants require changing during transcription into Japanese. This process has three substeps:

Transform non-Japanese sounds to closest Japanese equivalents[edit | edit source]

First, English has a few consonant sounds that Japanese lacks or only contains in certain contexts, so they must be transcribed into other sounds that Japanese has.

English Japanese example
θ s thin → siN
ð z that → zatto
l r left, milk → refuto, miruku
ŋ (when spelled "ng") Ng, N song, darling → soNgu, daariN
j (before the sounds i, ɪ, or e) i yeast, yes → iisuto, iesu
h (before the sounds u or ʊ) f hoop → fuupu
w (before the sound u) u woods → uzzu
v * b David → debiddo

There are other English consonants that Japanese lacks, such as /ʃ/, the closest equivalent being /ɕ/. And though both languages contain /h/, in Japanese it assimilates to /ç/ before /i/. However these differences in pronunciation are small enough that they need not be considered different sounds for the purpose of transcription.

* It is possible to notate /v/ in Japanese kana, and it is done in the Japanese spellings of "Vietnam" (ヴェトナム vetonamu) and "Vicks" (ヴィックス vikkusu), but the sound does not exist in native Japanese phonology and is usually changed to "b" when transcribing English words.

Palatalize coronal obstruents[edit | edit source]

Next, Japanese requires coronal obstruents "s", "z", "t", "d" to be palatalized when they occur before the vowel i, so if these consonants occur before "i", either they change to their palatalized form or the vowel "i" changes to "e":

  • "si" changes to "shi" (Remember "si" might come originally from "thi", as in thick).
  • "ti" changes to "chi" or "te"
  • "di" changes to "ji" or "de"
  • "zi" changes to "ji"

In recent loanwords, "ti" and "di" are often preserved. In kana, this sound is represented by a full-sized "te" or "de" and a small-sized "i": ティ (ti), ディ (di).

Double voiceless obstruents after short vowels[edit | edit source]

In Japanese, the voiceless obstruents "p", "t", "k", "s", "ch", and "sh" have geminate (doubled) forms, written using a sokuon (small tsu) character, and in English transcription these geminates are used after short vowels. Short vowels are vowels which are transcribed using the vowel table above using a single vowel ("a", "e", "i", "o", or "u"). This transformation is usually but not always applied in the middle of a word. Also, sometimes syllable-final "t" is transformed to "ts" instead of "tt".

single double example
p pp pop → poppu
t tt cut → katto
k kk pack → pakku
s ss kiss → kissu
ch tch patch → patchi
sh ssh mesh → messhu

Step 4: Add epenthetic vowels[edit | edit source]

Japanese has strict constraints on the structure of syllables, and any syllables that violate these constraints have vowels inserted until the constraints are met. These are called epenthetic vowels.

  • The only consonant clusters (sequences of consonants with no intervening vowels) allowed in Japanese are the geminate (doubled) consonants cch, mm, nn, ss, ssh, tch and tt. However, the sounds represented by the English digraphs ch, sh, and ts are considered single sounds for the purpose of transcribing into Japanese.
  • Japanese syllables can only end in vowels and N.

Any sequence of sounds that does not obey these rules must have epenthetic vowels inserted. The epenthetic vowel is usually "u", but there are a few exceptions:

  • "m" does not take an epenthetic vowel when followed by "b" or "p", but is instead replaced by "N" (which is pronounced the same as "m" in those contexts). For example, computer becomes "コンピュータ" (koNpyuuta). "N" is also pronounced as /ŋ/ before "k" or "g", requiring no epenthesis after the "n" in words such as "ink", which becomes "インク" (iNku).
  • "t" and "d" take "o" as an epenthetic vowel. "t" can also take "u" in which case the "t" is affricated to "ts" (i.e. "tsu").
    • The rule for "tsu" described above is sometimes replaced by one where "tu", written in kana with a full-sized "to" followed by a small "u": トゥ, is used. This is more common in more recent innovative Japanese dialects. For example, the name of the film "The Truman Show" in Japanese is "トゥルーマン・ショー" (turuumaN shoo)
  • "ch" and "j" take "i" as an epenthetic vowel.
  • "k" and "sh" usually takes "u" as an epenthetic vowel, but sometimes it takes "i" or may vary between "u" and "i". "i" is the more conversative pattern.

Step 5: Break into morae[edit | edit source]

Japanese is divided into morae, with each mora containing one of the following:

  • A consonant and a single vowel (CV)
  • A consonant, "j" and a single vowel (CjV)
  • A single vowel (V)
  • Moraic (final) "n" (N) ン
  • Doubled (geminate) consonant ッ

Step 6: Transcribe rōmaji into katakana[edit | edit source]

Each mora corresponds to one or sometimes two katakana characters. The second mora of a long vowel is uniformly transcribed as ー in katakana. Moraic "n" (transcribed here as "N") is ン in katakana.

Examples[edit | edit source]

English Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 4 Step 5 Step 6
Amazon /æməzɒn/ amazon amazon amazoN a.ma.zo.N アマゾン
boxing /bɒksɪŋ/ boksiŋ bokshiNg bokushiNgu bo.ku.shi.N.gu ボクシング
Brisbane /bɹɪzbən/ brizben brisbeN burisubeN bu.ri.su.be.N ブリスベン
church /tʃɜ:tʃ/ chaach chaach chaachi cha.a.chi チャーチ
Cornell /kɔːnɛl/ koonel kooner kooneru ko.o.ne.ru コーネル
craft /kɹæft/ kraft kraft kurafuto ku.ra.fu.to クラフト
Crawford /kɹɔːfɔːd/ kroofood kroofood kuroofoodo ku.ro.o.fo.o.do クローフォード
earthling /ɜːθlɪŋ/ aaθliŋ aasriNg aasuriNgu a.a.su.ri.N.gu アースリング
elevator /ɛləveɪtə/ eleveeta erebeeta erebeeta e.re.be.e.ta エレベータ
exit /ɛkzɪt/ ekzit ekjitt ekijitto e.ki.ji.t.to エキジット
exotic /ɛkzɒtɪk/ ekzotik ekzochikk ekizochikku e.ki.zo.chi.k.ku エキゾチック
fox /fɒks/ foks fokks fokkusu fo.k.ku.su フォックス
Google /guːgəl/ guugul guugur guuguru gu.u.gu.ru グーグル
Harvard /hɑːvɜ:d/ haavaad haabaad haabaado ha.a.ba.a.do ハーバード
hotel /həʊtɛl/ hotel hoter hoteru ho.te.ru ホテル
Liverpool /lɪvəpuːl/ livapuul rivapuur rivapuuru ri.va.pu.u.ru リヴァプール
Massachusetts /mæsətʃuːsəts/ masachuusets masachuusetts masachuusettsu ma.sa.chu.u.se.t.tsu マサチューセッツ
McDonald /mækdɒnəld/ makdonald makdonard makudonarudo ma.ku.do.na.ru.do マクドナルド
Mexico /mɛksəkəʊ/ meksiko mekshiko mekishiko me.ki.shi.ko メキシコ
Microsoft /maɪkɹəʊsɒft/ maikrosoft maikrosoft maikurosofuto ma.i.ku.ro.so.fu.to マイクロソフト
nation /neɪʃən/ neishon neishoN neishoN ne.i.sho.n ネイション
New Orleans /njuːɔːlɪnz/ nyuuoolinz nyuuooriNz nyuuooriNzu nyu.u.o.o.ri.N.zu ニューオーリンズ
Pentium /pɛntiəm/ pentiam peNtiam peNtiamu pe.N.ti.a.mu ペンティアム
Phillip /fɪlɪp/ filip firipp firippu fi.ri.p.pu フィリップ
robot /rəʊbɒt/ robot robott robotto ro.bo.t.to ロボット
Sydney /sɪdniː/ sidnii shidnii shidonii shi.do.ni.i シドニー
taxi /tæksiː/ taksi takshii takushii ta.ku.shi.i タクシー
Texas /tɛksəs/ teksas teksas tekisasu te.ki.sa.su テキサス

Inconsistencies[edit | edit source]

Though commonly used katakana spellings tend to be consistent with the above system of transcription, there are also many exceptions. Some transcriptions are apparently based on misinterpretations of the word's pronunciation based on its spelling. For example, the "u" in "studio" seems to have been interpreted as if it were /ʌ/ (as in the word "study"), not /uː/, resulting in the transcription "スタジオ" (sutajio).

Though the basis for English to Japanese transcription is usually British Received Pronunciation, with its different short "o" sound and unpronounced rhotic "r"s, there are also exceptions. The words "cocktail" and "soccer" are transcribed as "カクテル" (kakuteru) and "サッカー" (sakkaa), and the Japanese name of the English letter "r" is "アール" (aaru), which corresponds more closely to a rhotic accent.

The final t sound in English words is usually transcribed as "ト" (to), but it in some words such as "fruit" and "suit" it is transcribed as "ツ" (tsu), making the pronunciation of some singular nouns sound more like their plural forms, even though plural "s"s tend to be ignored when transcribing English nouns into Japanese.

Transcribing using the steps outlined above results in the English short "i" sound becoming the Japanese i sound, but there are also cases in which it becomes the Japanese e sound. Examples include "digital" and "sticker" becoming "デジタル" (dejitaru) and "ステッカー" (sutekkaa). Also, the "re" in the English words "report" and "reporter", which is pronounced as /rɪ/ in Received Pronunciation, becomes re in "レポート" (repooto) and "レポーター" (repootaa), though they are sometimes alternately transcribed as "リポート" (ripooto) and "リポーター" (ripootaa)

Even within the common system of transcriptions, there are multiple possible ways in which a certain sound can be transcribed. This can result in multiple transcriptions of a single word, such as the name "David", which is written a number of ways in Japanese. Different pronunciations of the same word are sometimes used to show what meaning of the word is being used. For example, "ストライク" (sutoraiku) refers to a strike in baseball or bowling, while "ストライキ" (sutoraiki) refers to a workers' strike. Also, "ポンチ" (poNchi) refers to fruit punch while "パンチ" (paNchi) is used for other meanings of the word.

As mentioned above, many transcriptions (particularly those involving a non-final schwa) are non-fixed and are often based more on spelling than actual pronunciation. This often leads to words which sound similar to each other in English sounding radically different from each other in their Japanese pronunciations. While the pronunciations of the English words "pirate" and "pilot" differ only in the "l" and "r", the two words are transcribed respectively into Japanese as "パイレーツ" (paireetsu) and "パイロット" (pairotto), with the only difference between the original pronunciations disappearing and some new differences appearing in other places.

There are also some inconsistencies in Japanese between the way English words are transcribed, and the way words from some other languages containing the same sounds are transcribed. A final velar nasal consonant in an English word (spelled "ng") is usually transcribed as "ング" (Ngu), but the same sound in Korean and Chinese words is transcribed as "ン" (N). For example "Hong Kong" and "Kung-Fu" become "ホンコン" (hoNkoN) and "カンフー" (kaNfuu) respectively, and the "Yong" in Korean actor Bae Yong Joon's name becomes "ヨン" (yoN).

Exceptional transcriptions[edit | edit source]

The following are commonly used transcriptions which do not conform to the common system of transcription. This does not include Japanese abbreviations of English words or words which resemble English, but came into Japanese directly from other languages.

English katakana romanization non-conforming element(s)
archaeology アーケオロジー aakeorojii /i/ becomes e
archiver アーカイバ aakaiba final /ə/ becomes a, despite being spelled "er"
anal アナル anaru /eɪ/ becomes a
California カリフォルニア kariforunia /kæ/ becomes ka, rhotic /r/ becomes ru
Canada カナダ kanada /kæ/ becomes ka
casual カジュアル kajuaru /kæ/ becomes ka
cocktail カクテル kakuteru /ɒ/ (Received Pronunciation) but based on American a
cocoa ココア kokoa /əʊ/ becomes oa
color カラー karaa /ʌ/ becomes a, despite being spelled with an "o"
curry カレー karee /i/ becomes ee
digital デジタル dejitaru /ɪ/ becomes e
fast ファースト faasuto /æ/ becomes aa
foul ファール faaru /aʊ/ becomes aa
foundation ファンデーション faNdeeshon /aʊ/ becomes a
fruit フルーツ furuutsu final /t/ becomes tsu
Hepburn * ヘボン hebon /p/ is omitted and /ə/ becomes o, despite being spelled "ur"
Hollywood ** ハリウッド hariuddo /ɒ/ (Received Pronunciation) but based on American a
hood フード fuudo /ʊ/ becomes uu
idea アイデア aidea /i/ becomes e
label ラベル raberu /eɪ/ becomes a
Ladies/Lady's レディース rediisu /z/ becomes su
loose ルーズ ruuzu /s/ becomes zu
(sewing) machine ミシン mishiN /ə/ becomes i, despite being spelled with an "a"
margarine マーガリン maagariN /dʒ/ becomes g
meter メーター meetaa /iː/ becomes ee
money マネー manee /ʌ/ becomes a, despite being spelled with an "o" and /i/ becomes ee
n (letter) エヌ enu final /n/ becomes nu
Narnia ナルニア narunia rhotic /r/ becomes ru (based on American)
Neptune ネプチューン nepuchuun /tu/ becomes chuu rather than tsuu
news ニュース nyuusu /z/ becomes su
penis ペニス penisu /iː/ becomes e
pirate パイレーツ paireetsu final /t/ becomes tsu
pouch ポーチ poochi /aʊ/ becomes oo
propane プロパン puropaN /eɪ/ becomes a
pudding プリン puriN /d/ becomes r
punch ポンチ poNchi /ʌ/ becomes o, despite being spelled with an "u"
r (letter) アール aaru rhotic /r/ becomes ru (based on American)
radio ラジオ rajio /eɪ/ becomes a
report レポート repooto /ɪ/ becomes e
reporter レポーター repootaa /ɪ/ becomes e
revolution レボリューション reboryuushon /luː/ becomes ryuu
sales セールス seerusu /z/ becomes su
smooth スムース sumuusu /ð/ becomes su
soccer サッカー sakkaa /ɒ/ (Received Pronunciation) but based on American a
sport スポーツ supootsu final /t/ becomes tsu
sticker ステッカー sutekkaa /ɪ/ becomes e
studio スタジオ sutajio /uː/ becomes a
suit スーツ suutsu final /t/ becomes tsu
sweater セーター seetaa /wɛ/ becomes ee
Uranus ウラナス uranasu /yʊ/ becomes u
video ビデオ bideo /ɪ/ becomes e
volleyball バレーボール bareebooru /ɒ/ (Received Pronunciation) but based on American a, and /i/ becomes ee
Washington ワシントン washiNtoN /ɒ/ (Received Pronunciation) but based on American a
Yankees ヤンキース yaNkiisu /z/ becomes su
yogurt ヨーグルト yooguruto rhotic /r/ becomes ru (based on American)

* in the case of James Curtis Hepburn, but not Katharine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn, whose last name is transcribed as "ヘップバーン" (hepubaaN).

** "Holly" on its own is transcribed as "ホリー" (horii).

Transcribing multiple words[edit | edit source]

In some instances, such as language textbooks or song lyrics, phrases or entire sentences may be transcribed into Japanese.

Multiple word transcription is typically done on a word-by-word basis, with no account being taken of word linking. For example, "an engineer" would most commonly be transcribed into Japanese as "a.N.e.N.ji.ni.a" rather than "a.ne.N.ji.ni.a", with the linking between the "n" and "e" represented by the Japanese mora "ne". In some set phrases, such as "kaman" for "come on", this general trend is broken.

Example of transcribing a whole sentence[edit | edit source]

English: "My hovercraft is full of eels."

Step 1: maɪ hɒvəkrɑːft ɪz fʊl ɒv iːlz

Step 2-3: "mai hobaakraft iz ful ob iirz"

Step 4: "mai hobaakurafuto izu furu obu iiruzu"

Step 5 "ma.i ho.ba.a.ku.ra.fu.to i.zu fu.ru o.bu i.i.ru.zu"

Step 6 「マイ ホバークラフト イズ フル オブ イールズ」


Japanese is characterised largely by its small number of vowels and consonants (five and fourteen, respectively). Pronunciation of each syllable is highly regular with the written system and there are only a few exceptions such as vowel devoicing. This is in stark contrast to English where the written and spoken language can differ a great deal (e.g. the vowel digraph "ou" in "noun" and "cough" and the consonant "g" in "goat" and "giraffe").

Apart from a single isolated consonant (the moraic nasal, "n") and double consonants (e.g. "itte" and "kekkon") all consonants must be followed by a vowel to form syllables. Double consonants are always a pair of the same consonant, though vowel devoicing sometimes makes different consonants sound one after the other (e.g. "suki" and "suteki").

Japanese has a great deal of homophones that make correct pronunciation quite important. While language learners may have difficulty hearing the difference between nuances like long and short vowels, native speakers are used to these and might not understand incorrectly pronounced words.

The syllabary[edit | edit source]

There are five vowels in Japanese, normally transcribed into the English alphabet as: "a", "i", "u", "e" and "o".

Vowel a i About this sound u* e About this sound o
Approximate sound father meaty food egg old

*This sound is pronounced compressed, for which there is no approximation in English. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Close_back_rounded_vowel#Close_back_compressed_vowel

Spanish and Italian speakers may note that Japanese vowels produce the same sounds as their Spanish and Italian equivalents.

Japanese vowels always represent distinct phonemes and don't form digraphs — i.e. they don't blend together or sound differently when joined. When one vowel follows another they are pronounced separately. Examples are the names Sae (sa.e) and Aoi (a.o.i)

The rest of the syllabary is formed by combining the above vowels with a consonant.

Clear   Voiced   Plosive   Clear medial y   Voiced medial y   Plosive medial y
  a i u e o   a i u e o   a i u e o   ya yu yo   ya yu yo   ya yu yo
k ka ki ku ke ko g ga gi gu ge About this sound go   ki kya kyu kyo gi gya gyu gyo  
s sa About this sound shi su se so z za ji zu ze zo shi sha shu sho ji ja ju jo
t ta About this sound chi About this sound tsu te to d da ji zu de do chi cha chu cho ji ja ju jo
n na About this sound ni nu ne no   ni nya nyu nyo  
h ha About this sound hi About this sound fu he ho b ba bi bu be bo p pa pi pu pe po hi hya hyu hyo bi bya byu byo pi pya pyu pyo
m ma mi mu me mo     mi mya myu myo    
y ya yu yo
r About this sound ra About this sound ri About this sound ru About this sound re About this sound ro ri rya ryu ryo
w wa o

Note that the sound which is written with a "y" is not considered a vowel, but a consonant. This will come as little surprise to German speakers where the same sound is written with a "j".

The -i line (ki, gi, shi, ji, chi, ni, hi, bi, pi, mi, ri) can be combined with the y- line (ya, yu, yo) to create the medial y combinations. These are just like regular consonant + vowel syllables, in that they should be pronounced as one mora (syllabic sound).

From this table one can see that the Japanese syllabary is highly systematic. There are a few exceptions, though, and these have been bolded in the table:
  • "si" becomes "shi"
  • "ti" becomes "chi" and "tu" becomes "tsu"
  • "zi" and "di" become "ji", and "du" becomes "zu"
  • "hu" becomes "fu"
  • "wo" becomes "o"

Mora[edit | edit source]

Japanese is quite regular in the timing and stress of its syllables. The basic timing unit is called mora. Each mora is pronounced with equal stress and should take about the same amount of time. Two morae should sound twice as long as a single one.

The following take up one mora:

Whereas these take up two morae:

  • a long vowel
  • a double consonant

Examples[edit | edit source]

  • a-o-i / あおい (e. blue): three morae, each vowel is short
  • mi-do-ri / みどり (e. green): three morae.
  • sha-shu / しゃしゅ (e. car model): two morae.
  • ni-n-ji-n / にんじん (e. a carrot): four morae.
  • ī-e / いいえ (e. no): three morae (note the long vowel "i", denoted by a macron)
  • a-k-ka / あっか (e. to worsen): three morae (note that the double consonant isn't pronounced twice, just twice as long).

The medial y often takes a long vowel.

  • gyūnyū / ぎゅうにゅう (e. milk): four morae.

Long vowels[edit | edit source]

A long vowel takes two morae. In rōmaji it's written with a macron: ā, ī, ū, ē and ō.

In hiragana, it's written with an extra "あ" (a), "い" (i) or "う" (u) depending on the vowel. In katakana, it's marked by appending a dash-like symbol "ー".

Word Japanese Meaning Soundbyte
Ōsaka 大阪 Osaka city About this sound Ja-Osaka.ogg
Tōkyō 東京 Tokyo city About this sound Ja-Tokyo.ogg
dēta データ data About this sound Ja-deeta-data.ogg
gyūnyū 牛乳 milk About this sound Ja-gyuunyuu-milk.ogg
cheek About this sound Ja-hoo-cheek.ogg

Devoicing[edit | edit source]

In standard Japanese the vowels i and u are not usually voiced when they occur between voiceless consonants (k, s, sh, t, ch, h, f). The phenomenon seems to have developed to facilitate the falling pitch intonation in the Kanto dialect. The mouth forms shape of the vowel and lasts for one mora, but the sound is not voiced. For final [su] in 'desu' and '-masu', all vestiges of the vowel have disappeared in standard Japanese, leaving a naked sibilant. Devoicing is not otherwise standard for word terminal i or u. Consecutive devoicing is rare, although exceptions exists (e.g. futsuka, 2nd day of the month, pronounced f-ts-ka). Devoicing can depend on context. E.g. 'Suzuki' has no devoicing; 'Suzuki-san' has a devoiced i: Suzuk-san. Some dialects do not demonstrate devoicing, notably Kansai.

Some examples:

Spelled Pronounced Meaning
kushi k-shi comb
ta-be-ma-shi-ta tabemash-ta ate (to eat, past tense)

Consonant variation[edit | edit source]

There are a couple of consonants that are pronounced differently from English:

Consonant Approximate sound Notes
g give or sing approximately halfway between these sounds, it is made almost like ng depending on the age of the speaker and, in certain cases, dialect. Nowadays, it is beginning to sound more like our guttural g, but the older folks may still say ng, which was also taught in many Japanese grammar classes.
sh, ch, j   sound is made further back along the tongue than in English
ts bats try saying "fatso" without the "fa"
f who (in British English) blown between the lips, not between the lips and teeth; as if it were a combination of both H+F
r   similar to a rolling r, but only trilled once making it sound deceptively like a D to untrained listeners. The sound is often described as being between "r" and "l".

Except for the doubled consonants and the n (which we will cover later), consonants can never end a syllable. They can only begin it.

Moraic nasal[edit | edit source]

Normally, Japanese consonants must be followed by a vowel except where they double. There is an exception to this: the moraic nasal which is transliterated as n. It is usually found at the end of words, but can be found in the middle of composite words.

The difference between the moraic nasal and the syllables "na", "ni", "nu", "ne" and "no" can be difficult for language learners to spot, while native speakers may have difficulty understanding incorrect pronunciation.

  • kin'en (ki-n-e-n) no smoking vs. kinen (ki-ne-n) commemoration.
  • hon'ya (ho-n-ya-) bookstore (not ho-nya)

The pronunciation of the moraic nasal changes depending on what sound follows it. This is not so much an irregularity as a shortcut to bridge the sounds between the two morae. When followed by the bilabial plosives, "b" and "p", the moraic nasal is pronounced like an "m". An example:

  • "shinbun" is read as: shimbun

About this sound Listen to the audio (OggVorbis, 151 KB)

  1. At the end of a word:
    • dan 段 "level"
    • kin 金 "gold"
    • fun 糞 "dung"
    • zen 善 "goodness"
    • hon 本 "book"
  2. Directly before a consonant:
    • banzai 万歳 "hurrah", "long live (the Emperor)"
    • kingyo 金魚 "goldfish" (pronounced like "ng")
    • kunrei 訓令 "directive"
    • zenchi 全知 "omniscience" (pronounced like "n")
    • honten 本店 "main office" (pronounced like "n")
  3. Before m, b, p
    • genmai 玄米 "unmilled rice"
    • honbu 本部 "headquarters"
    • tenpura 天ぷら (battered and fried vegetables or fish)
  4. Before a, i, e, y
    • zen'aku 善悪 "good and evil"
    • ken'i 権威 "authority"
    • han'ei 反映 "reflection"
    • sen'you 専用 "exclusive use"
  5. Note that before a, i, e, and y, moraic n is written n' (with an apostrophe). This is to distinguish it from the regular consonant n, which is pronounced differently and can produce different words. Some examples of cases where this becomes important are:
    • kani 蟹 "crab" vs. kan'i 簡易 "simplicity"
    • kinyuu 記入 "fill in" vs. kin'yuu 金融 "finances"
    • konyakku コニャック "cognac" vs. kon'yaku 婚約 "engagement (to be married)"

Consonant doubling (gemination)[edit | edit source]

There are four consonants that can become geminates (get doubled) in native Japanese words: /p/, /t/, /k/, and /s/. The geminate (represented linguistically as "Q") takes up an extra mora, with the general effect being to insert a pause that sounds as long as a regular syllable with a short vowel. The geminate is /t/ before ch and ts, /s/ before sh.

Word Meaning Soundbyte
takk table tennis About this sound Ja-takkyuu-table_tennis.ogg
Hokkaido Hokkaido prefecture About this sound Ja-hokkaido.ogg
makka bright red About this sound Ja-makka-bright_red.ogg
gakkō a school
dotchi which (informal) About this sound Ja-docchi-which.ogg
kuttsuku to stick About this sound Ja-kuttsuku-to stick.ogg }
settei setting About this sound Ja-settei-setting.ogg
chotto a little
kissaten a tea house
hissori quiet(ly) About this sound Ja-hissori-quiet(ly).ogg
juppun ten minutes
Sapporo Sapporo city About this sound Ja-Sapporo.ogg

In the Japanese pronunciation of foreign loan words, the voiced consonants /b/, /d/, /g/, and /z/ can also be doubled.

Word Meaning
gubbai goodbye
guddo good
doggu dog
kizzu kids

Practice[edit | edit source]

Simply words[edit | edit source]

Word Japanese Meaning
akai red
iro color
egaku 描く draw (a picture)
utsu 打つ hit, beat
osameru 治める govern
oya parent(s)
wabi 侘び (the Japanese aesthetic of subdued refinement)
pari パリ Paris (France)
tomodachi 友達 friend
hana flower
shiji 指示 instruction
hiza knee
tsumori 積もり intention

Long and double vowels[edit | edit source]

About this sound audio for practice 2 (OggVorbis, 125 KB) Note in particular that "deiri" and "koushi" are not long vowels since the vowels are split between composite words.

Word Japanese Meaning
さあ come now
ai love
au 会う meet
hae fly (insect)
aoi 青い blue, green
ī いい good
iu 言う say
ie house
shio salt
shurui 種類 type, kind
縫う sew
ue above
uo fish
supein スペイン Spain
urei 憂い grief
deiri (de + iri) 出入り coming and going
dēta データ data
oi nephew
そう that way, so
omou 思う think
koushi 仔牛 calf (baby cow)
moeru 燃える burn
cheek (facial)

Compound consonants[edit | edit source]

Audio missing

Word Japanese Meaning
toukyou 東京 Tokyo
gyouza 餃子 pot-stickers (Chinese dumplings)
gyuunyuu 牛乳 milk (from a cow)
hyou chart
byouin 病院 hospital
denpyou 伝票 voucher
myou strange
muryou 無料 free (as in beer)
ryuu dragon
takkyuu 卓球 table tennis
happyou 発表 announcement

Moraic nasal[edit | edit source]

Word Japanese Meaning
tenki 天気 weather
renshuu 練習 practice
zangyou 残業 overtime (work)
anshin 安心 relief
sunnari すんなり slender
denpa 電波 reception (cell phone, etc.)
senbei 煎餅 Japanese hard rice cake
genmai 玄米 unprocessed rice
sen thousand
hon book
sen'you 専用 exclusive use
hon'ya 本屋 bookstore
san'en 三円 three yen
tan'i 単位 unit, (course) credit

Comparisons of similarly pronounced words[edit | edit source]

About this sound audio for practice 6 (OggVorbis, 190 KB)

  1. yuki 雪 "snow" and yuuki 勇気 "courage"
  2. soto 外 "outside" and souto 僧徒 "Buddhist disciple"
  3. soto 外 "outside" and sotou 粗糖 "unrefined sugar"
  4. soto 外 "outside" and soutou 相当 "suitable"
  5. soto 外 "outside" and sotto そっと "softly"
  6. sotto そっと "softly" and sottou 卒倒 "fainting"
  7. maki 巻 "scroll" and makki 末期 "last period"
  8. hako 箱 "box" and hakkou 発行 "publish"
  9. issei 一斉 "all at once" and isei 異性 "opposite sex"
  10. tani 谷 "valley" and tan'i 単位 "unit", "(course) credit"
  11. san'en 三円 "three yen" and sannen 三年 "three years"
  12. kinyuu 記入 "fill out" and kin'yuu 金融 "finances"
  13. kinen 記念 "commemoration" and kin'en 禁煙 "no smoking"

Normal speech[edit | edit source]

The narration of the following excerpt of Natsume Soseki's classic novel Botchan is spoken at a natural pace which may be difficult to follow for unaccustomed listeners.

Oyayuzuri no muteppou de kodomo no toki kara son bakari shite iru. Shougakkou ni iru jibun gakkou no nikai kara tobiorite isshuukan hodo koshi o nukashita koto ga aru. Naze sonna muyami o shita to kiku hito ga aru kamoshirenu. Betsudan fukai riyuu demo nai. Shinchiku no nikai kara kubi o dashite itara, doukyuusei no hitori ga joudan ni, "Ikura ibatte mo, soko kara tobioriru koto wa dekimai. Yowamushi yaai," to hayakashita kara de aru. Kozukai ni obusatte kaette kita toki, oyaji ga ookina me o shite "Nikai gurai kara tobiorite koshi o nukasu yatsu ga aru ka," to itta kara, "Kono tsugi wa nukasazu ni tonde misemasu," to kotaeta.
Shinrui no mono kara seiyousei no naifu o moratte kirei na ha o hi ni kazashite, tomodachi ni misete itara, hitori ga "Hikaru koto wa hikaru ga, kiresou mo nai," to itta. "Kirenu koto ga aru ka, nandemo kitte miseru," to ukeatta. "Sonnara, kimi no yubi o kitte miro," to chuumon shita kara, "Nan da yubi gurai kono toori da," to migi no te no oyayubi no kou o hasu ni kirikonda. Saiwai naifu ga chiisai no to, oyayubi no hone ga katakatta node, imadani oyayubi wa te ni tsuite iru. Shikashi kizuato wa shinu made kienu.

Pitch accent

Japanese uses pitch accent, where every mora can either be pronounced with a high or low pitch. Not all dictionaries will indicate this, but pitch accent is certainly important, because it can make the difference between different words.

For example, using bold for high pitches:

ま (今) - "now"
(居間) - "living room"

Pitch is, however, to some extent a characteristic of regional accents, so a Kanto speaker may be using the opposite pitches to a Kansai speaker. Where pitch is taught, it will be standard Japanese (essentially the Tokyo dialect). Pitchless Japanese is easily understood by native speakers and incorrect pitch will at most sound somewhat odd. Studying pitch, therefore, isn't essential to the learning Japanese and is perhaps best picked up by conversing with native speakers.

Linguists, however, tend to classify Japanese as having a falling pitch following what is considered the stressed vowel.

Mora Counting[edit | edit source]

A common misconception is that moras in Japanese are the same as syllables in English. Moras differ from syllables because of how they are counted.

Consonant-Vowel Combinations written as Digraphs count as 1 mora. These are cases where you have き、ぎ、し、じ、ち、に、ひ、び、ぴ、み、り combined with や、ゆ、and よ to form Digraphs like きゃ, しゅ, ちょ, etc.

So, the ちゅ in 中国[ちゅうごく] accounts for 1 mora. The whole word is 4 moras.

A vowel combination counts as 2 moras. Combinations like おう、えい are 2 moras. This also includes a vowel being written or said twice, like おお、いい, etc.

Ex. the せい in the word 人生[じんせい] or the おう in だろう would count as 2 moras.

The mora counts as 1 mora

Ex. The in 先生[せんせい] is the 2nd mora in the word, and the whole word has 4 moras.

The small tsu () which doubles a consonant adds 1 mora.

Ex. the word 学校(がっこう) has 4 moras.

There is a unique set of mora known as "special mora" (特殊拍) which consist of small tsu "っ", the kana "ん" and long vowel symbol "ー", the last high pitch can not occur on any of these "special mora".

This is all important information to know when reading pitch accent, and counting Japanese moras.

Pitch classification[edit | edit source]

When dictionaries give pitch accent, they'll usually indicate it with a number. The number tells you the mora where the last high pitch is. To figure out the pitch pattern, put a low onto the first mora (unless the last high pitch is on that mora), put high pitches onto all the mora that follows, until you hit the last high pitch. After that, put low pitches.

Even more helpful dictionaries will do all of this work for you, by telling you exactly where all the pitches rise or fall.

So, to give some examples.

low HIGH HIGH...
ども 子供 child
たし I
もだち 友達 friend
っし 雑誌 magazine
かい 赤い red
っこう 学校 school
HIGH low low...
ちゅうごく 中国 "China"
しょ 辞書 dictionary
パンフレット パンフレット pamphlet
low HIGH low low...
んしゃ 自転車 bicycle
ゼント プレゼント present
low HIGH HIGH low low...
んせ 先生 teacher
おき 大きい big
くさ たくさん many
low HIGH HIGH HIGH low low...
たらし 新しい new
つくし 美しい beautiful
とうと (one's) younger brother

Notice how ともだち (0) and おとうと (4) look as though they have the same pitch pattern despite the different numbers. The difference is based on the grammatical pattern like -は added afterward. Therefore, the continuation of both pitch pattern becomes ともだちは and おとうとは.


Related vocabulary
A map of Japanese copula.

Many learners of Japanese begin their studies thinking that the language is a single standard, spoken across the whole nation. While it is true that nearly all Japanese nationals can speak the standard language, it is by no means their every day language. This long and mountainous archipelago has over the centuries given rise to a great number of dialects with their own distinct accent, intonation and vocabulary.

Before the Tokugawa Shogun (徳川将軍) moved to Edo (江戸, modern day Tokyo) in 1603, the main place of government was Kyoto (京都), and standard Japanese was the ancestor of today's Kyoto dialect. Modern standard Japanese, hyōjungo (標準語) is basically the dialect of Tokyo. This is used in schools and media throughout the country. Other varieties of Japanese are often considered provincial and like in every language, each bears connotations of archetypes.

A map of Japanese dialects.

Eastern Japanese[edit | edit source]

Western Japanese[edit | edit source]

Hachijō Island[edit | edit source]

  • Hachijō Dialect

Ryūkyū[edit | edit source]


Word order[edit | edit source]

Japanese is a SOV (Subject-Object-Verb) language. English is typically SVO (Subject-Verb-Object). In Japanese, the verb always appears at the end of clauses and sentences. Japanese parts of speech are usually marked with words called "particles" that follow the word they modify. These particles identify the word's or phrase's function in the sentence—for example, topic, subject, direct/indirect object, location of action, etc.

Japanese is flexible in terms of word-order due to use of particles. Sentences, however, generally have the following structure:

Sentence Topic, Time, Location, Subject, Indirect Object, Direct Object, Verb.

Context sensitivity[edit | edit source]

Japanese is highly context-sensitive. Words or phrases obvious to both the speaker and listener are often omitted. It could be considered a "minimalist" language. For example, the statement: "I'm going to watch a movie." could be translated as 「映画を見る。」 (eiga o miru.); literally, "Movie watch." [I] is implied, as it is the speaker who is making the statement. Depending on the context, however, this phrase could also be translated as "s/he is going to watch a movie", "we will watch a movie", etc.

Japanese has many levels of formality and depends not only on what is said, but also on who is saying it and to whom. The language is socially striated to the point that different forms of speech exist for men and women.

Parts of speech[edit | edit source]

Japanese parts of speech, although no more complicated than those of other languages, do not fit well into typical labels such as verb, noun, and adjective. Keep that in mind over the course of your studies.

Nominals[edit | edit source]

Nouns[edit | edit source]

Nouns in Japanese are fairly immutable. They do not take definite or indefinite articles, gender, and do not change for number.

Although there is no true plural in Japanese, a small number of nouns may take one of several collective suffixes.

Tanaka-san (Mr. Tanaka), Tanaka-san-tachi (Mr. Tanaka and his group)

Certain nouns may take a prefix in polite speech. Most often, native Japanese words (和語) are preceded by "o-" ("お"), and Sino-Japanese words (漢語) are preceded with "go-" ("ご"). Both are readings of the kanji "御". Though primarily used for adding politeness or distance, some words more commonly appear with the prefix than others, and in some cases, never appear without it (e.g., お茶 [ocha], "green tea").

Many nouns may be converted into verbs simply by affixing 「する」 (suru) to the end.

"benkyō" (勉強(べんきょう)) is a noun meaning "study/studies" while "benkyō-suru" (勉強(べんきょう)する) is the verb "to study".

Nouns may also function as adjectives when the particle の (no) or な ("na") is appended.

"ki" (木) means "wood" with "ki no tatemono" (()建物(たてもの)) meaning "wooden building".

Pronouns[edit | edit source]

Unlike many other languages, Japanese has no true pronouns; since words that are clear from context are usually elided, there is less need for them. In general, natural-sounding Japanese tends to avoid the use of nouns that refer to people except when explicitly needed. This is often a point of confusion for beginners. Pronominals are not grammatically distinct from ordinary nominals: notably, they may take adjectives, which pronouns cannot.

"watashi", "boku", "ore", "watakushi" all mean "I"; and "anata", "kimi" mean "you"

Na-adjectives[edit | edit source]

A Na-adjective is a nominal that often precedes a copula (such as 'na'). Due to the common occurrence of na-adjectives, many Japanese dictionaries write nominals with the 'na' included. Na-adjectives are generally adjectival in meaning, as most cannot exist in context without a previously denoted subject; however, one might simply say "げんき な (genki na)" to describe a subject that is understood within the current conversation's context (this situation is limited to casual or somewhat informal conversation; using full sentences is almost always necessary when speaking to anyone of higher status). Examples of na-adjectives: "heta na:" unskilled, bad at; "genki na:" healthy, energetic; "orijinaru na:" original

Verbals[edit | edit source]

Verbs[edit | edit source]

Verbs are where most of the action in Japanese sentences takes place. They are the primary means for controlling levels of politeness in speech,…

Japanese verbs inflect directly for tense, negation, mood, aspect, politeness, and honorific speech.

Unlike English, conjugation of Japanese verbs is extremely regular, with few exceptions. The system takes some getting used to, but once the kana have been learned, a uniform pattern emerges. Verbs are placed into one of three groups: 五段 (godan, aka Type I), 一段 (ichidan, aka Type II), and 不規則 (fukisoku, irregular).

Only two verbs are generally considered irregular in the modern language, 来る (kuru, to come) and する (suru, to do). Despite being such, even they are somewhat regular in their irregularity.

I-adjectives[edit | edit source]

These inflect for tense, politeness, and honorific speech as well (although not aspect or mood, as they are all stative verbs); an -i adjective will always end in -ai, -ī, -ui, or -oi. (Note that there are also stative -u verbs.)

"utsukushī": beautiful; "ī": good; "sugoi": amazing; "ureshī": happy

The copula[edit | edit source]

Although the copula is not strictly a verb, most of its forms derive from "de aru", but inflects somewhat irregularly. It retains an "attributive form", na, used to modify the noun it stands before: however, this form is almost exclusively used after na-adjectives.

Other[edit | edit source]

Particles: Also called postpositions or joshi, particles show the case of nouns in Japanese: that is, they mark nouns as being the subject, object, indirect object, etc. (English typically uses word order or prepositions for the same effect.) Particles follow the noun they modify.

  • wa (): topic
  • ga (): subject
  • o (): direct object
  • no (): possession, apposition
  • ni (): indirect object, direction "to", location of existence, etc.
  • kara (から): direction "from"
  • made (まで): "until", "as far as"
  • de (): means, location of an action

Some particles are used after sentences instead:

  • ka (): question marker
  • yo (): marker for giving new information or showing emphasis or certainty
  • ne (): marker for seeking agreement
  • tte (って): informal quotation marker

Adverbs: Adverbs typically modify the entire sentence, although most Japanese quantifiers (including numbers) are actually adverbs, rather than adjectives as in English.

  • aikawarazu as always;
  • sukoshi (少し) a little, few
  • mō sugu soon, before long;
  • thus, so

Conjunctions: Japanese conjunctions typically either apply to nominals (like English "except") or to predicates (like English "when"), not both (like English "and").

  • mata wa or (n.);
  • soshite (そして) and then, and also (pr.);
  • ga but (pr.)

Interjections: Common to every language.

  • wā! "wow!"
  • are? "huh?", "wha?"
  • ē to "um, er"
  • anō "um"

Sentence examples[edit | edit source]


[You're] late.

Kirei da.
Pretty is
[It] is pretty.
これ です
Kore wa hon desu.
This topic book is.
This is a book.
富士山 美しい
Fuji-san wa utsukushī.
Mt. Fuji topic beautiful
Mt. Fuji is beautiful.
今日 あまり 寒くない です
Kyou wa amari samuku-nai desu.
Today topic very cold-NEG-POLITE is
It's not very cold today. / Today isn't very cold.
Umi o mimashita.
Sea object look at-past
[I] gazed out at the ocean.
お母さん 行きました
Okāsan wa mise ni ikimashita.
Mother topic store place/method went-PAST-POLITE
[Her] mother went to the store.
Natsu ga kimashita.
Summer subject come-PAST-POLITE
Summer has come.


Phrase[edit | edit source]

Introductions[edit | edit source]

Linguistics[edit | edit source]

Reading and writing[edit | edit source]

Reading practice[edit | edit source]

Vocabulary[edit | edit source]


Grammar[edit | edit source]

Nouns[edit | edit source]

Verbs[edit | edit source]

Adjectives[edit | edit source]

Pronouns[edit | edit source]

Particles[edit | edit source]

Counters[edit | edit source]

Pro-forms[edit | edit source]

Others, Sentence Patterns[edit | edit source]

Giving and receiving[edit | edit source]

Time and day[edit | edit source]

Formality and honorifics[edit | edit source]

Comparisons[edit | edit source]

Lessons[edit | edit source]

Copula, existence and predicates[edit | edit source]

Introductions and greetings[edit | edit source]

Adjectives[edit | edit source]

Numbers[edit | edit source]

Miscellaneous[edit | edit source]

Structure/Lesson Plans/Syllabus[edit | edit source]

Users[edit | edit source]

Links and resources[edit | edit source]

These should be found place on pages where are relevant.

Commons[edit | edit source]

Meta[edit | edit source]

Templates[edit | edit source]


Just an idea...[edit | edit source]

... tell me what you think.

Navigation[edit | edit source]

Meta[edit | edit source]

Ruby[edit | edit source]

These are out-dated and should be replaced with {{furi}} when used in Japanese text, but kept for general use elsewhere on Wikibooks.

Not sure what to do about these:

Not Japanese language[edit | edit source]


Since Japanese nouns (名詞; めいし) don't inflect they are fairly simple to master. They do, however, take particles to indicate their place in sentences.

Some commonly used particles for nouns are: ""[1], "" and ""[2].

Plurals[edit | edit source]

The Japanese language lacks plurals in the English sense. Plural words are usually either preceded with a number and a counter, or simply made understood through context.

A few nouns can also suffix a pluralizing word, such as "たち" or "ら". When referring to a person, "たち" indicates company. For example, めぐみたち can mean "Megumi and more".

Yet others indicate plurality by repetition (e.g., ひと means person and ひとびと means people.) Written in kanji, the repetition mark, 々, is used (e.g., , 人々).

Noun-phrase particles[edit | edit source]

See also: Japanese/Grammar/Basic Particles

Japanese word structure, unlike Western languages which allow declensions depending on gender, tense, and many other aspects, maintains constant word forms, which are inflected by particles.

Note that particles always follow the nouns that they mark.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Note that when "" is a particle, it is always pronounced as "Wa".
  2. The syllable "へ", when used as a particle, is always pronounced "e".


Japanese verbs, (動詞; どうし), inflect heavily to indicate formality, tense or mood, primarily in their ending. There are two tenses, several levels of formality and three classes of verbs, depending on their inflection. The two tenses are perfective (often considered past tense) and present (or technically, non-past, as the future tense is not indicated). Out of the several levels of formality, two are the most common: plain and polite.

Japanese verbs are officially categorised into five classes,[1] but as two of these inflect much the same and another two only contain one verb each, these are usually merged into three when Japanese is taught as a foreign language. These are the consonant stem-, vowel stem- and irregular classes.[2]

Dictionaries use the plain present positive form (commonly known as dictionary form) as the headword for verbs.

Verbs are classed based on their conjugations. Their endings don't determine the class, but are a general indicator.

Form Endings
vowel-stem verbs (ichidan)[3] All of these end with (い)る or (え)る, but some with that ending are consonant stem verbs.
consonant-stem verbs (godan)[4] End in , , , , , , , or .
irregular verbs Only two verbs: する (e. to do) and () (e. to come).

Different inflections can also have suffixes. These may also be verbs with their own conjugations. Not all suffixes can be used on all verb inflections and others may only follow the verb stem. Examples are conjunctive + いる, せるさせる (causative), and られる (potential).

Ignoring the formality and the negative conjugations, the following is a list of verb conjugations

  • non-past
  • past
  • causative
  • causative-passive
  • conjunctive
  • conditionals
  • passive
  • potential
  • imperative
  • volitional
  • provisional

Ichidan class[edit | edit source]

Vowel-stem verbs end on a full syllable (hence the term: vowel-stem). In a sense, the final "" of the dictionary form is dropped and the respective endings just added on.

The Japanese term "(いち)(だん)" refers to the fact that the stem ending occupies only one row in the kana chart.

The following table shows a few forms of the verb "食べる" (たべる, e. to eat):

Form Word
Plain present positive 食べる
Plain past positive 食べた
Plain present negative 食べない
Plain past negative 食べなかった
Imperative 食べろ or
Volitional 食べよう
Conjunctive 食べて
Conditional 食べれば

Godan class[edit | edit source]

Consonant-stem verbs end in the middle of a syllable (hence the term; consonant-verb). That syllable changes depending on the form. The plain form has an u sound (u, tsu, ru, ku, gu, bu, mu, su), the ~ます -masu form has an i sound (i, chi, ri, ki, gi, bi, mi, shi), and the negative form has an a sound (wa, ta, ra, ka, ga, ba, ma, sa). The potential form has an e sound (e, te, re, ke, ge, be, me, se) and the volitional form has an おう ō sound (ō, tō, rō, kō, gō, bō, mō, sō), so putting these together with the sounds above shows that verb conjugations follow the vowel syllabary of the Japanese character set: あ a, い i, う u, え e and お o.

The Japanese term "()(だん)" comes from the fact that the stem's last syllable spans all five rows of the kana chart in at least one form.

The following table shows a few forms of the consonant-stem verb "話す" (はなす e. to speak).

Form Word Row Syllable Morph Conjugation Suffix
Plain present positive 話す
Plain past positive 話した す -> し た/った/いた/んだ
Plain present negative 話さない す -> さ ない
Plain past negative 話さなかった す -> さ なかった
Imperative[5] 話せ す -> せ
Volitional[6] 話そう す -> そ
Conjunctive 話して す -> し て/って/いて/んで
Conditional 話せば す -> せ

The て-form (conjunctive) and past positive form of a consonant-stem verb change the root for euphony according to the last syllable of the root (example in parentheses):

stem て-form past example て-form past reading (meaning)
〜う って った 買う 買って 買った かう (to buy)
〜く いて いた 書く 書いて 書いた かく (to write)
〜ぐ いで いだ 泳ぐ 泳いで 泳いだ およぐ (to swim)
〜す して した 話す 話して 話した はなす (to speak, to talk)
〜つ って った 勝つ 勝って 勝った かつ (to win)
〜ぶ んで んだ 学ぶ 学んで 学んだ まなぶ (to study)
〜ぬ んで んだ 死ぬ 死んで 死んだ しぬ (to die)
〜む んで んだ 佇む 佇んで 佇んだ ただずむ (to stand still)
〜る って った 去る 去って 去った さる (to leave)

行く (いく) (to go) has an exceptional て-form 行って (いって).

If the verb stem ends on "う" such as in the verb 買う(かう, e. to buy) then its negative stem becomes -わ as in 買わない ("to not buy"). This is because the root is treated as kawu (despite the "wu" syllable not existing in modern Japanese).

Irregular verbs[edit | edit source]

Two common verbs do not share a conjugation pattern with any other verb. They are therefore commonly classed as "irregular" verbs. Formally, they are called "変格" (へんかく) verbs, as opposed to the regular "正格" (せいかく) verbs. This construction is made to use verbs and nouns of Chinese origin, for instance, from Chinese "確認" (què rèn, confirmation) is formed in Japanese the verb "確認する" (かくにんする), or "約分" (yuē fēn, simplify a fraction (math.)) which derives into "約分する" (やくぶんする). The forms are "する" (e. to do, as in the examples) and "()る" (e. to come). The following table shows some of their conjugation forms.

Form する 来る
Plain present positive する くる
Plain past positive した きた
Plain present negative しない こない
Plain past negative しなかった こなかった
Imperative せよ or しろ こい
Volitional しよう こよう
Conjunctive して きて
Conditional すれば くれば

Many verbs end on "〜する" and can be grouped in three categories:

  • Verbalised nouns. These are nouns which form verbs by appending "〜する". Examples: 勉強(べんきょう)する, 注意(ちゅうい)する, "過労死(かろうし)する, 長生(ながい)きする and (あたい)する.
  • Verbs that cannot stand alone without the "する" suffix. Examples: (はっ)する, (せっ)する and (たっ)する.
  • Verbs that cannot stand alone, end on an "ん" and therefore take the voiced "ずる". Examples: (ぞん)ずる, (かん)ずる, (さき)んずる and (おも)んずる. These verbs are commonly inflected the same as the ichidan forms, with "ずる" being replaced by "じる" thus: (ぞん)じる, (かん)じる, (さき)んじる and (おも)んじる.

The only commonly-used combination with "来る" is "やってくる", meaning "to come".[7]

Polite forms[edit | edit source]

The polite (or formal) forms are simple as all of the consonant-stem verbs sit in the い-line (行く→行き) and the inflections are the same for consonant- and vowel-stem verbs.

The following table shows the polite forms for "行く" (いく, e. to go):

Form Word
Polite present positive 行きます
Polite past positive 行きました
Polite present negative 行きません
Polite past negative 行きませんでした
Polite volitional 行きましょう
Polite conjunctive 行きまして[8]
Polite conditional 行きますれば[8]

The imperative (〜ませ) is not used in formal forms except for a few polite verbs (see below).

Other irregularities[edit | edit source]

A small number of verbs tend to be conjugated differently from the groups that they are normally placed in.

Polite language[edit | edit source]

The verbs below are all consonant stem verbs but conjugate differently. While the regular forms also exist, they are seldom used.

Verb polite present positive Imperative
くださる くださいます ください
なさる なさいます なさい
いらっしゃる いらっしゃいます いらっしゃい
おっしゃる おっしゃいます おっしゃい

The conjunctive and past forms of the first two verbs, "くださる" and "なさる", also have the alternative forms "くだすって/くだすった" and "なすって/なすった", in addition to the normal regular conjugations "くださって/くださった" and "なさって/なさった". These alternative forms have, however, fallen into disuse. While they are often encountered when reading texts from a few decades ago, the regular conjugations are usually used today.

The first three of the above verbs are also the only ones where the imperative form "ませ" of the auxiliary verb, "ます", is used to add an extra level of politeness:

くださいませ, なさいませ, いらっしゃいませ

Additionally, ございます, which originally came from the now-defunct yodan (四段, e. four-row) classical Japanese verb "ござる", is also used, although in modern usage, it is always used with the ます auxiliary verb ending. There is no imperative form (i.e. you cannot use ませ like above).

得る[edit | edit source]

得る (うる/える, e. to get, or to be able to) is the only surviving nidan (二段, e. two-row) class verb in modern Japanese. It has conjugations as in the below table:

Form Word Reading
Non-past 得る うる/える
Past 得た えた
Negative non-past 得ない えない
Negative past 得なかった えなかった
Imperative 得ろ えろ
Volitional 得よう えよう
Conjunctive 得て えて
Conditional 得れば うれば

"得る" can be read both as "える" in its terminal form (at the end of the sentence, or in situations such as attaching to べき). The "うる" reading is also used in those situations and in the attributive form (e.g. when attached to nouns). It is therefore incorrect to say "えるもの" as the correct form would be "うるもの". The combination "あり得る" is normally read "ありうる" in the present forms. All other conjugations follow the table above.

Miscellaneous irregularities[edit | edit source]

The vowel stem verb "呉れる" (くれる e. ) imperative form "くれ" (rather than the expected "くれろ"). Other "くれる" verbs of other unrelated meanings conjugate to the usual "くれろ".

The consonant stem verb "ある" expresses existence, but absence is expressed with the adjective "ない". Note that many textbooks also treat "ない" as a verb. The reader may also wish to be aware that more formal "ぬ" negative form and its conjunctive form, "ず", are still used: "あらぬ"/"あらず".

Summary of verb conjugations[edit | edit source]

dictionary form
polite forma
negative formb
"te" form
perfective form
~う -uc ~います -imasu ~わない -wanai ~って -tte ~った -tta
~つ -tsu ~ちます -chimasu ~たない -tanai
~る -ru ~ります -rimasu ~らない -ranai
~く -kud ~きます -kimasu ~かない -kanai ~いて -ite ~いた -ita
~ぐ -gu ~ぎます -gimasu ~がない -ganai ~いで -ide ~いだ -ida
~ぶ -bu ~びます -bimasu ~ばない -banai ~んで -nde ~んだ -nda
~む -mu ~みます -mimasu ~まない -manai
~す -su ~します -shimasu ~さない -sanai ~して -shite ~した -shita
(~い)る -irue ~ます -masu ~ない -nai ~て -te ~た -ta
(~え)る -erue
する suru します shimasu しない shinai して shite した shita
くる kuru きます kimasu こない konai きて kite きた kita
  • ^a Since the polite ~ます -masu form ends with ~す -su, the polite past form mostly follows the ~す -su rules. So for example the polite form of 話す hanasu is 話します hanashimasu, and the polite past form is 話しました hanashimashita, but the polite negative form is 話しません hanashimasen. See other examples of the polite form at the Japanese grammar Wikipedia entry.
  • ^b Since the negative ~ない -nai form ends with ~い -i, any further inflection of the negative form will behave as an i-adjective. For example, 話さない hanasanai "not talking" becomes 話さなかった(です) hanasanakatta(desu) "didn't talk".
  • ^c Two exceptions are 問う tou "to question" which conjugates to 問うて toute and the even less common 請う kou "to request" which conjugates to 請うて koute.
  • ^d The only exception is 行く iku which conjugates to いって itte.
  • ^e Not all verbs ending with いる iru or える eru are vowel stems, some are consonant stems instead like 走る hashiru "run" and 帰る kaeru "return". A full list of the many exceptions can be found at the Japanese consonant and vowel verbs Wikipedia entry.
dictionary form
potential form
conditional form
volitional form
~う -u ~える -eru ~えば -eba ~おう
~つ -tsu ~てる -teru ~てば -teba ~とう -tō
~る -ru ~れる -rerud ~れば -reba ~ろう -rō
~く -ku ~ける -keru ~けば -keba ~こう -kō
~ぐ -gu ~げる -geru ~げば -geba ~ごう -gō
~ぶ -bu ~べる -beru ~べば -beba ~ぼう -bō
~む -mu ~める -meru ~めば -meba ~もう -mō
~す -su ~せる -seru ~せば -seba ~そう -sō
(~い)る -iru ~られる -rareru ~れば -reba ~よう -yō
(~え)る -eru
する suru できる dekiru すれば sureba しよう shiyō
くる kuru こられる korareru くれば kureba こよう koyō
  • ^a All of the potential forms end in える eru or いる iru so they follow the vowel-stem (一段動詞 ichidandoushi) rules. 話せる hanaseru becomes 話せます hanasemasu.
  • ^b Conditional form is like saying "if ..." or "when ...".
  • ^c Also called the conjectural/tentative/presumptive form, it is the plain form of ~ましょう -mashō. ~ましょう -mashō is used as an inclusive command ("let's ..."), but becomes an inclusive query ("shall we ...?") when ka is added (食べましょうか tabe mashō ka "Shall we eat?"). -ō to omoimasu indicates the speaker's conjecture ("I think (I will)") and -ō to omotte imasu indicates the speaker's current intentions ("I'm thinking (I will)"). -ō to suru/-ō to shite iru/-ō to shite imasu indicates intention ("(be) about to").[9]
  • ^d The exception is 分かる wakaru "to understand" which already expresses ability innately without a conjugation.
dictionary word
polite form
negative form
"te" form
perfective form
あら arau "wash" あらいます araimasu あらわない arawanai あらって aratte あらった aratta
matsu "wait" ちます machimasu たない matanai って matte った matta
toru "take" ります torimasu らない toranai って totte った totta
kaku "write" きます kakimasu かない kakanai いて kaite いた kaita
いそ isogu "hurry" いそぎます isogimasu いそがない isoganai いそいで isoide いそいだ isoida
shinua "die" にます shinimasu なない shinanai んで shinde んだ shinda
yobu "call out" びます yobimasu ばない yobanai んで yonde んだ yonda
nomu "drink" みます nomimasu まない nomanai んで nonde んだ nonda
はな hanasu "speak" はなします hanashimasu はなさない hanasanai はなして hanashite はなした hanashita
miru "see" ます mimasu ない minai mite mita
たべ taberu "eat" たべます tabemasu たべない tabenai たべ tabete たべ tabeta
する surua "do" します shimasu しない shinai して shite した shita
勉強 benkyou "study" 勉強します benkyoushimasu 勉強しない benkyoushinai 勉強して benkyoushite 勉強した benkyoushita
くる kurua "come" きます kimasu こない konai きて kite きた kita

^a The only example of this form. See the Wikipedia entry on Japanese irregular verbs for more.

  • ^a All of these verbs end in える eru so conjugation from here follows the vowel-stem (一段動詞 ichidandoushi) rules. る ru can simply be replaced with ます masu to make it polite.
  • ^b Used to command someone not to do something. An example is 入るな hairu na "Do not enter."
  • ^c The imperative form can be used as a command, e.g. 黙れ damare "shut up!", やめ yame "stop!" or 止まれ tomare "Stop (sign)". Non-volitional verbs (e.g. ある aru, わかる wakaru, できる dekiru) have no imperative form and くれる kureru "to give" is an exception that conjugates to くれ kure (the plain form of ~てください -te kudasai "Please (do)...").
    A politer way of telling someone to do something is to use (masu stem)~なさい -nasai instead (e.g. 飲みなさい nominasai "Drink up.", しなさい shinasai "Do (what was said)."), or more informally, (masu stem)~な -na. Imperative form: たくさん食べな takusan tabena "Eat a lot." Prohibitive form: たくさん食べるな takusan taberu na "Don't pig out!"

See the adjective inflection Wikipedia page for present negative, past and past negative forms of i and na adjectives.

Notes and references[edit | edit source]

  1. These are
    • 五段(ごだん)
    • 上一段(かみいちだん) (the single-row conjugation verbs ending in iru)
    • 下一段(しもいちだん) (the single-row conjugation verbs ending in eru)
    • (ぎょう)変格(へんかく) (only ()
    • (ぎょう)変格(へんかく) (only する)
  2. These go by various names in English. The consonant stem class is also called godan class or five-row class while the vowel stem class is also called ichidan class or one-row class. The irregular verbs are not known as such in Japanese, but 変格(へんかく), literally: different case, indicating that it's different from normal, but not irregular in itself.
  3. 一段動詞(いちだんどうし), also known as a type II verb.
  4. 五段動詞(ごだんどうし), also known as a type I verb.
  5. The plain imperative as seen above is quite rude, and its use is generally limited to close male friends or colleagues if the intent is not to insult.
  6. The volitional indicates a presumption or suggestion on the speaker's part to do something, and in addition to being used in a few verb phrase constructions, a verb in volitional form corresponds to "let's {verb}"
  7. "やる" is a common prefix with flexible meaning that implies action.
  8. a b The polite conjunctive and -conditional are rarely used. The plain forms are usually used in their place.
  9. Rita Lampkin (14 May 2010). Japanese Verbs & Essentials of Grammar, Third Edition. McGraw-Hill Education. pp. 14–40. ISBN 978-0-07-171363-4.


Japanese has two main classes of words that function the same as adjectives in English.

Pure adjectives (形容詞; けいようし)
Also known as い-adjectives these are distinctive as their attributive form always ends with the syllable "い". Many nouns (such as 白 (しろ e. the colour white) become pure adjectives when appended with an い: 白い (しろい, e. white). Learners must beware, though, because several な-adjectives also end with the same い when rendered in kana (e.g. きらい, きれい).
Examples of pure adjectives are the colours 赤い (あかい, e. red) and 青い (あおい, e. blue), 高い (たかい, e. high, tall) 小さい (ちいさい, e. small), 重い (おもい, e. heavy) and 軽い (かるい, e. light).
Adjectival nouns (形容動詞; けいようどうし)
Also known as な-adjective these are grammatical nouns that form adjectives when affixed with "〜な". Technically, the な pseudoparticle comes from a contraction of "なる", the attributive form of the classical Japanese copula "なり".
Examples of adjectival nouns are 綺麗 (きれい, e. pretty), 静か (しずか, e. quiet) and 素敵 (すてき, e. lovely).

Basic conjugations[edit | edit source]

Like verbs, we can enumerate some common conjugations of adjectives.

It should not come as a surprise that the な-adjectives — being grammatical nouns — "conjugate" by having the copula added. Exceptions are the plain present positive, where the copula is omitted, and the polite past negative which has an alternative reading.

present positive past positive present negative past negative
plain 〜だった 〜ではない 〜ではなかった
polite 〜です 〜でした 〜ではありません 〜ではありませんでした


The い-adjectives have a somewhat simple conjugation pattern. The politeness is only determined by whether the (polite present positive, in all tenses) copula is added.

present positive past positive present negative past negative
plain 〜い 〜かった 〜くない




polite 〜いです 〜かったです 〜くないです 〜くなかったです

More forms[edit | edit source]

It can be useful to define a few stem forms for adjectives as these form building blocks for other forms.

Pure Adjectives Adjectival Nouns
Attributive form (連体形) 〜い 〜な
Terminal form (終止形) 〜い 〜だ
Continuative form (連用形) 〜く 〜で
Imperfective form (未然形) 〜かろ 〜だろ
Hypothetical form (仮定形) 〜けれ 〜なら
Imperative form (命令形 ) 〜かれ 〜なれ

These then form the following derived forms:

Pure Adjectives Adjectival Nouns
て-form cont. + て 〜くて cont. 〜で
conditional hyp. + ば 〜ければ hyp. + ば 〜なら(ば)
provisional inf. past + ら 〜かったら inf. past + ら 〜だったら
volitional[1] imperf. + う 〜かろう imperf. + う 〜だろう
adverbial cont. 〜く cont.+に 〜に
degree (-ness) root + さ 〜さ root + さ 〜さ

Adjectives too are governed by euphonic rules in certain cases. For the polite negatives of adjectival nouns, see also the section below on the copula.

Imperative[edit | edit source]

The imperative form is extremely rare in modern Japanese, restricted to set patterns like (おそ)かれ(はや)かれ (e. sooner or later) where they are treated as adverbial phrases! It is impossible for an imperative form to be in a predicate position.

Hypotheticals[edit | edit source]

The conditional and provisional forms are used to make conditional statements. There is a slight nuance to the two which is discussed further in the conditionals lesson.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Since most adjectives describe non-volitional conditions, the volitional form is interpreted as "it is possible", if sensible. In some rare cases it is semi-volitional: 良かろう, meaning OK (lit: let it be good), in response to a report or request.


Related lesson

Japanese has demonstratives (words for pointing to the subject of discussion) much in the same way that many other languages do. Japanese demonstratives are highly regular and take four standard prefixes:

  • こ〜, for objects close to the speaker;
  • そ〜, for objects closer to the listener;
  • あ〜, for objects far from either; and
  • ど〜, for question forms.
れがあなたのものですか? — Which is yours?
れです。 — (It) is this.
れです。 — (It) is this.
れです。 — That over there (yonder).

These are suffixed with various pronoun indicators that are listed in the table below.

Japanese also makes a distinction between a prenominal form and regular form, meaning that the prenominal form must describe a noun that follows. For example, in the sentence "This cat" the word "this" describes the cat. The prenominal form replaces the れ with a の. In that way, "あの", "その" and "この" are the prenominal forms of "this" and "that".

あのねこはわかいです。 - That (distant) cat is young.
Here (こ〜) There (そ〜) Distant (あ〜) Question (ど〜) Suffix Usage



that by you





[〜れ] Objects (normal); a demonstrative pronoun to replace naming objects. For example, you can name a thing that the listener is holding in his hands, or a house that the listener is standing by just "それ sore".

this ~


that ~ by you


that ~


which ~

[〜の] Objects (prenominal); indicates objects located somewhere. Must be followed by a noun. For example, "あの ひと ano hito" means "some person" or "a certain person" distant (but known) from both speaker and listener. The [〜の] suffix is used not only with the こ, そ, あ and ど stems, but also with other pronouns and nouns to indicate genitive.



there by you





[〜こ] Location. Refers to a place. Note that "あそこ asoko" is the correct way of saying "that place over there", not "あこ ako".

this way


that way by you


that way


which way

[〜ちら] Direction Direction or point of origin. There is also a shortened form of "〜ちら chira" - "〜っち tchi", which is almost as polite as the full form and is rather widely used, although should be avoided when speaking at formal events. In some translations. it may seem rather similar to the 〜う u group, but in reality it is different, as the 〜ちら chira group means direction, way to go somewhere, or sometimes place, but the 〜う u group means ways or methods to do something. Words belonging to the 〜ちら group are also a formal replacement for the 〜こ group.

this kind of


that kind of


that kind of


what kind of

[〜んな] A kind of. Indicates a class of things, and is usually translated as "such a" or "kind of". For example, "どんな いろ" means "what kind of color". "〜ういう" may be used instead of "〜んな nna". Note that the あ a-form of the "〜ういう uiu" is "ああいう aaiu".

in this way


in that way


in that way


in which way

[〜う] A way. Expresses a way of doing something (method). For example "どう dou" can be translated as "how", and "そう sou" can be translated as "that way" or "so". Note that the あ a-form is "ああ aa", not "あう au".

this person


that person by you


that person


which person

[〜いつ] A person. Nowadays this is a rather rude way to name persons. For example, speaking of a person you do not respect and/or who is lower than you in social hierarchy, who is not there when you are speaking of him, you may use "あいつ aitsu" meaning "that guy". This is only to be used informally. An acceptable way to express the same meaning is using a word from the 〜の group followed by ひと (人), e.g. "あの ひと", meaning "that person".





that person, you



[〜なた] A person. While 〜いつ itsu is just rude, this one is trickier. Originally, あなた anata was rather honorific, but now it is either neutrally formal when addressing strangers (it is a standard way of telling "you" taught in most Japanese language courses), or intimate (this is what a wife uses when talking to her husband to address him). Like all pronouns, you should avoid using あなた if possible. A more common way to refer to someone is by their name with the appropriate suffix (さん, くん, ちゃん) and not to use other pronouns of this group unless you know what you are doing. こなた konata and そなた sonata are rare nowadays, although you may still encounter them in classic literature or in movies about historical events. どなた donata is a polite word for "who?".

Note that the 〜ちら chira group may be used instead of the 〜こ ko group and also may be appended with の no instead of the 〜の no group in some cases in more official (formal) expressions. For example, "こちらの kochira no" can also mean "this (object/thing)".

Which which[edit | edit source]

There are several ways to say which depending on the number and item being asked about.

While these are by no means hard rules, "どちら" is more used particularly for two objects while "どれ" is mainly used for three or more items. For a particular item one can use "どの〜" (for whatever number) though "どちらの〜" is also common.

どちら(みち)()きます か 。 Which way will you take?
(なまり)(きん) と で は 、 どちら(おも)い か 。 Which is heavier, lead or gold?
どっち()って も (うれ)しい 。 Which ever wins, I'll be happy.
どの 電車(でんしゃ)()る の です か 。 Which train are you catching?
どの (いぬ) が あなた の もの です か 。 Which dog is yours?
どの (くつ) を はく つもり です か 。 Which shoes are you going to put on?
どの チーム が ()つ だろ う か 。 Which team will win?
大中小(だいちゅうしょう) あります が どれ に します か 。 We have large, medium, and small, what size do you want?

Also...[edit | edit source]

どのくらい, どれぐらい

"どのくらい" or "どれくらい" is a phrase for listening to the "at degree" or "grade" like "How many?" or "How much?" in English.

In Japanese, “くらい” or “ぐらい” means "at degree" of English. And "くらい" is one of noun.

"ぐらい" is the euphonic change of "くらい" .


There are two meanings of "How many " or "How much".

One meaning is a phrase to listen to the "at degree", as in “どのくらい” above.

Another meaning is an expression used as an antonym question when you want to emphasize that the degree is high or low.

:どれほど、あるいた か! How much have I (or he or she) walked! (I walked very much!)

In form, above sentence is a question form, But the meaning is not question.

The meaning is “I walked very much”, and I emphasize that.

Unlike English antonym questions, Japanese antonym questions give a somewhat high-pressure impression, so be careful when using them.


None, all, some[edit | edit source]


"どれか" is used to mention one or few from a plurality of items.


"どれも" and "どれでも" is used when everything introduced in topic is matched to the topic theme.

A note on kanji[edit | edit source]

The prefixes have kanji, but these are written in kana in modern Japanese. They are:

  • こ〜: 此
  • そ〜: 其
  • あ〜: 彼
  • ど〜: 何

Some of the suffixes similarly have kanji:

  • 〜こ: 処
  • 〜ちら: 方
  • 〜いつ: 奴

Lesson/Telling time

Related vocabulary

Expressing time uses "時" (じ, e. hour) and "分" (ふん, e. minute). Note that the reading of "ふん" depends on the sound before it. See the time vocabulary page for a list of the possible readings.

Conversationally, the Japanese use 12-hour time. When it's not clear from context, "午前" (ごぜん) and "午後" (ごご) are used for before and after noon, respectively.


To ask for the time, use:


Then, if HH is the hour and MM are the minutes (you see HH:MM at the clock), a possible answer cloud be:

Before noon After noon
午前(ごぜん)のHH()MM(ふん)です。 午後(ごご)のHH()MM(ふん)です。

For example:

何時ですか? — What time is it?
午後の7時20分です。 — It's 7:20 in the afternoon.

When "何" means "what", it's pronunciation is either "なに" or "なん", depending on what sound follows it.

When used to represent the hour of the day, the numbers, "four", "seven", and "nine" are pronounced differently from normal.

  • 4時 (よじ)
  • 7時 (しちじ)
  • 9時 (くじ)

There are two ways of pronouncing "10分"; "じっぷん" and "じゅっぷん". The former is taught as "correct" in school, but the latter is more common.[citation needed]

  • "7時" (しちじ) , "1時" (いちじ)

The pronunciation of "7時" (しちじ) and "1時" (いちじ) is similar, so it is unofficial but in Japan school education, "7 o'clock" may be pronounced as "Na-Na-Zi" to distinguish pronunciation as necessary.

However, a few exceptional organizations such as the Japanese military, dislike the confusion caused by the similar -pronunciation, so the military formally pronounce 7 of 7 o'clock as “Na-Na” contrary to the Japanese custom pronunciation of time.

The pronunciation of "分" is "ふん" when it stands alone, but changes to "ぷん" in certain cases.

Grammar/Basic Particles

Related resources
Related content

The Japanese language uses post-position particles (助詞; じょし) to denote the direction of an action and who is performing the action. They consistently come after the word that they modify.

There are three particles used very frequently in the language: は, を and が. This module covers these along with a few other common ones but an exhaustive list would run very long.

The topic and subject markers は and が[edit | edit source]

The particle "は" (pronounced as "わ" when used as a particle) is the topic marker denoting topic of discussion, while "が" is the subject marker and marks a noun that performs an action. The difference between the two tends to cause confusion among beginners but their usage can be summed up as matter of focus.

The topic particle "は" is used when introducing a topic and gives focus to the action of the sentence (i.e., the verb or the adjective). The subject marker "が" is used when emphasising the subject giving focus to the subject of the action.

One can also think of it as replacing "~は" with the phrase "as for ~", "on the topic of ~" or "regarding ~" to distinguish it from "が". While these phrases aren't common in English we can use these expressions here to better show the main difference between "は" and "が".

ねこ たべて います。 The cat is eating (or: Regarding the cat, it is eating.)
ねこ たべて います。 The cat is eating (as opposed to someone else).
きみ つよい。 You are strong.
きみ つよい。 You are strong (only you and not anyone else)
あれ でんわ だ。 That's the telephone.
あれ でんわ だ。 That's the telephone (and not anything else)

The difference can also be displayed by using both subject and topic markers in one sentence:

わたし あなた すき です。 I like you. (Or literally: as for me, like you.)
わたし わさび きらい です。 I dislike/hate wasabi. (Or: As for me, hate wasabi.)
あなた えいご じょうず です。 Your English is good! (Or: As for you, English good!)

One has to be careful using both "は" and "が" in one sentence. If a verb is actually acting on the (direct) subject, usually a different particle (like を) has to be used.

"は" is generally more flexible, because the "it" can be assumed, and is therefore recommended to novices who have not grasped the difference between the two.

"は" also has the specialized function of being used for comparisons as well.

ねこ います。 There is a cat.
いぬ います。 There is a dog.
ねこ たべて います けど, いぬ たべて いません。 The cat is eating, but the dog is not.

Often the grammatical subject may also be the topic. In this case, "は" normally replaces "が". However, if the subject is never known, you cannot use "は" and must use "が". This is similar to using pronouns: You can't state, "It is over there", without first stating what "it" may be.

The direct object marker を[edit | edit source]

The particle "を" (predominantly pronounced "お") is the direct object marker and marks the recipient of an action.

おさけ のむ。 To drink sake.
ざっし よむ。 To read a magazine.
ねこ が みず のんで います。 The cat is drinking water.

It also indicates the place through which the action occurs:

そら とぶ。 To fly through the sky
みち あるく。 To walk down the street

As with much of the language, parts of a sentence that can be assumed from context are often omitted and the direct object particle is commonly dropped in conversational (colloquial) Japanese. を is commonly used to identify the object in which the verb is affecting. For example, in the sentence "I drink juice" (わたし は ジュース を のむ), is identifying the word "ジュース" as the object in which のむ's action is taking place. "のむ" means "drink / to drink". In simpler terms, を tells us that the word (ジュース) is the object which the verb (のむ) is interacting with.

The indirect object marker に[edit | edit source]

"に" marks the verb's indirect object (i.e. the destination of a targeted verb action) translating as "to", "in", "at" or "by". It also indicates the location touched or affected by an event or action:

友だち プレゼントを あげる。 Give a present to a friend.
せんせい いう。 To tell (something) to the teacher.
学校 いる。 To be at school.
うち いる。 To be at home.
どようび あう。 To meet on Saturday

"に" can also be used as an "object of a preposition" marker when found in prepositional phrases like の前 (no mae ni), which means "in front of" or "before" depending on the context of the sentence. The particle "へ" described below is used exclusively for marking the destination.

The destination marker へ[edit | edit source]

へ (pronounced "え" when used as a particle) indicates the direction of an action, roughly the equivalent of "to" or "toward" in English.

おかあさんはみせ いく。 Mother is going to the store.
東京 いく。 (somebody) To go to Tokyo.
ほし とんでいく。 Fly to the stars.

The question marker か[edit | edit source]

Placing か at the end of a sentence changes a statement into a question. Use it at the end of a verb to make it a question, or at the end of an interrogative pro-form to make it into a demonstrative pronoun.

私は男です Am I a man?
これは どういうもの です How do you describe this?
ねこは います Is there a cat?
どこ いきました Did you go somewhere?

For more on the question marker, see: Sentence ending particles.

The possessive marker の[edit | edit source]

"の", is most commonly used as a possessive marker (similar to the English " 's ").

せんせいりんご。 The teacher's apple
わたし かばん。 My bag.
かれ とけい。 His watch.

The particle can also function as a noun link, indicating that the preceding noun (or adjectival noun) modifies the following noun.

とうきょう たてもの。 Buildings in/of Tokyo.
みどり ほん。 A green book.

It can also be used for nominalisation, converting verbs and (proper) adjectives into nouns.

よむ が いい。 Reading is good.

Note that in this last example two particles are used together: の and が: the first makes the action a noun, and the second tells that this action is what the sentence is all about.

The exhaustive list conjunction と[edit | edit source]

This particle acts as a conjunction on the words it separates. Unlike conjunctions of more than two words in English, where only the last two are separated with an "and" and the rest with commas, the Japanese conjunction separates each word and commas are not used.

これ それ が みどり です。 This and that are green.
ほん ざっし。 A book and a magazine.
かばんに ペン えんぴつ 消しゴム 定規がある。 There is a pen, a pencil, an eraser and a ruler in the bag.

This applies to exhaustive lists, i.e. when all objects are explicitly mentioned.

The particle is used to indicate parallelism with the subject, often meaning "with":

話をしました。 I spoke with him.
彼女 いった。 {I/He/She/They} went with her.
スミスさん テニス を しました。 (I) played tennis with Smith"
わたし は あなた けっこん する。 I will marry you. (I will get married with you)

The incomplete list marker や[edit | edit source]

This particle is used to connect various words implying that the listing is not exhaustive. The particle "など" may be added after the list to emphasise that the list is incomplete.

Noun Particle Noun ... など
ほん ペン があります。 There are books and pens (among other things).
ほん ざっし。 A book and a magazine (among other things).
サラダ 鳥肉 など が必要だ。 (I) need eggs, salad, chicken and such.

The "also" marker も[edit | edit source]

も is quite simply a marker that says "also". It replaces the particles は, が and を but can also follow other particles. This can also be used to form a large list of words all acting as though one of the basic particles (は, を, or が) were affecting the whole list.

Subject Particle Verb
ねこ のみます。 The cat also drinks.
わたし いく。 I'm going too.
しょうねん しょうじょ じょせい だんせい にんげん です。 Boys, girls, women and men are human.
Related content

Worth noting is that used with an interrogative pro-form (e.g. who, where, how) the も particle negates the pro-form:

だれも① anybody
e.g. だれもが知っていること General knowledge.
だれも② nobody
e.g. だれもいない Nobody's here.

The means particle で[edit | edit source]

The particle で can be used in several situations indicating means. These can be for example an instrument, a location or a language.

Means Particle Verb
だいがくに なん いきますか。 By what means do you go to University?
じてんしゃ いきます。 I go by bicycle.
くるま いく。 I go by car.
わたしは レストラン たべます。 I eat at a restaurant.
スミスさんと こうえん テニスを しました。 I played tennis with Smith at the park.
がっこう ならう。 To learn at school.

As a note of interest, the で from the copula である is also actually an instrumental-maker. で marks the whole previous expression instrumental to the verb ある. However, this is the classical meaning of the copula and rarely explicitly treated this way in modern Japanese.

Origin and limit から and まで[edit | edit source]

These particles indicate the starting point or border of an action. This may be a location as well as a time and corresponds roughly with "from" and "until".

とうきょう から くる。 Come from Tokyo.
やま まで いく。 To go to the mountains.
時間(じかん)9時(きゅうじ)から 5時(ごじ)まで です。 The hours are from 9 to 5.

Grammar/Sentence ending particles

The sentence ending particles (終助詞, しゅうじょし) are placed, unsurprisingly, at the end of sentences and apply to it as a whole. These include for example the question marker, か, and a host of others that express the speaker's emotions. Used mostly in speech.

か [ka] (interrogative)[edit | edit source]

Question mark, used to indicate the sentence is a question. Note that か replaces だ instead of appearing after it, so you can either omit the copula at all, or use a full form (で ある).

あのひと は だれ です か? Who is that man?
たなかさん は せんせい です か? Is Mr. Tanaka a teacher?

The particle may also follow question pronouns with the meaning of some as in someone:

だれ か somebody
どこ か somewhere

の [no] (emphatic interrogative)[edit | edit source]

An emphatic question mark (mostly expresses reconfirmation or surprise):

いい の? Is it okay?
どこに行くの? Where are we going?

An explanation particle, often indicates that the statement is intended to explain something or to provide information:

かわちゃんはだいがくせいなの。 Kawa-chan is a college student.

ね [ne] (emphasis and confirmation)[edit | edit source]

Polite and expresses

  • the speaker's desire to receive confirmation (rising intonation), or
  • the speaker's agreement (falling intonation).

Often translated as "isn't it so", "don't you think so" or "don't you agree with me". Also used as a polite or friendly sentence ending. Some people end virtually every sentence with "ね".

それ は むずかしい ね。↑ It's difficult, isn't it?
それ は むずかしい ね。↓ That sure is difficult.
たなかさん は すごい ひと だ ね...↓ Mr. Tanaka is a great guy...

Also works as "phrase softener", i.e., it makes the phrase sound softer. Lengthening the syllable makes it more emphatic. The lengthening is usually indicated with a tilde:

きれい だ ね~↓ It's so beautiful!

よ [yo] (modality)[edit | edit source]

Used when providing new information that a speaker has, or like an exclamation mark, also for commands and invitations:

わかる よ I understand.

ぞ [zo] (emphasis)[edit | edit source]

Similar to よ but more objective. Often used as a shout, a call and a yell (not limited to male speakers).

いく ぞ I'm going.

な [na] (admiration)[edit | edit source]

Informal, used when expressing a personal emotion or desire.

たなか は ばか だ な... Tanaka's a fool...
さむい なあ It's so cold.

(A few speakers tend to prefer using "な" instead of "ね" but deprecated)

な [na] (prohibition)[edit | edit source]

な can indicate prohibition when placed after action-verbs(present tense). In direct speech, this sounds rude and angry.

いく な! Don't go!
みる な! Don't look!

かな [kana] (uncertainty)[edit | edit source]

Indicate that speaker is not sure about something.

どこ に ある の かな I wonder, where was it?

ぜ [ze] (inducement)[edit | edit source]

Sometimes seen as catchphrases, but rather old-fashioned, thus used only in a sportive talking . Also sometimes used as a vulgar よ.

おい、にげる ぜ Hey, I'm getting out of here!

わ [wa] (modality)[edit | edit source]

Declares a personal thought. Almost similar to よ but expresses fewer attention:

あした行くわ。 I will go tomorrow.

さ [sa] (interjection, emphasis)[edit | edit source]

Filler particle, used to draw attention with a pause (unlike よ, not implying any command or new information is communicated):

あの さ hey

Lesson Giving and Receiving

There are several ways to express giving and receiving depending on which side the speaker is on, but also depending on whether someone of higher or lower rank is being addressed.

Giving[edit | edit source]

This schematic illustrates the various verbs for giving and receiving.

When expressing that someone gives to someone else (but not you), use the form of:

(Receiver) に (object) を ()()げる。


When others give you, use either:

(you) に (object) を (くだ)さる
(わたし)先生(せんせい)(ほん)()()げます。 // I give the teacher the book.
(わたし)(いもうと)にお菓子(かし)をあげる。 // I give my sister candy. (plain present)
私達(わたしたち)(ねこ)にボールをあげた。 // We gave the cat a ball. (plain past)
彼女(かのじょ)先生(せんせい)林檎(りんご)をあげます。 // The girl gives an apple to the teacher. (polite present)
友達(ともだち)はお(かあ)さんにカードをあげました。 // My friend gave his mom a card. (polite past)

The polite form is "くださる" while "くれる" is of neutral politeness and most commonly used. You will often use this verb when you've gotten something from someone who isn't currently there.

先生(せんせい)(わたし)(ほん)(くだ)さいました。 // The teacher gave me a book.
あなたは(わたし)にビデオをくれる。 // I get a video from you.
岸子(きしこ)(わたし)にマンガをくれた。 // I received a manga from kishiko.

Receiving[edit | edit source]

When expressing that someone receives from someone else, use a form of:

(object) を (いただ)

Although に is slightly more casual, you can use both に and から when you receive some physical objecs. For actions, you can only use に. Use から when you wish to emphasize the giver.

クリスマスが()たら、お(ばあ)ちゃんに新車(しんしゃ)をもらうと(おも)う。 // When Christmas comes, I think I'll get a new car from grandma. (plain form)
誕生日(たんじょうび)に、(あずさ)はお(とう)さんから250,000円をもらったそうです! // For her birthday, I heard that Azusa received 250,000 yen from her dad! (polite form)[2]
彼女(かのじょ)王子(おうじ)結婚(けっこん)したら、女王(じょおう)(おお)くの宝石(ほうせき)をもらいます。 // When she marries the prince, she will receive many jewels from the queen. (polite form)
(かあ)さんに(あたら)しいパソコンをもらいました! // I got a new computer from my mother! (polite form)

The verb いただく is a humble verb, and is used when you receive something from a superior or wish to show respect.


(わたし)先生(せんせい)にペンをいただきました。 // I received a pen from the teacher.

Actions[edit | edit source]

When the object being given or received is an action (and thus expressed by a verb) you can attach use it in the て-form in place of the object.

(Giver) は (Verb in 〜て form) (Verb of giving)。
(Receiver) に (Verb of receiving)。

Note that for receiving an action, you cannot use "から".

Examples for giving, "I washed the car for her," or, "I did the laundry for him." Here are some examples in Japanese:

(わたし)はアパートの掃除(そうじ)をしてあげました。 // I cleaned the apartment (for him/her). (polite form)
(わたし)(ばん)(はん)(つく)ってあげた。 // I made dinner (for him or her). (plain form)

Examples for receiving, "The dentist examined my teeth for me," or "Mom cleaned up my room for me." Here are some examples:

医者(いしゃ)()てもらいました。 // The doctor examined me (for me). (polite form)
彼氏(かれし)(あたら)しい(くるま)()ってもらった! // My boyfriend bought a new car for me! (plain form)

Notes and references[edit | edit source]

  1. The verb "やる" is rather disrespectful and would only be used by boys joking with each other.
  2. In this case, 誕生日に、梓はお父さん"から"~ may be better because you can avoid "に、... に" form

See also[edit | edit source]


Related content
Related lesson
Related vocabulary

Comparative[edit | edit source]

The main methods of constructing comparative sentences use the words "より" and "(ほう)". They can be used individually or together. The former indicates inferiority while the latter superiority (but note that superiority can indicate "lower", "cheaper", "smaller", etc).

<superior object> の方が <inferior object> より <adjective> です

Let's look at a few examples asserting that pizza (ピザ) is more delicious than sushi (寿司(すし)). Take the noun that is superior (in this case, more delicious) and affix "の(ほう)が" to it. Then, take the inferior noun and append it with "より":


This essentially means "Pizza is more than sushi." but we have yet to explain in what fashion pizza out-does sushi. In this case, we are describing how delicious so we choose "おいしい". To be polite, we will add the polite copula "です" to the end of the sentence.


The adjective can be changed to anything you'd like.

ピザの方が寿司より(くさ)いです。// Pizza is smellier than sushi.
ピザの方が寿司より(やす)いです。// Pizza is cheaper than sushi.

Variations[edit | edit source]

It doesn't matter which part comes first; "〜の方が" or "〜より" so the following are both grammatically correct:


The adjective, however, must always come last with the copula.

One may drop one of "より" or "の方" when the comparison is clear from context.

そのピザはおいしいですか? — Is that pizza tasty?
はい、でも寿司の方がおいしかったです。 — Yes, but the sushi was tastier.
はい、寿司よりです。 — Yes, better than the sushi.

Though it is not standard, "の方が" can be replaced with "は". Some people may find this easier to remember.

Instead of "より", you can say "よりも". This is mostly restricted to speech and adds emphasis. Others may use it simply because they like to say it instead of plain "より". You can choose for yourself which you'd like to use.


There is also "もっと" which means "more" or "to a greater degree".

一緒だともっと楽しいです。 — It's more enjoyable together.

Superlative[edit | edit source]

In Japanese one can express the superlative by stating that it is "the most ~", or that is "more ~ than anything/anyone".

The most ~[edit | edit source]

Depending on formality, you may use "もっとも" or "一番" (いちばん, e. number one). The superlative is formed by prepending this to the adjective.

(<subject> は/が) もっとも
<adjective> です
一番おいしい // The most delicious.
一番(たか)い // The most expensive (or The highest).
一番(なが)い // The longest.
一番(かな)しい // The saddest.

With a subject:

一番素敵(すてき)(ひと)です。 // The greatest person.
彼女(かのじょ)にとって、(わたし)一番(いちばん)素敵(すてき)(ひと)です。// From my girlfriend's point of view, I am the greatest person.

You can also modify a noun by placing it after the adjective. Take a look at these examples:

この小説(しょうせつ)は一番有名(ゆうめい)です。 // This novel is the most famous.
これは一番有名(ゆうめい)小説(しょうせつ)です。 // This is the most famous novel.
その映画(えいが)は一番(かな)しいです。// That movie is the saddest.
それは一番(かな)しい映画(えいが)です。// That is the saddest movie.

More than anything[edit | edit source]

This method has two forms with the same structure, but a different word depending on whether it refers to something that is animate or inanimate.

animate <Name, pronoun or creature> (だれ) より (Adjective) です。
inanimate <Noun> (なに)

Instead of just "(なに)より"or "(だれ)より", you can say "(なに)よりも" or "(だれ)よりも". It's up to you which form you choose to use. Here are some examples!

(かあ)さんは誰より(こい)しいです。 // I miss my mother more than anyone.
この手紙(てがみ)は何より大切(たいせつ)です! // This letter is more important to me than anything!
この(うた)は何よりもきれいですね。 // This song is prettier than anything, isn't it?

See also[edit | edit source]

Lesson/Simultaneous action

Related content

Simultaneous action is designated by replacing the "〜ます" ending of the polite present positive tense of the first verb with "〜ながら". The tense is then determined by the latter verb. Both actions should be performed by the same person.

Those more comfortable thinking in terms of the dictionary form can see this as adding "〜ながら" to the stem of vowel-stem verbs, or the い-row of consonant-stem verbs (e.g. 飲む -> 飲みながら example below). The irregular verbs are also put in the い-row making them identical to the consonant-stem verbs.

<sentence start> <vowel-stem verb stem> ながら <second verb>
<consonant-stem verb stem in い-row>

The tense of the sentence is given with the second verb.

Examples[edit | edit source]

Dictionary form ながら-form example meaning
Vowel stem verbs
見る (みる) 見ながら テレビを見ながらりんごを食べた。 I ate an apple while I watched television.
食べる(たべる) 食べながら りんごを食べながらテレビを見る。 I watch television while eating an apple.
Consonant stem verbs
会う(あう) 会いながら
行く(いく) 行きながら 学校へ行きながら友だちと喋った。 I talked with my friends on our way to school.
泳ぐ(およぐ) 泳ぎながら 泳ぎながら歌を歌った。 I sang a song while swimming.
話す(はなす) 話しながら
待つ(まつ) 待ちながら
遊ぶ(あそぶ) 遊びながら
飲む(のむ) 飲みながら コーヒーを飲みながら友達と喋っていました。 I chatted with friends over coffee.
喋る(しゃべる) 喋りながら
Irregular verbs
する しながら
() ()ながら
Japanese English Reading Notes
見るto see, to watchみるThis verb changes thus: "見る" -> "見ます" -> "見ながら".
食べるto eatたべるThis verb changes thus: "食べる" -> "食べます" -> "食べながら"
公園a (public) parkこうえん
友達a friendともだち
飲むto drinkのむ
喋るto talk, to chatしゃべる
歩くto walkあるく


Many Japanese verbs belong to pairs of transitive and intransitive verbs. In Japanese these are known as 他動詞 (other move verb) and 自動詞 (self move verb). Formally, the difference between these is that a transitive verb can take on a direct object, whereas an intransitive verb (normally) cannot. There are a few pairs of distinct verbs in English that correlate to this: "raise"/"rise", "fell"/"fall" and "lay"/"lie".

Transitive verbs can be thought of as causative, requiring an agent to perform an action. Intransitive verbs move on their own and can be thought of as just existing.

This is best explained by example. Contrast the following pairs of sentences:

English Verb Japanese
Transitive (I) close the door. 閉める (しめる) ドアを閉める。
Intransitive The door closes. 閉まる (しまる) ドアが閉まる。
Transitive The teacher starts the class. 始める (はじめる) 先生が授業を始める。
Intransitive The class starts. 始まる (はじまる) 授業が始まる。
Transitive The sun melts the ice. 溶かす(とかす) 太陽が氷を溶かす。
Intransitive The ice melts. 溶ける(とける) 氷が溶ける。

The general patterns for transitive and intransitive sentences is:

(<subject> は/が) <direct object> を/が <transitive verb>。
<subject> が <intransitive verb>。

The topics of intransitive verbs are usually inanimate.

Some pairings are listed in the following table:

自動詞(じどうし) (intransitive verb) 他動詞(たどうし) (transitive verb)
to go out ()deru ()dasu to get out
to escape ()げる nigeru (にが)nigasu to let escape
to melt ()ける tokeru ()かす tokasu to melt something
to wither ()れる kareru ()らす karasu to let wither
to increase (by self) 増える fueru 増やす fuyasu to increase (something else)
to cool down (by self) 冷える hieru 冷やす hiyasu to cool something down
to grow 生える haeru 生やす hayasu to grow something
to wake up 起きる okiru 起こす okosu to wake somebody up
to get off 降りる oriru 降ろす orosu to offload
to fall 落ちる ochiru 落とす otosu to let fall
to elapse (time) 過ぎる sugiru 過ごす sugosu to spend (time)
to decline 減る heru 減らす herasu to decrease something
to boil 沸く waku 沸かす wakasu to bring something to a boil
to dry (self) 乾く kawaku 乾かす kawakasu to dry something
to be glad 喜ぶ yorokobu 喜ばす yorokobasu to cheer somebody
to get open 開く aku 開ける akeru to open something
to reach 届く todoku 届ける todokeru to deliver
to grow up 育つ sodatsu 育てる sodateru to rear
to stand 立つ tatsu 立てる tateru to stand up
to board 乗る noru 乗せる noseru to let board
to approach 寄る yoru 寄せる yoseru to let near
to return 返る kaeru 返す kaesu to bring back
to go through 通る tōru 通す tōsu to let through
to turn (by self) 回る mawaru 回す mawasu to turn something
to get repaired 直る naoru 直す naosu to repair
to cross 渡る wataru 渡す watasu to bring to the other side
to break up 離れる hanareru 離す hanasu to separate
to disengage 外れる hazureru 外す hazusu to release
to tumble 倒れる taoreru 倒す taosu to overthrow
to become dirty 汚れる yogoreru 汚す yogosu to dirty
to appear 現れる arawareru 現す arawasu to let appear
to get broken 壊れる kowareru 壊す kowasu to break
to be decided 決まる kimaru 決める kimeru to decide
to close 閉まる shimaru 閉める shimeru to close something
to gather 集まる atsumaru 集める atsumeru to collect
to begin 始まる hajimaru 始める hajimeru to begin something
to be found 見付かる mitsukaru 見付ける mitsukeru to find something
to hang 掛かる kakaru 掛ける kakeru to hang something up
to be saved 助かる tasukaru 助ける tasukeru to save
to change (yourself) 変わる kawaru 変える kaeru to change something
to join 加わる kuwawaru 加える kuwaeru to add
to burn 焼ける yakeru 焼く yaku to burn something
to be sold 売れる ureru 売る uru to sell
to come out 抜ける nukeru 抜く nuku to draw out
to come loose 解ける hodokeru 解く hodoku to loosen
to be visible 見える mieru 見る miru to see
to be audible 聞こえる kikoeru 聞く kiku to hear
to extinguish 消える kieru 消す kesu to delete
to enter 入る hairu 入れる ireru to put in
to end 終わる owaru 終える/終わる oeru/owaru to end something
to become なる naru する suru to do

The rule of thumb is that intransitive verbs usually take nouns with the particles 「が」(ga) or 「は」(wa) that act as subjects, whereas transitive verbs take object nouns marked with 「を」(o). Transitive verbs can also take a ga-subject or wa-subject, although it may be omitted. Note that some intransitive verbs can take an o-object that indicates a location. For example, 出る ("to leave") can be used with a direct object that is a location from which the subject is to leave from. See the table below for more examples:

English Verb Japanese
Transitive with を (I) took out my wallet from my bag. 出す(だす) 財布をカバンから出した。
Transitive with は and を I took out my wallet from my bag. 出す(だす) 私は財布をカバンから出した。
Intransitive with を (I) left home. 出る(でる) 家を出た。
Intransitive with は and を I left home. 出る(でる) 私は家を出た。

See also[edit | edit source]

Verb conjugation table

Pronouncing and understanding Japanese phonetics is very easy if the basic foundations are learnt correctly before advancing to more evolved structure. For example, there are five sounds that can be represented by the 5 vowels ( in this order 'a' 'i' 'u' 'e' 'o' pronounced "a as in 'a bird'" "i pronounced 'ee' 'u like the first ooo in the sound a monkey makes "oo oo oo" "e said like the e in tech' and 'o said like as in knots') of the 26 letters of this language. These 5 sounds remain unchanged except for variations dictated by the prior consonant and semantics that indicate a brief pause or hold in the relative frequency.

All forms of a verb are derived from the root form of a verb. All verbs end in an 'u' sound. If it is 'ru' it is easy to conjugate; otherwise, there is a set of rules described somewhat in the below table.

Past + Past - Present + Present - Imperative -te form Volitional Plain
Past + Past - Present + Present - Imperative -te form Volitional Polite
-tari form Subjunctive Conditional Provisional Passive Causative Potential
五段動 詞 (consonant stem verbs)
った わなかった わない って おう
いました いませんでした います いません って いましょう
ったり ったら えば われる わせる える
いた かなかった かない いて こう
きました きませんでした きます きません いて きましょう
いたり いたら けば かれる かせる ける
いだ がなかった がない いで ごう
ぎました ぎませんでした ぎます ぎません いで ぎましょう
いだり いだら げば がれる がせる げる
した さなかった さない して そう
しました しませんでした します しません して しましょう
したり したら せば される させる せる
った たなかった たない って とう
ちました ちませんでした ちます ちません って ちましょう
ったり ったら てば たれる たせる てる
んだ ななかった なない んで のう
にました にませんでした にます にません んで にましょう
んだり んだら ねば なれる なせる ねる
んだ ばなかった ばない んで ぼう
びました びませんでした びます びません んで びましょう
んだり んだら べば ばれる ばせる べる
んだ まなかった まない んで もう
みました みませんでした みます みません んで みましょう
んだり んだら めば まれる ませる める
った らなかった らない って ろう
りました りませんでした ります りません って りましょう
ったり ったら れば られる らせる れる
一段動 詞 (vowel stem verbs)
なかった ない よう
ました ませんでした ます ません ませ まして ましょう
たり たら れば られる させる られる
Irregular Verbs
する (e. to do)
した しなかった する しない しろ + せよ して しよう
しました しませんでした します しません しませ しまして しましょう
したり したら すれば される させる できる
()る (e. to come)
() ()なかった () ()ない () () ()よう
()ました ()ませんでした ()ます ()ません ()ませ ()まして ()ましょう
()たり () ()たら ()れば ()られる ()される ()(ら)れる
だ (the copula)
だった ではなかった
- だろう
でした ではありませんでした
です ではありません
- でして でしょう
- だったら
なら -

Other forms of the copula can be obtained by replacing it with である.


Elementary vocabulary[edit | edit source]

Proper[edit | edit source]

Specialized[edit | edit source]

Cultural[edit | edit source]

By origin[edit | edit source]

Vocabulary/Academic Subjects

Related vocabulary

Japanese English Reading Notes
化学Chemistryかがく"科学" and "化学" have the same pronunciation, Threfore in order to distinction these two words, Japanese person sometimes pronounces chemistry as "Ba-Ke-Ga-Ku".
美術Fine Artsびじゅつ
史学 / 歴史Historyしがく / れきし
家庭科Home Economicsかていか
国語JapaneseこくごAnalogous to the study of most languages by native speakers, this is not the learning of the language but a mixture of its study with literature and creative composition.
理科Natural Sciencesりか
体育Physical Educationたいいく


Related vocabulary

Mammals[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
アルパカAlpacaloan word from the American Spanish word alpaca
オポッサムAustralian Possumloan word from the English word opossum
蝙蝠Batこうもりindividually both kanji mean bat but are read differently
ビーバーBeaverloan word from the French derived English word beaver
駱駝Camelらくだwhite horse (駱) hunchback (駝)
チンチラChinchillaloan word from the Spanish word chinchilla
ハナグマCoatimundinose (ハナ) bear (グマ)
Cowうしalso used for ox
コヨーテCoyoteloan word from the American Spanish word coyote
デグーloan word from the South American word degu
海豚Dolphinいるかsea (海) pig (豚). When written in kana, katakana is commonly used.
donkey (驢) horse (馬) or rabbit (兎) horse (馬)
儒艮Dugongじゅごんloan word from the Latin word dugong
鼬 いたちFerret
砂鼠Gerbilすなねずみsand (すな) mouse (ねずみ)
山羊Goatやぎmountain (山) sheep (羊)
ウッドチャックGroundhogloan word from the English words wood chuck
モルモットGuinea pigloan word from the French word marmotte
ハムスターHamsterloan word from the German word hamster
針鼠 or 蝟Hedgehogはりぬずみneedle ( ハリ) mouse (ネズミ)
河馬Hippopotamusかばriver (河) horse (馬)
キンカジューKinkajouloan word from the Indian word kinkajou, meaning honey bear
子猫 / 仔猫Kittenこねこchild (子 / 仔) cat (猫)
Lionししloan word from Chinese (Shizi)
loan word from the English lion
ラマLlamaloan word from the Spanish word llama
海牛 Manateeかいぎゅうocean (海) cow (牛)
ミンクMinkloan word from the English word mink
川獺 / 獺Otterかわうそ
パンダPandaぱんだloan word from the French word panda
北極熊 Polar bearほっきょくぐま北極= North Pole, 熊= Bear
子犬 / 仔犬Puppyこいぬchild (子 / 仔) dog (犬)
Rabbitうさぎalso used for hare or coney
洗熊Raccoonあらいぐまto wash (洗う) bear (熊)
Raccoon dogたぬき
ラット is a loan word from the English rat and used more commonly than どぶねずみ
レッサーパンダRed pandaressa is the loan word for the English word lesser and panda from the French panda
海豹Sealあざらし海 (sea) 豹(panther)
海驢Sea lionあしか海 (sea) 驢 (donkey). When written in kana, katakana is commonly used.
コモリネズミShort tailed opossumコモリ (komori) ネズミ (mouse)
スカンクSkunkloan word from the English word skunk
栗鼠Squirrelりすchestnut (栗) mouse (鼠)
袋鼠Virginia opossumふくろねずみsack/bag (袋) mouse (鼠). The English loan word ポッサム (possamu) is often used
Whaleクジラwhen written in kana, katakana is commonly used
縞馬Zebraしまうまstripe (縞) horse (馬)

Birds[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
金糸雀Canaryかなりあ / かなりや
Chicken (domestic)にわとり
烏 / 鴉Crow (or raven)からす
家鴨Duck (domestic)あひるfamily/house (家) wild duck (鴨)
Duck (wild)かも
エミューEmuloan word from the Portuguese word emu
鵞鳥Gooseがちょうgoose (鵞) bird (鳥)
Hawk (or falcon)たか
鴕鳥Ostrichだちょうostrich (鴕) bird (鳥)
鸚哥Parakeetいんこ writtin in Katakana インコ。 source (my 日本語のせんせい。)
雉子 / 雉Pheasantきじ
Pigeon (or dove)はと
雲雀Skylarkひばりcloud (雲) sparrow (雀)
七面鳥Turkeyしちめんちょうseven faces (七面) bird (鳥)
禿鷹Vultureはげたかbaldness (禿) hawk (鷹)

Reptiles, fish and other sea life[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
Alligator (or crocodile)わに
龍 / Dragonりゅう / たつboth 龍 and 竜 can be read as either ryuu or tatsu
Fishさかな (or うお)
イグアナIguanaloan word from the Spanish word iguana
金魚Goldfishきんぎょgold (金) fish (魚)
水母 / 海月Jellyfishくらげwater (水) mother (母) or sea (海) moon (月)
コモドドラゴンKomodo dragonloan word from the Indonesian island Komodo and the English word dragon
蛸 / 章魚Octopusたこwhen written in kana, katakana is commonly used
海獣Sea animalかいじゅうsea (海) animal (獣)
海牛Sea slugうみうしsea (海) cow (牛). More commonly written using kana (katakana) instead of kanji
海老 / 蝦Shrimpえび
蝸牛Snailかたつむり,or でんでんむし,or かぎゅうsnail (蝸) cow (牛). 蝸牛 can be read in all three ways and still mean snail
Snake (or serpent)へび
伊勢海老Spiny lobsterいせえびIse (伊勢) shrimp (蝦)
墨魚Squidぼくぎょink (墨) fish (魚).
Turtle (or tortoise)かめ

Insects[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
虫 / 昆虫Insectむし / こんちゅう
害虫Harmful insectsがいちゅう
益虫Beneficial insectsえきちゅう
兜虫 / 甲虫Beetleかぶとむしlit. headpiece (兜) insect (虫)
鍬形虫Stag beetleくわがたむしlit. Hoe-shape insect
雀蜂 / 胡蜂Hornetすずめばち
団子虫Pillbugだんごむしlit. dumpling insect
草鞋虫Sow bugわらじむしlit. Waraji insect
蠅 / 蝿Flyはえ
天道虫Ladybugてんとうむしlit. insect of path in the heavens
蟬 / 蝉Cicadaせみ


Related vocabulary

Japanese English Reading Notes
checking accountチェッキングこうざ
法人口座corporate accountほうじんこうざ
個人口座personal accountこじんこうざ
savings accountセービングこうざ
年利annual percentage yield (APY)ねんり
信用組合credit unionしんようくみあい
金融機関financial institutionきんゆうきかん
定期預金口座certificate of deposit (CD)ていきよきんこうざ
入金するto deposit (to one's own account)にゅうきんする
出金するto withdrawしゅっきんする
振込electronic funds transfer/wire fundsふりこみ
振り込むto wire/direct deposit (by third-party)ふりこむ
口座自動振替automatic bill payerこうざじどうふりかえ
為替money orderかわせ
外貨foreign currencyがいか
外貨両替foreign exchangeがいかりょうがえ
為替レートexchange rateかわせれーと
FDIC insuranceぺいおふ
from the English payoff
利子interest paidりし
利息interest earnedりそく
口座に利息が付くan account earns interestこうざにりそくがつく
利率interest rateりりつ
投資するto investとうしする
証券取引所stock exchangeしょうけんとりひきじょ
国債savings bondこくさい
株価stock priceかぶか
株価指数stock price indexかぶかしすう

Vocabulary/Body parts

Related vocabulary
Japanese English Reading Notes


Head[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
頬 or 頰cheekほほ or ほお

Torso[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
chest, breastむね
navel, bellybuttonへそ
hips, waist, lower backこし
お腹 (おなか) is more polite


お尻 (おしり) is more polite

Limbs[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
lap, kneeひざ
nail (finger or toe)つめ
foot, feetあし

Fingers[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
人差し指Index Fingerひとさしゆび
中指Middle Fingerなかゆび
薬指Ring Fingerくすりゆび
小指Little Fingerこゆび

Organs and tissue[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes

骨髄bone marrowこつずい
  • 「お」 adds politeness here


Japanese English Reading Notes
greenみどりグリーン is also commonly used when referencing the color of clothing, shoes or other manufactured items. みどり however, is more often used when describing green that is found in nature (ie. green color found on leaves or grass)
水色light blueみずいろ
blueあおあお originally encompassed both blue and green. It is mainly used for blue in modern times. The green traffic-light is called 青信号(あおしんごう)
グレー (also spelled as グレイ) is used more colloquially than ねずみいろ or 灰色 which are traditional Japanese words, meaning mouse-color and ash color, respectively.
ピンク (a transliteration of 'pink') is more commonly used than ももいろ (lit. peach colour) which is a traditional Japanese word.

  • Note that the six basic colors, black, white, red, yellow, brown, and blue are in their noun forms. Adding -い(-i) to the end of these colors will make them adjectives, allowing them to be placed before a noun: 赤い red (adj.), 青い blue (adj.), 黄色い yellow (adj.), 茶色い brown (adj.), 白い white (adj.), 黒い black (adj.).

Advanced[edit | edit source]

English 和語(わご)/複合語(ふくごうご)
(native words and compound words)
(Chinese words)
red (あか) / 赤色(あかいろ) 赤色(せきしょく) レッド
orange 橙色(だいだいいろ) (橙色(とうしょく)) オレンジ
pale orange 肌色(はだいろ) / 薄橙色(うすだいだいいろ) ペールオレンジ
golden yellow 山吹色(やまぶきいろ) ゴールデンイエロー
yellow () / 黄色(きいろ) 黄色(おうしょく) イエロー
yellowish green 黄緑(きみどり) / 黄緑色(きみどりいろ) 黄緑色(おうりょくしょく)
green (みどり) / 緑色(みどりいろ) 緑色(りょくしょく) グリーン
aqua blue 水色(みずいろ) (水色(すいしょく)) (アクアブルー)
blue (あお) / 青色(あおいろ) (青色(せいしょく)) ブルー
indigo 藍色(あいいろ) (藍色(らんしょく)) インディゴブルー
purple (むらさき) / 紫色(むらさきいろ) (紫色(ししょく)) パープル
brown 茶色(ちゃいろ) / 栗色(くりいろ) 褐色(かっしょく) ブラウン 茶色い服 (brown wear)、栗色の髪 (brown hair)、褐色の肌 (brown skin)
white (しろ) / 白色(しろいろ) 白色(はくしょく) ホワイト
gray 鼠色(ねずみいろ) / 灰色(はいいろ) (灰色(かいしょく)) グレー/グレイ
black (くろ) / 黒色(くろいろ) 黒色(こくしょく) ブラック
pink 桃色(ももいろ) (淡紅色(たんこうしょく)) ピンク
gold 金色(きんいろ) / 黄金色(こがねいろ) 金色(こんじき) ゴールド
silver 銀色(ぎんいろ) / 白銀色(しろがねいろ) (銀色(ぎんじき)) シルバー

Verbs[edit | edit source]

grammar rules:

adj → become ~ verb (~になる)
~い → ~む (e.g. 悲しい → 悲しむ, 赤い → 赤む)
noun → take on ~ verb (~を帯びる)
~ → ~ばむ (e.g. 汗 → 汗ばむ, 赤 → 赤ばむ)
verb → passive verb
~ → (imperfective form of ~)る (e.g. 忘る → 忘れる)
English intransitive Japanese intransitive intransitive example English transitive Japanese transitive transitive example notes
become red (あか)
(ほほ)が赤らむ make (it) red (あか)める
become blue (あお)
(かお)が青ばむ make (it) blue (あお)める
become yellow ()ばむ (ふく)が黄ばむ make (it) yellow ()ばめる (ふく)を黄ばめてしまう
become black (くろ)
(はだ)が黒ずんだ make (it) black (くろ)める
become white (しろ)
空が白む make (it) white (しろ)める

Variant nouns[edit | edit source]

English Japanese English Japanese English Japanese
sense of red (あか) degree of red (あか) if anything, red (あか)
sense of blue (あお) degree of blue (あお) if anything, blue (あお)
sense of green (みどり) degree of green (みどり) if anything, green (みどり)
sense of yellow 黄色(きいろ) degree of yellow () if anything, yellow 黄色(きいろ)
sense of black (くろ) degree of black (くろ) if anything, black (くろ)
sense of white (しろ) degree of white (しろ) if anything, white (しろ)

External links[edit | edit source]


Related vocabulary

Gmail interface

Software[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
オペレーションシステム/O(オー)S(エス)/基本(きほん)ソフトoperation system
ユーザーインターフェースuser interface
スキン/外装(がいそう)skin (user interface)
拡張子(かくちょうし)filename extension
コンテキストメニューcontext menu
クラッシュ (noun), クラッシュする (verb), ()ちる (verb)crash
フリーズ/ハング (noun), フリーズする/ハングする/(かた)まる (verb)freeze/hang
バグるbecame buggy
セグメンテーション違反(いはん)/セグメンテーションフォルト/セグフォsegmentation fault

Internet[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
インターネットthe Internet
LAN(ラン)ケーブルEthernet Cable
IP(アイピー)アドレスIP address
ホスト(めい)host name
ポート番号(ばんごう)port number
メールe-mailless commonly: 電子(でんし)メール
メールアドレスe-mail address
メーラーe-mail client
電話(でんわ)番号(ばんごう)phone number

Hardware[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
PC(ピーシー)ケースcomputer case
グラフィックボード/グラボgraphic board

Programming[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
プログラムcomputer program
ソフトウェア開発者(かいはつしゃ)software developerソフトウェアかいはつしゃ
プログラミングcomputer programming
プログラミング言語(げんご)programming languageプログラミングげんご
アセンブリ言語(げんご)assembly languageアセンブリげんご
機械語(きかいご)machine languageきかいご
オープンソースopen source

Security[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
ウィルス対策(たいさく)ソフトAntivirus softwareウィルスたいさくソフト
ふくごうか (復号化)Decryption
あんごうか (暗号化)Encryption

Companies[edit | edit source]

Software Makers[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
アドビ システムズAdobe Systems
オートデスクAutodesksometimes written as "自動机(じどうつくえ)"
トレンドマイクロTrend Micro

PC Makers[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes

Smartphone Makers[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
パナソニックPanasonicsometimes called as old consumer electronics brand name "ナショナル" and old company name 松下(まつした)電器(でんき) (Matsushita Electric).
サムスン電子(でんし)Samsung Electronics

Peripheral Makers[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
サンワサプライSanwa Supply

Printer Makers[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes

Processor Makers[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
A(エー)M(エム)D(ディー)AMDsometimes called as "アムド"

Web Services[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
グーグルGooglesearch engine
ビングBingsearch engine
Yahoo!(ヤフー) JAPAN(ジャパン)Yahoo! JAPANportal site
Yahoo!(ヤフー)ショッピングYahoo! ShoppingEC
ユーチューブYoutubeVideo hosting service. sometimes called as "ようつべ".
ニコニコ動画(どうが)/ニコ(どう)Nico Nico DougaVideo hosting service
F(エフ)C(シー)2(ツー)FC2Video hosting service
ユーストリームUstreamVideo hosting service

Operating Systems[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
クロームOS(オーエス)Chrome OS

Vocabulary/Clothes and accessories

Japanese English Reading Notes
ピアスearringsFrom: pierce/piercings
帽子hat, capぼうし
スカーフ or マフラーscarf
トレーナーsweatshirtFrom: trainer

Traditional clothing[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
甚兵衛jinbei, informal male summer jacket and pantsじんべえ
下駄geta, (wooden) clogsげた
地下足袋(jika)tabi, split toe heavy cloth shoes with rubber soles(ninja shoes)じかたび

Vocabulary/Countries, languages and nationalities

Languages - 言語[edit | edit source]

In most cases, the name of a language will be the name of the country where it is spoken with the suffix "()". Example: "France/French" becomes "フランス/フランス語". There are exceptions to these and they are so noted in the country names below.

English is spoken in several countries. These are all called 英語(えいご) except in the case of the United States, the language of which is sometimes referred to as 米語(べいご).

Nationalities - 国籍[edit | edit source]

The nationality of a person from a particular country is generally that of the country appended with "(じん). For example: A Chinese person is "中国(ちゅうごく)(じん) and a Canadian would be カナダ(じん).

Continents - 大陸[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
ヨーロッパ大陸EuropeヨーロッパたいりくNormally, the European continent is often called ユーラシア大陸 (ユーラシアたいりく / Eurasian continent) together with the Asian continent.
North Americaきたアメリカたいりく
South Americaみなみアメリカたいりく

Africa -アフリカ[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
South Africaみなみアフリカ

Asia - アジア[edit | edit source]

East Asia - 東アジア[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
Hong Kongホンコン
Japanにほん / にっぽん
にほんこく / にっぽんこく
North Koreaきたちょうせん
South Koreaかんこく

  • Japan categorizes Mongolia as an East Asian nation (Mongolia is considered a central Asian nation)
  • The Korean peninsula is called 朝鮮半島 (ちょうせんはんとう)

Southeast Asia - 東南アジア[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
東南アジアSoutheast Asiaとうなんアジア
East Timorひがしティモール


South Asia - 南アジア[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
南アジアSouth Asiaみなみアジア






Sri Lankaスリランカ

Middle East - 中東[edit | edit source]

Central Asia - 中央アジア[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes








  • Middle East (Central Asia, West Asia) tables will be fixed later. Some difficulties due to Japan system of categorizing countries.
  • Some Middle Eastern/Central Asian countries are lumped into Europe category as NIS諸国 (Newly Independent States of the Former Soviet Union)
  • NIS list: (Armenia), (Azerbaijan), (Belarus), (Georgia), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, (Moldova), (Russian Federation), Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, (Ukraine), Uzbekistan
  • Resource: [1] & [2]
Japanese English Reading Notes
South Koreaかんこく
North Koreaきたちょうせん

Europe - ヨーロッパ[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
オランダNetherlands (Holland)オランダ
チェコCzech Republicチェコ
FranceフランスThe kanji is quite formal. When written in kanji, the language is 仏語(ふつご)
ボスニア・ヘルツェゴビナBosnia and Herzegovinaボスニア・ヘルツェゴビナ
セルビア・モンテネグロSerbia Montenegroセルビア・モンテネグロ

The United Kingdom - イギリス[edit | edit source]

The English language is called 英語(えいご).

Japanese English Reading Notes
The United Kingdomイギリス
英吉利 is quite formal and rarely used in ordinary life.
Sometimes you may see 英 on the media, an abbreviation of 英国.
Northern Irelandきたアイルランド

North America - 北アメリカ[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
加奈陀CanadaカナダThe English language is called 英語(えいご)
The United States of Americaアメリカ(がっしゅうこく)
The English language is called 英語(えいご) and American English 米語(べいご)

South America - 南アメリカ[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
フランス領ギアナFrench Guianaフランス領ギアナ

Pacific Nations - 太平洋諸国[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
AustraliaごうしゅうThe kanji, 豪州, is rarely used. The katakana rendering is more common.
The language is called 英語(えいご).
新西蘭New ZealandニュージーランドThe kanji has standard readings similar to the country's name (にい.せい.らん) but is read with a non-standard way to sound similar to the English.
The language is called 英語(えいご).


Cardinal[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
northきたe.g. 北向(きたむ)き (facing north)、北風(きたかぜ) (north wind)、北日本(きたにほん) (northern Japan)
(n) eastひがし
(n,vs) South, proceeding south/(P)/みなみ
西(n) westにし
北東(ほくとう) (direction)、東北(とうほく) (region)northeaste.g. 北東の(かぜ)、東北地方(ちほう)
北西(ほくせい) (direction)、西北(せいほく) (region)northwest
南東(なんとう) (direction)、東南(とうなん) (region)southeast
南西(なんせい) (direction)、西南(せいなん) (region)southwest

Relative[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
(a) leftひだり
(a) rightみぎ
左上upper leftひだりうえ
左下lower leftひだりした
右上upper rightみぎうえ
右下lower rightみぎした
真っ直ぐstraightまっすぐTypically written "真っすぐ".

Vocabulary/Family and people

Family and people[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
家族/(n) family/members of a family/(P)/かぞく
お母さん/母さん/(n) (hon) mother/(P)/おかあさん/かあさん
お父さん/父さん/(n) (hon) father/(P)/おとうさん/とうさん
兄弟/(n) (hum) siblings/(P)/きょうだい
/(n) (hum) older sister/(P)/あね
お姉さん/姉さん/(n) (hon) older sister/(vocative) "Miss?"/(P)/おねえさん/ねえさん
/(n) (hum) older brother/(P)/あに
お兄さん/兄さん/(n) (hon) older brother/(vocative) "Mister?"/(P)/おにいさん/にいさん
/(n) (hum) younger sister/(P)/いもうと
/(n) younger brother/faithful service to those older/brotherly affection/おとうと
お爺さん/おじいさん/(n) grandfather/male senior-citizen/おじいさん
お婆さん/おばあさん/(n) grandmother/female senior-citizen/おじいさん

Japanese English Reading Notes
奥様/奥さん/(n) (hon) wife/your wife/his wife/married lady/madam/(P)/おくさま/おくさん
家内/(n) (hum) wife/(P)/かない
御主人/(n) (hon) your husband/her husband/ごしゅじん

Japanese English Reading Notes
伯母/(n) (hum) aunt (older than one's parent)/おば
叔母/(n) aunt (younger than one's parent)/(P)/おば
伯父/(n) (hum) uncle (older than one's parent)/おじ
叔父/(n) uncle (younger than one's parent)/(P)/おじ

Japanese English Reading Notes
/(n) woman/girl/daughter/おんな
/(n) man/(P)/おとこ
女の子/(n) girl/(P)/おんなのこ
男の子/(n) boy/(P)/おとこのこ

Occupations[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
店員shop assistantてんいん
俳優actor, actressはいゆう
教師teacher (academic)きょうし

Related resources[edit | edit source]

"For Japanese, family names are the worst growing pains"

Vocabulary/Food and Drink

Related vocabulary

Foods (食べ物)[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
御飯 / ご飯Rice (cooked);
(also Meal)
Rice (uncooked)こめ

Fruit (果物)[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
林檎 / 苹果AppleリンゴAlso written equally as often in Hiragana.
Japanese plumうめ
苺 / 莓Strawberryいちご

Vegetables (野菜)[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
人参 / 人蔘Carrotにんじん
玉ねぎ / 玉葱Onionたまねぎ
Spring (green) onionねぎ

Spices & Condiments[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes

Pastry[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes

Drink (飲み物)[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
(お)茶Green Teaおちゃ
紅茶Black teaこうちゃ
Orange juiceオレンジジュース

Alcoholic beverages (酒)[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
Alcoholic beverages in generalさけ
Alcoholic beverages in generalアルコール


梅酒Plum wineうめしゅ
日本酒Sake; Japanese rice wineにほんしゅ
生ビールDraft beerなまビール
白ワインWhite wineしろワイン
赤ワインRed wineあかワイン
焼酎Distilled spirits; liquorしょうちゅう


Related vocabulary
Japanese English Reading Notes
頭痛headacheずつう or あたまいた
歯痛toothacheはいた or しつう
鼻水runny noseはなみず
目眩 (or 眩暈)dizzyめまい
(流感)influenzaインフルエンザ (or りゅうかん)


Related vocabulary
Related grammar
  • [[../../Grammar/Counters]]

Japanese English Reading Notes
Oneいちalso called ひい
Twoalso called ふう
Threeさんalso called み
Fourし/よんalso called よ
Fivealso called いつ
Sixろくalso called む
Eightはちalso called や
Tenじゅうalso called とお
二十一Twenty Oneにじゅういち
三十五Thirty Fiveさんじゅうご
One Hundredひゃく
二百Two Hundredにひゃく
三百Three Hundredさんびゃく
四百Four Hundredよんひゃく
五百Five Hundredごひゃく
六百Six Hundredろっぴゃく
七百Seven Hundredななひゃく
八百Eight Hundredはっぴゃく
九百Nine Hundredきゅうひゃく
One Thousandせん
Ten Thousandまん
百万One Millionひゃくまん

Further reading: w:ja:数の比較 ("comparison of numbers") at Japanese Wikipedia.


Related vocabulary
Related lessons
  • [[../../Lessons/Telling_time]]
Japanese English Reading Notes
minutesふんThe reading depends on the sound before it. See below.
午前(の〜)a.m. in the morningごぜん(の〜)
午後(の〜)p.m. at nightごご(の〜)

Absolute time[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
~ o'clock〜じ
half past ~〜はん

Others[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
再来月the month after nextさらいげつ
再来週the week after nextさらいしゅう
先週last weekせんしゅう
近頃lately, recentlyちかごろ
長期long time periodちょうき
徹夜all nightてつや
当時at that timeとうじ
olden daysむかし
来週next weekらいしゅう

Vocabulary/Weather and seasons

Related vocabulary

Seasons (季節)[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
四季the four seasonsしき
春夏秋冬the four seasonsしゅんかしゅうとう
乾季dry seasonかんき
雨期rainy seasonうき
梅雨rainy seasonつゆmainly refers to the rainy season of Japan in June and July

Weather (天気)[edit | edit source]

Japanese English Reading Notes
天気予報weather forecastてんきよほう
朝霧morning fogあさぎり
夕霧evening fogゆうぎり