JapanesePod101.com Blog
Learn Japanese with Free Daily
Audio and Video Lessons!
Start Your Free Trial 6 FREE Features

Archive for the 'Japanese Grammar' Category

Japanese Negation: How to Make Negative Japanese Sentences

Thumbnail

When learning a language, negation is an essential part of grammar that should be mastered as early on as possible. This skill allows us to answer “no” to questions and form negative sentences, which in turn improves our communication with others. 

Japanese negation is not very complicated, but there are some points to note. 

As is often said, a language reflects the culture surrounding it. In Japanese culture, where people are expected to be polite and respect others, saying “no” directly is often considered to be rough and rude as it may offend others’ feelings. In order to avoid conflict and maintain 和 (wa), or “harmony,” Japanese people have particular ways of saying “no.”

In this article, we’ll introduce the Japanese negative forms and show you how to answer “no.” You’ll learn frequently used phrases that make polite impressions, in addition to other Japanese negating words and double negative expressions.

Ready to master Japanese negation with JapanesePod101.com?

A Hand Checking a No Box with a Marker Pen

Negation is an essential topic to master when learning a new language.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese Table of Contents
  1. Negate a Statement
  2. Giving a Negative Response to a Question
  3. Other Japanese Negating Words and Phrases
  4. Double Negatives
  5. Conclusion

1. Negate a Statement

In order to make a sentence or phrase negative, you must negate the verb. There are two types of expressions used for Japanese verb negation: Informal (Plain / Casual) and Formal (Polite). In the following sections, we’ll show you how to conjugate verbs to the negative form for both informal and formal expressions, as well as in both present tense and past tense.

Before learning verb conjugations in the negative form, however, you first need to know the classification of Japanese verbs. All Japanese verbs are categorized into three classes: 

  • Ru-verbs
  • U-verbs
  • Irregular verbs 

Note that there are only two irregular verbs in the positive form (する [suru] – “do” // くる [kuru] – “come”) and three for the negative form (the previous two, with the addition of ある [aru] – “be” for the existence of non-living things). 

While Ru-verbs end in る (ru), U-verbs can end in various Hiragana with u-vowel sounds. These include る (ru), う (u), く (ku), す (su), つ (tsu), む (mu), る (ru), (bu), etc. 

Please check the Japanese Alphabet page on our website as well as our Japanese Verb Conjugation article for more details.

1. Informal Negative Form (Present Tense)

For the informal/plain negative form in the present tense, verbs in different classes conjugate in the following ways. 

  • Ru-verbs

Add ない (nai) instead of る (ru) after the verb stem. Let’s look at the Japanese verb for “to eat” as an example:

食べ (taberu) → 食べない  (tabenai)

Here, 食べ/ たべ (tabe) is the verb stem. 

EnglishVerb(Informal/Plain)HiraganaReadingNegative Form(Informal/Plain)Reading
see / look / watch見る みるmiru見ないmi-nai
eat    食べる たべるtaberu食べないtabe-nai
sleep寝る ねるneru寝ないne-nai
change変えるかえるkaeru変えないkae-nai
think考える かんがえるkangaeru考えないkangae-nai

Examples:

私は朝ごはんを食べない。
Watashi wa asagohan o tabenai.
“I don’t eat breakfast.”

かな子は夜テレビを見ない。
Kanako wa yoru terebi o minai.
“Kanako does not watch TV at night.”

彼はよく考えない。
Kare wa yoku kangaenai.
“He does not think well.”

  • U-verbs

To conjugate U-verbs in the informal negative form, conjugate the Hiragana after the verb stem into あ段 (a-dan), which is the line in the Hiragana chart with vowel sound “a,” and add ない (nai).

Let’s look at an example using the Japanese verb for “talk” or “speak.”

(hanasu) → 話さない (hanasa nai)

As you can see, はな (hana) is the verb stem, and we changed the す(su) into さ (sa). 

EnglishVerb(Informal/Plain)HiraganaReadingNegative Form(Informal/Plain)Reading
talk / speak話すはなすhanasu話さないhana-sanai
go行くいくiku行かないi-kanai
wait待つまつmatsu待たないma-tanai
buykauないka-wanai
listen / hear聞くきくkiku聞かないki-kanai

*For U-verbs that end in う (u), replace う (u) with わ (wa).

Examples:

夏休みの間、子供たちは学校へ行かない。
Natsuyasumi no aida, kodomo-tachi wa gakkō e ikanai.
“Children don’t go to school during the summer vacation.”

彼は親の言うことを聞かない。
Kare wa oya no iu koto o kikanai.
“He does not listen to what his parents say.”

彼女は安い服を買わない。
Kanojo wa yasui fuku o kawanai.
“She does not buy cheap clothes.”

  • Irregular Verbs

There are only three exceptions to the conjugation rules above, as shown in this table: 

EnglishVerb(Informal/Plain)HiraganaReadingNegative Form(Informal/Plain)Reading
doするするsuruしないshi-nai
come来るくるkuru来ないko-nai
be(existence of non-living thing)あるあるaruないnai

Examples:

私は休日に何もしない。
Watashi wa kyūjitsu ni nani mo shinai.
“I don’t do anything on a day off.”

バスが時間通りに来ない。
Basu ga jikandōri ni konai.
“The bus does not come on time.”

銀行口座にお金がない。
Ginkō kōza ni o-kane ga nai.
“There is no money in the bank account.”

2. Formal Negative Form (Present Tense)

  • Ru-verbs

For Ru-verbs, change ない (nai) to ません (masen).

So, for the verb “to eat,” this would look like:

食べない (tabe-nai)  → 食べません (tabe-masen)

Negative Form    (Formal / Polite)Reading
見ませんmi-masen
食べませんtabe-masen
寝ませんne-masen
変えませんkae-masen
考えませんkangae-masen 

Examples:

私は朝ごはんを食べません。
Watashi wa asagohan o tabemasen.
“I don’t eat breakfast.”

かな子は夜テレビを見ません。
Kanako wa yoru terebi o mimasen.
“Kanako does not watch TV at night.”

彼はよく考えません。
Kare wa yoku kangaemasen.
“He does not think well.”

  • U-verbs

Conjugate the Hiragana after the verb stem into い段 (i-dan), which is the line in the Hiragana chart with vowel sound “i,” and add ません (masen):

話さない (hanasa nai) →  話しません (hana shi masen)

As you can see, we changed さ (sa) into し (shi). 

  Negative Form    (Formal / Polite)Reading
話しませんhana-shimasen
行きませんi-kimasen
待ちませんma-chimasen
買いませんka-imasen
聞きませんki-kimasen

Examples:

夏休みの間、子供たちは学校へ行きません。
Natsuyasumi no aida, kodomo-tachi wa gakkō e ikimasen.
“Children don’t go to school during the summer vacation.”

彼は親の言うことを聞きません。
Kare wa oya no iu koto o kikimasen.
“He does not listen to what his parents say.”

彼女は安い服を買いません。
Kanojo wa yasui fuku o kaimasen.
“She does not buy cheap clothes.”

  • Irregular Verbs

In the formal negative form, irregular verbs change as follows:

Negative Form    (Formal / Polite)Reading
しませんshi-masen
来ませんki-masen
ありませんari-masen

Examples:

私は休日に何もしません。
Watashi wa kyūjitsu ni nani mo shimasen.
“I don’t do anything on a day off.”

バスが時間通りに来ません。
Basu ga jikandōri ni kimasen.
“The bus does not come on time.”

銀行口座にお金がありません。
Ginkō kōza ni o-kane ga arimasen.
“There is no money in the bank account.”

3. Informal Negative Form (Past Tense)

In the past tense of the informal/plain negative form, change the ない (nai) of the present tense informal/plain form to なかった (nakatta). This is done for all Ru-verbs, U-verbs, and irregular verbs.

  • Ru-Verbs
Negative Form    (Informal / Past)Reading
見なかったmi-nakatta
食べなかったtabe-nakatta
寝なかったne-nakatta
変えなかったkae-nakatta
考えなかったkangae-nakatta 

Examples:

私は朝ごはんを食べなかった。
Watashi wa asagohan o tabenakatta.
“I didn’t eat breakfast.”

かな子は夜テレビを見なかった。
Kanako wa yoru terebi o minakatta.
“Kanako did not watch TV at night.”

彼はよく考えなかった。
Kare wa yoku kangaenakatta.
“He did not think well.”

  • U-Verbs
Negative Form              (Informal / Past)Reading
話さなかったhana-sa-nakatta
行かなかったi-ka-nakatta
待たなかったma-ta-nakatta
買わなかったka-wa-nakatta
聞かなかったki-ka-nakatta 

Examples:

夏休みの間、子供たちは学校へ行かなかった。
Natsuyasumi no aida, kodomo-tachi wa gakkō e ikanakatta.
“Children didn’t go to school during the summer vacation.”

彼は親の言うことを聞かなかった。
Kare wa oya no iu koto o kikanakatta.
“He did not listen to what his parents said.”

彼女は安い服を買わなかった。
Kanojo wa yasui fuku o kawanakatta.
“She did not buy cheap clothes.”

  • Irregular Verbs
  Negative Form    (Informal / Past)Reading
しなかったshi-nakatta
来なかったko-nakatta
なかったnakatta 

Examples:

私は休日に何もしなかった。
Watashi wa kyūjitsu ni nani mo shinakatta.
“I didn’t do anything on a day off.”

バスが時間通りに来なかった。
Basu ga jikandōri ni konakatta.
“The bus did not come on time.”

銀行口座にお金がなかった。
Ginkō kōza ni o-kane ga nakatta.
“There was no money in the bank account.”

4. Formal Negative Form (Past Tense)

In the past tense of the formal/polite negative form, add the expression でした (deshita) after the present tense formal/polite form for all Ru-verbs, U-verbs, and irregular verbs.

  • Ru-Verbs
Negative Form    (Formal / Past)Reading
見ませんでしたmi-masen deshita
食べませんでしたtabe-masen deshita
寝ませんでしたne-masen deshita
変えませんでしたkae-masen deshita
考えませんでしたkangae-masen deshita

Examples:

私は朝ごはんを食べませんでした
Watashi wa asagohan o tabemasen deshita.
“I didn’t eat breakfast.”

かな子は夜テレビを見ませんでした
Kanako wa yoru terebi o mimasen deshita.
“Kanako did not watch TV at night.”

彼はよく考えませんでした
Kare wa yoku kangaemasen deshita.
“He did not think well.”

  • U-Verbs
  Negative Form    (Formal / Past)Reading
話しませんでしたhana-shi-masen deshita
行きませんでしたi-ki-masen deshita
待ちませんでしたma-chi-masen deshita
買いませんでしたka-i-masen deshita
聞きませんでしたki-ki-masen deshita

Examples:

夏休みの間、子供たちは学校へ行きませんでした
Natsuyasumi no aida, kodomo-tachi wa gakkō e ikimasen deshita.
“Children didn’t go to school during the summer vacation.”

彼は親の言うことを聞きませんでした
Kare wa oya no iu koto o kikimasen deshita.
“He did not listen to what his parents said.”

彼女は安い服を買いませんでした
Kanojo wa yasui fuku o kaimasen deshita.
“She did not buy cheap clothes.”

  • Irregular Verbs
Negative Form    (Formal / Past)Reading
しませんでしたshi-masen deshita
来ませんでしたki-masen deshita
ありませんでしたari-masen deshita

Examples:

私は休日に何もしませんでした
Watashi wa kyūjitsu ni nani mo shimasen deshita.
“I didn’t do anything on a day off.”

バスが時間通りに来ませんでした
Basu ga jikandōri ni kimasen deshita.
“The bus did not come on time.”

銀行口座にお金がありませんでした
Ginkō kōza ni o-kane ga arimasen deshita.
“There was no money in the bank account.”

A Man Wearing a Tie Eating a Salmon Filet with Vegetables

彼は肉を食べません。でも、魚は食べます。
Kare wa niku o tabemasen. Demo, sakana wa tabemasu.
“He does not eat meat. However, he eats fish.”

2. Giving a Negative Response to a Question

There are a few different Japanese negative forms and set phrases used to answer questions in the negative. Remember that saying “no” directly is often considered impolite, so this is reflected in how Japanese speakers give negative responses as well.

1. How to Say “No” to a Question

When you’re asked a yes-or-no question and want to reply “no,” typical answers are as follows:

With verb:

    いいえ (iie) – “no” 、+  — Negative Form 

Without verb:

    いいえ (iie) – “no”、 +  —では ない              — de wa nai  [Informal]

    いいえ (iie) – “no”、 +  —では ありません   —de wa arimasen  [Formal]

では (de wa) can be substituted with じゃ (ja), which is typically used in spoken conversations.

Examples:

[With verb]

Q: お肉を食べますか。(O-niku o tabemasu ka.) – “Do you eat meat?”
A: いいえ食べません。(Iie, tabemasen.) – “No, I don’t eat it.”

Q: 普段運動をしますか。(Fudan undō o shimasu ka.) “Do you usually do exercise?”
A: いいえ、日常的な運動はしません。(Iie, nichijōteki na undō wa Iie.) – “No, I don’t do daily exercise.”

[Without verb]

Q: この本はあなたのですか。(Kono hon wa anata no desu ka.) – “Is this book yours?”
A: いいえ、それは私の本ではありせん。(Iie, sore wa watashi no hon de wa arimasen.) – “No, it’s not my book.”

Q: 映画館の入り口はここですか。(Eigakan no iriguchi wa koko desu ka.) – “Is the entrance to the cinema here?”
A: いいえ、入り口はここではありません。(Iie, iriguchi wa koko de wa arimasen.) – “No, the entrance is not here.”


A Woman Holding a Plate and Refusing a Sausage

いいえ、お肉は食べません。
Iie, o-niku wa tabemasen.
“No, I don’t eat meat.”

2. Polite Expressions for Saying No in Japanese

Japanese people are expected to be polite and respectful to others, and they tend to avoid saying “no” directly because it sounds rough and rude. In order to say “no” without sounding rude, we often use クッション言葉 (kusshon kotoba), literally “cushion words,” or words to soften awkward topics, when rejecting an unwanted offer or invitation.

Following is a list of frequently used kusshon kotoba for saying “no” politely.

3. 残念ですが ___。(Zannen desu ga ___.)  – “I’m afraid but ___.”

Example:

A:
ビールをどうぞ。
Bīru o dōzo.
“Please have a beer.”

B:
残念ですが、私はお酒を飲めません。
Zannen desu ga, watashi wa o-sake o nomemasen.
“I’m afraid but I cannot drink alcohol.”

4. せっかくですが ___。 (Sekkaku desu ga ___.) – “Unfortunately ___.”

Example:

A:
無料券があるので、明日一緒に映画を見に行きませんか。
Muryōken ga aru node, ashita issho ni eiga o mi ni ikimasen ka.
“I have a free ticket, would you like to go see a movie together tomorrow?”

B:
せっかくですが、明日は予定があるのでご一緒できません。
Sekkaku desu ga, ashita wa yotei ga aru node go-issho dekimasen.
“Unfortunately I have a plan tomorrow and we can’t go together.”

5. 申し訳ないのですが ___。(Mōshiwake nai no desu ga ___.) – “I’m so sorry but ___.”

Example:

A:
来週末にホームパーティをやるので来ませんか。
Raishūmatsu ni hōmu pātī o yaru node kimasen ka.
“I will have a home party next weekend and would you like to come?”

B:
申し訳ないのですが、来週末は兄の結婚式があるので行けません。
Mōshiwake nai no desu ga, raishūmatsu wa ani no kekkonshiki ga aru node ikemasen.
“I’m so sorry, but I can’t go because there’s my brother’s wedding on that weekend.”

6. お気持ちは嬉しいのですが ___。(O-kimochi wa ureshii no desu ga ___.) – “I’m glad for your thoughtfulness but ___.”

Example:

A:
クッキーをたくさん焼いたので食べませんか。
Kukkī o takusan yaita node tabemasen ka.
“I baked a lot of cookies, would you like to have some?”

B:
お気持ちは嬉しいのですが、小麦アレルギーなので食べられません。
O-kimochi wa ureshii no desu ga, komugi arerugī na node taberaremasen.
“I’m glad for your kindness, but I’m allergic to wheat and I can’t eat them.”

A Japanese Man with an Uncertain Look on His Face while Reading Something in a Yellow Folder

Saying “no” directly sounds a bit too strong, or even rude, in Japanese.

3. Other Japanese Negating Words and Phrases

The basic Japanese negation forms are ない (nai) [Informal / Plain] and ません (masen) [Formal / Polite]. However, there are other negation expressions, such as those for partial negation, emphatic negation, and the imperative form.

Negation in Japanese can take the following forms:

 Partial Negation
  決して (kesshite)  
ほとんど (hotondo)  
これ以上 (kore ijō)
[Verb] (ない [nai] / ません [masen])
[Noun] + ではない (de wa nai)
[な na-adjective] + ではない (de wa nai)
[い i-adjective] + くない (kunai)

1. 決して ___ない (kesshite ___nai) – “never ___”

Examples:

同じ日は決して来ない。 
Onaji hi wa kesshite konai.
“The same day will never come.”

彼は決して嘘をつきません。 
Kare wa kesshite uso o tsukimasen.
“He never lies.”

その部屋へ防護服なしに決して入ってはいけません。
Sono heya e bōgofuku nashi ni kesshite haitte wa ikemasen.
“Never enter that room without protective suits.”

2. ほとんど ___ない (hotondo ___nai) – “barely/hardly ___”

Examples:

この公園にはほとんど人がいない。 
Kono kōen ni wa hotondo hito ga inai
“There are barely even a few people in this park.”

Mサイズはほとんど残っていません。 
Emu saizu wa hotondo nokotte imasen.
“There is hardly/almost no M size left.”

商店街のお店はほとんど開いていません。
Shōtengai no o-mise wa hotondo hiraite imasen.
“Most of the shops in the shopping district are not open.”

3. これ以上 ___ない (kore ijō ___nai) “no more/no longer/anymore ___”

Examples:

その子は怖くて、これ以上目を開けていられない。
Sono ko wa kowakute, kore ijō me o akete irarenai.
“The kid is scared and can’t open his eyes anymore.”

これ以上の幸せはありません。 
Kore ijō no shiawase wa arimasen.
“There is no more happiness than this.”

今日はこれ以上勉強したくない。
Kyō wa kore ijō benkyō shitakunai.
“I don’t want to study anymore today.”

4. 誰もいない (dare mo inai) – “nobody”

Examples:

ここには誰もいない。 
Koko ni wa dare mo inai.
“There is nobody here.”

この映画を見たい人は誰もいません。 
Kono eiga o mitai hito wa dare mo imasen.
“There is no one who wants to watch this movie.”

その試験に合格した人は誰もいませんでした。
Sono shiken ni gōkaku shita hito wa dare mo imasen deshita.
“There is no one who passed the exam.”

5. どこにもない (doko ni mo nai) – “nowhere”

Examples:

完全に自由になれる場所はどこにもない。 
Kanzen ni jiyū ni nareru basho wa doko ni mo nai.
“There is nowhere you can be completely free.”

靴下の片方がどこにも見つからない。 
Kutsushita no katahō ga doko ni mo mitsukaranai.
“I can’t find one of my socks anywhere.”

金のなる木はどこにもありません。
Kane no naru ki wa doko ni mo arimasen.
“There is no tree that money grows on anywhere.”

6. どちらも ___ない (dochira mo ___nai) – “neither ___ nor ___”

Examples:

りんごもみかんも、どちらも食べたくない。 
Ringo mo mikan mo, dochira mo tabetakunai.
“I don’t want to eat either apples or oranges.”

桜もひまわりも、どちらも咲いていません。 
Sakura mo himawari mo, dochira mo saite imasen.
“Neither cherry blossoms nor sunflowers are in bloom.”

どちらも大したことはありません。
Dochira mo taishita koto wa arimasen.
“Neither of them is a big deal.”

7. [Imperative Form] (“Do not ___.”)

 [casual/strong] ___(する)な              ___(suru) na 
 [polite/mild]   ___ないでください   ___naide kudasai 

Examples:

壁に落書きするな。 
Kabe ni rakugaki suru na.
“Don’t scribble / do graffiti on the wall.”

ここで子供を遊ばせないでください。 
Koko de kodomo o asobasenaide kudasai.
“Please don’t let children play here.”

この危険区域に立ち入らないでください。
Kono kiken kuiki ni tachiiranaide kudasai.
“Please do not enter this dangerous area.”

A Woman Holding Both Palms Out in Front of Her to Say No or Stop

私は決してお酒を飲みません。
Watashi wa kesshite o-sake o nomimasen.
“I never drink Sake/alcohol.”

4. Double Negatives

When negative forms are used twice in the same sentence, it’s called a double negative. While some double negative expressions intensify the negation, most double negatives cancel each other out and produce a positive. 

Keep in mind that when a double negative constructs a positive meaning, the nuance is not the same as that of a normal positive sentence. Rather, its meaning is closer to that of a negative sentence. Such expressions often lose their nuance when translated into English.

There are various double negative expressions in Japanese, but it’s recommended not to use them often (especially in business contexts), because using double negatives is not straight to the point and is a bit difficult to understand.

1. ___ないはずがない (___nai hazu ga nai) – “can’t be ___”

Examples:

彼がお酒を飲まないはずがない。 
Kare ga o-sake o nomanai hazu ga nai.
“It can’t be true that he doesn’t drink.”
[He definitely drinks.]

ここに置いた財布がないはずがない。 
Koko ni oita saifu ga nai hazu ga nai.
“The wallet I put here can’t be gone.”
[The wallet I put here should be here.]

天気予報によると、明日は晴れないはずがない。 
Tenki yohō ni yoru to, ashita wa harenai hazu ga nai.
“According to the weather, it can’t be not sunny tomorrow.”
[It must be sunny tomorrow.]

2. ___ないとも限らない (___nai to mo kagiranai) – “may possibly ___” / “perhaps it might be ___”

Examples:

いつも上手くいくからといって、次は失敗しないとも限らない。 
Itsumo umaku iku kara to itte, tsugi wa shippai shinai to mo kagiranai.
“Just because it always works well doesn’t mean it won’t fail next time.”
[It may possibly fail.]

その件について親が反対しないとも限らない。 
Sono ken ni tsuite oya ga hantai shinai to mo kagiranai.
“It is not always the case that parents do not object to the matter.”
[Parents may possibly object.]

努力すれば必ず夢が叶うわけではないが、叶わないとも限らない。 
Doryoku sureba kanarazu yume ga kanau wake de wa nai ga, kanawanai to mo kagiranai.
“Although making efforts does not mean a dream will definitely come true, it may not be the case that the dream won’t come true.”
[The dream may possibly come true.]

3. ___ ないことはない (___ nai koto wa nai) – “There is nothing ___ not do.”

Examples:

期限内に完了できないことはない。 
Kigennai ni kanryō dekinai koto wa nai.
“There is nothing I cannot complete within the deadline.”
[I am probably able to complete everything within the deadline.”

彼が知らないことは何もない。 
Kare ga shiranai koto wa nani mo nai.
“There is nothing at all that he doesn’t know.”
[He knows everything.]

強い意志と努力があれば、あなたは難関試験に合格できないことはない。
Tsuyoi ishi to doryoku ga areba, anata wa nankan shiken ni gōkaku dekinai koto wa nai.
“With a strong will and effort, there is no way you cannot pass the difficult exam.”
[You may be able to pass the difficult exam.]

4 ___なしには ___ない (___nashi ni wa ___nai) – “There is no / can’t ___ without ___.”

Examples:

この話は、涙なしには語れない。 
Kono hanashi wa namida nashi ni wa katarenai.
“(I) can’t tell this story without tears.”

ここは許可なしには通れません。 
Koko wa kyoka nashi ni wa tōremasen.
“You cannot pass here without permission.”

バナナケーキはバターなしには美味しく作れません。 
Banana kēki wa batā nashi ni wa oishiku tsukuremasen.
“Banana cakes cannot be made delicious without butter.”

Storm Clouds Forming

今日は雨が降らないとも限らない。
Kyō wa ame ga furanai to mo kagiranai.
(“It might rain today.” / “It wouldn’t be that it won’t rain today.”)

5. Conclusion

In this article, we introduced Japanese negation and discussed a number of relevant topics: 

  • negative expressions for answering “no” to questions 
  • being polite when rejecting an invitation
  • using partial negation
  • double negatives

Although Japanese has informal and formal forms to remember, Japanese negation is easy to handle once you learn the patterns! 

If you would like to learn more about the Japanese language and other useful Japanese phrases for any situation, you’ll find more helpful content on JapanesePod101.com. We provide a variety of free lessons to help you improve your Japanese language skills. 

To learn more about Japanese grammar and syntax, check out the following blog posts: 

And there’s so much more! Learn Japanese faster and truly enjoy studying the language at JapanesePod101.com!

Before you go, let us know in the comments if there are any Japanese grammatical rules you still want to know! We’d be glad to help, and we look forward to hearing from you!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese

Japanese Tenses: Simple Yet Unique

Thumbnail

Did you know that the Japanese language does not have a future tense nor any perfect tenses like English does? Japanese tenses are much simpler to handle, as there are only two: the present tense and the past tense. However, there are some unique rules concerning tenses in Japanese that are quite different from what English speakers are used to.

Auxiliary verbs and post positional particles play important roles in the Japanese language, especially in verb conjugations. This is because Japanese tenses are expressed via auxiliary verbs that connect to verbs. So forget about how you form tenses in English (I do, I will do, I did, I have done, I had done, etc.), and learn Japanese tenses with new rules!

In this article, we’ll explain Japanese tenses and cover the following points: 

  • How Japanese verb conjugations work 
  • The role of auxiliary verbs
  • The present and past tenses
  • How to express things about the future in Japanese

By the end of this article from JapanesePod101.com, you’ll be able to grasp the whole picture of Japanese verbs and tenses—in fact, you’ll better understand Japanese grammar in general!

Three Signs with the Words Now, Tomorrow, and Yesterday on Them

In Japanese, there’s no particular future tense form like the word “will” in English.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese Table of Contents
  1. Japanese Tenses Overview
  2. Present Tense
  3. Past Tense
  4. How to Express the Future in Japanese
  5. How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

1. Japanese Tenses Overview

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s go over some basic information regarding Japanese verb tenses and forms. 

How Many Tenses are There in Japanese?

Japanese has only two verb tenses, which are the present tense and the past tense. The present tense is also used to express things about the future in Japanese, so there’s no clear distinction between the present tense and the future tense.

Having said that, Japanese grammar technically does not treat verbs for tense. Rather, Japanese verbs take one of five basic conjugation forms and are followed by 助動詞 (jodōshi), or auxiliary verbs/post positional particles, in order to express and determine their tense. 

Verb Conjugations and Auxiliary Verbs

As mentioned, there are five basic Japanese verb conjugation forms. When verbs conjugate, the verb base (or “stem”) does not change; the stem rather takes on a different suffix or auxiliary verb to convey the proper meaning. 

The correct form is determined by elements such as voice, mood, tense, and politeness level. 

  • Voice

    There are two types of grammatical voice:

    能動態 (nōdōtai) – “active voice”
    受動態 (judōtai) – “passive voice”
  • Mood
    Mood is the attitude of the speaker toward the action of the verb. Was the speaker giving an order? Making an assumption? Offering a suggestion?
  • Tense
    Tense refers to the time of the verb’s action: past, present, or future.
  • Politeness Level
    The Japanese language has honorific speech called 敬語 (keigo). There are three types of honorific language depending on the level of respect intended:

    丁寧語 (teinei-go) – “polite language”
    尊敬語 (sonkei-go) – “respectful language”
    謙譲語 (kenjō-go) – “humble / modest language”

Example: Tense as an Influential Factor 

  • 食べる (tabe-ru) – “eat” [present and plain/informal form]
    食べ (tabe-) is the verb stem and る (ru) is the suffix.
  • 食べた (tabe-ta) – “ate” [past and informal form]
    食べ (tabe-) is the verb stem and た (-ta) is an auxiliary verb that expresses the past form.

To learn more details about Japanese verbs and verb conjugations, please see our articles 100+ Most Common Japanese Verbs and Ultimate Japanese Verb Conjugation Guide.

A Dish of Sushi with Chopsticks and Soy Sauce on the Side

Tenses are expressed by the post positional particles or auxiliary verbs that connect to the verbs:
寿司を食べ /食べ
Sushi o tabe-ru / tabe-ta.
([I] eat / ate Sushi.)

Formal and Informal Forms

As mentioned in the previous section, there are three Japanese honorific speech levels. Native Japanese people, especially in official settings, are expected to have total command over the three different levels so they can use them according to the situation and to whom they’re talking. However, you won’t experience any problems as a foreigner, as long as you can use polite language in daily conversations.

The polite language usually ends with です(-desu) or ます (-masu) in the present/future tense, and でした (-deshita) or ました (-mashita) in the past tense.

The polite language is generally used as a formal form, and casual/plain language is used as an informal form. While the latter is used for talking with family and friends, most people use the former when talking to strangers or staff members at a store or restaurant. 

Example:

歩く(あるく) (aru-ku) – “to walk” 

  • ある (aru-) = verb stem
  • 歩く (あるく) (aru-ku) = informal/plain form
  • 歩きます (あるきます) (aru-kimasu) = formal/polite form

A Worker at a Train Station in Japan

Each Japanese tense has a formal form (honorific) and an informal form:
列車が到着します、ご注意ください。
Ressha ga tōchaku shimasu, go-chūi kudasai.
(The train is coming, please be careful.) [formal and polite form]

2. Present Tense

The Japanese present tense is used to talk about things that are happening now, recurring actions, and events set to happen in the future. 

Present Tense 

Japanese verbs in their informal form always end in -u or -ru. These suffixes correspond to the syllables found in the う段 (u-dan) or “U row” of the Hiragana table. 

Japanese verbs in their formal or polite form end with an い段 (i-dan) or え段 (e-dan) syllable followed by ます (-masu): -imasu or -emasu

Examples [Informal / Formal]

飲む・のむ (no-mu) – “drink”
[ の (no-) is the verb stem ]

    ➢ 私は水を飲む / 飲みます
        Watashi wa mizu o nomu / nomimasu.
        I drink water.

付ける・つける (hira-ku) – “turn on”
[ つけ (tsuke-) is the verb stem ]

    ➢ 寒いので暖房をつける / つけます
        Samui node danbō o tsukeru / tsukemasu.
        I turn on a heater because it’s cold.

開く・ひらく (hira-ku) – “open”
[ ひら (hira-) is the verb stem ]

    ➢ お店は午前9時に開く / 開きます
        O-mise wa gozen ku-ji ni hiraku / hirakimasu.
        The store opens at 9:00 a.m.

Present Progressive Tense

The present progressive tense is used when expressing a continuous action or things that are happening now. 

This tense is formed by adding -て いる (-te iru) for informal verbs or -て います (-te imasu) for formal verbs that conjugate in the te-form. Below is a quick description of how to conjugate in the te-form for different verb types. 

For u-verbs (Class 1 Verbs):

Add either して (-shite), いて (-ite), って (-tte), or  んで (-nde) after the verb stem.

  • 話す (hanasu), “talk” → 話して (hanashite)
  • 書く (kaku), “write” → 書いて (kaite)
  • 買う (kau), “buy” → 買って (katte)
  • 読む (yomu), “read” → 読んで (yonde)

For ru-verbs(Class 2 Verbs):

Drop the る (-ru) part of the verb and add て (-te). 

  • 食べ (taberu), “eat” → 食べ (tabete)
  • 調べ (shiraberu), “investigate” → 調べ (shirabete)

As an exception to this pattern, some verbs change form slightly accompanying the sokuon (促音) “っ” before て (-te) for easier pronunciation (in the alphabet, it’s expressed with a double “t”). 

  •  座 (suwaru), “sit” → 座って (suwatte)
  • 当た (ataru), “hit on,” “bump into” → 当って (atatte)
  • (furu), “fall (such as rain, snow, etc.)” → 降って (futte)

Unlike that in English, the Japanese progressive tense cannot indicate an action that is going to happen in the near future. (E.g. In English, it’s okay to say: She is moving to the USA this coming summer.) The Japanese present progressive tense only indicates actions that are ongoing.

Examples [Informal / Formal]

    ➢ 私はいすに座っている / 座っています。
        Watashi wa isu ni suwatte iru / suwatte imasu.
        I’m sitting on a chair.

        [座る・すわる (suwa-ru) or “sit”]:  すわ (suwa-) is the verb stem.

    ➢ 彼はテレビを見ながら食べている / 食べています
        Kare wa terebi o minagara tabete iru / tabete imasu.
        He is eating while watching TV.

        [食べる・たべる (tabe-ru) or “eat”]:  たべ (tabe-) is the verb stem.

    ➢ 猫と犬が庭で遊んでいる / 遊んでいます。
        Neko to inu ga asonde iru / asonde imasu.
        A cat and a dog are playing in the garden.

        [遊ぶ・あそぶ (aso-bu) or “play”]:  あそ (aso-) is the verb stem.

Someone Pointing to Their Wristwatch

今行きます。(Ima ikimasu.) – “I go now.” [ in a polite/formal form ]

3. Past Tense

Forming the Japanese past tense is very simple! Whether an action took place just a few minutes ago, happened many centuries ago, or was being talked about by someone in the past who was talking about an even older past, the Japanese past tense has just one form. There are no such variations as “did,” “have done,” “had done,” etc.

Past Tense 

Japanese verbs in the past tense normally end with た (-ta) in the informal form, though sometimes (-ta) changes to った (-tta) or (-da) depending on the verb. In the formal form, verbs conjugating into い段 (i-dan) or え段 (e-dan) end with ました (-mashita). I-dan and e-dan refer to the rows of syllables on the Hiragana table that end with the vowel sound “i” or “e” respectively.

Examples [Informal / Formal]

    ➢ 彼は映画を見た / 見ました。
        Kare wa eiga o mita / mimashita.
        He watched a movie.

        [見る・みる (mi-ru) or “watch”/”see”/”look”]:  み (mi-) is the verb stem.

    ➢ 昨日友達と泳いだ / 泳ぎました
        Kinō tomodachi to oyoida / oyogimashita.
        I swam with my friend yesterday.

        [泳ぐ・およぐ (oyo-gu) or “swim”]:  およ (oyo-) is the verb stem.

    ➢ 父親が昔宝くじに当たったことを話した / 話しました。
        Chichioya ga mukashi takarakuji ni atatta koto o hanashita / hanashimashita.
        My father told a story about winning a lottery in the past.

        [当たる・あたる (ata-ru) or “win prize/lottery”]:  あた (ata-) is the verb stem.
        [話す・はなす (hana-su) or “talk”/”tell”]:  はな (hana-) is the verb stem.

Past Progressive Form

The past progressive tense is used when expressing continuing actions in the past. In order to form the Japanese past progressive tense, add -て いた (-te ita) [informal] / -て いました (-te imashita) [formal] after a verb that conjugates in the te-form as explained in the Present Progressive Tense section.

Examples [Informal / Formal]

    ➢ 彼女が来た時、彼は寝ていた / 寝ていました。
        Kanojo ga kita toki, kare wa nete ita / nete imashita.
        When she came, he was sleeping.

        [寝る・ねる (ne-ru) or “sleep”]:  ね (ne-) is the verb stem.

    ➢ 買い物をしていた時、外は雨が降っていた / 降っていました
        Kaimono o shite ita toki, soto wa ame ga futte ita / futte imashita.
        When I was shopping, it was raining outside.

        [する (su-ru) or “do”] Irregular Verb: Please see the detailed explanation of irregular verbs in our conjugation article.
        [降る・ふる (fu-ru) or “fall (rain/snow/etc.)”]:  ふ (fu-) is the verb stem.

    ➢ そのとき、あなたは何をしていた / していましたか。
        Sono toki, anata wa nani o shite ita / shite imashita ka.
        What were you doing then?

        [する (su-ru) or “do”]: Irregular Verb

Several Family Photographs

先月家族と旅行に行った。(Sengetsu kazoku to ryokō ni itta.)
“(I) took a trip with (my) family last month.” [informal/casual]

4. How to Express the Future in Japanese

As mentioned, the Japanese present tense is also used to talk about actions in the future. Speakers can express the future using the present tense in the following ways.  

Context

With context and extra information, listeners can understand that an action is set in the future.

Examples:

    試験が終わったら、友達と何か美味しいものを食べに行きます。
        Shiken ga owattara, tomodachi to nani ka oishii mono o tabe ni ikimasu.
        When the exams are over, I will go to eat something delicious with my friends.

    彼は毎日ピアノを練習しています。彼は絶対、プロのピアニストになります。
        Kare wa mainichi piano o renshū shite imasu. Kare wa zettai, puro no pianisuto ni narimasu.
        He practices piano everyday. He will definitely become a professional pianist.

    全員の準備ができ次第、出発します。
        Zen’in no junbi ga deki shidai, shuppatsu shimasu.
        As soon as everyone is ready, we will depart.

Time Words

Using time words (such as specific dates or terms like “later” and “tomorrow”) is the easiest way to indicate that an action is set in the future.

Examples:

    明日の午後、小包が届きます。
        Ashita no gogo, kozutsumi ga todokimasu.
        The parcel will arrive in the afternoon tomorrow.

    ➢ 私は3月に大学を卒業します。
        Watashi wa san-gatsu ni daigaku o sotsugyō shimasu.
        I will graduate from university in March.

    ➢ 私の両親は来月沖縄へ旅行に行きます。
        Watashi no ryōshin wa raigetsu Okinawa e ryokō ni ikimasu.
        My parents will take a trip to Okinawa next month.

Words That Indicate an Intention or Plan

Another way to express things about the future is to use words that indicate an intention or plan. 

There are two words often used for this purpose: 

  • つもり(tsumori) – “intend to” or “plan to” 
  • 予定 (yotei) – “plan to” 

Examples:

    ➢ 私はこの仕事を辞めるつもりです。
        Watashi wa kono shigoto o yameru tsumori desu.
        I intend to quit this job.

    ➢ 卒業パーティーには参加しない予定です。
        Sotsugyō pātī ni wa sanka shinai yotei desu.
        I plan not to participate in the graduation party.

    ➢ 彼女は看護師になる予定です。
        Kanojo wa kangoshi ni naru yotei desu.
        She plans to become a nurse.

The Particle に (ni)

A future intention is also expressed by placing the particle に (ni) between two verbs, with the latter verb often being: 

  • 行く (iku) – “go” 

or 

  • 来る (kuru) – “come”

Examples:

    ➢ 彼氏が私に会いに来ます
        Kareshi ga watashi ni ai ni kimasu.
        My boyfriend will come to see me.

    ➢ 美術館の特別展を見に行きます
        Bijutsukan no tokubetsuten o mi ni ikimasu.
        I will go to see the special exhibition at the museum.

    ➢ 兄の引越しを手伝いに行きます
        Ani no hikkoshi o tetsudai ni ikimasu.
        I will go and help (my) brother’s moving.

A Man Running Late to Work

明日の朝9時までに書類を提出しに行きます
Ashita no asa ku-ji made ni shorui o teishutsu shi ni ikimasu.
“I will go to submit the document by 9:00 in the morning tomorrow.”

How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

In this article, we introduced you to Japanese tenses and how they work. We also touched on verb conjugation and the role auxiliary verbs play in the process. Japanese tenses are quite simple, yet there are unique rules that learners of the language should study early on. Once you get used to it, you’ll find that Japanese tenses are very easy! 

If you would like to learn more about the Japanese language and pick up some useful Japanese phrases for any situation, you’ll find tons of helpful content on JapanesePod101.com. We provide a variety of free lessons to help you improve your Japanese language skills and become familiar with the culture. To get you started, here’s some more information regarding the basics of Japanese: 

To learn more about Japanese verbs and other grammar-related topics, check out Basic Kanji for Verbs and The 50 Most Common Japanese Verbs You’ll Find in Textbooks. Useful pages for improving your conversation skills in Japanese include How to Improve Your Speaking Skills and Must-Know Adverbs and Phrases for Connecting Thoughts.

And there’s so much more! Learn Japanese faster and enjoy every minute of your studies at JapanesePod101.com!

Before you go, let us know in the comments if you still have any questions about Japanese tenses. We’d be glad to help, and look forward to hearing from you!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese

How Long Does it Take to Learn Japanese?

Thumbnail

If you’re like most aspiring learners, you may be wondering: How long does it take to learn Japanese? Some people think that learning Japanese is too hard, that it takes forever and requires tremendous painstaking effort. But is that really true?

The answer to this question varies depending on multiple factors, such as your…

  • …mother tongue.
  • …educational background.
  • …previous language learning experience.
  • …level of interest and enthusiasm.
  • …learning goals.
  • …study methods.

In this article, we’ll give you some insight on how long it takes to learn Japanese for the different proficiency levels, keeping these influencing factors in mind. We’ll also provide tips to help you make the most of your study time. 

Are you ready? Set your goals and join JapanesePod101.com on the first step of your language learning journey!

A Woman Holding a Map While Traveling

How long does it take to learn Japanese and how can you reach your goals faster?

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese Table of Contents
  1. Japanese Learning Overview
  2. How Long Does it Take to Achieve Beginner Level?
  3. How Long Does it Take to Achieve Intermediate Level?
  4. How Long Does it Take to Achieve Advanced Level?
  5. Conclusion

1. Japanese Learning Overview 

Before we get into the details, let’s go over how the proficiency levels are defined. This will give you a good idea of what to expect at each stage of your learning journey and give you the knowledge you need to prepare accordingly. 

Language Difficulty Rankings

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) projects how difficult it will be and how long it will take for an English speaker to achieve a “Professional Working Proficiency” level in a given language. The difficulty levels are grouped into five categories, from the easiest languages (Category I) to the most difficult (Category IV). Category I languages are the most similar to English, and Category IV languages are the least similar.

Although the length of time needed to achieve proficiency can vary depending on many factors, FSI estimates the average approximate time for Category I languages to be 24-30 weeks (600-750 class hours). On the other hand, Category IV languages like Japanese take about 88 weeks (2200 class hours) to learn. Japanese is considered an “exceptionally difficult” language for native English speakers to master.

This assessment includes proficiency in reading, one of the most difficult parts of le/arning Japanese. The Japanese writing system is very different from the English alphabet, so many English speakers struggle to adapt. 

That said, you can expect the learning process to be less difficult if your goal has more to do with speaking and listening (such as being able to make conversation and watch Japanese movies without subtitles). There are also some areas where Japanese is simpler than English, which can make learning the language a bit easier. For example, Japanese has fewer vowel and consonant sounds, simple rules for using tense, no plural form or articles, and no verb conjugations according to person.

    → Please see our article Is Japanese Hard to Learn? in order to discover the easiest and most difficult aspects of the language.

JLPT: Japanese-Language Proficiency Test

The JLPT (Japanese-Language Proficiency Test) is an official standardized criterion-referenced test that evaluates and certifies the Japanese-language proficiency of non-native Japanese speakers. It assesses language knowledge (grammar and vocabulary), reading ability, and listening ability.

The JLPT has five levels: N1 (the most difficult), N2, N3, N4, and N5 (the easiest).

N1AdvancedThe ability to understand all of the Japanese used in different everyday contexts. 
N2Pre-AdvancedThe ability to understand the majority of Japanese phrases used in different everyday contexts. 
N3Intermediate The ability to understand some of the Japanese phrases used in everyday situations.
N4ElementaryThe ability to understand basic Japanese.
N5BeginnerThe ability to understand some basic Japanese.

The Japanese Language Education Center shows the study-hour data for JLPT by level, as well as the comparison between students with and without prior Kanji knowledge. The information indicates that students without prior Kanji knowledge will need more study time to reach each level.

[JLPT Study-Hour Comparison Data 2010-2015]

 Students with Kanji Knowledge (e.g. speakers of Chinese or Korean)Students without Kanji Knowledge
N11700~2600 hours3000~4800 hours
N21150~1800 hours1600~2800 hours
N3700~1100 hours950~1700 hours
N4400~700 hours575~1000 hours
N5250~450 hours325~600 hours
Businessman Climbing Ladders and Charting Their Success

Make progress step by step to increase your language proficiency level.

Influencing Factors

That being said, there are numerous factors that influence how long it takes to learn Japanese.

Your Mother Tongue / Language Learning Experience

If your native language is similar to your target language, the learning process will be much faster and easier than if you tried learning a very different language. Likewise, if you have some language learning experience and are somewhat familiar with your target language already, this will definitely help you learn faster and more effectively.  

In this regard, English speakers and learners unfortunately have little privilege when it comes to learning Japanese. 

The classification of the Japonic languages (Japanese and its dialects) is still unclear, but many linguists see the Japonic languages as an independent family. Thus, Japanese doesn’t really have a family of close and similar languages, such as the Romance languages (Spanish, Italian, and French). 

However, Japanese Kanji characters were originally brought from Ancient China and incorporated into Japanese. Although Chinese people cannot read or pronounce Japanese Kanji, they can often guess their meanings. While Chinese grammar and phonetics are very different from those of Japanese, the Korean language has some grammatical and phonetic similarities. Therefore, Chinese and Korean speakers (as well as learners of these languages) have a slight advantage when it comes to learning Japanese.

    → For more about the Japanese language, please see Japanese Language Overview: All the Facts You Need to Know.

Your Learning Goal / Motivation 

What is your definition of ‘learning Japanese’ and what is your learning goal? 

If your goal is to learn basic survival Japanese for traveling, then it won’t take very long to achieve. You would only have to learn some essential greetings and other useful phrases. 

However, it would take a lot of time and effort to reach a level where you could watch Japanese movies and anime without subtitles, or speak fluently with Japanese natives. This requires good speaking and listening skills.

Learning to read and write high-level Kanji would also require a lot of time and effort. You would need to attain solid grammatical knowledge and gain a good command of Kanji. This would allow you to read Japanese newspapers and write official documents. 

Whatever your learning goal may be, your motivation and enthusiasm play an important role as well. Whether you’re a big fan of Japanese culture and anime or you wish to live and work in Japan, your motivation impacts your level of commitment and your attitude toward learning Japanese. Your level of motivation determines how much time and effort you’re willing to dedicate to learning.

Study Method / Time You Dedicate to Learning 

As the proverb says, “There is no royal road to learning.” The more time you spend, the more knowledge you get. The accumulation of small but continuous effort is important.

Even for the same hour spent on language learning, the results you’d get will differ depending on how you’re learning and how that time was used. For example, were you watching Japanese anime, reading a textbook, or talking with a Japanese teacher in class?

If you want to focus on daily conversations, then reading a textbook about grammar may not be the best learning method. You would probably fare better talking with a Japanese tutor online and watching Japanese movies with subtitles, as this would improve your speaking and listening skills faster.

Once you set your goal, try to find the best learning methods for your purposes. There are multiple options you can work on from your home, even if you’re outside of Japan. These include online lessons and online tutoring for more effective learning, and using YouTube and Netflix for a more laid-back and fun approach to studying.

A Laptop, Phone, and Tablets

Thanks to the internet, there are numerous ways we can learn from anywhere.

2. How Long Does it Take to Achieve Beginner Level?

Those who are thinking of starting to learn Japanese often wonder where to start, what to aim for as a beginner, and how long it will take to reach the beginner level. In this section, we’ll answer these questions and provide you with tips for how to learn Japanese effectively at this stage. 

JLPT: N5 & N4 Levels

Even if you don’t take an actual exam, JLPT can be a good guideline to help you know what needs to be done to achieve a certain level. If you want to reach the N5 & N4 levels, you’ll need to build a foundation by learning the basic Japanese grammar and vocabulary.

N5 Level: Beginner

Reading

You should be able to… 

  • …understand typical daily expressions and sentences written in Hiragana, Katakana, and very basic Kanji. 

[Example Exercise]

A: 
あの 人 は だれ です か。
Ano hito wa dare desu ka.
Who is that person?

B: 
かれ は 田中さん です。
Kare wa Tanaka-san desu.
He is Mr. Tanaka.

Listening

You should be able to…

  • …listen to and comprehend conversations about topics regularly encountered in daily life and classroom situations. 
  • …pick up necessary information from short conversations spoken slowly. 

[Example Exercise] 

Listen to a question and a conversation and choose the best answer.



男の人と女の人が話しています。男の人は何時に寝ましたか。
Otoko no hito to onna no hito ga hanashite imasu. Otoko no hito wa nan-ji ni nemashita ka.
The man and the woman are talking. What time did the man go to bed?



(女/woman) 
眠そうな顔してるね。 
Nemusō na kao shiteru ne. 
You look sleepy.

(男/man)      
昨夜は遅くまで勉強していて。
Sakuya wa osoku made benkyō shite ite. 
I was studying until late last night.

(女/woman) 
何時ごろ寝たの? 
Nan-ji goro neta no?
Around what time did you go to bed?

(男/man)      
3時半ごろ。
San-ji han goro.
Around three thirty.

N4 Level: Elementary

Reading

You should be able to…

  • …read and understand passages on familiar everyday topics written in basic vocabulary and Kanji. 

[Example Exercise]

パスポート ばんごう を おしえて ください。 
Pasupōto bangō o oshiete kudasai. 
Please tell me the passport number.

ここ に あなた の うちの じゅうしょ を かいて ください。
Koko ni anata no uchi no jūsho o kaite kudasai
Please write your home address here.

Listening

You should be able to…

  • …listen to and comprehend conversations encountered in daily life and generally follow their contents (provided that they’re spoken slowly).

[Example Exercise] 

Listen to the question and answer options, and choose the best answer.



仕事が終わって帰ります。何と言いますか。
Shigoto ga owatte kaerimasu. Nan to iimasu ka.
(You) finished work and are going home. What do you say?

おじゃまします。(Ojama shimasu.)
お大事に。(Odaiji ni.)
お先に失礼します。(Osaki ni shitsurei shimasu.)

Native English speakers, or those who do not have previous Kanji knowledge, need approximately 325-600 hours of studying for N5 and 575-1000 hours for N4 level.

JLPT assesses mainly reading and listening skills, so you may need to put in some extra effort to write and speak at such levels. 

How to Get to Elementary Level Faster

The most important thing for beginners to do is familiarize themselves with the Japanese language. You can get used to Japanese sentence structure, pronunciation, and basic vocabulary by doing simple exercises and repeating them until you feel comfortable with the content or concepts. With apps and online lessons, you can study anytime and anywhere.

Apps: 

Imiwa? and Japanese by Renzo Inc. are dictionary apps that allow you to look up any Japanese word you want to know. You can also use them to check the reading of Kanji, learn how to write Kanji, and see some usage examples.

The NHK Easy Japanese News app is a news app provided by Japan’s national broadcaster. It provides news articles written in simple sentences with 振り仮名 (furigana), or reading aid, for Kanji. 

Online Lessons: 

JapanesePod101.com offers informative yet fun audio and video lessons for absolute beginners. Together with grammar essentials, you’ll learn real and practical spoken Japanese. Our short and easy-to-understand lessons will keep you hooked from Level 1.

A Woman Reading a Book on a Bus

To learn a language, the output of knowledge is just as important as the input.

3. How Long Does it Take to Achieve Intermediate Level?

Depending on your goals, the next logical step is probably to learn even more and reach an intermediate level of fluency. So how long will it take you to learn Japanese to such an extent, and how can you get there? 

JLPT: N3 Level

Reading

You should be able to…

  • …read and understand written materials with specific contents concerning everyday topics.
  • …grasp summarized information such as newspaper headlines. 
  • …read the kind of writing encountered in everyday situations that may be a bit more difficult, understanding the main points (as long as alternative phrases are available to you if needed). 

[Example] 

山本さんはクラスの代表に選ばれた。 
Yamamoto-san wa kurasu no daihyō ni erabareta.
Mr./Ms. Yamamoto was selected as a representative of the class.

その会社は海外から輸入したバッグを日本で売っている。
Sono kaisha wa kaigai kara yunyū shita baggu o Nihon de utte iru
The company sells bags in Japan which they imported from abroad.

Listening

You should be able to…

  • …listen to and comprehend coherent everyday conversations spoken at near-natural speed, while following most of the spoken content and determining the relationships of the people speaking. 

[Example Exercise] 

Listen to the question and answer options, and choose the best answer.



試験に合格したので先生に伝えたいです。何と言いますか。
Shiken ni gōkaku shita node sensei ni tsutaetai desu. Nan to iimasu ka.
(You) passed the exam and you want to tell this to the teacher. What do you say?

1 – 今回はおめでとうございます。(Konkai wa omedetō gozaimasu.) – Congratulations this time.
2 – 今度、合格なさいました。(Kondo, gōkaku nasaimashita.) – This time (he) passed. [in respectful form for others]
3 – おかげさまで、試験に受かりました。(Okage-sama de, shiken ni ukarimashita.) – Thanks to you, I passed the exam.

For native English speakers, it’s estimated that around 950-1700 hours of studying is needed to achieve the N3 level. 

How to Get to Intermediate Level Faster

To reach the intermediate level, you need to increase your knowledge of more complex grammar concepts and memorize a variety of everyday vocabulary words and phrases. In addition, it’s time to get used to the natural and native speaking speed. In order to achieve that, the amount of output is just as important as the amount of input—in other words, you need to practice active listening as well as speaking. Textbooks and lessons can only teach you so much! 

Paper Materials: 

Master intermediate-level grammar from your textbooks, and consider reading light novels and magazines to increase your daily input of Japanese.

Apps: 

Wondering how to learn more Japanese vocabulary? Anki is an intelligent flashcard app that helps you memorize words more easily and increase your vocabulary. 

Once you know the basics of how to compose Japanese sentences and have a solid vocabulary base, it’s time to start practicing. Hello Talk is a language exchange app that you can download on iOS or Android devices. With this app, you can find Japanese online friends to talk to.

Audio/Video Materials: 

There’s a variety of audio/video sources for learning Japanese out there. YouTube and Netflix are easy options. Immerse yourself in Japanese-speaking environments every day—right from the comfort of your couch! 

Need some recommendations? Then check out the following blog posts on JapanesePod101.com: 

Online Lessons and Online Tutoring:  
In addition to online lessons, useful vocab lists, and insightful articles on various topics, JapanesePod101.com provides a one-on-one tutoring service called MyTeacher. This service allows you to interact with your own personal teacher, who can help you personalize your learning program based on your progress and provide you with valuable feedback.

Four Girls Sitting on the Stairs and Talking

4. How Long Does it Take to Achieve Advanced Level?

Are you looking to become completely fluent in Japanese? Then be prepared to dedicate a lot of your time and effort to the task. This is a long journey, and you might begin to feel like you’re not progressing anymore no matter how much time you spend studying. Your progress may be slower than it was reaching the previous two levels, but every small effort counts. You’ll surely advance if you keep at it and don’t give up! 

1. JLPT: N2 & N1 Level 

N2 Level: Pre-Advanced

Reading

You should be able to…

  • …read and comprehend clearly written content on various topics, including articles and commentaries in newspapers and magazines, as well as simple critiques. 
  • …read written materials on various topics, follow their narratives, and understand the writers’ intent. 

[Example Exercise]

(1) 

_____の言葉を漢字で書くとき、最もよいものを一つ選びなさい。 
_____ no kotoba o kanji de kaku toki, mottomo yoi mono o hitotsu erabinasai.
Choose the most appropriate one when the word _____ is written in Kanji.



今日は、ゴミのしゅうしゅう日ですか。 
Kyō wa, gomi no shūshūbi desu ka.
Is it garbage collection today?

1. 拾集、2. 収拾、3. 修集、4. 取集

(2) 

(  )に入るのに、最もよいものを一つ選びなさい。
(  ) ni hairu no ni, mottomo yoi mono o hitotsu erabinasai.
Choose the most appropriate one for (    ).



日本人の平均(  )は、男性が79歳、女性が86歳である。
Nihon-jin no heikin(  ) wa, dansei ga 79-sai, josei ga 86-sai de aru
The Japanese average(  )is male 79 years old and female 86 years old.

1. 生命、2. 寿命、3. 人生、4. 一生
seimei        jumyō   jinsei       isshō

Listening

You should be able to…

  • …understand orally presented materials (coherent conversations, news reports, etc.) on a variety of topics and in different settings, spoken at nearly natural speed. 
  • …follow the main ideas and content of such materials. 
  • …understand the relationships of the people involved. 

[Example Exercise] 

Listen to the sentence and choose the best reply.



あの、今、お時間よろしいでしょうか。
Ano, ima, o-jikan yoroshii deshō ka.
Excuse me, do you have time now? [Can I talk to you?]

1 – えっと、4時5分ですよ。(Etto, yo-ji go-fun desu yo.) – Well, it’s 4:05.
2 – あいにく私も時計がなくて。(Ainiku watashi mo tokei ga nakute.) – Unfortunately, I don’t have a watch either.
3 – 10分くらいなら。(Juppun kurai nara.) – [Yes, I have] about ten minutes.

N1 Level: Advanced

Reading 

You should be able to…

  • …read texts featuring complex logic or abstract ideas on a variety of topics (newspaper editorials, critiques, etc.) and comprehend their structure and content. 
  • …read texts featuring profound content on various topics, follow their narratives, and understand the writers’ intent. 

[Example Exercise] 

(1) 

_____の言葉の読み方として、最もよいものを一つ選びなさい。 
_____ no kotoba o yomikata to shite, mottomo yoi mono o hitotsu erabinasai.
Choose the most appropriate reading for the word_____.



彼は今、新薬の研究開発に挑んでいる。 
Kare wa ima, shin’yaku no kenkyū kaihatsu ni _____iru.
He is now challenging the research and development of new drugs.

1. はげんで、2. のぞんで、3. からんで、4. いどんで

(2) 

(  )に入るのに、最もよいものを一つ選びなさい。
(  ) ni hairu no ni, mottomo yoi mono o hitotsu erabinasai.
Choose the most appropriate one for (    ).



私の主張は単なる(  )ではなく、確たる証拠に基づいている。
Watashi no shuchō wa tan naru(  )de wa naku, kakutaru shōko ni motozuite iru. 
My claim is based on solid evidence, not just (       ).

1. 模索、2. 思索、3. 推測、4. 推移
mosaku     shisaku     suisoku     suii 

Listening

You should be able to…

  • …comprehend spoken content in the form of conversations, news reports, and lectures in various contexts, when spoken at natural speed.
  • …follow the ideas and understand the implicit meaning of such spoken content. 
  • …understand important details of such spoken content, including the relationships of those involved, logical structures, and essential points. 

[Example Exercise]

Listen to the sentence and choose the best reply.



今日は、お客さんからの苦情が多くて仕事にならなかったよ。
Kyō wa, o-kyaku-san kara no kujō ga ōkute shigoto ni naranakatta yo.
I couldn’t work much today because there were many complaints from customers.

1 – いい仕事、できて良かったね。(Ii shigoto, dekite yokatta ne.) – That’s good you have done a great job.
2 – 仕事、なくて大変だったね。(Shigoto, nakute taihen datta ne.) – It must have been tough without work.
3 – お疲れ様、ゆっくり休んで。(Otsukare-sama, yukkuri yasunde.) – You must be tired (well done), rest well.

It’s estimated that it takes about 1600-2800 hours to achieve N2 and 3000-4800 hours to achieve N1. However, if you also want to master the Japanese Kanji of these levels, you’ll probably need to put in even more hours. 

How to Get to Advanced Level Faster

At this point, you probably don’t have any issues with daily Japanese conversations. You just need to focus on expanding your high-level vocabulary, getting a good working knowledge of official and formal language (including different honorifics), and picking up some spoken colloquial language that’s not often found in ordinary textbooks or written documents. Below are a few ways you can speed up your learning process.

Paper Materials: 

You can gain exposure to a wider range of vocabulary (including official words and technical terms) by reading more advanced paper materials. These include Japanese newspapers, magazines, and books on topics that interest you (business, biographies, IT, health, etc.). 

Apps: 

If you can, utilize all of the dictionary apps we mentioned earlier; this will surely take you to the next level. Kanji Senpai is another useful app that you can use to brush up on your Kanji skills by practicing and writing characters. Using news apps for daily reading is another effective way to learn official language. 

Audio/Video Materials: 

When using audio/video materials, try to focus on quality. Watching Japanese anime is fun and interesting, but it won’t take you to an advanced level. If you get bored of watching serious news channels and want something fun, you can choose to watch Japanese movies/TV shows in more complex genres (mystery, science fiction, crime thriller, techno thriller, etc.).

Online Lessons / Online Tutoring:

JapanesePod101.com offers plenty of more advanced online lessons in the form of written, audio, and video content. Our materials are designed to help you learn practical and natural Japanese in a fun and effective way. As an intermediate or advanced learner, you’ll greatly benefit from our one-on-one tutoring service MyTeacher; you’ll need the guidance and corrections of a native speaker in order to advance more quickly.

A Japanese Man Reading a Newspaper by a Large Window

Reading newspapers will help you expand your vocabulary and reach an advanced level of Japanese.

Conclusion

In this article, we talked about how long it takes to learn Japanese by level and discussed a number of influencing factors. As you can see, the amount of time it takes you to learn the language has a lot to do with what your goals are: becoming a fluent speaker and listener will be much easier than mastering the Japanese reading and writing system. 

If you would like to explore the Japanese language further, stay with JapanesePod101.com for the fastest and easiest way to fluency. With our variety of rich, free lessons and tools, your Japanese language skills will improve immensely. 

Don’t forget that you’re not alone. When you use our MyTeacher service, your own teacher can always help you practice through personalized activities and assignments. You can also reach out to native speakers and your fellow Japanese learners through the JapanesePod101 forum

Before you go, let us know in the comments if you feel ready to start learning Japanese. If not, we’d love to hear your questions or concerns, and we’ll be glad to help any way we can. 
Now, it’s time to get started with JapanesePod101.com!

Three Japanese Coworkers Talking

Being able to use appropriate business-level Japanese proves that you’ve achieved the advanced level.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese

Japanese Proverbs – Gain Japanese Wisdom and Insight

Thumbnail

Based on experience and timeless common sense, proverbs tell a perceived truth, often metaphorically, in a short sentence. Proverbs offer us wisdom and advice, and they’re extremely popular. You can find them quoted in articles, used in daily conversations, and even showcased on people’s wall decor. 

Proverbs often reflect the cultures from which they originate, and Japanese proverbs—called 諺 / ことわざ (Kotowaza)—are no exception. Some Japanese proverbs are very unique and funny, and there are some that are only valued and understood in Japan due to the ideas and values they reference. By learning Japanese proverbs, you’ll not only strengthen your language learning muscles, but also deepen your understanding of Japanese culture and values.

In this article, we’ll introduce thirty popular Japanese proverbs that you’ll be glad to know. Learn Japanese and get inspired here at JapanesePod101.com!

    → By the way, you may also be interested in learning about the Essential Idioms That Will Make You Sound Like a Native Speaker and Japanese Slang Nouns for Conversation.

      The Jizō Statues in Japan

      Japanese proverbs are unique expressions that give timeless wisdom and insight.

      Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese Table of Contents
      1. Life and Society
      2. Relationships
      3. Studying / Learning / Gaining Wisdom
      4. Behaviors / Feelings
      5. A Few More Proverbs For You…
      6. How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

      1. Life and Society

      These Japanese proverbs about life teach us lessons and truths to keep in mind as we go about our daily lives. 

      Note: You may notice that animals often appear in Japanese proverbs.

      1. 猿も木から落ちる (Saru mo ki kara ochiru)

      • Literal Translation: Even monkeys fall from trees.

      • Meaning: Nobody is perfect and anyone can make a mistake, even in what they’re good at.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Even Homer sometimes nods.

      • Example: 

        [when someone made a mistake]

        「猿も木から落ちる」と言うし、気にすることないよ!
        “Saru mo ki kara ochiru” to iu shi, ki ni suru koto nai yo!
        The proverb says “Even monkeys fall from trees,” so don’t worry about it!

      2. 二兎を追う者は一兎をも得ず (Ni-to o ō mono wa itto o mo ezu)

      • Literal Translation: Those who chase after two rabbits will not even catch one.

      • Meaning: If you’re greedy and try to get/do two things at once, you will fail at both.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: If you run after two hares, you will catch neither.

      • Example: 

        「二兎を追う者は一兎をも得ず」だよ。一つずつ着実にやり遂げよう!
        “Ni-to o ō mono wa itto o mo ezu” da yo. Hitotsu zutsu chakujitsu ni yaritogeyō!
        It says, “Those who chase after two rabbits will not even catch one.” Let’s steadily accomplish one thing at a time!

      3. 人のふり見てわがふり直せ (Hito no furi mite waga furi naose)

      • Literal Translation: Watch others’ behavior and correct your own behavior. 

      • Meaning: If you see good or bad behavior in others, you can improve your own behavior based on what you observe. 

      • Equivalent English Proverb: One man’s fault is another’s lesson.

      • Example: 

        友達の言動を批判する暇があったら、「人のふり見てわがふり直せ」だよ。
        Tomodachi no gendō o hihan suru hima ga attara, “hito no furi mite waga furi naose” da yo.
        If you have time to criticize the behavior of your friend, watch his behavior and correct your own behavior.

      4. 悪銭身につかず (Akusen mi ni tsukazu)

      • Literal Translation: Dirty money doesn’t stay with a person for long.

      • Meaning: Money gained through wrongful means such as stealing or gambling will be wasted and quickly disappear.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Easy come, easy go.

      • Example: 

        「悪銭身につかず」というように、賭け事で大金を当ててもお金持ちにはなれないよ。
        “Akusen mi ni tsukazu” to iu yō ni, kakegoto de taikin o atete mo o-kanemochi ni wa narenai yo.
        As it says, “Dirty money doesn’t stay with a person for long.” You won’t become rich even if you win a jackpot in gambling.

      5. 出る杭は打たれる (Deru kui wa utareru)

      • Literal Translation: The stake that sticks out gets hammered down.

      • Meaning: Being different or exceptional will subject you to criticism; the outstanding get ousted.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Envy is the companion of honor.

      • Example: 

        「出る杭は打たれる」と言うけど、出過ぎた杭は打たれない。批判を気にしないでね!
        “Deru kui wa utareru” to iu kedo, desugita kui wa utarenai. Hihan o ki ni shinaide ne!
        It says, “The stake that sticks out gets hammered down,” but the one sticking too far out doesn’t. Never mind criticisms!

      Someone Hammering a Nail into Wood

      出る杭は打たれる (Deru kui wa utareru) – “The stake that sticks out gets hammered down.”


      6. 苦あれば楽あり (Ku areba raku ari)

      • Literal Translation: There are hardships and also there are pleasures.

      • Meaning: After the hard times in life, we can look forward to the fun things. Also, hard work is always rewarded and you’ll feel at ease afterward.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: No pain, no gain. / No cross, no crown. / No rain, no rainbow.

      • Example: 

        人生、「苦あれば楽あり」! 若いうちは苦労をたくさんした方がいい。
        Jinsei, “ku areba raku ari”! Wakai uchi wa kurō o takusan shita hō ga ii.
        Life is “no pain, no gain”! You should work hard a lot when you are young.

      7. 口は災いの元 (Kuchi wa wazawai no moto)

      • Literal Translation: Mouth is a source of disaster.

      • Meaning: Your careless remarks will invite troubles for yourself, so watch your mouth.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Out of the mouth comes evil. / The tongue is the root of calamities.

      • Example:

        人の悪口を言うと良いことないよ。「口は災いの元」だよ!
        Hito no waruguchi o iu to ii koto nai yo. “Kuchi wa wazawai no moto” da yo.
        There’s nothing good about talking ill of someone. It says, “Out of the mouth comes evil!”

      A Man Whispering a Rumor to a Woman

      口は災いの元 (Kuchi wa wazawai no moto) – “Out of the mouth comes evil.”

      2. Relationships

      Wherever you are in the world, relationships are an essential aspect of everyday life. The following Japanese proverbs about relationships lend us some practical wisdom on the topic! 

      8. 一期一会 (Ichigo ichie)

      • Literal Translation: One lifetime, one meeting.

      • Meaning: This proverb refers to a once-in-a-lifetime meeting/opportunity. You should cherish each moment and do your best, as though it were the only chance you would have to do so in your lifetime. This word originates from the traditional Japanese tea ceremony called 茶道 (Sadō), or “the Way of Tea.” It expresses the spirit of Sadō, according to which all participants should be sincere and do their best, as though each tea ceremony were a once-in-a-lifetime event. 

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Live every day as though it were your last.

      • Example: 

        旅先での素敵な出会いは、まさに「一期一会」だ。
        Tabisaki de no suteki na deai wa, masa ni “ichigo ichie” da.
        A wonderful encounter on a trip is truly a “once-in-a-lifetime meeting.”

      9. 犬猿の仲 (Ken’en no naka)

      • Literal Translation: A relationship of dogs and monkeys.

      • Meaning: This phrase refers to a relationship of mutual hatred, or two people who absolutely despise and hate each other.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Fight like cats and dogs.

      • Example: 

        ミカとさゆりは「犬猿の仲」です。
        Mika to Sayuri wa “ken’en no naka” desu.
        Mika and Sayuri have a relationship of mutual hatred.

      10. 蛙の子は蛙 (Kaeru no ko wa kaeru)

      • Literal Translation: The child of a frog is a frog.

      • Meaning: The nature and ability of a child resembles that of his or her parents. The child of an ordinary person is nothing but an ordinary person. A frog is a tadpole when it’s a child, and thus doesn’t look like its parents, but it becomes a frog like its parents in the end.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Like father, like son. / Nits will be lice.

      • Example: 

        「蛙の子は蛙」と言うように、私の息子も数学が苦手です。
        “Kaeru no ko wa kaeru” to iu yō ni, watashi no musuko mo sūgaku ga nigate desu.
        “Kaeru no ko wa kaeru” to iu yō ni, watashi no musuko mo sūgaku ga nigate desu.

      11. 同じ釜の飯を食う(Onaji kama no meshi o kū)

      • Literal Translation: Eat rice/food out of the same pot.

      • Meaning: This saying refers to a very close friendship/relationship, especially those who spend a lot of time together each day.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Two peas in a pod.

      • Example: 

        たかしとケンタは「同じ釜の飯を食った」仲だ。
        Takashi to Kenta wa “onaji kama no meshi o kutta” naka da.
        Takashi and Kenta have a very close friendship.

      12. 金の切れ目が縁の切れ目 (Kane no kireme ga en no kireme)

      • Literal Translation: The end of money is the end of relationship.

      • Meaning: When the money runs out, the relationship also ends. In other words, relationships dependent upon wealth will end when the money does.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: The end of money is the end of love. / When poverty comes in at the door, love flies out the window.

      • Example: 

        「金の切れ目が縁の切れ目」と言うし、友達にお金を貸さない方がいいですよ。
        “Kane no kireme ga en no kireme” to iu shi, tomodachi ni o-kane o kasanai hō ga ii desu yo.
        It says, “the end of money is the end of relationship,” so you shouldn’t lend money to your friends.

      Someone Serving Up Rice with a Wooden Spoon

      同じ釜の飯を食う (Onaji kama no meshi o kū) – “to eat out of the same pot”

      3. Studying / Learning / Gaining Wisdom

      Continuing to accumulate wisdom is key to long-term success and happiness. Here are a few Japanese proverbs on success and the necessity of learning. 

      13. 初心忘るべからず (Shoshin wasuru bekarazu)

      • Literal Translation: Should not forget our original intention.

      • Meaning: We should never forget the beginner’s spirit of when we first started learning or doing something. Don’t be arrogant or underestimate things, even if you’ve mastered it. 

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Don’t forget where you came from. / Don’t let success get to your head. 

      • Example: 

        一度成功しても、「初心忘るべからず」で、気を抜かないように。
        Ichi-do seikō shite mo, “shoshin wasuru bekarazu” de, ki o nukanai yō ni.
        As it says “don’t forget beginner’s spirit,” don’t lose focus even if you once succeeded.

      14. 千里の道も一歩から (Sen-ri no michi mo ippo kara)

      • Literal Translation: A thousand Ri begins with a single step on the road.

      • Meaning: You achieve big things by taking them one step at a time, slow and steady. 千里 (sen-ri) literally means “thousand 里 (Ri),” which is the old Japanese measurement unit for distance (1 Ri is about 4 km). It’s also used to indicate a far distance. 

      • Equivalent English Proverb: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

      • Example: 

        語学の習得は簡単ではないけれど、「千里の道も一歩から」。小さな積み重ねが大切です。
        Gogaku no shūtoku wa kantan de wa nai keredo, “sen-ri no michi mo ippo kara”. Chiisana tsumikasane ga taisetsu desu.
        Mastering a language is not easy, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The accumulation of small steps is important.

      15. 雨降って地固まる (Ame futte ji katamaru)

      • Literal Translation: After the rain, the earth hardens.

      • Meaning: Just as ground that gets rained on hardens later, so will our troubles result in good situations over time. 

      • Equivalent English Proverb: After a storm comes the calm. / Good comes out of evil. / Adversity strengthens the foundations.

      • Example: 

        「雨降って地固まる」と言うように、二人は大喧嘩をした後、かえって仲良しになった。
        “Ame futte ji katamaru” to iu yō ni, futari wa ōgenka o shita ato, kaette nakayoshi ni natta.
        As it says “after the rain, the earth hardens,” after they had a big argument, they became closer friends than before.

      16. チリも積もれば山となる (Chiri mo tsumoreba yama to naru)

      • Literal Translation: When dust accumulates, it becomes a mountain.

      • Meaning: Even something as small as dust particles can grow to be as large as a mountain when piled up. This proverb means that we shouldn’t neglect the little things, as they will make a big difference later.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Many a little makes a mickle. / A penny saved is a penny earned. / Little strokes fell great oaks. 

      • Example: 

        地道な基礎練習が大切です。「チリも積もれば山となる」ですよ。
        Jimichi na kiso renshū ga taisetsu desu. “Chiri mo tsumoreba yama to naru” desu yo.
        Steady and basic practice is important. It says, “Many a little makes a mickle.”

      17. 三人寄れば文殊の知恵 (San-nin yoreba monju no chie)

      • Literal Translation: When three people gather, get the wisdom of Manjushri.

      • Meaning: Even ordinary people can come up with good ideas when brainstorming with others. It’s better to have multiple brains working on something than only one. Manjushri, or 文殊 もんじゅ (monju), is one of the Bodhisattva that’s on the path toward Buddhahood.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Two heads are better than one.

      • Example: 

        「三人寄れば文殊の知恵」!一人で悩むより周りの人に相談したほうがいいよ。
        Sannin yoreba monju no chie! Hitori de nayamu yori mawari no hito ni soudan shita hōga iiyo.
        Two heads are better than one! Rather than worrying alone, you should talk to people around you and ask for advice.

      18. 長所は短所 (Chōsho wa tansho)

      • Literal Translation: Strength is weakness.

      • Meaning: One’s strength can also be his own weakness, depending on the context and on one’s point of view. If you rely too much on your strength, it may become a cause of failure, so be careful.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: One’s strength is his weakness. / Every medal has two sides.

      • Example: 

        自信があるのは良いことですが、人の意見を聞くことも大事ですよ。「長所は短所」です。
        Jishin ga aru no wa yoi koto desu ga, hito no iken o kiku koto mo daiji desu yo. “Chōsho wa tansho” desu.
        It’s good to have confidence in yourself, but listening to others is also important. It says, “One’s strength is his weakness.”

      A Road with Arrows Pointing Forward

      千里の道も一歩から (Sen-ri no michi mo ippo kara) – “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

      4. Behaviors / Feelings

      It should come as no surprise that there are plenty of Japanese sayings on behaviors and feelings, since they play a large role in a person’s identity—and in how we view them. Here are some of the most common ones. 

      19. 耳にたこができる (Mimi ni tako ga dekiru)

      • Literal Translation: Grow calluses on ear.

      • Meaning: This saying refers to someone who’s fed up with hearing the same thing over and over again. They’re so annoyed that they form “calluses” on their ears to stop hearing—just like how calluses grow as a response to repeated friction and pressure. 

      • Additional Note: たこ (Tako) is pronounced the same way as 蛸 (Tako), meaning “octopus” in Japanese, but it is a homonym in this case. To avoid confusion, one can use the Kanji characters 胼胝 (Tako), meaning “callus,” but the Kanji version is difficult and not commonly used. Instead, the word is usually written in either Hiragana or Katakana.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Talk one’s ear off.

      • Example: 

        その話もう100回は聞いたよ。「耳にたこができる」!
        Sono hanashi mō hyakkai wa kiita yo. “Mimi ni tako ga dekiru”!
        I’ve heard that story 100 times already. Calluses are growing in my ear!

      20. 馬の耳に念仏 (Uma no mimi ni nenbutsu)

      • Literal Translation: Buddhist invocation into horse’s ears.

      • Meaning: If you were to tell a horse a Buddhist invocation, it would not understand or appreciate it. Likewise, you could give someone the best advice or opinion about something, but it’s in vain if the other person doesn’t want to hear it. 

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Preaching to the deaf.

      • Example: 

        いくらあなたが親身になって助言しても、彼には「馬の耳に念仏」だよ!
        Ikura anata ga shinmi ni natte jogen shite mo, kare ni wa “uma no mimi ni nenbutsu” da yo!
        No matter how much thoughtful advice you give, it’s like preaching to the deaf!

      21. 灯台下暗し (Tōdai moto kurashi)

      • Literal Translation: It is dark under the candle stand.

      • Meaning: We tend not to notice things that are familiar to us, and we often overlook things that lie near at hand.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: It is darkest under the lamp post. / It’s hard to see what is under your nose.

      • Example: 

        ペンを探していたけど、胸のポケットに入っていた!「灯台下暗し」だね。
        Pen o sagashite ita kedo, mune no poketto ni haitte ita! “Tōdai moto kurashi” da ne.
        I was looking for a pen, but it was in my chest pocket! It’s hard to see what is under your nose.

      22. 豚に真珠 (Buta ni shinju)

      • Literal Translation: Pearls to pigs.

      • Meaning: It’s meaningless and useless to give something worthwhile to someone who doesn’t know its value.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Cast pearls before swine.

      • Example: 

        赤ちゃんに$500のブランドの洋服を着せるのは、私は「豚に真珠」だと思う。
        Akachan ni $500 no burando no yōfuku o kiseru no wa, watashi wa “buta ni shinju” da to omō.
        I think it’s like casting pearls before swine to dress a baby in $500 luxury brand clothes.

      23. 因果応報 (Inga ōhō)

      • Literal Translation: Cause brings result.

      • Meaning: Bad actions bring bad results (and vice-versa). This proverb originally comes from the Buddhist concept that those who do good deeds receive good rewards in return, and those who do bad deeds will have retributive justice.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: What goes around comes around.

      • Example: 

        彼は昔ひどいイジメっ子だったので、今は困った時に助けてくれる本当の友達がいない。「因果応報」だね。
        Kare wa mukashi hidoi ijimekko datta node, ima wa komatta toki ni tasukete kureru hontō no tomodachi ga inai. “Inga ōhō” da ne.
        He does not have real friends now to help when he’s in trouble, because he was a terrible bully in the past. It is “what goes around comes around.”

      24. 開いた口が塞がらない (Aita kuchi ga fusagaranai)

      • Literal Translation: Open mouth does not close.

      • Meaning: You might use this phrase when someone’s words or behavior are appalling and beyond understanding, and you’re lost for words. 

      • Equivalent English Saying: To be at a loss for words

      • Example: 

        またギャンブルのためにお金借りたいの?「開いた口が塞がらない」よ!
        Mata gyanburu no tame ni o-kane karitai no? “Aita kuchi ga fusagaranai” yo!
        You want to borrow money for gambling again? I’m appalled and lost for words!

      A Candle Glowing in the Darkness

      灯台下暗し (Tōdai moto kurashi) – “It is dark under the lamp post.” / “It’s hard to see what is under your nose.”

      5. A Few More Proverbs For You…

      To conclude our Japanese proverbs list, here are just a few more proverbs you may enjoy. 

      25. どんぐりの背比べ (Donguri no sei kurabe)

      • Literal Translation: Height comparison among acorns.

      • Meaning: This phrase is used in situations where everything or everyone seems about the same, and there’s no one who has outstanding strength, ability, or skill.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Neither barrel the better herring. / Much of a muchness.

      • Example: 

        今回の美人コンテストの応募者は全員普通で、勝者を選べません。「どんぐりの背比べ」です。
        Konkai no bijin kontesuto no ōbosha wa zen’in futsū de, shōsha o erabemasen. “Donguri no sei kurabe” desu.
        All the applicants for this beauty contest are ordinary and we cannot choose the winner. They are all much of a muchness.

      26. 蛇足 (Dasoku)

      • Literal Translation: Legs of a snake.

      • Meaning: Something that is unnecessary, redundant, and superfluous.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Put a fifth wheel to the coach/Gilding the lily.
      • Example: 

        お祝いの席であんなコメントは「蛇足」でした。
        O-iwai no seki de anna komento wa “dasoku” deshita.
        Such a comment was unnecessary on the occasion of celebration.

      27. 雲泥の差 (Undei no sa)

      • Literal Translation: Difference between clouds and mud.

      • Meaning: This refers to a wide difference. Because clouds represent heaven and mud is the ground, this phrase alludes to a big gap like that between heaven and earth.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: As different as night and day. 

      • Example: 

        都市部と田舎では生活費に「雲泥の差」があります。
        Toshibu to inaka de wa seikatsuhi ni “undei no sa” ga arimasu.
        There is a huge difference in living costs between urban and rural areas.

      28. 青天の霹靂 (Seiten no hekireki)

      • Literal Translation: Sudden thunder in the blue sky.

      • Meaning: The sudden occurrence of unexpected events or changes.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: A bolt out of the blue.

      • Example: 

        あの有名俳優が突然逮捕されたのは、青天の霹靂だ。
        Ano yūmei haiyū ga totsuzen taiho sareta no wa, “seiten no hekireki” da.
        It’s a bolt out of the blue that that famous actor got suddenly arrested.

      A Thunderstorm Appearing Over a Green Field

      青天の霹靂 (Seiten no hekireki) “a bolt out of the blue”

      29. 後の祭り (Ato no matsuri)

      • Literal Translation: After the festival.

      • Meaning: This phrase means that someone has missed their chance or an event has occurred too late. After the festival is over, it’s meaningless to go to see the festival. 

      • Additional Note: A traditional Japanese 祭り (matsuri), or “festival,” usually has main events such as 神輿担ぎ (Mikoshi katsugi), which is “carrying a portable Shinto shrine,” 山車 (dashi), or “floats” parade, and group dances. There’s also a variety of food stalls and entertainment booths around the area.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: A day after the fair. / After death, the doctor.

      • Example: 

        テストが終わった後に勉強を始めても、「後の祭り」です。
        Tesuto ga owatta ato ni benkyō o hajimete mo, “ato no matsuri” desu.
        It’s too late to start studying after the test is over.

      30. 縁の下の力持ち (En no shita no chikaramochi)

      • Literal Translation: Powerful man under the edge.

      • Meaning: A person who does a thankless task and makes an effort to support others in ways that are not visible to others.

      • Additional Notes: The 縁 えん (en) is the long wooden porch in traditional Japanese-style houses. Though unseen, there are many foundation pillars under the en that hold up the porch.

      • Equivalent English Proverb: Unsung hero.

      • Example: 

        この社会はたくさんの縁の下の力持ちがいるおかげで成り立っています。
        Kono shakai wa takusan no en no shita no chikaramochi ga iru okagede naritatte imasu.
        This society is made possible by the existence of many unsung heroes.

      A Woman Is Standing on the 縁 (en) or 縁側 (engawa), Meaning

      To learn more about Japanese proverbs and quotes, please also check out our article Japanese Quotes That Enrich Your Life.

      6. How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

      In this article, we introduced thirty popular Japanese proverbs and idioms in various categories. I hope you enjoyed today’s topic, gained some useful insight from these Japanese words of wisdom, and deepened your understanding of Japanese culture! 

      Which of these Japanese proverbs is your favorite, and why? And what are some common proverbs in your language? We look forward to hearing from you! 

      If you would like to learn more about the Japanese language, you’ll find even more helpful content on JapanesePod101.com. We provide a variety of free lessons to help you improve your Japanese language skills. To start, why not study these inspiring Japanese quotes and motivational phrases for language learning?

      And there’s so much more! 

      By subscribing for a Premium PLUS membership, you’ll also gain access to MyTeacher. This service gives you a private teacher who will help you practice pronunciation and give you personalized feedback and advice.

      Learn Japanese in the fastest, easiest, and most effective way possible with JapanesePod101.com!

      Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese

An Easy Guide to Japanese Grammar

Thumbnail

Are you interested in learning Japanese and wondering where to start? Or have you been studying a while and want to know more about Japanese grammar and the logic behind it? Our easy guide to Japanese grammar will give you insight into the essentials of the Japanese language.

Japanese grammar works quite differently from that of English, but that doesn’t mean it’s more difficult. Some rules are actually much simpler and easier to understand than those in English or the Romance languages. For example, Japanese does not have articles, gender, or the singular/plural forms; Japanese has only the present and past tenses. Learning the characteristics of Japanese grammar will deepen your understanding of the language and accelerate your language acquisition. 

Without further ado, JapanesePod101.com’s concise summary of Japanese grammar!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese Table of Contents
  1. General Japanese Grammar Rules
  2. Nouns & Pronouns
  3. Verbs
  4. Adjectives
  5. Ancillary Words
  6. How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

1. General Japanese Grammar Rules 

When written, Japanese sentences do not have spaces between the words like English does. This may be confusing for foreign learners at first, but you’ll quickly get used to it once you learn the basic rules. Here’s an example of what a Japanese sentence looks like: 

  • 私の母は仕事へ行きました。(“My mother went to work.”)

Keep in mind that literal translation from English to Japanese doesn’t work because the grammar rules and sentence structures are different. 

Words, Phrases, and Sentences

  • Words, or 単語 (tango), are the minimum unit in a sentence and cannot be reduced any further.

For example, this is a breakdown of each word in, “My mother went to work.”

私 (Watashi)の (no)母 (haha)は (wa)仕事 (shigoto)に (ni)行きました。 (ikimashita.)
“I”” -‘s ““mother”topic-particle“work”locative-particle“went”

  • Phrases, or 文節 (bunsetsu), are the smallest coherent components that form a sentence. 

Here’s a breakdown of the phrases in the same sentence:

私の (Watashi no)母は (haha wa)仕事に (shigoto ni)行きました。(ikimashita.)
“My”“mother”“to work”“went”

Japanese phrases are divided into the minimum components that still make sense (have meaning).

When breaking down a sentence, phrases are typically divided before 独立語 (dokuritsugo), or “independent words,” such as nouns, adjectives, and verbs.

  • Sentences, or 文 (bun), are texts that end with 句点 (kuten), the punctuation mark (“。”), which is comparable to a full stop (“.”) in English. 

Sentences consist of phrases, which typically contain a subject and a predicate to convey a statement or question. Sentences and phrases are also punctuated with 読点 (tōten), the Japanese comma (“、”).

今朝、私の母は仕事に行きました。(Kesa, watashi no haha wa shigoto ni ikimashita.)
“This morning, my mother went to work.”

Classification of Phrases

There are several types of Japanese phrases, classified by function. They include:

  • 主語 (shu-go) – “subject”
  • 述語 (jutsu-go) – “predicate”
  • 修飾語 (shūshoku-go) – “modifier”
  • 接続語 (setsuzoku-go) – “conjunction”
  • 独立語 (dokuritsu-go) – “independent phrase”

Subject Phrase

A subject phrase indicates “what” or “who” in a sentence. It usually takes the form of a noun followed by a grammatical particle, such as は (wa), が (ga), orも (mo).

Examples:

  • 私は学生です。(Watashi wa gakusei desu.) – “I am a student.”
  • 彼も食べます。(Kare mo tabemasu.) – “He eats, too.”

Predicate Phrase

A predicate phrase explains something about the subject, usually what it is or what it’s like. The predicate is located at the end of a sentence. 

Examples:

  • 彼は医者です。(Kare wa isha desu.) – “He is a doctor.”
  • その子は痩せています。(Sono ko wa yasete imasu.) – “That kid is skinny.”

Modifier Phrase

A modifier phrase adds detail to other phrases within a sentence. 

Examples:

  • 私は赤いりんごを買いました。(Watashi wa akai ringo o kaimashita.) – “I bought a red apple.”

Here, “a red apple” explains what “I bought.”

  • 桜の花がとてもきれいです。(Sakura no hana ga totemo kirei desu.) – “Cherry blossoms are very beautiful.”

Here, “very” further explains “Cherry blossoms are beautiful.”

Conjunction Phrase

A conjunction phrase connects a phrase to a sentence, or one sentence to another sentence. 

Examples:

  • 私は雨が嫌いです。しかし、雪は好きです。(Watashi wa ame ga kirai desu. Shikashi, yuki wa suki desu.) – “I don’t like rain. However, I like snow.” 

“However” connects the former sentence with the latter.

  • 紅茶にしますか、それとも コーヒーにしますか。(Kōcha ni shimasu ka, soretomo kōhī ni shimasu ka.) – “Would you like tea or would you like coffee?”

“Or” connects the former phrase with the latter.

Independent Phrase

An independent phrase does not have a direct relationship with another phrase or sentence. 

Examples:

  • さあ、出かけましょう。(, dekakemashō.) – “Well, let’s go out.” 

“Well” is independent from “Let’s go out.”

  • こんにちは、 お元気ですか。(Kon’nichiwa, o-genki desu ka.) – “Hello, how are you?”

“Hello” is independent from “How are you?”

Word Class System

Japanese words are classified into two categories: 

  • 自立語 (jiritsu-go) – “independent words” that have lexical meaning
  • 付属語 (fuzoku-go) – “ancillary words” that have grammatical functions

自立語 (jiritsu-go) and 付属語 (fuzoku-go) are further divided into two groups: 

    ❖ 活用語 (katsuyōg-o) – word classes that conjugate
    ❖ 非活用語 (hikatsuyō-go) – word classes that do not conjugate

There are ten word classes (nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc.) as follows:

Chart of Grammatical Classes

SOV Sentence Structure

Japanese is an SOV language, which means the basic word order of a sentence is: S (Subject)O (Object)V (Verb). This is different from English, which is an SVO language with the S (Subject)V (Verb)O (Object) pattern.

     (S)    (O)      (V)

Japanese: 私は寿司を食べます。(Watashi wa sushi o tabemasu.)

                (S)     (V)     (O)

English:  “I  eat   sushi.”

Compared to English, the Japanese sentence structure is flexible:

  • The subject can be omitted (especially when you can guess the subject from the context).
  • The subject and object(s) can be placed in a variable order.

For example, “I will eat sushi later,” can be expressed in Japanese as:

    ❖ (私は)寿司を後で食べます。([Watashi wa] sushi o ato de tabemasu.) 
    ❖ (私は)後で寿司を食べます。([Watashi wa]  ato de sushi o tabemasu.)

Note that the subject 私は (watashi wa), or “I,” can be omitted.

For more explanation about Japanese word order, please see our article on Japanese Sentence Structure & Word Order.

Differences From English

When foreigners first start learning Japanese grammar, they may think it’s a difficult language to learn. However, in regard to the following points, Japanese grammar is simpler and easier than that of English. 

Simple Tense System

Japanese has only the present tense and the past tense, while English has several more. For example, English also uses the future tense (“I will go”), perfect tense (“I have done“), and past perfect tense (“I had known“).

In Japanese, things to take place in the future are expressed using the present tense combined with a “time” word that indicates the future. These words include 後で (ato de), meaning “later,” and 来月 (raigetsu), meaning “next month.”

Things about the past are all expressed in the past tense, regardless of other factors such as timing.

No Singular / Plural 

Unlike English and the Romance languages, Japanese grammar does not distinguish between the singular and plural forms. A plural state is expressed by simply adding a word that indicates a number or quantity.

No Articles

Japanese doesn’t use any articles (such as “a” or “the”).

No Conjugation by Person 

In Japanese grammar, verb conjugation is consistent regardless of the 人称 (ninshō), or “grammatical person.” This is different from English, where verbs do conjugate according to grammatical person (“I am” / “she is” / “he does” / “they do“).

A Page in a Book Forming a Heart

Learning gives us pleasure.

2. Nouns & Pronouns

Next up in our Japanese grammar overview are a few quick notes concerning how nouns and pronouns are used. 

Nouns

  • Nouns do not undergo declension; they are independent words that have lexical meaning. 
  • Nouns can be the subject of a sentence.
  • Japanese nouns do not have grammatical gender, number (singular/plural), or articles. 

For example, 子供 (kodomo) can be translated as “child,” “children,” “a child,” “the child,” or “some children,” depending on the context. 

In order to specify, we add a demonstrative or numeral word to a noun. For example, その子供 (sono kodomo) means “that child” and 二人の子供 (futari no kodomo) means “two children.”

For example:

    ➢ 皿 (sara) – “plate”              : お皿       (o-sara)
    ➢ 挨拶 (aisatsu) – “greeting” : ご挨拶 (go-aisatsu)

To learn more about Japanese nouns, please see our Guide to the Top 100+ Japanese Nouns.

Pronouns

  • Pronouns are used to substitute nouns (typically people or things) in a sentence.
  • Pronouns can be the subject of a sentence, though do remember that Japanese can just omit the subject altogether if it’s clear from the context.
  • There are different types of pronouns, especially for the first person. These are used according to gender and politeness level.

For example, here are some of the commonly used pronouns:

First Person (“I”): 

    ➢ 私 (watashi)      [unisex, polite/informal]
    ➢ 私 (watakushi)  [unisex, very polite]
    ➢ あたし (atashi) [female, informal]
    ➢ 僕 (boku)          [male, polite/informal]
    ➢ 俺 (ore)             [male, impolite]

Second Person (“you”)

    ➢ あなた (anata)               [plain, polite]
    ➢ あなた様 (anata-sama) [very polite]
    ➢ 君    (kimi)                     [informal]
    ➢ お前 (omae)                  [very impolite]
    ➢ あんた (anta)                [very impolite]

Third Person  

    ➢ 彼 (kare)                [“he,” plain/polite]
    ➢ 彼女 (kanojo)         [“she,” plain/polite]
    ➢ あの人 (ano hito)   [“that person,” plain/polite]
    ➢ あの方 (ano kata)  [“that person,” very polite]
    ➢ あいつ (aitsu)        [“that person,” impolite]
    ➢ 彼ら  (kare-ra)       [“they,” plain/informal]

For more details about Japanese pronouns, please check out Your Ultimate Guide to Japanese Pronouns.

Japanese Nouns

Japanese nouns don’t have articles or singular/plural forms.

3. Verbs 

Because verbs are one of the most important parts of speech, it’s crucial that you know how they work in Japanese!

  • In Japanese grammar, verbs are 自立語 (jiritsu-go), or “independent words,” and they conjugate.
  • Verbs represent movement, action, existence, and the presence of things.
  • The conjugation of Japanese verbs is consistent regardless of person, number, or gender (e.g. English verb conjugation: I am / He is / You are / We go / She eats).
  • Japanese verbs always end in “u” or “ru” when written in ローマ字 (Rōmaji), and verbs are categorized into three groups: (1) U-verbs, (2) Ru-verbs, and (3) Irregular verbs. 

For example:

(1) U-verbs: 行く (iku) – “go” / 話す (hanasu) – “talk” / 習う (narau) – “learn”

(2) Ru-verbs: 乗る (noru) – “ride” / 着る (kiru) – “wear” / 忘れる (wasureru) – “forget”

(3) Irregular verbs: する (suru) – “do” / 来る (kuru) – “come”

  • Japanese verbs consist of a stem and a suffix. The suffix conjugates according to the form, such as casual, polite, plain, or negative.

For example, look at the conjugation of the U-verb 話す・はなす (hana-su), meaning “talk.” The stem is はな (hana-) and the suffix is す(-su).

    ❖ 話す (hana-su)                       : standard/casual form
    ❖ 話します (hana-shimasu)      : polite form
    ❖ 話さない (hana-sanai)           : negative/casual form
    ❖ 話しません (hana-shimasen) : negative/polite form

Once you’ve memorized the patterns and rules of conjugation, it will become simple and easy to use Japanese verbs. In addition, there are only two irregular verbs: する (suru), meaning “do,” and 来る (kuru), meaning “come.”

For more details about Japanese verbs, please see The 100+ Most Common Japanese Verbs and our Ultimate Japanese Verb Conjugation Guide.

Japanese Verbs

The conjugation of Japanese verbs is not influenced by person, number, or gender.

4. Adjectives 

You need adjectives to spice up your writing and conversations. Here are the basics for you!

  • Adjectives are 自立語 (jiritsu-go), or “independent words,” and they undergo inflection.
  • Adjectives can modify nouns or serve as the predicate of a sentence.
  • Adjectives explain characteristics, a state of being, or the condition of something.
  • Japanese adjectives are not influenced by grammatical person, gender, or number.
  • Most Japanese adjectives end with the Hiragana い (i) or な (na) in the present tense, and they are categorized as I-adjectives and Na-adjectives.

Example:

静か人  (Shizuka na hito) – “quiet person”
彼の家は大き。(Kare no ie wa ōkii.) – “His house is big.”

  • Japanese adjectives consist of a stem and a suffix. The suffix changes according to the form, such as casual, polite, plain, or negative, in the present or past tense. 

Let’s look at the inflection of the I-adjective 強い・ つよい (tsuyo-i), meaning “strong.” The stem is つよ (tsuyo-) and the suffix is い (-i).

    ➢ 強い (tsuyo-i)                                      : standard/casual form
    ➢ 強いです (tsuyo–i desu)                     : polite form
    ➢ 強くない (tsuyo-kunai)                       : negative/casual form
    ➢ 強くありません (tsuyo-ku arimasen) : negative/polite form

To learn more about Japanese adjectives, please see our article on The Top 100 Essential Japanese Adjectives.

Japanese Adjectives

There are two types of Japanese adjectives: I-adjectives and Na-adjectives. Can you guess which type these are?

5. Ancillary Words

An ancillary word doesn’t have meaning itself, but rather becomes part of a phrase when it’s placed after independent words.

However, ancillary words play a very important role in Japanese sentences. A sentence only makes sense when ancillary words are used. 

Example:

私 家 食べる。     (Watashi ie taberu.)            – “I” / “home” / “eat”
食べる。(Watashi wa ie de taberu.) – “I eat at home.”

Grammatical Particles

In Japanese grammar, particles called 助詞 (joshi), also known as てにをは (te-ni-o-ha), are suffixes and postpositions that do not inflect. Particles immediately follow the modified component (such as a noun, verb, adjective, or sentence).

Please note that there are exceptions in the pronunciation and spelling of the following particles:

  • wa (written は [ha] in Hiragana, pronounced わ [wa] as a particle)
  • e (written へ [he], pronounced え [e]) 
  • o (written を [wo], pronounced お [o])

There are various types of particles, and each type has different functions.

  • Case markers / 格助詞 (kakujoshi
    • 青い。(Sora ga aoi.) – “The sky is blue.”
    • It represents a theme/topic/subject.
  • Parallel markers / 並立助詞 (heiritsu-joshi)
    • 彼はりんごみかんを買った。(Kare wa ringo to mikan o katta.) – “He bought an apple and an orange.” 
    • It’s used to enumerate things.
  • Adverbial particles / 副助詞 (fukujoshi)
    • まで数えてください。(Hyaku made kazoete kudasai.) – “Please count up to 100.”
    • It indicates a range, limit, or reaching point of something. Adverbial particles follow a noun. 
  • Conjunctive particles / 接続助詞 (setsuzoku-joshi)
    • やったけれども達成できなかった。(Yatta keredomo dekinakatta.) – “Although I did, I couldn’t achieve.”
    • It connects sentences by representing a semantic relationship.
  • Sentence ending particles / 終助詞 (shūjoshi)
    • 明日は雨が降る。(Ashita wa ame ga furu yo.) – “It will rain tomorrow.”
    • It has a nuance of telling someone an idea, suggestion, notice, warning, etc.
  • Interjectory particles / 間投助詞 (kantō-joshi)
    • あの、私、(Ano ne, watashi ne,) – “You know, I….”
    • It’s used in casual conversations to soften one’s tone of voice.

Auxiliary Verbs

  • Auxiliary verbs are placed after the stem forms of verbs or adjectives, and they conjugate as verbs.
  • Auxiliary verbs do not have meaning when used alone, but they add meaning when attached to verbs or adjectives.

Examples:

    ➢ ます (-masu) : makes a sentence polite
       食べる (tabe-ru) – “to eat” → 食べます (tabe-masu) – “to eat” in a polite form
    ➢ れる・られる (-reru/-rareru) : makes a verb passive/potential/honorific
       見る (mi-ru) – “to see” → 見られる (mi-rareru) – “to be seen”
       読む (yo-mu) – “to read”  → 読まれる (yo-mareru) – “to be read” or “to read” in a respectful form
    ➢ せる・させる (-seru/-saseru) : makes a verb causative
       作る (tsuku-ru) – “to make” → 作らせる (tsuku-raseru) – “to cause to make”
       知る (shi-ru) – “to know” → 知らせる (shi-raseru) – “to cause to know”

Japanese Grammatical Particles

Use of 助詞 (joshi), or “grammatical particles,” is essential in Japanese.

6. How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

In this Japanese grammar guide, we introduced you to the very basics of Japanese grammar. I hope you have a better understanding of how Japanese grammar works and that we’ve encouraged you to keep learning! 

If you would like to learn more about the Japanese language, you’ll find much more helpful content on JapanesePod101.com. We provide a variety of free lessons to help you improve your Japanese language skills. Here are some vocabulary lists you can study to get started:

Of course, you can also check out our Japanese grammar resources to fine-tune your understanding of the topics we covered today. 

And we still have so much more to offer you! 

For example, you gain access to our personal one-on-one coaching service, MyTeacher, when you sign up for a Premium PLUS account. Your private teacher will help you practice your pronunciation, give you personalized feedback, and offer advice on how to improve efficiently. 

Learn faster with JapanesePod101.com!

Before you go, let us know in the comments what you learned about Japanese today. Were there any facts that caught your attention? We look forward to hearing from you!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese

Is Japanese Hard to Learn?

Thumbnail

If you’re interested in learning the Japanese language but haven’t started yet, you may still be wondering: “Is Japanese hard to learn?” or “What are the hardest and easiest parts of learning Japanese?” No worries! We’ll explain everything you need to know about learning Japanese right here in this article.

Japanese is a unique and fascinating language. Although it’s spoken primarily in Japan, knowing the language is useful not only for fans of Japanese anime and manga, but also for those traveling in Japan. Even a basic understanding of Japanese will allow travelers to enjoy Japan’s wonderful culture to the fullest extent possible, and it’s essential for business if you’re interested in the Asian market.

Considering that Japanese is a major language with 128 million speakers, you can find plenty of language-learning resources. These can range from ordinary textbooks to subcultural “live” materials, such as content on YouTube and Netflix—not to mention the most useful online Japanese-learning platform, JapanesePod101.com!

In this article, we’ll introduce what it’s like to learn Japanese, including what makes Japanese difficult for some learners (and things that learners find pretty easy). We’ll also give you some tips on how to start learning Japanese in the fastest, easiest way possible. 

Let’s get started!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Learning Japanese Table of Contents
  1. Is it Hard to Learn Japanese?
  2. The Easiest and Hardest Parts of Learning Japanese
  3. Want to Learn Japanese? Here’s Where You Should Start!
  4. Why is JapanesePod101 Great for Learning Japanese?
  5. Conclusion

A Woman Smiling and Holding a Map in Her Hands

Fast, easy learning at JapanesePod101.com!

1. Is it Hard to Learn Japanese?

Or rather, is it hard for English-speakers to learn Japanese?

According to the language difficulty rankings by FSI (Foreign Service Institute), Japanese is a Category 5 language. This is the most difficult category, based on a scale of 1 to 5, and the ranking indicates how many hours of learning a native English-speaker would need to reach General Professional Proficiency in both Reading and Speaking.

However, the difficulty of Japanese for you depends on a number of factors, such as: 

  • Your learning goals
  • Your mother tongue
  • How interested you are in the Japanese language and culture

For example, if your learning goal is to be able to have daily conversations (speaking and listening), then learning Japanese may not be as difficult as you think. But if your goal is to be able to read Japanese newspapers and write business documents in Japanese, then keep in mind that this is an extremely difficult task for those who speak English or a Romance language (but fairly easy for Chinese- and Korean-speakers).

In addition, contrary to popular belief, spoken Japanese is said to be relatively easy to master when compared with other languages. Japanese has only five vowel sounds and thirteen consonant sounds, while English has twenty vowel sounds and twenty-four consonant sounds. Moreover, Japanese is a flat-sounding language which doesn’t use many tones or pitches. Thus, English-speakers and speakers of other non-tonal languages can easily learn how to speak and listen to Japanese!

2. The Easiest and Hardest Parts of Learning Japanese

In the following sections, we’ll go over the basics of what makes Japanese hard to learn (and how to overcome those issues). But first, let’s look at the easier aspects of Japanese! 

A- What Makes Japanese Easy?

1 – Listening & Speaking

For most people, the goal of learning a new language is to be able to have conversations in that language. Conversation, as one of the most essential parts of communication, requires listening and speaking skills. In this regard, Japanese is actually an easy language to learn!

As mentioned in the previous section, Japanese is a flat-toned language with only five vowels and thirteen consonants. Compared to other languages that have more complex and difficult-to-pronounce sounds, as well as distinct tones and pitches, Japanese is rather simple. 

English-speakers, who have already mastered twenty vowel sounds and twenty-four consonant sounds, will have little difficulty listening to and pronouncing Japanese words. (On the other hand, Japanese people always struggle to understand spoken English and pronounce English correctly. It’s difficult for Japanese people to tell the difference between word pairs like club and crab, bun and van, bowling and boring, etc.)

Even if you’re a beginner, you’ll be able to easily recognize and imitate Japanese sounds. There’s no need to be afraid of making mistakes here. Practice speaking as soon as you feel ready!    

A Group of Women Chatting Over Tea and Pastries

Speaking and listening are essential skills for conversation!

2 – Simple Grammatical Rules

No Article Needed

In Japanese, you don’t need to put an article in front of nouns. There’s no “a friend” or “the friend,” it’s just “friend,” or 友達 ともだち (tomodachi). How simple is that! 

In English, you need to think about whether you should put “a” or “the” in front of a certain noun. Some Romance languages have even more complicated article variations, such as the Italian “un, una, la, le, il, lo, l’, gli, i.”

In Japanese, you only need to say the noun! 

Words Don’t Change

In addition, Japanese words (nouns, adjectives, and verbs) do not change based on number, gender, or person. Japanese words are neutral, and there’s no feminine/masculine distinction that affects grammatical forms. 

In English, “s” is usually added to a noun to make it plural (such as “friends“). And in Italian, nouns, articles, and adjectives change their forms according to the number (singular/plural) and the gender: mia amica é simpatica (“my friend is nice” – one female) / mio amico é simpatico (“my friend is nice” – one male) / miei amici sono simpatici (“my friends are nice” – plural).

These complicated rules don’t exist in Japanese! This also applies to Japanese verbs: there’s no variation of “is/are” or “do/does” in Japanese. 

  • 私の友達は親切です。
    Watashi no tomodachi wa shinsetsu desu.
    “My friend(s) is(are) kind.”

No matter how many people there are, and whether the person is female or male, words don’t change form in Japanese. Super-simple, right?

If you want to specify whether something is singular or plural, you only need to add a number or a word that expresses amount, such as “a few,” “many,” “hundreds of,” etc.

  • 私は車を1台持っています。
    Watashi wa kuruma o ichi-dai motte imasu.
    “I have a car (one car).”
  • 彼は1日にたくさんの本を読みます。 
    Kare wa ichi-nichi ni takusan no hon o yomimasu.
    “He reads many books a day (in one day).”
Apples

Whether it’s one or three, “apple” is りんご (ringo) in Japanese, with no article.

Only Two Conjugation Exceptions

There are only two verbs that have irregular Japanese conjugation: する (suru), meaning “do,” and 来る (kuru), meaning “come.” Only two irregular verbs! Anyone can easily memorize them. 

When you think about irregular verbs in English, the list is tremendously long: “be, go, come, eat, get, say, buy, run, know, take, put, read, send, meet, leave, pay, lay, think, teach, sing, ring, write, begin, drink, fly, draw, bring, feel, fall, have, hear, make, see, sit, shine, mean, stand, sleep….” and a lot more! 

This is not the case in Japanese, so go ahead and let out a deep sigh of relief.

3 – Easy Tenses

There are only two tenses in Japanese: present and past. In order to mention something about the future in Japanese, use the present tense and add a word that indicates the future, such as “later,” “tomorrow,” “next month,” etc. In addition, Japanese does not have the perfect tense.

  • 私は図書館へ行きます。 
    Watashi wa toshokan e ikimasu.  [Present Tense]
    “I go to the library.”
  • 私は明日図書館へ行きます。 
    Watashi wa ashita toshokan e ikimasu.  [Present + ashita (“tomorrow”)]
    “I will go to the library tomorrow.”
  • 私は図書館へ行きました。 
    Watashi wa toshokan e ikimashita. [Past Tense]
    “I went to the library.”

When learning verb tenses, many people find that Japanese is much easier and simpler than English, which has multiple variations: “I go to / I’m going to / I will go to / I went to / I have been to / I have gone to / I had gone to …”

B- Why Japanese is Hard to Learn

1 – The Japanese Writing System

The Japanese language uses three different scripts: Hiragana (ひらがな), Katakana (カタカナ), and Kanji (漢字). This can be a bit confusing for beginners.

Hiragana is a phonetic system with forty-six characters which represent all of the sounds in spoken Japanese. It also includes a few variations which are closely related to specific characters and their sounds. For example, だ (da) is a variation of た (ta). 

Katakana also has forty-six characters, which represent the same sounds as Hiragana. It is used mainly for writing words called 外来語 (Gairaigo), which are “imported” from foreign languages such as English. For example, アイスクリーム (aisu kurīmu) means “ice cream.”

Kanji originated from China and has been adopted by the Japanese language. Some Kanji characters are written using the same characters as in Traditional Chinese, but the way in which they’re used and read are unique to Japanese. For example, 新聞 means “newspapers” and it reads as しんぶん (shinbun) in Japanese. But these same characters mean “news” in Chinese, and are pronounced as xīnwén. It’s said that there are 3000-4000 Kanji characters, but there are only 2000 commonly used 常用漢字 (jōyō kanji) characters that are taught to children in schools.

If you’ve gotten the impression that the Japanese writing system is “a bit too complicated,” don’t worry too much! 

The good news is that the Latin Alphabet is also used in Japan. Japanese people refer to it as ローマ字 (Rōma-ji), or “Roman letter,” and these letters are used to write a phonetic translation of Japanese words. People who have just started learning Japanese learn Hiragana and Katakana together with Rōma-ji. 

In addition, all Japanese sounds end in a vowel (the only exception is ん [n]), and all of the Japanese syllables are very simple sounds. Every sound is written in Hiragana and Katakana. (There is no variation in the pronunciation of a given Japanese letter, such as “A” in the English words “family,” “agent,” and “away.”)

This will make Japanese pronunciation super-easy to learn! You just need to get used to Hiragana and Katakana and how their sounds are pronounced. 

2 – Japanese is an SOV Language 

A lot of English-speakers get confused with the Japanese word order.

The Japanese sentence structure is SOV, which means that the basic word order in a sentence is S (Subject)O (Object)V (Verb). English, on the other hand, is an SVO language: S (Subject)V (Verb)O (Object).

       (S)           (O)            (V)

Japanese: Watashi wa toshokan e ikimasu.  私は図書館へ行きます

                     (      I    /  the library to /  go.    )

               (S)       (V)       (O)

English:   I    go to  the library.

The fact that Japanese verbs are always placed at the end of a sentence can be very confusing at first for  SVO language-speakers.

You don’t know if it’s an affirmative sentence or a negative one until you hear the very end of that sentence, especially if a sentence is very long.

  • 私は昨日友達と話した後に図書館へ行きませんでした。
    Watashi wa kinō tomodachi to hanashita ato ni toshokan e ikimasen deshita.
    ( I / yesterday / friend / with / talked / after / the library / to / go / not / did )
    = I did not go to the library after I talked to my friend yesterday.

You may find this aspect of Japanese easier if you remember that the verb (and its negator, if there is one) will always be at the end of the sentence. 

However, asking questions in Japanese is consistent and very simple! 

There’s no need to change the word order or add a new verb like in English: “She went to the library.” vs. “Did she go to the library?”

All you need to do is add か (ka) to the end of a sentence and say it with a rising tone.

    ➢ 彼女は図書館へ行きます。
    Kanojo wa toshokan e ikimasu.
    “She goes to the library.”
    ➢ 彼女は図書館へ行きますか。
    Kanojo wa toshokan e ikimasu ka.
    “Does she go to the library?”

See how easy that is?

A Little Girl Picking Out a Book at the Library

Japanese is an SOV language: 彼女は図書館へ行きます (Kanojo wa toshokan e ikimasu.) – She (S) / the library (O) / to / go (V).

3 – Honorific Language

Japanese culture is famous for its politeness and respect, and this cultural aspect is reflected in the language: 敬語 (Keigo), or “honorific language.” 

Apart from the casual language, Japanese has the three forms of Keigo, which are: 

  • 丁寧語 (Teineigo) – “polite language”
  • 尊敬語 (Sonkeigo) – “respectful language”
  • 謙譲語 (Kenjōgo) – “humble language”

You don’t need to be able to use all of these respectful forms perfectly for daily conversations as long as you can use the basic polite form. However, you’ll often hear Keigo in Japan as a customer or during official/business occasions. 

The difficult thing about learning Keigo is that there are different expressions for verbs, and you need to use the appropriate words according to the level of politeness and the person whom you’re referring to. 

You can use Teineigo (polite language) to express things politely for more general situations. However, you can neither use Sonkeigo (respectful language) for your own actions nor use Kenjōgo (humble language) for someone respectful (elders, boss, clients, honored person, etc.).

For example, there are three different expressions for “come”:

[ to come : 来る (kuru)

  • Teineigo (general politeness):  来ます (kimasu)   

    彼は毎日ジムに来ます
    Kare wa mainichi gimu ni kimasu.
    “He comes to the gym every day.”
  • Sonkeigo (respectful expression for others): いらっしゃいます  (irasshaimasu)

    田中様は一時にいらっしゃいます
    Tanaka-sama wa ichi-ji ni irasshaimasu.
    “Mr./Ms.Tanaka comes at one o’clock.”
  • Kenjōgo (humble expression for yourself): 参ります/ 伺います (mairimasu / ukagaimasu

    私が書類を持って参ります
    Watashi ga shorui o motte mairimasu.
    “I will come with the documents.”

If you would like to know more about Keigo and common honorific mistakes, please see our article about Common Japanese Mistakes.

Two Japanese Businessmen Bowing to One Another

Honorific language is one of the hardest parts of learning Japanese.

3. Want to Learn Japanese? Here’s Where You Should Start!

Now that you know what makes the Japanese language hard to learn (and which parts are easy), have you decided you want to learn it after all? Great! Here are some tips from JapanesePod101.com: 

1. Get Motivated

The very first thing you should do is get motivated!

What do you want to do after you learn Japanese? Learn more about Japanese culture? Travel to Japan for work, study, or holiday? Watch Japanese anime and read manga in the original language? Make new Japanese friends? 

With your interests and purpose in mind, set a learning goal to keep you motivated. It doesn’t need to be a big goal at first, like passing the advanced level exam, but a small goal you’ll be able to reach quickly. 

A small learning goal is something you can work on without too much effort. Examples might include making new Japanese friends online, learning ten new words everyday, watching Japanese TV series everyday, traveling to Japan, or speaking to Japanese people when shopping.

The important thing is to stay motivated and accumulate your achievements in small chunks. 

The more motivated you are, the faster you will learn!

2. Learn the Basics

When learning a new language, it’s essential to understand how it works first. 

Once you learn the ground rules, such as the sentence structure and pronouns, then focus on learning useful sentence patterns that you can use in a variety of situations. With the most useful and common sentence patterns and phrases, you can adjust and adapt them for new situations as you build your vocabulary. 

For beginners, our Top 100 articles are very helpful for building up your vocabulary with useful nouns, verbs, and adjectives. You can also use Flashcards to check and review everything you’re learning.

3. Input, Output, and Repeat

No one can do well at something they’ve never tried before! If you want to be able to speak, then listen, speak, and repeat as many times as possible. Learning by doing is the golden rule for mastering a language.

Japanese, as mentioned above, is easy to learn when it comes to listening and speaking, so you can start practicing at home from Day 1. Check the pronunciation of new words with audio using our Vocabulary Lists, and then repeat the word after the audio recording. After repeating a word or phrase several times, you’ll get used to the sounds and how to pronounce them. 

If you’re living or traveling in Japan, you’re privileged with plenty of opportunities to practice in real life. Don’t be afraid, and make the most of your opportunities.

Even if you live outside of Japan, you can take advantage of the Internet age to access numerous learning materials, including JapanesePod101.com and our YouTube channel! You can even interact and practice with your own personal teacher using our MyTeacher program.

4. Have Fun!

To learn and improve your Japanese skills, it’s crucial that you study and practice hard. But don’t let yourself get too bored with traditional learning! Learning is more than studying at a desk with textbooks.

Entertain yourself while learning by watching Japanese movies and series, listening to music, reading comics and novels, etc. 

Speaking, listening, reading, and writing are very separate skills, and you need to work on honing each one, depending on your goals. If your learning goal is, for example, focused on practical daily conversations, then such entertainment sources are very helpful. With video, audio, and subtitles, you’ll be able to learn a lot of practical vocabulary and phrases.

Also, check out our articles on how to learn Japanese with netflix and Anime! There are plenty of entertainment sources for learning Japanese.

Someone Watching a Video on Their Tablet

Learn Japanese with entertainment!

4. Why is JapanesePod101 Great for Learning Japanese?

Many people think that Japanese is a difficult language, but this is only partly true. In reality, Japanese is a unique and interesting language which is actually easier to learn than you think. It’s just different from English, and learners require some strategic planning to learn it effectively.

JapanesePod101 offers a variety of effective and fun learning content for beginners and advanced learners. 

1. Comprehensive and Practical Approach

JapanesePod101 offers a comprehensive and balanced approach to help you improve your listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills, step-by-step. We also offer focused lessons that look at a particular aspect of the language or culture. Each lesson has easy-to-understand information to keep you hooked.

Depending on your level, you’ll go through effective study materials with audio to improve your listening skills, practice pronouncing new vocabulary, and do writing exercises. Tests and quizzes will also help you check your knowledge.

After each lesson, you’re ready to move forward. Every lesson covers a practical topic or theme that you would encounter in everyday life in Japan.

2. Incredible Free Content

JapanesePod101.com is free but surprisingly affluent with information! We offer a wide range of rich content for learners at every level. 

Before beginning your lessons, you may want to take a placement test that will give you a better idea of where to start. Every level has multiple lessons that follow a storyline designed to keep you engaged and learn natural Japanese.  

Our free content includes themed vocabulary lists, customizable flashcards to practice your vocabulary, and a dictionary tool where you can search for a word by Latin Alphabet (Rōma-ji) or Japanese. Some of these features can be downloaded onto your computer so you can use them offline!

3. Your Own Teacher

Along with the lessons, our Premium MyTeacher service can accelerate your learning. Yes, you can have your own Japanese teacher by upgrading your account!

With MyTeacher, you can practice your speaking, reading, and writing through interaction with your private teacher. You’ll get personal feedback and tips on how to improve your pronunciation and writing skills. This personalized program and weekly assignments will keep you going, and you’ll also have full access to our self-study learning system.

5. Conclusion

In this article, you’ve learned the answer to “Is Japanese hard to learn?” Learning Japanese is not as difficult as you may think, especially if your goals are focused on verbal communication. 

If you would like to explore the Japanese language further, stay with JapanesePod101.com for the fastest and easiest way to fluency. With a variety of rich, free lessons and tools, your Japanese language skills will improve immensely. 

Don’t forget that you’re not alone. When you use our MyTeacher service, your own teacher can always help you practice through personalized programs and assignments.

Before you go, let us know in the comments if you feel ready to start learning Japanese. If not, we’d love to hear your questions or concerns, and we’ll be glad to help any way we can. 

Now, it’s time to get started at JapanesePod101.com!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Learning Japanese

Learn About the Common Japanese Mistakes Students Make

Thumbnail

Making mistakes is a matter of course when learning a new language. It’s actually good to make a lot of mistakes, because as you learn from correcting them, you’ll deepen your understanding of the language.

There are many common mistakes in Japanese that are easy for new learners to make. This is due to Japanese honorifics (which are unfamiliar to many learners), the various forms of postpositional particles, different grammar structures than in English, and so on. Although it seems complicated at first, once you get used to the patterns, you’ll surely improve your skills and know how to correct yourself when you make a mistake in Japanese.

In this article, we’ll introduce the most common mistakes people make when learning Japanese. Being able to spot these mistakes in Japanese is a sure sign of improvement! Let’s get started here at JapanesePod101.com!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese Table of Contents
  1. Common Japanese Pronunciation Mistakes
  2. Vocabulary Word Mistakes
  3. Word Order Mistakes in Japanese
  4. Japanese Grammar Mistakes
  5. Honorific Mistakes
  6. The Biggest Mistake
  7. Conclusion: How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

2+2=5 Written on a Blackboard

Mistakes help you learn.

1. Common Japanese Pronunciation Mistakes

Japanese pronunciation mistakes often trip up new learners, so we’ll be covering these first! 

1 – Shortening Long Vowels

Shortening long vowels is one of the most common mistakes that Japanese learners make.

All of the Japanese sounds, called ひらがな (Hiragana), always end with a vowel, except for ん (n):

  • あ(a)
  • (i)
  • う(u)
  • え(e)
  • お(o

When the same vowel sounds are next to each other, you pronounce it long. 

Examples

  • Mother: お母さん / おかあさん – okaa・san   = “o-kā-san”   [pronounce “a” longer]
  • Far:       遠い / とおい                – too・i          = “tōi”    [pronounce “o” longer]

Please pay attention when you’re pronouncing a word, because shortening the vowel can change the word’s meaning. For example:

  • おばあさん – obaa・san = “o-bā-san [pronounce “a” long, it means “grandmother” / “old woman”]
  • おばさん    – oba・san       = “oba-san  [pronounce “a” short, it means “aunt” / “middle-aged woman”]

2 – Pronouncing Imported Words with an English Accent

カタカナ (Katakana) is one of the Japanese writing systems. It’s used for Japanese words not covered by 漢字 (Kanji), especially for foreign language words—外来語 (Gairaigo), or loan words—transcribed into Japanese.

Most Japanese learners may think Katakana is very simple and easier to use than Kanji or even Hiragana. However, you need to be careful when it comes to pronunciation.

Although most of the foreign words can be written in Katakana, make sure you pronounce them the Japanese way!

Examples

  • Hamburger: ハンバーガー (hanbāgā) = pronounce it as “ha・n・baa・gaa”
  • Christmas: クリスマス (kurisumasu) = pronounce it without intonation
  • Orange: オレンジ (orenji) = pronounce each Katakana, as in “o・re・n・ji”
  • Ticket: チケット (chiketto) = pronounce consonants and following vowels

Please note that the following word pairs are written in the same Katakana, and are pronounced the same way.

  • bath / bus: バス (basu) = pronounce each Katakana, as in “ba・su”
  • track / truck:トラック (torakku)
  • coat / court: コート (kōto) = pronounce “ko” longer.

A Hamburger with Cheese, Lettuce, and Tomato

 ハンバーガー (hanbāgā), or “hamburger” = pronounce it as “ha・n・baa・gaa”

3 – Stressing the Wrong Syllables

More common Japanese language mistakes occur when a new learner stresses the wrong syllables of a word. 

Examples

  • waTAshi  わたし
  • KOnNIchiwa こんにちは
  • iTAshi MAshite どういたしまして
  • SUshi   すし
  • tenPUra  てんぷら

Listen carefully to how native speakers pronounce Japanese words. You’ll notice that most Japanese words lack strong intonation, and are rather flat.

To check the pronunciation of Japanese words, listen to the audio for the 50 Most Common Nouns and Top 10 Hardest Words to Pronounce.

4 – Pronouncing the “R” Sound in Japanese Incorrectly 

The Japanese syllabaries Hiragana and Katakana represent syllables and sounds that are totally different from the alphabet and its sounds. Some alphabet sounds can’t be precisely expressed in the Japanese syllabary.

Some of the most confusing sounds may be: ら・り・る・れ・ろ. These are written as “ra, ri, ru, re, ro” in alphabet letters. Keep in mind that you should not roll your tongue when pronouncing the Japanese “r.” It actually sounds closer to the “L” sound.

Examples

  • glass: グラス  (gurasu) = Even though the original word is “gLass,” it is “guRasu” in Japanese.
  • apple: りんご (ringo) = It’s pronounced more like “li.”
  • travel: 旅行/りょこう  (ryokō) = You don’t roll your tongue to say “ryo.”
  • rule:  ルール  (rūru) = It’s pronounced more like “lu・u・lu,” with the “u” in the middle pronounced longer.

Someone Picking Up a Red Apple

Pay attention when you pronounce “ら (ra) り (ri) る (ru) れ (re) ろ (ro)”, such as in りんご (ringo), meaning “apple.”

2. Vocabulary Word Mistakes

Now we’ll go over a few common Japanese mistakes that learners make concerning vocabulary. Pay close attention! 

1 – Saying “You” in Japanese

“You” in Japanese is あなた (anata). Unlike English, Japanese doesn’t usually use this pronoun during conversations. The subject or object in a sentence can usually be omitted, especially in casual situations.

Examples

  • 窓を開けてくれますか。 
    Mado o akete kuremasu ka.
    “Can (you) open the window?”
  • これあげます。
    Kore agemasu.
    “(I) give (you) this.”
  • マリの今日の服かわいいね。
    Mari no kyō no fuku kawaii ne.
    “Mari’s outfit today is pretty.” (instead of “Your outfit today is pretty.”)

Japanese people use the name of the person they’re speaking to instead of using “you.”

2 – Using the Wrong “I”

Personal pronouns in Japanese are rich in expression, especially the first- and second-person pronouns. There are dozens of expressions for “I,” depending on the gender, politeness, formality, and how you want to express yourself.

Using the wrong word for “I” in a given situation is one of the most common mistakes that Japanese learners make.

Examples

  • “I am Kaori Tanaka.” [In a formal occasion when the subject is female]
    Wrong: は田中かおりです。(Ore wa Tanaka Kaori desu.)
    Correct: は田中かおりです。(Watashi (or Watakushi) wa Tanaka Kaori desu.)
  • “I am a student.” [In a casual occasion when the subject is male]
    Wrong: あたしは学生です。(Atashi wa gakusei desu.)
    Correct: 僕 / 俺は学生です。(Boku / ore wa gakusei desu.)

Following are the most frequently used first person pronouns.

Reading KanjiHiraganaLevel of FormalityGenderCharacteristics
watakushiわたくしvery formalbothThis is a very formal and polite personal pronoun that’s often used in official occasions.
watashiわたしformal / informal bothThis one is used by both genders in formal occasions, such as in the workplace. This is the most commonly used word for “I,” but it’s often omitted in sentences. In informal situations, this is typically used by women. 
atashiあたしinformalfemaleThis is the casual version of watashi, and it’s used by younger females in conversations. However, it can sound a bit childish and unsophisticated.
bokuぼくinformalmale This pronoun is used by males of all ages, but very often by kids and younger men. It gives an impression of humbleness. This can also be used as a second-person pronoun toward little boys (English equivalent: “kid”).
oreおれvery informalmale This is frequently used by men in informal settings, such as among family and friends. It sounds very masculine. This can be rude when it’s used in formal occasions or in front of respectable/senior people.

3 – Using the Wrong Casual Language 

There are some sentence-ending particles in Japanese which are colloquial expressions and used only in casual situations. 

Some are feminine and used by females, such as:

  • -よ (-yo)
  • -わ (-wa)
  • -わよ (-wa yo)

And some are masculine, such as:

  • -ぜ (-ze)
  • -だぜ (-da ze)

Such sentence-ending particles don’t have a particular meaning; they just add emphasis or a sense of femininity or masculinity.  

Make sure you use the correct suffix, otherwise you’d sound very strange!

Examples

  • “I cleaned it.” [When the subject is a man]
    Wrong: 私が掃除したわよ。(Watashi ga sōji shita wa yo.)
    Correct: 俺が掃除した。(Ore ga sōji shita ze.)  [it sounds a bit rough]
  • “It’s okay!” [When the subject is a woman]
    Wrong: いい!(Ii ze!)
    Correct
    : いいわよ!・いいわ! (Ii wa yo! / Ii wa!)

Someone Vacuuming the Floor

俺が掃除した。(Ore ga sōji shita ze.) = “I cleaned it.” – in a masculine and slightly rough manner

3. Word Order Mistakes in Japanese

You probably know already that Japanese uses a different sentence structure and word order than English. Many Japanese language mistakes by English-speakers have to do with word order confusion. 

1 – Japanese is SOV

The word order of Japanese sentences may be confusing for learners whose native language is an SVO type, because the Japanese sentence structure is SOV: S (subject)O (object)V (verb)

       (S)          (O)        (V)

Japanese: Watashi wa ringo o tabemasu.   私はりんごを食べます

               (S)       (V)       (O)

English:   eat an apple.

When it comes to making a negative sentence, the word indicating negativity comes at the end of the sentence.

Japanese:            Kyō  watashi wa ringo o hitotsu mo  tabemasen.  今日私はりんごを一つも食べません

[Literal meaning]  today /     I    /     apple /  any (even one) /  eat /  not

English:                I did not eat any  apples today.

Make sure you don’t get confused and try to say: Watashi wa tabemasen hitostumo ringo o kyō.

2 – Adjective + Noun

Another word order mistake is to place the adjective and noun incorrectly in a sentence. 

Remember that adjectives always come in front of nouns in Japanese

Make sure you don’t put adjectives after nouns like you would in other languages such as Italian (mela verde = “apple green”) or French (pomme verte = “apple green”).

Correct:  赤いりんご  (akai ringo)     = “red apple”

Wrong:   りんご赤い  (ringo akai)     = “apple red”

Examples

  • 安い靴    (yasui kutsu)        = “cheap shoes”
  • 寒い日       (samui hi)             = “cold day”
  • 丸い形       (marui katachi)     = “round shape”
  • 親切な人   (shinsetsu na hito) = “kind person”
  • 静かな部屋  (shizuka na heya)  = “quiet room”

4. Japanese Grammar Mistakes

Many new learners struggle with certain concepts of Japanese grammar, so pay close attention to avoid these mistakes yourself. 

1 – Usage of Postpositional Particles

There are multiple positional particles in Japanese, and learning how to use them correctly can be a challenge.

Some particles are used for similar purposes, but it’s still important to know the distinction between them.

  • は (-wa) and が (-ga)

    は (-wa) is the topic marker particle. It’s placed after the word to be marked as the topic of a sentence, defining that word as a subject or an object.

      ➢ 彼は医者です。(Kare wa isha desu.)  = “He is a doctor.”

      ➢ たかしは駅に行きます。(Takashi wa eki ni ikimasu.) = “Takashi goes to the station.”

    On the other hand, the particle が (-ga) is the subject marker, which emphasizes the subject.

      ➢ 彼が医者です。(Kare ga isha desu.)
      This is also translated as “He is a doctor,” but it has a nuance of “He is the one who is a doctor.”

      ➢ たかしが駅に行きます。(Takashi ga eki ni ikimasu.)
      This is also translated as “Takashi goes to the station,” but it has a nuance of “It is Takashi who goes to the station.”
  • で (-de) and に (-ni)

    Both で (-de) and に (-ni) are used as locatives. However, there are many differences between them.

     で (-de) is used as a locative particle, as well as an instrumental particle. When it’s used as a locative particle, it defines where an action or occurrence took place, especially those linked with active cases.

      ➢ 私は家勉強します。
      Watashi wa ie de benkyō shimasu.
      “I study at home.”

      ➢ 彼は池溺れた。
      Kare wa ike de oboreta.
      “He drowned in a pond.”

     で (-de) is also used as an instrumental particle which can be translated as “using,” “by,” or “with.”

      ➢ まりこは箸パスタを食べます。
      Mariko wa hashi de pasuta o tabemasu.
      “Mariko eats pasta with chopsticks.”

      ➢ その生徒はバス大学へ行きます。
      Sono seito wa basu de daigaku e ikimasu.
      “The student goes to university by bus.”

    On the other hand, the locative particle に (-ni) indicates a place or time, and it can be translated as “to,” “on,” “at,” or “in.” When used as a locative particle, it’s differentiated from で (-de) according to existence and passive cases. It’s also used when the result of an action or occurrence is being realized in that place.

      ➢ 彼は椅子座った。
      Kare wa isu ni suwatta.
      “He sat on the chair.”

      ➢ 私は浅草住んでいます。
      Watashi wa Asakusa ni sunde imasu.
      “I live in Asakusa.”

      ➢ 本は図書館あります。
      Hon wa toshokan ni arimasu.
      “The books are in the library.”

      ➢ お昼おにぎりを食べました。
      O-hiru ni onigiri o tabemashita.
      “(I) ate Onigiri at lunch.”

2 – Differentiating Between いる (iru) and ある (aru)

Many foreign learners struggle to differentiate between いる (iru) and ある (aru), as both are translated as “there is (are)” in English.

The easiest way to differentiate them is to remember that いる (iru) is used for living things and ある (aru) is used for objects and living things which are already deceased. 

The polite form of いる (iru) is います (imasu), and the polite form of  ある (aru)  is あります (arimasu).

  • いる (iru)

    ➢ 台所に誰かがいる。
    Daidokoro ni dareka ga iru.
    “There is someone in the kitchen.”

    ➢ 豚が一匹庭にいる。
    Buta ga ippiki niwa ni iru.
    “There is a pig in the garden.”

    ➢ 彼らは今渋谷にいます。
    Kare-ra wa ima Shibuya ni imasu.
    “They are in Shibuya now.”
  • ある (aru)

    ➢ 台所にテレビがある。
    Daidokoro ni terebi ga aru.
    “There is a TV in the kitchen.”

    ➢ 豚肉ステーキが冷蔵庫にある。
    Butaniku sutēki ga reizōko ni aru.
    “There is a pork steak in the fridge.”

    ➢ 渋谷にハチ公像があります。
    Shibuya ni Hachikōzō ga arimasu.
    “There is a statue of Hachikō in Shibuya.”

Japanese woman drinking tea at kitchen table

O 台所に誰かがいる。(Daidokoro ni dareka ga iru.) – “There is someone in the kitchen.
“X 台所に誰かがある。(Daidokoro ni dareka ga aru.)

3 – Past Tense of い (i)-Adjectives

There are two types of adjectives in Japanese: い (i)-adjectives and な (na)-adjectives.

い (i)-adjectives always end with the Hiragana character い (i). Examples include:

  • 丸い (marui) – “round”
  • 暑い (atsui) – “hot”
  • 楽しい (tanoshii) – “fun”

 な (na)-adjectives consist of adjectival nouns and a form of the copula な (na). Examples include:

  • 親切な (shinsetsu na) – “kind”
  • 穏やかな (odayaka na) – “mild” / “calm”
  • 曖昧な (aimai na) – “vague” / “ambiguous”

Adding でした (deshita), which is the past tense of です (desu), makes an adjective polite. 

Another common mistake in Japanese is often seen in the past tense of the copula (“be” / “is”). After い (i)-adjectives, this is a mistake; however, it’s okay to do so in the case of な (na)-adjectives.

Instead, conjugate い (i)-adjectives to the “adjective stem + かった (-katta)” form for the past tense.

Examples

  • “It was difficult.”  [present tense of “difficult” : 難しい (muzukashii)]
    Wrong: 難しいでした。(Muzukashii deshita.)
    Correct: 難しかった。(Muzukashikatta.)
  • “She was beautiful.”  [present tense of “beautiful” : 美しい (utsukushii)]
    Wrong: 彼女は美しいでした。(Kanojo wa utsukushii deshita.)
    Correct:  彼女は美しかった。(Kanojo wa utsukushikatta.)

5. Honorific Mistakes

The honorific language is another source of confusion and Japanese mistakes for learners.

While it’s generally adequate to be able to use the basic polite form for daily life, it’s good to learn 敬語 (Keigo) to deepen your understanding of the Japanese language. Even if you don’t use them, you’ll hear a lot of honorifics as a customer in Japanese stores and restaurants.

Japanese Keigo has three forms of respectful speech, which are: 

  • 丁寧語 (Teineigo) – polite language
  • 尊敬語 (Sonkeigo) – respectful language
  • 謙譲語 (Kenjōgo) – humble language

Being able to use the appropriate honorifics is considered good manners for adults in Japan, especially at work and in many social situations. 

  • 丁寧語 (Teineigo) – polite language
    This is used to express things politely. It’s used for any person and in any situation.
  • 尊敬語 (Sonkeigo) – respectful language
    This is used to show respect by expressing things that heighten action, status, or things of other people. It’s used when talking about someone superior to you, clients, and customers. Do not use this to talk about yourself.
  • 謙譲語 (Kenjōgo) – humble language
    This is used to show respect by expressing things that lower/humble yourself in comparison to the other person. It’s used to tell someone about your action or status. Do not use this to talk about another person.

The following is a list of frequently used verbs of honorifics in the present tense.

EnglishBasic Verb丁寧語
Teineigo  
(polite language) 
尊敬語
Sonkeigo
 (respectful language) 
謙譲語
Kenjōgo
 (humble language) 
doする
suru
します
shimasu
なさいます
nasaimasu
いたします
itashimasu
say言う
iu
言います
iimasu
おっしゃいます
osshaimasu
申します/ 申し上げます
mōshimasu
/ mōshiagemasu
go行くiku行きます
ikimasu
いらっしゃいます
irasshaimasu
参ります / 伺います
mairimasu
/ ukagaimasu 
come来る
kuru
来ます
kimasu
いらっしゃいます / おいでになります
irasshaimasu
/ oide ni narimasu
参ります
mairimasu
know知る
shiru
知ります
shirimasu
お知りになります / ご存じです
o-shiri ni narimasu
/ gozonji desu
存じます
zonjimasu
eat食べる
taberu
食べます
tabemasu
召し上がります
meshiagarimasu
いただきます
itadakimasu 
beいる
iru
います
imasu
いらっしゃいます
irasshaimasu
おります
orimasu
see / look見る
miru
見ます
mimasu
ご覧になります
goran ni narimasu
拝見します
haiken shimsu
giveあげる
ageru
あげます
agemasu
おあげになります
o-age ni narimasu
差し上げます
sashiagemasu

Japanese Woman Bowing Respectfully

To customers/clients : 感謝申し上げます。(Kansha mōshiagemasu.) – “I tell you thank you.” [in a respectful way]

6. The Biggest Mistake

What is the biggest mistake when learning Japanese?

Yes, the biggest mistake is to be afraid of making mistakes! 

Speak and practice proactively over the course of your studies. When you make mistakes, you’ll improve your Japanese skills by correcting those mistakes.

When you don’t know something and wonder what it is and how it works, don’t hesitate to ask!

    聞くは一時の恥聞かぬは一生の恥
    Kiku wa ittoki no haji, kikanu wa isshō no haji

This is the famous Japanese proverb for learners. It means: “The man who asks a question is a fool for a minute; the man who does not ask is a fool for life.” 

The direct translation is: “Asking is shameful temporarily; not asking is shameful for life.” 

As the Japanese culture is one of shame, honor, and collective harmony, the proverb uses the word 恥 (haji), meaning “shame” for a life lesson. It’s more shameful to not ask and be ignorant for the rest of your life than it is to ask and learn.

7. Conclusion: How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

In this article, we introduced the ten most common mistakes students make when learning Japanese. Whether you’re a beginner or advanced learner, this information will surely deepen your understanding and help you improve your Japanese skills! 

If you would like to learn more about the Japanese language, you’ll find a lot more helpful content on JapanesePod101.com. We provide a variety of free lessons to help you improve your Japanese language skills. 

Here’s some more information about the basics of Japanese to enrich your knowledge: 

Please don’t forget to check out the audio and listen to the pronunciation carefully!

And there’s so much more waiting for you! Learn faster and enjoy studying Japanese at JapanesePod101.com!

Before you go, let us know in the comments how many of these mistakes you’ve made before, and how you overcame them. We look forward to hearing from you!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese

The 10 Most Useful Japanese Questions and Answers

Thumbnail

Have you ever tried to use a newly learned Japanese phrase, only to panic when you couldn’t understand your interlocutor’s reply? 

Whether you’re making new Japanese friends or traveling in Japan, knowing how to give questions and answers in Japanese will allow for smoother communication. Learning how to ask Japanese questions will also help you better understand Japanese, and improve your speaking and listening skills. The keys to mastering these skills early on are to speak a lot and practice!  

In this article, we’ll introduce the ten most useful Japanese question & answer patterns. Even if you’re just getting started, you can start having basic conversations with these phrases! Learn how to speak Japanese here at JapanesePod101.com!

First things first, though: How do you form questions in Japanese?

Japanese questions are easy to recognize because the question particle か (ka) always appears at the end (formal / polite form), and questions are asked with a rising tone.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese Table of Contents
  1. What’s your name?
  2. Where are you from?
  3. Do you speak Japanese?
  4. How long have you been studying Japanese?
  5. Have you been to [location]?
  6. How is ___?
  7. Do you like [country’s] food?
  8. What are you doing?
  9. What’s wrong?
  10. How much is this?
  11. How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

1. What’s your name?

Introducing Yourself

Question:

  • Japanese: (あなたの)名前は何ですか。
  • Reading: (Anata no) namae wa nan desu ka.  
  • English: “What is (your) name?”

This is one of the most common phrases that’s used when meeting someone new. The Japanese possessive case あなたの (anata no), meaning “your,” can be omitted when the context makes it clear whose name you’re talking about. Especially in casual conversations, the subject and possessive case (noun + possessive particle の) are often omitted; this sounds more natural.

Answer:

(1) Polite

  • Japanese: 私の名前は___です。
  • Reading: Watashi no namae wa ___ desu. 
  • English: “My name is ___.”

This is the most common way to give someone your name. 

(2) Casually Polite

  • Japanese: (私は)___です。
  • Reading: (Watashi wa) ___ desu. 
  • English: “(I) am ___.”

This is another common phrase for giving someone your name. In a casual conversation, you can omit the subject 私は (Watashi wa), meaning “I.”

(3) Very Polite

  • Japanese: ___と申します。
  • Reading: ___ to mōshimasu. 
  • English: “I am ___.” (honorific language – humble expression) 

Japanese uses honorific language, called 敬語 (Keigo), which has various expressions that connote different levels of politeness and respect. 

This phrase is a humble expression that’s used in official occasions where you should speak very politely, or when you’re talking to someone who is very honorable.

Example:

Q: 名前は何ですか。  
Namae wa nan desu ka.
“What is your name?”

A: 私の名前はかおりです。
Watashi no namae wa Kaori desu.
“My name is Kaori.”

Japanese Colleagues Shaking Hands

Q: あなたの名前は何ですか。(What is your name?) 

A: はじめまして、私はゆりです。(Nice to meet you. I’m Yuri.)

2. Where are you from?

Question:

  • Japanese: (あなたの)出身はどこですか。
  • Reading: (Anata no) shusshin wa doko desu ka.
  • English: “Where are you from?”

This is one of the most popular Japanese questions that foreigners may be asked. あなたの出身はどこですか。literally translates as “Where is your hometown?”

The possessive case あなたの (anata no), meaning “your,” can be omitted in casual situations. In order to ask more politely, use the word どちら (dochira) instead of どこ (doko).

Answer:

(1)

  • Japanese: (私は)___出身です。 
  • Reading: (Watashi wa) ___ shusshin desu. 
  • English: “(I) am from (my origin is) ___.”

This is a typical way to answer the question.

The word 出身 (shusshin) refers to a person’s origin, such as his or her hometown, city, or country. If you’re a foreigner in Japan, you can put your country name in the blank.

The subject 私は (Watashi wa), or “I,” can be omitted in casual situations.

(2)

  • Japanese: (私は)___から来ました。 
  • Reading: (Watashi wa) ___ kara kimashita. 
  • English: “(I) come from ___.”

This is another common way to answer, and once again, the subject can be omitted in casual situations.

Example:

Q: あなたの出身はどこですか。 
Anata no shusshin wa doko desu ka.
“Where are you from?”

A: 私は東京出身です。
Watashi wa Tōkyō shusshin desu.
“I’m from Tokyo.”

First Encounter

3. Do you speak Japanese?

These basic questions and answers in Japanese will be extremely helpful for you while in Japan. 

Question:

(1)

  • Japanese: (あなたは) ___を話しますか。
  • Reading: (Anata wa) ___ o hanashimasu ka.
  • English: “Do you speak ___?”

The subject あなたは (Anata wa), meaning “you,” can be omitted in casual situations.

(2)

  • Japanese: (あなたは) ___を話せますか。
  • Reading: (Anata wa) o hanasemasu ka.
  • English: “Can you speak ___?”

This question sounds similar to the one above, but it indicates “speaking ability” by changing 話ます (hanashimasu) into 話ます (hanasemasu).

The subject can be omitted in casual situations.

Language Vocabulary

In Japanese, the name of a language is expressed with the word 語 (-go), meaning “language,” attached after the name of a language or country.

English JapaneseReading
English 英語Eigo
Japanese日本語Nihon-go
Frenchフランス語Furansu-go
Italianイタリア語Itaria-go
Germanドイツ語Doitsu-go
Spanishスペイン語Supein-go
Russianロシア語Roshia-go
Chinese中国語Chūgoku-go
Korean韓国語Kankoku-go
Thaiタイ語Tai-go
Vietnameseベトナム語Betonamu-go

Answer:

(1)

  • Japanese: 私は___を話します。
  • Reading: Watashi wa ___ o hanashimasu.
  • English: “I speak ___.”

(2)

  • Japanese: 私は___を話せます。 
  • Reading: Watashi wa ___ o hanasemasu. 
  • English: “I can speak ___.”

(3)

  • Japanese: 私は___を話せません。 
  • Reading: Watashi wa ___ o hanasemasen. 
  • English: “I can’t speak ___.”

This is a negative form you can use to say that you can’t speak the language.

Example:

Q: あなたは日本語を話しますか。  
Anata wa Nihon-go o hanashimasu ka.
“Do you speak Japanese?”

A: はい、私は少し日本語を話します。
Hai, watashi wa sukoshi Nihon-go o hanashimasu.
“Yes, I speak Japanese a little.”

Different Language-learning Books

Q: 日本語を話せますか。(Can you speak Japanese?)

A: 私は日本語を話せます。(I can speak Japanese.)

4. How long have you been studying Japanese?

Question:

  • Japanese: どのくらい___を勉強していますか。
  • Reading: Dono kurai ___ o benkyō shite imasu ka.
  • English: “How long have you been studying ___?”

どのくらい (Dono kurai) literally translates as “to what extent,” but in this case, it refers to “how long.”

If you come from abroad and speak a bit of Japanese while in Japan, Japanese people will be very curious and ask you this question.

Answer:

(1)

  • Japanese: ___か月です。 
  • Reading: ___-kagetsu desu. 
  • English: “For ___ month(s).”

If you’ve been learning Japanese for a few months, you can use this phrase to answer. Put the number of months in the blank.

___-kagetsu desu literally means “It’s ___ month(s).”

There’s no difference in expression for singular and plural in Japanese. So whether you’ve been learning for one month or several, the phrase remains the same.

(2)

  • Japanese: ___年です。 
  • Reading: ___-nen desu. 
  • English: “For ___ year(s).”

Use this phrase if you’ve been studying for one or more years.

___-nen desu literally means “It’s ___ year(s).”

Example:

Q: どのくらい日本語を勉強していますか。   
Dono kurai Nihon-go o benkyō shite imasu ka.
“How long have you been studying Japanese?”

A: 1年5か月です。
Ichi-nen go-kagetsu desu.
“For a year and five months.”

5. Have you been to [location]?

Question:

  • Japanese: ___に行ったことがありますか。
  • Reading: ___ ni itta koto ga arimasu ka.
  • English: “Have you been to ___?”

-ことがあります (-koto ga arimasu) is an expression meaning “to have done (something),” and it’s used after the past tense form of a verb. In this case, that would be 行った (itta), meaning “went.” It’s translated as “Have you been to ___?”

You can put the name of any place in the blank.

Answer:

(1)

  • Japanese: はい、行ったことがあります。
  • Reading: Hai, itta koto ga arimasu.
  • English: “Yes, I have been.”

(2)

  • Japanese: いいえ、行ったことがありません。 
  • Reading: Iie, itta koto ga arimasen.
  • English: “No, I have never been.”

This is a negative sentence for answering “no.”

Example:

Q: 皇居に行ったことがありますか。   
Kōkyo ni itta koto ga arimasu ka.
“Have you been to the Imperial Palace?”

A: いいえ、行ったことがありません。
Iie, itta koto ga arimasen.
“No, I have never been.”

Tokyo Imperial Palace

Q: 皇居に行ったことがありますか。  (Have you been to the Imperial Palace?)

A: はい、行ったことがあります。  (Yes, I have been.)

6. How is ___?

Question:

  • Japanese: ___ はどうですか。 
  • Reading: ___ wa dō desu ka.
  • English: “How is ___?”

This is a common phrase to ask about the condition, situation, or status of something.

What Can You Ask About?

    ➢ 調子はどうですか。 (Chōshi wa dō desu ka.) – “How is the condition?”
    調子 means “condition,” and in this case, it means “How are you doing?” or “How is it going?”
    ➢ 勉強はどうですか。 (Benkyō wa dō desu ka.) – “How is studying?”
    ➢ 仕事の進み具合はどうですか。(Shigoto no susumiguai wa dō desu ka.) – “How is the progress of work?”

Answer:

(1)

  • Japanese: 良いです。
  • Reading: Ii desu. 
  • English: “It’s good.”

うまく行っています (umaku itte imasu), meaning “It’s going good,” is another common expression you can use to say that something’s going well.

(2)

  • Japanese: まあまあです。 
  • Reading: Mā-mā desu
  • English: “So-so.”

This phrase is very common, and it’s used to say that something is relatively good.

(3)

  • Japanese: あまり良くないです。 
  • Reading: Amari yokunai desu.
  • English: “It’s not so good.”

You can use this phrase when things aren’t going very well. Japanese people tend to avoid straightforward words like “bad,” even if something is bad; they prefer to use euphemistic expressions.

Example:

Q: 体調はどうですか。 
Taichō wa dō desu ka.
“How is your body condition?” / “How are you feeling?”

A: まあまあです。 
Mā-mā desu.
“So-so.”

A Woman Taking a Test

Q: 勉強はどうですか。 (How is studying?)

A: うまく行っています。(It’s going good.)

7. Do you like [country’s] food?

Question:

  • Japanese: ___ 料理は好きですか。
  • Reading: ___ ryōri wa suki desu ka.
  • English: “Do you like ___ food?”

To express a country’s food, put the name of the country in the blank and add 料理 (ryōri) after it. 料理 (ryōri) means “cuisine” or “cooking.”

Cuisine Vocabulary:

English Japanese Reading
Japanese food日本料理Nihon ryōri
Chinese food中華料理Chūka ryōri
Korean food韓国料理Kankoku ryōri
French foodフランス料理Furansu ryōri
Italian foodイタリア料理Itaria ryōri
Spanish foodスペイン料理Supein ryōri
Indian foodインド料理Indo ryōri
Thai foodタイ料理Tai ryōri

Answer:

(1)

  • Japanese: はい、好きです。
  • Reading: Hai, suki desu. 
  • English: “Yes, I like it.”

(2)

  • Japanese: まあまあ好きです。 
  • Reading: Mā-mā suki desu
  • English: “I somewhat like it.”

This phrase is a very common way to say that you relatively like something. 

(3)

  • Japanese: いいえ、好きではありません。 
  • Reading: Iie, suki de wa arimasen.
  • English: “No, I don’t like it.”

This is a simple phrase to answer that you don’t like something. However, some Japanese people tend to use more euphemistic expressions to avoid saying “no.”

In such cases, you can also say ___料理は苦手です (___ ryōri wa nigate desu), which means “I’m not good with ___.”

Example:

Q: フランス料理は好きですか。 
Furansu ryōri wa suki desu ka.
“Do you like French food?”

A: はい、好きです。 
Hai, suki desu.
“Yes, I like it.”

8. What are you doing?

Question:

  • Japanese: 何をしていますか。
  • Reading: Nani o shite imasu ka.
  • English: “What (are you) doing?”

There’s also a shorter version you can say: 何してますか。(Nani shite masu ka.) It’s still polite, but it sounds more casual.

This Japanese expression doesn’t have a particular subject. Therefore, if you add a subject, such as 彼女は (kanojo wa) meaning “she” or 彼は (kare wa) meaning “he,” to the beginning of the sentence, it becomes “What is she / he doing?”

Answer:

Answers can vary, but here are some general answers to the question.

(1)

  • Japanese: ___ をしています。
  • Reading: ___ o shite imasu. 
  • English: “(I’m) doing ___.”

To answer the question, put a suitable noun in the blank. Some Japanese nouns belong to a group that allows the noun to turn into a verb when attached with the verb する (suru), meaning do. For example:

演技する (engi suru) = 演技 (engi), meaning “acting” + する (suru), meaning “do” —–> “to act”

This phrase works well with this kind of noun.

This Japanese expression doesn’t have a particular subject, so if you add a subject, such as 彼女は (kanojo wa) meaning “she” or 彼は (kare wa) meaning “he,” to the beginning of the sentence, it becomes: “She / he is doing ___.”

How to Use:

    ➢ 仕事をしています。(Shigoto o shite imasu.) – “I’m doing work.” = “I’m working.”
    ➢ 勉強をしています。(Benkyō o shite imasu.) – “I’m doing study.” = “I’m studying.”
    ➢ 食事をしています。(Shokuji o shite imasu.) – “I’m doing meal.” = “I’m having a meal.”

(2)

  • Japanese: ___ています。 
  • Reading: ___-te imasu.  
  • English: “(I’m) ___ing.”

This is another common phrase for telling someone what you’re doing. You can put any Japanese verb in the blank. The verb must be conjugated in a form that -ている(-te iru) can follow.

How to Use:

    ➢ 見ています。(Mite imasu.) – “I’m watching/looking.”
    ➢ 歩いています。(Aruite imasu.) – “I’m walking.”
    ➢ 食べています。(Tabete imasu.) – “I’m eating.”

Example:

Q: 何をしていますか。  
Nani o shite imasu ka.
“What are you doing?”

A: 映画を見ています。 
Eiga o mite imasu.
“I’m watching a movie.”

Children Enjoying Good Books

Q:何をしていますか。 (What are you doing?)

A: 本を読んでいます。 (I’m reading a book.)

9. What’s wrong?

Question:

  • Japanese: どうしましたか。 
  • Reading: Dō shimashita ka.
  • English: “What’s wrong?” / “What’s the matter?”

A similar phrase is どうかしましたか。(Dō ka shimashita ka.) which means the same thing.

Answer:

Answers can vary, but here are some examples.

(1)

  • Japanese: 何でもないです。
  • Reading: Nan demo nai desu.
  • English: “It’s nothing.” / “There’s nothing wrong.”

何でもない (Nan demo nai) means “nothing.”

(2)

  • Japanese: 疲れています。 
  • Reading: Tsukarete imasu
  • English: “I’m tired.”

(3)

  • Japanese: 気分が悪いです。 
  • Reading: Kibun ga warui desu.
  • English: “I don’t feel good.”

This literally translates as “feeling is bad,” but in this case, it means “I don’t feel good/well.”

Example:

Q: どうしましたか。 顔色が悪いですよ。 
Dō shimashita ka. Kaoiro ga warui desu yo.
“What’s wrong? You look pale.”

A: 少し疲れています。 
Sukoshi tsukarete imasu.
“I’m a bit tired.”

10. How much is this?

Question:

  • Japanese: これはいくらですか。
  • Reading: Kore wa ikura desu ka.
  • English: “How much is this?”

This is a must-know phrase if you plan on shopping during your trip to Japan.

Answer:

  • Japanese: これは___円です。
  • Reading: Kore wa ___-en desu. 
  • English: “It’s ¥___.”

The Japanese currency is 円, which is actually pronounced as えん (en). The currency symbol is ¥.

Example:

Q: この本はいくらですか。  
Kono hon wa ikura desu ka.
Kono hon wa ikura desu ka.

A: この本は1000円です。 
Kono hon wa sen-en desu.
“This book is ¥1000.”

For more useful shopping phrases with audio, please check out this lesson on 15 Shopping Phrases: Exchanges, Refunds, and Complaints!

11. How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

In this article, we introduced the ten most useful Japanese question & answer patterns. After learning these, you’ll have strong survival Japanese communication skills! 

If you would like to learn more about the Japanese language, you’ll find even more helpful content on JapanesePod101.com. We provide a variety of free lessons that will help you improve your Japanese language skills. 

Here are some more lessons with audio about the basics of Japanese:

For beginners, our lesson on the Top 25 Must-Know Phrases is a must-read! 

And there’s so much more! Learn faster and enjoy studying Japanese at JapanesePod101.com!

Before you go, let us know in the comments if there are any Japanese questions and answers you still want to know! We’d be glad to help, and look forward to hearing from you!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese

The 10 Most Useful Japanese Sentence Patterns

Thumbnail

Learning a new language is fun, but it requires a lot of effort—studying the complicated grammar rules and memorizing thousands of words. But we have a tip for you! The fastest and easiest way to learn Japanese is to just focus on the most useful and common Japanese sentence patterns and start speaking them!

The most frequently used Japanese sentence patterns are useful for survival communication and day-to-day interactions. When you know the essential sentence patterns in Japanese, you can arrange and create more sentences to express yourself and have conversations. 

In this article, we’ll introduce the ten most useful Japanese sentence patterns, which cover the most basic statements and questions. Boost your Japanese conversation skills here at JapanesePod101.com!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese Table of Contents
  1. A is B – AはBです
  2. Asking Simple Questions: Is A B? AはBですか。
  3. I Want (to)…  …が欲しいです/…たいです 
  4. I Need (to)…  …が必要です/…(する)必要があります 
  5. I like …  …が好きです
  6. Please (do) … ….(して)ください
  7. May I / Can I (Do) …? ….(しても)いいですか。/a>
  8. What is …? ….は何ですか? 
  9. When is …? ….はいつですか? 
  10. Where is …? ….はどこですか? 
  11. Conclusion: How JapanesePod101.com Can Help You Learn More Japanese
A Woman Deep in Thought in Front of a Blackboard

With the top 10 Japanese sentence patterns, you can easily have simple conversations!

1. A is B – AはBです

A is B = A (wa) B (desu) or  A は B です

This is the simplest Japanese sentence construction for describing something. A is usually a noun and B can be a noun or an adjective.

です (desu) is the basic predicate that represents politeness; it’s placed at the end of a Japanese sentence. 

The Japanese sentence structure is SOV (Subject + Object + Verb), while English has an SVO structure (Subject + Verb + Object).

Examples:

  • 私は学生です。(Watashi wa gakusei desu.) — “I am a student.”
  • 彼は私の友達です。(Kare wa watashi no tomodachi desu.) — “He is my friend.”
  • このご飯は美味しいです。(Kono gohan wa oishii desu.) — “This meal is delicious.”
  • あのレストランは海鮮料理で有名です。(Ano resutoran wa kaisen ryōri de yūmei desu.) — “That restaurant is famous for seafood.”
  • 今年の夏は去年より暑いです。 (Kotoshi no natsu wa kyonen yori atsui desu.) — “This summer is hotter than the one last year.”

For more about Japanese nouns and adjectives, please check out our pages on the 50 Most Common Nouns and 50 Most Common Adjectives.

Sentence Patterns

2. Asking Simple Questions:  Is A B? AはBですか。

Is A B ? = A (wa) B (desu ka) or  A は B ですか。

Here’s the most common question sentence pattern in Japanese. 

To make a Japanese interrogative sentence, simply add the question marker か (ka) to the end of an affirmative sentence and pronounce it with a rising intonation. 

Examples:

  • あなたは学生ですか。(Anata wa gakusei desu ka.) — “Are you a student?”
  • 彼らはあなたの友達ですか。(Kare-ra wa anata no tomodachi desu ka.) — “Are they your friends?”
  • その本は難しいですか。(Sono hon wa muzukashii desu ka.) — “Is that book difficult?”
  • 今日の天気は雨のち曇りですか。(Kyō no tenki wa ame nochi kumori desu ka.) — “Is the weather today cloudy after rain?”
  • 駅の隣のビルは銀行ですか。(Eki no tonari no biru wa ginkō desu ka.) — “Is the building next to the station a bank?”
Mt. Fuji in Japan

Ashita wa hare desu ka. = “Is tomorrow sunny?”

3. I Want (to)…  …が欲しいです/…たいです 

I want  … = [noun] …が欲しい です  (ga hoshii desu)

I want to … =  [verb] …たい です  (-tai desu)

These are the simplest Japanese sentence patterns for expressing “want.”

These Japanese phrases differ depending on whether you want something [noun] or want to do something [verb], as indicated above.

Keep in mind that the subject can be omitted from a Japanese sentence when it’s clear from the context who the subject is.

Japanese verb conjugation is NOT affected by the person (I, you, he, she, we, they), number (singular/plural), or gender (female/male) of the subject.

Examples using a noun:

  • (私は)水が欲しいです。([Watashi wa] mizu ga hoshii desu.) — “I want water.”
  • (私は)新しい車が欲しいです。([Watashi wa] atarashii kuruma ga hoshii desu.)  “I want a new car.”
  • 誕生日にダイヤの指輪が欲しいです。(Tanjōbi ni daiya no yubiwa ga hoshii desu.) — “I want a diamond ring for (my) birthday.”

Examples using a verb:

  • (私は)今日は和食が食べたいです。([Watashi wa] kyō wa washoku ga tabetai desu.) — “I want to eat Japanese food today.”
  • 来年は沖縄に行きたいです。(Rainen wa Okinawa ni ikitai desu.) — “I want to go to Okinawa next year.”
  • 太ったので運動をしたいです。(Futotta node undō o shitai desu.) — “I want to do exercises because I got fat.”

For more information about Japanese verbs, please check out our Japanese Verbs and 50 Most Common Verbs pages.

4. I Need (to)…  …が必要です/…(する)必要があります 

I need … = [noun] …が必要です (ga hitsuyō desu)

I need to … = [verb] …(する)必要があります (hitsuyō ga arimasu)

These are the simplest Japanese sentence patterns for expressing “need.”

As you can see above, the Japanese sentence structure changes depending on whether you need something [noun] or need to do something [verb].

Examples using a noun:

  • (私は)あなたが必要です。([Watashi wa] anata ga hitsuyō desu.) — “I need you.”
  • その車は電気の充電が必要です。(Sono kuruma wa denki no jūden ga hitsuyō desu.) — “That car needs to charge with electricity.”
  • この店での支払いはクレジットカードが必要です。(Kono mise de no shiharai wa kurejitto kādo ga hitsuyō desu.) — “You need a credit card to pay at this store.”

Examples using a verb:

  •  週末に働く必要があります。(Shūmatsu ni hataraku hitsuyō ga arimasu.) — “I need to work on the weekend.”
  • あなたは病院に行く必要があります。(Anata wa byōin ni iku hitsuyō ga arimasu.) — “You need to go to a hospital.”
  • 学生は卒業試験に合格する必要があります。(Gakusei wa sotsugyō shiken ni gōkaku suru hitsuyō ga arimasu.) — “The students need to pass the graduation exam.”
Students Taking a Test in a Classroom

Watashi wa shiken ni gōkaku suru hitsuyō ga arimasu. = “I need to pass the exam.”

5. I like …  …が好きです 

I like … = [noun] …が好きです (ga suki desu)

This is one of the easiest and most useful sentences in Japanese. You can use it the same way you would in English when you’re fond of something or someone.

Examples:

  • 私は動物が好きです。(Watashi wa dōbutsu ga suki desu.) — “I like animals.”
  • 彼は食べることが好きです。(Kare wa taberu koto ga suki desu.) — “He likes eating.”
  • 私の猫は昼寝が好きです。(Watashi no neko wa hirune ga suki desu.) — “My cat likes taking a nap.”
  • かおりは背が高い男性が好きです。(Kaori wa se ga takai dansei ga suki desu.) — “Kaori likes tall guys.”
  • 私は山より海が好きです。(Watashi wa yama yori umi ga suki desu.) — “I like the sea more than the mountains.”
Sentence Components

6. Please (do) …   ….(して)ください 

“Please (do) …” = … [verb]  …ください (kudasai)

This is a simple sentence pattern in Japanese for asking someone to do something; here, the word ください(Kusadai) is used with a verb. 

Also note that when a noun and the postpositional particle を (o) come before kudasai, it becomes a polite way of saying “Please give (me) [noun].”  For example: りんごを一つください (ringo o hitotsu kudasai), meaning “Please give me one apple.”

Examples:

  •  静かにしてください。(Shizuka ni shite kudasai.) — “Please be quiet.”
  • お座りください。(O-suwari kudasai.) — “Please be seated/sit down.”
  • そのペンを取ってください。(Sono pen o totte kudasai.) — “Please take the pen.”
  • 食事の前に手を洗ってください。(Shokuji no mae ni te o aratte kudasai.) — “Please wash your hands before the meal.”
  • 次の電車が来るまでしばらくお待ちください。(Tsugi no densha ga kuru made shibaraku o-machi kudasai.) — “Please wait some time until the next train comes.”

7. May I / Can I (Do) …?   ….(しても)いいですか。

“May I / Can I (do) …?”  = … [verb] …(しても)いいですか。(mo ii desu ka.)  

This is a very common Japanese language sentence structure to ask for permission in a polite way. It literally means: “(Is it/Am I) good to (do)…?”

Examples:

  • 今から行ってもいいですか。(Ima kara itte mo ii desu ka.) — “Can I go now?”
  • 水を飲んでもいいですか。(Mizu o nonde mo ii desu ka.) — “Can I drink water?”
  • 明日提出してもいいですか。(Ashita teishutsu shite mo ii desu ka.) — “May I submit it tomorrow?”
  • ここで楽器を演奏してもいいですか。(Koko de gakki o ensō shite mo ii desu ka.) — “Can I play instruments here?”
  • この切符でこの電車に乗ってもいいですか。(Kono kippu de kono densha ni notte mo ii desu ka.) — “Can I take this train with this ticket?”
The

Kono kippu de kono densha ni notte mo ii desu ka. = “Can I take this train with this ticket?”

8. What is …?   ….は何ですか? 

“What is …?” = … [noun] ….は何ですか?(wa nan desu ka?) 

This is a very simple phrase to ask for information in a polite way.  

Examples:

  • これは何ですか。(Kore wa nan desu ka.) — “What is this?”
  • あなたの名前は何ですか。(Anata no namae wa nan desu ka.) — “What is your name?”
  • 今年の和暦は何ですか。(Kotoshi no wareki wa nan desu ka.) — “What is the year of the Japanese era this year?”
  • この下着の素材は何ですか。(Kono shitagi no sozai wa nan desu ka.) — “What is the material of this underwear?”
  • あなたの一番好きな映画は何ですか。(Anata no ichi-ban suki na eiga wa nan desu ka.) — “What is your favorite movie?”
A Man Watching Soccer on TV

Anata no ichi-ban suki na eiga wa nan desu ka. = “What is your favorite movie?”

9. When is …?   ….はいつですか? 

“When is …?” = … [noun] ….はいつですか。(wa itsu desu ka.)

This is a common Japanese sentence pattern to ask about time in a polite way.  

Examples:

  • 次の会議はいつですか。(Tsugi no kaigi wa itsu desu ka.) — “When is the next meeting?”
  • あなたの誕生日はいつですか。(Anata no tanjōbi wa itsu desu ka.) — “When is your birthday?”
  • 桜の満開時期はいつですか。(Sakura no mankai jiki wa itsu desu ka.) — “When is the best season of full-bloom cherry blossoms?”
  • 初めて海外旅行したのはいつですか。(Hajimete kaigai ryokō shita no wa itsu desu ka.) — “When was the first time you traveled overseas?”
  • 大学の卒業式はいつですか。(Daigaku no sotsugyōshiki wa itsu desu ka.) — “When is the graduation ceremony of the university?”
A Diploma, Graduation Cap, and Stack of Books

Sotsugyōshiki wa itsu desu ka. = “When is the graduation ceremony?”

10. Where is …?   ….はどこですか? 

“Where is …?” = … [noun] ….はどこですか。(wa doko desu ka.)

This is a common Japanese sentence pattern for asking about location in a polite way.  

Examples:

  • 明日の会議はどこですか。(Ashita no kaigi wa doko desu ka.) — “Where is the meeting tomorrow?”
  •  あなたの地元はどこですか。(Anata no jimoto wa doko desu ka.) — “Where is your hometown?”
  • 渋谷駅はどこですか。(Shibuya Eki wa doko desu ka.) — “Where is Shibuya Station?”
  • ここから一番近いトイレはどこですか。(Koko kara ichi-ban chikai toire wa doko desu ka.) — “Where is the nearest toilet from here?”
  • 東海道新幹線の乗り場はどこですか。(Tōkaidō Shinkansen no noriba wa doko desu ka.) — “Where is the platform of Tōkaidō Shinkansen?”

For more information (with audio) about the most useful Japanese sentence patterns, please check out the Top 10 Sentence Patterns for Beginners lesson on our website.

11. Conclusion: How JapanesePod101.com Can Help You Learn More Japanese

In this article, we introduced the ten most useful sentence patterns in Japanese. Once you learn these Japanese sentence patterns, you can create many more variations for better communication! The good thing about Japanese is that verbs don’t conjugate in terms of the number (singular/plural), person (I, you, he, she, we, they, it), or gender of the subject/object! So don’t hesitate to practice speaking today!

If you would like to learn more about the Japanese language, you’ll find much more helpful content on JapanesePod101.com. We provide a variety of free lessons to help you improve your Japanese language skills. Here’s some more information about Japanese basics, with audio to enrich your conversations:

And there’s so much more! Learn faster and enjoy studying Japanese at JapanesePod101.com!

Before you go, let us know in the comments if there are any Japanese sentence patterns you still want to know! We’d be glad to help, and look forward to hearing from you!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Japanese

Top 100 Common Japanese Adverbs

Thumbnail

It’s impossible to explain something in detail without using adverbs. These are words which can efficiently express time, frequency, place, manner, degree, and more. When you want to boost your language skills, learning adverbs is important and inevitable.

Just like those in other languages, there are a variety of Japanese adverbs and they’re frequently used in sentences. Japanese adverbs are quite similar to English adverbs, though there are some differences to keep in mind. For example, Japanese adverbs are classified in categories according to their characteristics, and they’re placed in different positions in a sentence depending on how they’re used. But don’t worry! The rules are quite simple, and you’ll get the hang of them over time! 

In this article, JapanesePod101.com will provide you with:

  • A Japanese adverbs list containing 100 useful Japanese adverbs
  • Explanations of how to use Japanese adverbs
  • Examples of Japanese adverbs in sentences

Let’s get started!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Useful Verbs in Japanese Table of Contents
  1. The Adverb in Japanese: An Introduction
  2. Japanese Adverbs List
  3. How Do You Use Adverbs in Japanese Sentences?
  4. Conclusion: How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese
Easter Eggs and Springtime Flowers

When you learn Japanese adverbs, your conversation will be colorful and rich in expression.

1. The Adverb in Japanese: An Introduction

1 – What is the Function of Japanese Adverbs?

An adverb, or 副詞 (fukushi), is not an independent class of word, as it’s always used with other words. Adverbs are similar to adjectives in that they both modify words. However, adverbs modify verbs, or 動詞 (dōshi), adjectives, or 形容詞 (keiyōshi), and other adverbs, while adjectives only modify nouns, called 名詞 (meishi).

Japanese adverbs, unlike those in English, can appear anywhere in a sentence when they’re used before verbs. 

2 – The Classifications and Types of Japanese Adverbs 

1. Derived from Adjectives

Most adverbs are linked to adjectives that share similar meanings. By changing a part of an adjective, we can turn it into an adverb. You can also see this rule applied in English. For example: “first” / “kind” / “happy” (Adjectives)  >>> “firstly” / “kindly” / “happily” (Adverbs).

In most cases, it’s easy to change Japanese adjectives to adverbs. There are two types of conjugations here.

  • Modification of Japanese い (i) Adjectives

An い (i) adjective always ends with い (i).

By changing the final い (i) to く (ku), an adjective will turn into an adverb.

Example:

い (i) Adjective

[ Stem + い (i) ]
Adverb

[ Stem + く(ku) ]
悲し
kanashii  
“sad”
悲し
kanashiku  
“sadly”

takai  
“high”

takaku  
“highly”

marui 
“round”

maruku 
“roundly”
  • Modification of Japanese な (na) Adjectives

A な (na) adjective always ends with な (na) when it comes before a noun.

Changing な (na) to に (ni) will convert a な (na) adjective into an adverb.

Example:

Adjective

[ Stem + な (na) ]
Adverb

[ Stem + に (ni) ]
親切
shinsetsu na 
“kind”
親切
shinsetsu ni   
“kindly”
静か
shizuka na  
“quiet”
静か
shizuka ni  
“quietly”
簡単
kantan na   
“easy”
簡単
kantan ni  
“easily”

For more information about Japanese adjectives, please visit 50 Most Common Adjectives.

  • Other Non-Adjectival Adverbs

There are also Japanese adverbs which are not related to adjectives. Such adverbs do not have a particular pattern to identify them with, so you have to remember each vocabulary term. The good thing is that they’re used in the same way as other adverbs.

Non-adjectival adverbs are often seen among adverbs of frequency, time, and place, which we’ll explain in the following sections.

2. Classification of Japanese Adverbs

Japanese adverbs are classified into different categories, including Time, Frequency, Place, Manner, and Degree. Although it’s not so important to know which adverbs belong to what category, it is useful if you know them for more accurate usage.

Now let’s see various Japanese adverbs from each category! 

Chirashizushi Dish for the Japanese Doll’s Festival, Hinamatsuri

Chirashizushi wa kantan ni tsukuremasu. = “You can make Chirashizushi easily.”

簡単に (Kantan ni) is an adverb.

2. Japanese Adverbs List

1 – Japanese Adverbs of Time

Japanese time adverbs indicate when something happens, has happened, or will happen.

MeaningReadingKanjiHiragana
1“today”kyō今日きょう
2“yesterday”kinō昨日きのう
3“tomorrow”ashita明日あした
4“this morning”kesa今朝けさ
5“tonight”kon’ya今夜こんや
6“now”imaいま
7“later”ato de後であとで
8“soon”sugu niすぐに
9“right now”ima sugu ni今すぐにいますぐに
10“previously”mae ni前にまえに
11“recently”saikin最近さいきん
12“someday”itsukaいつか
13“yet”madaまだ

2 – Japanese Adverbs of Frequency

Adverbs of frequency are used when describing how often an action takes place.

MeaningReadingKanjiHiragana
14“always”itsumoいつも
15“sometimes”tokidoki時々ときどき
16“often”yokuよく
17“rarely”tama niたまに
18“seldom”metta niめったに
*used only with negative forms
19“probably”tabun多分たぶん
20“likely”osorakuおそらく
21“normally”tsūjō通常つうじょう
22“(not) at all”zenzen (-nai) *全然 (ーない) *ぜんぜん(ーない) *
23“never”kesshite  (-nai) *決して (ーない) *けっして(ーない) *
24“definitely,” “inevitably”kanarazu必ずかならず
25“daily,” “every day”mainichi毎日まいにち
26“weekly,” “every week”maishū毎週まいしゅう
27“monthly,” “every month”maitsuki毎月まいつき
28“annually,” “every year”maitoshi毎年まいとし
29“every time”maikai毎回まいかい

* 全然 (ーない) [zenzen (-nai)]  and 決して (ーない) [kesshite (-nai)] are the negative forms which are usually used together with -ない (-nai).

For example:

  • 私は全然気にしない
    Watashi wa zenzen ki ni shinai.  
    “I don’t care at all.”
  • 彼女は決して肉を食べない
    Kanojo wa kesshite niku o tabenai
    “She never eats meat.”
Woman Refusing a Piece of Meat at a Barbecue

Kanojo wa kesshite niku o tabenai. = “She never eats meat.”

決して (kesshite), meaning “never,” is an adverb.

3 – Japanese Adverbs of Place

Adverbs of place indicate where an action takes place.

MeaningReadingKanjiHiragana
30“here”kokoここ
31“there”sokoそこ
32“there,” “over there”asokoあそこ
33“over here,” “this way”kotchiこっち
34“over there,” “that way”atchiあっち
35“somewhere”doko kaどこか
36“anywhere”doko demoどこでも
37“inside”naka de中でなかで
38“outside”soto de外でそとで
39“away”hanarete離れてはなれて
40“near,” “close by”chikaku ni近くにちかくに
41“(at) home”ie de家でいえで
The Tokyo Tower

Watashi no kaisha chikaku ni Tōkyō Tawā ga arimasu. 

= “There is Tokyo Tower close to my company.”   

近くに (chikaku ni), meaning “close,” is an adverb.

4 – Japanese Adverbs of Manner

Adverbs of manner describe the condition of a thing or how an action is performed. Adverbs which are related to adjectives mostly fall in this category. Keep in mind that some Japanese adverbs don’t have direct translations in English.

 MeaningReadingKanjiHiragana
42“slowly”yukkuriはやく
43“fast”hayaku早く/速くすばやく
44“quickly”subayaku素早くおそく
45“late,” “tardily”osoku遅く
46“quietly”shizuka ni静かにしずかに
47“enjoyably,” “merrily”tanoshiku楽しくたのしく
48“interestingly,” “amusingly”omoshiroku面白くおもしろく
49“noisily,” “loudly”urusakuうるさく
50“simultaneously,” “at the same time”ichi-do ni一度にいちどに
51“easily”kantan ni簡単にかんたんに
52“well”yoku良くよく
53“badly”waruku悪くわるく
54“together”issho ni一緒にいっしょに
55“alone”hitori de一人でひとりで
56“by chance,” “accidentally”gūzen ni偶然にぐうぜんに
57“suddenly”kyū ni急にきゅうに
58“largely,” “greatly”ōkiku大きくおおきく
59“small”chiisaku小さくちいさく
60“newly”atarashiku新しくあたらしく
61“old”furuku古くふるく
62“beautifully,” “neatly,” “cleanly”kirei ni綺麗にきれいに
63“dirtily”kitanaku汚くきたなく
64“kindly”shinsetsu ni親切にしんせつに
65“cheerily,” “lively”genki ni元気にげんきに
66“conveniently”benri ni便利にべんりに
67“hotly”astuku暑くあつく
68“coldly”samuku寒くさむく
69“difficultly”muzukashiku難しくむずかしく
70“gently”yasashiku優しくやさしく
71“highly,” “high,” “expensive”takaku高くたかく
72“low”hikuku低くひくく
73“cheaply,” “inexpensively”yasuku安くやすく
74“getting along well with”nakayoku仲良くなかよく
75“boring”tsumaranakuつまらなく
76“brightly”akaruku明るくあかるく
77“dark,” “darkly”kuraku暗くくらく
78“hard,” “fastly,” “firmly”kataku硬く・固くかたく
79“softly”yawarakaku柔らかくやわらかく
80“red”*akaku*赤くあかく
81“white”*shiroku*白くしろく
82“blue”*aoku*青くあおく
83“yellow”*kiiroku*黄色くきいろく
84“brown”*chairoku*茶色くちゃいろく
85“black”*kuroku*黒くくろく

*There are adverbs for colors in Japanese, but there are no equivalent words in English for adverbs of color.

In Japanese, these color adverbs are transformed from い (i) adjectives.

  •  (akai)  >> 赤 (akaku)
  • (shiroi) >> 白 (shiroku)
  • (kuroi)  >> 黒 (kuroku)

Here’s an example:

私は髪を黒く染めた。
Watasih wa kami o kuroku someta. 
“I dyed my hair black.”

Close-up of Someone Playing a Guitar at a Concert

Hitori de konsāto e itta. = “I went to the concert alone.”

一人で (hitori de), “meaning alone,” is an adverb.

5 – Japanese Adverbs of Degree

More Essential Verbs

Adverbs of degree indicate the degree or extent of a thing, situation, or action.

MeaningReadingKanjiHiragana
86“very”totemoとても
87“quite”kanariかなり
88“pretty,” “way”sōtō ni相当にそうとうに
89“terribly”hidoku酷くひどく
90“plenty,” “much,” “many”takusan沢山たくさん
91“slightly,” “barely,” “only”wazukani僅かにわずかに
92“largely,” “nearly,” “mostly”hotondoほとんど
93“about,” “roughly,” “more or less”hoboほぼ
94“a little,” “a bit,” “a few”sukoshi少しすこし
95“truly,” “really”hontō ni本当にほんとうに
96“strongly”tsuyoku強くつよく
97“weakly”yowaku弱くよわく
98“much,” “greatly,” “highly”daibu大分だいぶ
99“mostly”daitai大体だいたい
100“just,” “right,” “precisely,” “exactly”chōdo丁度ちょうど
A Japanese Family Taking a Family Photo on a Bridge

Watashi wa kazoku ga totemo daisuki desu. = “I like my family very much.” 

とても (totemo), meaning “very,” is an adverb.

3. How Do You Use Adverbs in Japanese Sentences?

Top Verbs

In terms of Japanese adverb placement, most of them can appear anywhere in a sentence, but they should come before the verb.

Let’s take a look at some examples of Japanese adverbs in sentences.

  • 私は後で宿題をする。
    Watashi wa ato de shukudai o suru.  
    “I will do my homework later.”

後で (ato de), meaning “later,” is an adverb. In Japanese, this can also be placed at the front of the sentence or in front of the verb する (suru), meaning “to do.” 

  •  時々彼は参拝に行きます。
    Tokidoki kare wa sanpai ni ikimasu.  
    “He sometimes goes to visit a shrine.”

時々 (tokidoki) is an adverb, and it can also appear in front of 参拝に (sanpai ni), meaning “to visit a shrine,” or in front of 行きます (ikimasu), meaning “goes.”

  • 近くに本屋はありますか。
    Chikaku ni hon’ya wa arimasu ka.  
    “Is there a bookstore nearby?” 

近くに (chikaku ni), meaning “nearby,” is an adverb. It can be placed in front of ありますか (arimasu ka), meaning “is there.”

  • 台風は素早く過ぎ去った。
    Taifū wa subayaku sugisatta. 
    “The typhoon passed by quickly.”

素早く (subayaku), meaning “quickly,” is an adverb, and it can also appear at the front of the sentence.

  • 本当に彼を信じますか。
    Hontō ni kare o shinjimasu ka.  
    “Do you really believe him?”

本当に (hontō ni), meaning “really,” is an adverb. It can also be put in front of 信じます (shinjimasu), meaning “believe.”

4. Conclusion: How JapanesePod101 Can Help You Learn More Japanese

In this article, we introduced you to Japanese adverbs. There are many adverbs in the Japanese language, and they’re just as rich in expression as adjectives. However, if you already know a lot of Japanese adjectives, then don’t worry! You can easily learn many adjective-transformed adverbs! Or vice-versa; once you learn Japanese adverbs, you can also learn the adjectives much easier. 

If you would like to learn more about the Japanese language and other useful Japanese phrases for any situation, you’ll find much more helpful content on JapanesePod101.com. We provide a variety of free lessons for you to improve your Japanese language skills. For example, you may find these lessons with audio recordings useful: 50 Most Common Nouns, 50 Most Common Verbs, and Most Common Adjectives.

 To learn more about Japanese adverbs and adjectives, check out Must-Know Adverbs and Phrases for Connecting Thoughts and Spring Adjectives/Adverbs. How to Improve Your Speaking Skills and Top 10 Conversational Phrases are also useful pages you can visit to brush up on your Japanese conversational skills.

And there’s so much more. Learn Japanese faster and enjoy studying the language at JapanesePod101.com!

Before you go, let us know in the comments if there are any Japanese adverbs you still want to know! We’d be glad to help, and look forward to hearing from you!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Useful Verbs in Japanese