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Lesson Transcript

Hi everybody! Hiroko here. Welcome to Absolute Beginner Questions Answered by Hiroko, where I’ll answer some of *your* most common Japanese questions.
The question for this lesson is… When do I use the different Japanese alphabets?
When you write the Japanese word “kokoro” which means “heart,” can the first “ko” be written in hiragana, the second “ko” in katakana and the last “ro” in either hiragana or katakana or kanji?
The Japanese writing system is a combination of two character types - an ideogram kanji, which was introduced from China, and a phonogram kana, which was derived from kanji. Most Japanese words are generally written in kanji or kanji plus hiranaga to express the meaning. Actually, we have four patterns to write words in the Japanese language.
Firstly, only kanji. Many nouns and words of Chinese origin are often written in kanji only. For example, 本 meaning “book” or 天気 meaning “weather.”
Secondly, kanji and hiragana. The hiragana is called okurigana. And it is the hiragana that follows kanji stems, and is generally used to inflect adjectives and verbs. For example, 大きい meaning “big” or 食べる meaning “to eat.” Here, the ‘ki i’ and the ‘beru’ are written in hiragana.
Thirdly, only hiragana. This is used when a person forgets how to write a word in kanji or when words don’t have kanji. For example, うきうきする which means “be excited” doesn’t have kanji and is written in hiragana only.
Finally, only katakana. Imported words from other languages are primarily written in katakana only. For example, ピアノ meaning “piano” and サッカー meaning “football”.
Then when you write “kokoro”, you can use either hiragana “こころ” or the kanji “心”. However, when Japanese native speakers see the kanji ”心”, they can immediately understand the meaning is “heart” because of the kanji. When they see the hiragana version of “こころ”, they have to find the meaning from the context.
Now let’s talk about sentences a bit.
Almost all Japanese sentences contain a mixture of kanji and kana. For example, 私はコンピューターを使います。
Watashi has a kanji so it should be written in kanji 私.
An example of kanji plus hiragana is 使います. Here, the ‘imasu’ is in hiragana.
Words that are written in hiragana only are は and を. Hiragana is used for grammatical elements, for example the particles が、は、を and so on, and a copula verb, です.
Katakana is used for imported words like コンピューター here as well as foreign people’s names, onomatopoeia, scientific names, and sometimes for emphasis.
I hope this makes sense to you and you’re able to use the alphabets correctly from now on!
Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them!
またね!

24 Comments

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😄 😞 😳 😁 😒 😎 😠 😆 😅 😜 😉 😭 😇 😴 😮 😈 ❤️️ 👍

JapanesePod101.com Verified
December 15th, 2015 at 06:30 PM
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What Japanese learning question do you have?

JapanesePod101.com Verified
March 1st, 2021 at 03:32 PM
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Emiさん


Thank you so much for your comment😄

Very good question! It would be really difficult for us to understand if it's only written in hiragana since we can't tell where the words end. And no, we don't put space in Japanese😅

Please let us know if you have any questions :)


Sincerely

Ryoma

Team JapanesePod101.com

Emi
February 25th, 2021 at 11:02 PM
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If you'd ever write a sentence in only hiragana, would a japanese person understand? And how do you know where specific word ends? Is there like a small space between the characters or is it just memorising the words?

JapanesePod101.com Verified
November 20th, 2020 at 05:13 PM
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Hi Aryan Singh,

Thank you for your comment!


As you say, kanji is used for words of Chinese origin.

Then hiragana is for particles, okurigana (followed after kanji) in Japanese origin words

and for words that don't have kanji.

And katakana is used for foreign words.


That's the basic rule, but actually it would be hard to know which word has which origin.

So you should know each word with each character type.

Then you will get to know origins of words.

I hope you will find it interesting☺️


Thank you for learning Japanese with us:)


Sincerely,

Miho

Team JapanesePod101.com

Aryan Singh
November 19th, 2020 at 08:55 PM
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Which script we need to write full

I only understand we write katakana

For foreign word like computer

Hiragana for particles like wa ka ko

Kanji for little understand or for idea

Can you teach me exactly which script

Write in which situation because I'm a child

JapanesePod101.com Verified
October 18th, 2019 at 02:14 AM
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Hi Connie,


Thank you very much for studying with us and asking a question!

Since your stay in Japan will be only for two months and you have only six months to study, I'd suggest focusing on speaking/listening first. Once you get there, you will have many opportunities to learn reading/writing.


Sincerely,

Miki H

Team JapanesePod101.com

Connie Steele
September 23rd, 2019 at 12:19 PM
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I have a question. Is it better to learn reading, writing, and speaking all at the same time? Or is it better to learn to speak it first. I have 6 months to learn what I am going to learn for my 2 months in Japan next year.

Japanesepod101.com Verified
September 21st, 2017 at 07:33 PM
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Hi Holly,


Thank you for posting. We're glad to know that the lesson was helpful!


If you have any questions, please let us know.


Cristiane (クリスチアネ)

Team Japanesepod101.com

Holly
September 21st, 2017 at 01:27 AM
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Thank you! That helped me understand.

Japanesepod101.com Verified
July 13th, 2017 at 07:57 PM
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Hi Amie,


Thank you for your positive feedback!


Looking forward to seeing you often here. ;)



Cristiane (クリスチアネ)

Team Japanesepod101.com

Amie
July 13th, 2017 at 09:41 AM
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Thank you! This was very helpful.