Japanese, language

Japanese They Don’t Teach in Class

If you’re new to Japanese, you’ll find it very disconcerting that there is a huge gap between beginner Japanese and expert. Not only that, “beginner” Japanese in text books and classes is polite Japanese – verbs that have already been modified so that if you ever visit Japan, you speak pleasantly. Furthermore – and here’s the real kicker – speech is much harder to understand than it first seems, and watching anime and listening to music will only help you to a certain extent. In this post, I hope to cover a few details about Japanese, including the learning process, that should ease your pain.

Table of Contents

  1. The Learning Process
    • Essentials for Starting
    • What to Focus On
    • Extent of Learning from Anime
    • Learning Concepts, Not Synonyms – (added 2/21/14)
  2. Things They Don’t Teach
    • Etymology – です、ます and the like
    • Getting Things Started with 出す
    • In the Past, Was it だった?
    • たい – Verb, Adjective, and Neither
    • The Truth About い-adjectives
    • Pre-nominal Adjectives
    • 何 Never Changes
    • 分 and 別 – (added 2/21/14)
    • The Sound of を
    • The Sound of N
    • The Sound of が
    • The Sound of る – (added 6/25/16)
    • The Real Truth About Pronunciation – (added 6/25/16)
    • じ、ぢ、づ、ず Madness – (added 6/25/16)
    • Addressing People
    • Culture Fun

The Learning Process

Before I begin offering advice for noobs, you might want to skip down to the section Learning Concepts, Not Synonyms. It’ll be of interest to everyone, particularly those who don’t have a set methodology by which they are comfortable studying.

Essentials for Starting

I’m going to assume you already know about Tae Kim’s grammar guide. If not, head on over to guidetojapanese.org and download the grammar guide. There is also the “Complete Guide to Japanese”, but this isn’t complete just yet. Tae Kim and volunteers are still working on it. The grammar guide does have some flaws and missing bits of info (no guide is perfect), but everyone on the net tips their hat to him and I’ll try to point out some of the details I think are missing.

There are more online resources on my Japanese resources page on this blog.

I tested Textfugu’s Wanikani. It’s a decent online resource (it’s a flash-card system), although it’s a ways from being perfect (or even complete for that matter). Also, only the first two three levels are available free. Frankly, I’d say you’re better off making your own decks using Anki. Speaking of which, there are several Japanese flash cards available for free from the resource site:


I recommend the beginner sentences with audio, but this probably won’t benefit total newbies as much as it will people with a more well-trained ear.

What To Focus On

Let’s start with the process, and then I’ll get to a more individual-oriented approach.

I will assume you have learned the hiragana. If not, do it. Romaji will only be to your detriment, even if you only want to speak Japanese and not write it. Understanding the hiragana will help you immensely with pronunciation of words.

Once you have the hiragana down, you can move on to the next step: Learn basic grammar and a small list of basic words. I learned grammar before I knew much more than さよなら and it turned out to be my benefit the more I learned. Knowing grammar makes it easier to identify what in a sentence is a word and what is a particle, making it easier to make the correct query in a dictionary and find what I’m looking for.

However good grammar may be, you will need a small vocabulary to start out with. You need something to practice with. As time progresses, your grammar and vocabulary should start to balance and be mutually dependent. There’s little benefit in knowing the translation of a word without knowing how to use it – you’re missing half of the meaning of the word! You can practice you word usage on a free-to-use journal service on lang-8.com.

Edit 6/25/2016: You can also use ejje.weblio, a good online dictionary collection.

Very important: study the basic verb forms. Those are the real forms. The stems are used for the polite (ます / -masu) form, and if you only learn those, you will have to backtrack quite a ways to learn more complex grammatical structures.

And now for the individualistic approach.

Let me start off by just saying that everything in this section from here on out could be completely inapplicable to you. It seems to work for me, but that’s just me.

There are four different ways we learn:

  • Reading
  • Audible
  • Visual
  • Kinesthetic (doing/practicing)

Similarly, there are four different focuses on a language:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Listening
  • Speaking

Despite your preferences, you will need to go through all of them. Your natural tendency will be to do what you enjoy most. That’s fine, but be careful not to let it get lopsided. When you read, pronounce the words aloud to yourself. Otherwise, you will be able to whiz reading but struggle immensely in verbal conversation. Similarly, reading is great and easy, but remember to practice writing frequently. It’s when you write do you realize you don’t fully comprehend what a character or kanji actually looks like.

For learning, it can be quite difficult to go against your preferences. If you love reading, read Japanese. If you like music, listen to music with Japanese lyrics. This technique is known as immersion, and it works for some of us. However, there is a severe limitation on immersion: it only helps if you focus. You can only learn so much staring at kanji and listening to jarbled Japanese (pardon the pun). However, as your vocabulary enlarges, you’ll start to hear those words pop out of the music or see them pop out of the page.

One way of enlarging your vocabulary is by reading lyrics. Then you can sing those words all day long. But beware! Snog writers have a tendency to ignore grammar rules, and while I haven’t heard many songs that go too far outside casual Japanese, unless you are well acquainted with basic Japanese grammar and some common but infrequently used particles, some song lyrics will inevitably confuse you.

One of the benefits of listening to music – or even online radio – is that you are hearing Japanese as it should be pronounced. Even though you may not feel like you are learning anything, your mind is gradually becoming accustomed to the sound of Japanese. This is something that the Japanese don’t have with English, resulting in the classic “engrish” we hear from them. So unless you want to sound like a foreigner, listen to Japanese speech.

Extent of Learning from Anime

I know some very avid anime watchers, and if you read my blog, you’ll know I’ve also seen quite a few. But even after watching the same shows over and over again, I’ve noticed that there isn’t much to be learned from them.

First, there are a few points about anime that are generally consistent:

  • Casual speech and polite speech are about even. You get to hear both about the same amount, depending on the anime.
  • Speech is “slow”. In comparison with ordinary speech I’ve heard, anime is generally on the slow end of the spectrum (at least the stuff I watch). Even still, until your vocabulary becomes larger and your ear is more accustomed to Japanese sounds, you will probably only catch the endings.
  • Basic phrases abound but are hard to translate. When you hear those basic phrases in anime and read the subtitles, don’t immediately think that they gave you the exact translation. 「じゃあね!」 is a common phrase for saying “see ya”, but more precisely, it means “By means of that [let’s depart], right?” and even that isn’t a great translation.
  • Vocabulary you can learn is very limited for beginners. As you become more skilled, you’ll begin to recognize different words, but the translations are so inexact that it can be impossible to tell exactly what was said. For beginners, it’s even worse – you might learn words like そう and some gobi, but once you’ve understood those words, you simply cannot progress without other studies.
  • There are usually personalities in the anime that will add flare to their language. What’s a good story if everyone talks so clearly? As a beginner, you aren’t going to know what anime use flowery language, rough language, strong accents, etc. (although as a hint, I’d say I had the least problem understanding 君と僕 as a beginner). Hence, you might pick something that would give you a wild attitude. Because of this, it’s important to learn formality and politeness in Japanese, especially in how you reference other people.

In short, enjoy watching anime, but please, please don’t try to learn all your Japanese from it. Thou shalt not learn Japanese from anime alone.

Learning Concepts, Not Synonyms

The usual way of learning words is to look up their synonym in your language (English for me, so I’ll speak about it that way). The problem with this is that you have only one connection to the word – the English translation. If you do this, you will constantly find yourself fighting to translate sentences back into English. But for a moment, think about how you learn English words – someone explains them. That’s the way it should be! It’s a concept!

When you study, try to put the concept to words, even if it is a direct translation. For example, the word あなた don’t remember as merely “you” but as “the other person to whom I’m speaking”, along with some cultural implications. Much easier, isn’t it? Another example: 今日 (きょう) doesn’t merely mean “day”, it refers to a 24-hour cycle in which the sun rises and sets.

Tips for flash-cards:

With this in mind, make your flashcards out to be questions, to which you can give one-word answers that are either the exact answer or a related idea. Don’t punish yourself for getting something slightly wrong, either – simply try to recall the word that is closer to the correct idea.

So for example, I made myself a list of business words. One question is, “What are two types of words that describe work?” to which the answers I have listed are 定職 (ていしょく) and 仕事 (しごと), but from natives, I have learned that 定職 refers to your exact occupation while 仕事 just refers to work in general.

Thus, if I wanted to ask, “What is your occupation?” I would say 「あなたの定職は何ですか?」 (or more casually, 「何あなたの定職ですか?」) whereas if I wanted to ask if you had work tomorrow, I could say, 「あなたは明日は仕事ですか?」 (lit. “As for you, as for tomorrow, is there work?”

There are two other ways of learning about the meaning of a word. One is to go read a Japanese encyclopedia (with Rikaichan, of course) such as Wikipedia (I wish I could find another, better free one). Seeing Japanese words explained in Japanese terms, even if it’s hard to understand the explanation, can still give you a better concept of the word than a Japanese-English dictionary in many cases, although as you may have guessed, you’ll need to know some grammar beforehand and it’s best to start with tangible or simple things where you can get pictures.

The other way to learn is practicing with natives, obviously. I used to be afraid to type out new words, but really, if you’re too scared, just ask how to use the word, and they might give you an example sentence for you to parse.

Things They Don’t Teach

Phew! Finally! This took too long to get to. Oh well. Let’s get down to business. The following facts are in no particular order, sadly, but I’ll try to keep things as orderly as possible.

Or… you could ignore everything I have to say and just go straight to the Japanese forums on Tae Kim’s website, where you’ll find very fascinating topics.

Etymology – です、ます and the like

Etymology – it’s one of those things we all forget. Apparently so do the Japanese.


First thing to learn is the ending です. Getting to the point: です is short for で あります or で います (depending on the context), where で is a particle meaning roughly “by means of”, あります is the polite form of ある (the verb meaning “is” for inanimate objects), and います is the polite form or いる (the verb meaning “is” for animate objects). Hence, です is not equivalent to だ, a plain copula that simply makes thing declarative. (From what I’ve said, you should now see why the past-tense ending for nouns and な-adjectives is でした; it’s で+ありました or で+いました.)

And now for an important interjection. In casual speech, it turns out じゃ is much easier to say than では (pronounced でわ since it’s the two particles, で and は).

It just so happens that, whenever you state a negative, you must add the は particle to で. For example, 犬 では ない。(lit. “As for the dog, not.”)

In casual speech, it’s easier to combine では and ない than it is to say ありません, so I imagine that it was the laziness of the Japanese for the frequency of usage of the phrase じゃないです as opposed to ではありません, noting that じゃ is the common slang form of では. The latter is still used in formal text, but the former is used in polite daily speech. In fact, じゃない is used so much more frequently than ではない that I’ve never seen the latter used except in textbooks.

You may have noticed from this that で can by combined infinitely. After all, じゃないです is simply ではないであります. That seems to be correct as far as I’ve found. What’s nice is the fact that we don’t have to append は to で the second time because the verb isn’t negative.

Thus, my logic says the following is correct:


But if you ever say this, you’ll probably get several raised eyebrows.

I do note, though, that the Japanese may have a tendency of adding です even in case where it makes sense only as a indicator of politeness – not necessarily a grammatical requirement.  What’s nice is that most of the time, it’s still grammatically correct, even if a little odd.

Combining nouns…

Tae Kim teaches in lesson 4.4.1 of his grammar guide that in order to form a compound sentence of nouns, (i.e. like saying “He is X, Y, and Z”), you add で to nouns and な-adjectives and replace the い with くて in い-adjectives. The で fact should make sense now because in a way you could say that で is used to describe existences by the fact that it means “by means of”. To phrase it in English, “He is by means of X, by means of Y, and by means of Z.” Or in other words, by those things will you find the person in question.

The くて part might by explained by seeing the い-adjective as becoming an adverb (as we saw we can “become strong” by making strength an adverb) and using て as the combiner as we would using て for chaining verbs / actions (section 4.4.2 of Tae Kim’s grammar guide).


ます, as I learned from a clever chap on Tae Kim’s blog, is actually an auxiliary verb, one whose sole meaning is simply to indicate respect for the listener. For auxiliary verbs, you simply transform the first verb into its stem form and attach the auxiliary verb. I’ll cover this again when I talk about 出す. But in any case, it makes sense if you consider ます as an s5 verb (Godan verb with す ending), with せん being an ending that I’ll assume is a negative conjugation I don’t recognize because it may be ancient (Who knows how long ます has been around) or I just haven’t found it yet.

The conjugations are thus as follows:

  • Present: ます
  • Negative: ません
  • Past: ました
  • Past-negative: ませんでした (ません+で・ありました)

This would also allow for the て-form of the verb, まして, which we see in words like 初めまして and どういたしまして. The Japanese people I’ve spoken with don’t know why these words are this way. Since the て-form means along the lines of “and” (for example, “bringing” meaning “holding” and “coming”), that gives a clue to the original meaning. I may update this post in the future if I learn more about it.

Getting Things Started with 出す

There are many verb combinations in Japanese – where you take the stem of one verb and add it to the beginning of another verb. You can’t always rely on certain verbs combining this way, but sometimes, you can. If you want to say “to begin [a certain activity]”, you simply add the verb 出す (だす) to the stem of another verb. It works… most of the time (usually when there isn’t an entirely different verb for the job). 出す means “to break out”, especially in these contexts, so I translate it as such. Here’s a list of verbs that use 出す:

  • 言い出す (いいだす) (from 言う) = (“to break out into speech” / “to start speaking” / “to ‘break the ice’ “.
  • 走り出す (はしりだす)(from 走る) = “to break out into a run” / “to start running”
  • 泳ぎだす (およぎだす)(from 泳ぐ) = “to start swimming”
  • 咲き出す (さきだす)(from 咲く) = “to start blooming”
  • 見出す (みだす)(from 見る) = “to find out” / “to discover” / “to detect”
  • 思い出す (おもいだす)(from 思う) = “to recall” / “to remember”
  • 見付け出す (みつけだす)(from 見付ける) = “to discover” / “to find out”

In the Past, Was it だった?

Concerning the past tense conjugation of nouns, we run across だった, which seems to create an odd hole in the Japanese language when every other normal sentence (except for present tense) requires a verb. For example, the following two statements are valid sentences in Japanese:

  • 本。 (or 本だ。)
  • 本だった。

The latter can be explained by realizing a couple of things. First, the past tense of “is” for inanimate objects is simply あった, and in order to state something “was”, you have to specify it was “by means of”:

  • 本であった。

Next, it should be easy to note that the で and あ sounds are difficult to pronounce, so language slurring will result in them sounding like a single syllable, which carries the last sound, making the entire で + あ combination sound like だ, hence the change.

たい – Verb, Adjective, and Neither

The たい-form for verbs is created by attaching たい to the verb stem of a verb. It essentially changes the meaning to mean you want to do that activity. While technically, it made the verb an い-adjective, it apparently inherits rules from both adjectives and verbs, or at least according to the Japanese Wikipedia (can you read: 「-たい」(形容詞型活用で、動詞と合わせた全体を形容詞と見てもよい)). Historically, it should probably have been treated the same way as 好き and 嫌い (or so the English-speakers say). I guess the Japanese found this unnatural, so rather than change the particles, such as が, to account for the change in the verb, they keep all of them the same. For example, を would not normally be in a sentence where the verb is replaced by an adjective, but in this case, が only replaces を when there is some desired emphasis on the object. This structure is the only way が and を are interchangeable (depending on desired emphasis) so far as I know. Edit: Tae Kim also notes the peculiarity and explains what the particles mean in each context in this post and this post.

The Truth About い-adjectives


First, let’s start with an exception. One of the exceptions you will learn about for い-adjectives is いい, the adjective meaning “good”. Just for note’s sake, this word means “good” in the sense of “desirable”, not in the moral sense. The word いい is よい in the dictionary and conjugates as such for all forms. It’s only いい in it’s present tense, positive form. It’s also the only い-adjective like this. There is another adjective, 格好いい (かっこういい), which also conjugates like this, but in actuality, the word is かっこう+いい, so it’s actually the same thing in disguise. Edit: Notably, etymologically, よい is the original (or so I’ve read) but a great deal of slurring over the years has changed the sounds of words. For example, 言う (いう) now sounds like ゆう because of how fast people try to say it while slurring the sound. Such is the nature of language.

All that said, there are certain things you can do with this word that you can’t do as effectively with the English word “good”. For example, you can think towards good. In Japanese, doing something towards an adjective requires making that adjective an adverb. So for example, becoming stronger is 強い+なる=強く+なる, and thinking good (i.e. “thinking carefully on” or “spend a good time contemplating”) is いい+考える=よく考える. Edit: Side note, the word よく can also be translated as “frequently”, but that has little effect on the translation “spend a good time contemplating”.

Adjective Forms

Here’s a secret: There are no negative forms for adjectives. Instead, we do towards the negative. (Notably, we also do this in English: we say “not good” instead of “ungood”.) But to do towards an adjective, we make it an adverb. This means that the negative conjugations for い-adjectives come from the negative of the verb ある, known as ない.

  • Present: - い
  • Negative: - くない = く+ない
  • Past: かった
  • Past-negative: くなかった = く+なかった

For example, the adjective 早い (はやい), becomes:

  • Present: 早い
  • Negative: 早くない
  • Past: 早かった
  • Past-negative: 早くなかった

If you want to be stiff and formal, or if you are writing a research paper, you could use 早くありません and 早くありませんでした. But don’t go off the wall with the still-grammatically-correct 早くないでありました。

Pre-nominal Adjectives

They DO exist! You may have heard of only na-adjectives and i-adjectives, but there is another set of adjectives called pre-nominal adjectives. These are adjectives that act like na-adjectives, but they are not separated from the noun by a な. They are indicated in dictionaries by adj-f.

One common example is 同じ (おなじ), meaning “same” / “identical”. Another example is 民需 (みんじゅ), meaning “democracy” or “democratic” in this case.

Some adjectives are also this way, such as たった、やや、びっくり (“surprise”, as in “surprise party” in this case).

In fact, a pre-nominal adjective also serves another function. Many are nouns, some using the の particle, many are adverbs, etc. But in any case, none are な-adjectives with the exception of the word アンノウン (“unknown”) – a word borrowed from English that the Japanese can’t decide on how to use.

何 Never Changes

The word 何 is pronounced なに in most contexts and なん in others (hint, it is always pronounced this way when preceding the particle が). It is the same word!! Standalone, it is translated as “what”, but with the で particle, it is often translated as “why”. Notice, で is “by means of” (loose translation), so technically, the translation is “by means of what”. Technically, this means “why”, though it has a double meaning, which is why English has different words for “what” and “why” and we never mix and match them. To illustrate the point, suppose you bought a car. The answer to “Why did you buy the car?” might be that you liked the car, but the answer to “By means of what did you buy the car?” would be money. In Japanese, 何で is used for both. Fortunately, context usually indicates which meaning is requested. Furthermore, while 何で may be a colloquial way of asking “Why”, the word どうして is another common way of doing so.

Technically, どうして is どう (“how”) + して (“do”), where して is the “and”-form / て-form of the verb する, meaning “to do”. So you could say “why” for the Japanese is “how does it?” which is another way of saying, “by means of what?” since there is something (a “what”) as the cause for everything.

分 and 別

There are two primary kanji used to mean “separate”. 別 (べつ) as far as I can tell means along the lines of “something else” / “something separate”. For example, when you ask if someone wants to take a walk, they might reply, 「別に」 which is translated “Not particularly” and, more literally, means “[I want to do] towards something else.” But also, think the adjective “separate”, so for example, 別室 (べっしつ, separate room) or 特別 (とくべつ, special; lit. a time separate [from the rest]).

分 also means “separate”, or in most cases, “a piece” or part of. The verb 分ける (わける) is the transitive verb for “separate”, and literally means, “to make pieces of”. But notice, the transitive partner of this verb is 分かる (わかる), “to understand”. Hence, 分かる more literally means “I’ve pieced” or “I separate” although I imagine the intended meaning is separating out the idea from everything else.

Where 分 and 別 overlap in meaning, the kanji seem to be used for two different writings of the same word according to my dictionary, but I have experience in that regard.

The Sound of を

You’ve probably heard that を is pronounced “wo” when reading and “o” in casual speech. Um, not really. While that’s generally the case, it’s usually dependent on what word preceded it. What’s more annoying is that in many cases, it isn’t accentuated at all! This is particularly true when the preceding sound was よ、お、or some o-sound ending in う. Thus, を can be almost invisible, and the only real clue to its existence is the context of the sentence.

Edit 6/25/2016: There is also unexpected but real fact of を being spoken as “wo”. This tends to happen not so much in daily speech as it does in music where the pronunciation can be conveniently manipulated to make the words in a song flow better.

The Sound of N

One of the sounds I found tedious to become acquainted with as a beginner was those that corresponded to “n”. ん and の have a tendency to sound like “m” and “mo” (like も), depending on the word. A common example is 頑張って (がんばって), which sounds like “gambatte” rather than “ganbatte”, probably because the former is easier to say.

The Sound of が

Japanese accents are funny. While が is supposedly pronounced “ga”, it can also be garbled or shortened for brevity of speech. In short, it can sound like the following:

  • “nga” – “ng” as in “thing”, a common pronunciation because it’s easy.
  • “ga” – hard “g” sound, but can be mistaken for “ka” to the untrained ear.
  • “ng” – “ng” as in “thing”.

Be aware that the pronunciation will vary depending on a) the preceding word and b) the accent of the speaker.

My list, of course, is not comprehensive. There might be other ways of saying が that I’m not aware of, and while I can’t think of how you could butcher it even more, people are creative.

The Sound of る

Ok, so this one you’ll have probably heard, but it’s not simply “r” and “l”… it’s also a kind of “d”. る is a difficult character to say at first because it’s what’s known as a “palatal fricative”, or in other words, slapping your tongue on the roof of your mouth. We have none in English, so the closest thing is a “d”, and in some cases, even the regular る sound is too difficult for native Japanese speakers, so it ends up being a “d” anyways.

There is more info about basic pronunciation on Wasabi.

The Real Truth About Pronunciation

It’s quite possible you will hear that Japanese words are pronounced just like they are spelled, unlike that dreaded English. After all, it seems there are no silly “exception” sounds listed in dictionaries or grammar books or whatever resources beginners seem to get ahold of. However, this is such an incredible lie that you’d think people would at least mention it in passing when trying to “scare” you from learning Japanese. Spoken Japanese is, like any language, often slurred and shortened. This is in part because people are lazy, partly because some words and word combinations are difficult to say, and partly because they are carrying on the game of telephone from the last guy (in other words, as I like to say of a great many things: “error compounded”). Bizarrely enough, people feel it necessary to say more, so they go adding all these kooky meaningless syllables to fill in the air time. One might consider the American expression evolution:

  • How are you doing?
  • What is up?
  • What’s up?
  • Sup?
  • Sup, dawg?
  • Sup, home-gee?

Similarly, in Japanese, we have the statement しゃないです, which I spoke about above, which evolved from ではありません in a round about way.

When it comes to pronouncing Japanese words, while you can’t just throw out the book, there are a lot of little – what we’ll call – patterns of speech. For example:

しゅくだい, which should be “shiyukudai”, has its しゅ chopped (as is the case with many similar words containing しゅ), such that it sounds like “shkudai”). The “yoo” sound from the ゅ is totally gone without a trace. Not even a little footprint remains for you to tell it’s even in the word when spoken.

Many words with し and す are similar. In 質問 (しつもん) and 失礼します (しつれいします), the starting し is dropped. Again, no trace. You could always fudge adding it really quickly if you want to be nick-picky and “proper” in your own eyes, but natives don’t bother saying it. In しち面倒くさい, the しち is gone, and in Tokyo, さい (sai) is changed to せい (sei).

If that’s not bad enough, there are actually dozens of other little pronunciation rules – just in standard Japanese, not being dialect-specific – that alter the sounds of what seems like such random words that it’s hard to tell if you’re saying the word correctly. And on top of all that, you have to make sure you have the right emphasis on certain syllables (also dialect-specific).

じ、ぢ、づ、ず Madness

Ready for more odd info? Once upon a time, Japan had four characters named じ、ぢ、づ、and ず, and all of them had their own unique little sounds. From what I’ve read, the Portuguese figured out the differences and labeled the sounds such that they are (in modern English), respectively: zhee, jee, dzoo, zoo. The “zh” sound is the English equivalent to the French “je” (meaning “I”). After some time, most of Japan began equating some of these sounds. I’ve read that in Hokkaido, all of them are the same. I don’t know how that works, and I certainly can’t verify it, though I can’t say it’s widespread either. In parts of southern Japan, all of the sounds remain unique and distinct. The じ has managed to steal the “jee” sound from ぢ, so the latter is almost non-existent in vocabulary. However, there is a definite and, in my opinion, easily pronounceable difference between づ and ず, leading to the former remaining around in a significant number of words in spite of the latter’s progressive dominance. The government of Japan, so far as I’ve read, has allowed (I should say “tolerated”) the maintenance of づ in words whose etymological roots include the づ, though some words like 水 (みづ, water) have changed to みず in writing, even though their pronunciations have maintained the original づ sound.

Addressing People

There are certain levels of politeness in Japanese, and part of that is how you refer to other people. While you’ll probably learn a great deal about that from other places, I’m just going to throw in a few things.

あなた is a word taught in classes to refer to the other person. It’s fine if you don’t know the other person’s name, but unless you want to sound stiff and formal, use the person’s name when you know it. あなた just so happens to be used by men speaking to their wives (or so I’m told), though I’ve never heard it in that context.

お前 (おまえ) is a word meaning “you”. It is a word of respect, but most of the time, it’s used to say “you [jerk]”. I imagine the connotation is “you pompous jerk”. I may have heard it used between friendly individuals, but sadly, I don’t recall the context. That said, my guess would be to use only when you mean to be respectful towards a person of much higher social status whose name and title you don’t know but to whom you’re trying to be respectful.

こいつ means “this guy/girl”, as in “What’s with this guy?” It’s often used in frustration of someone, never to address someone. I’m not sure of the politeness of it, so I’d say it’s best to stick with この人, その人, or あの人 if you are trying to stay polite. I need to remember to ask my friends about that. hm…

Culture Fun

For kicks, here’s a couple last treats:

笑う is a verb that means “smile”. A related standalone word is 笑み, the noun meaning “smile”. The Japanese have their own form of lolspeak, and as it turns out, the smile character, 笑, has become their symbol for “lol”, smile, laugh, and the like.

On Pixiv, an immensely popular art-hosting website where the Japanese and other Asians show off their art, people tend to frequently use the word ふつくしい. It’s not in any formal dictionary, but you will find it in the Pixiv culture dictionary. It’s basically a meme that arose from some TV character who always mispronounces the word 美しい (うつくしい), which means “beautiful”. And now you know where ふつくしい came from. Using ふつくしい must be a very hip thing to do because I have never seen うつくしい used to tag a piece of art.


I hope this article has been helpful to you. I intend to continuously update it, but like all good intentions, who knows, right? 笑

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