第6課: The 10 Major Aspects

Japanese is the eighth most spoken language in the world. Japan is called 日本, which is normally read as Nihon にほん but also as Nippon にっぽん in formal contexts. Japan is said to have been founded by Emperor Jimmu (神武天皇じんむてんのう) on February 11, 660 B.C. The Japanese flag, called the Hinomaru まる, shown in the left-hand corner is an outline of the rising sun.

This lesson showcases how the language will work so that hopefully there won't be many huge surprises. Before we get to the ten major aspects, though, here are some key, everyday phrases to practice saying. These phrases are given in polite speech so they are of best use to you at this point in time. 

 Good morning おはようございます Good afternoon/hello こんにちは
 Good evening
 こんばんは Excuse me/sorry すみません
 How are you? おげんきですか You're welcome どういたしまして
 Nice to meet you はじめまして Thank you ありがとうございます

Vocabulary List

・海 Umi - Sea (Noun)

・日 Hi - Day/Sun (Noun)

・火山 Kazan - Volcano (Noun)

・海岸 Kaigan - Beach (Noun)

・カモメ Kamome - Seagull (Noun)

・二月 Nigatsu - February (Noun)

・馬 Uma - Horse (Noun)

・人 Hito - Person (Noun)

・ケーキ Kēki - Cake (Noun)

・ズボン Zubon - Pants (Noun)

・本 Hon - Book (Noun)

・数学 Sūgaku - Math (Noun)

・花 Hana - Flower (Noun)

・ドア Doa - Door (Noun)

・チーズ Chiizu - Cheese (Noun)

・水 Mizu - Water (Noun)

・日本人 Nihonjin - Japanese person (Noun)

・ボール Booru - ball (Noun)

・中黒 Nakaguro - Black dot in punctuation (Noun)

・五十音図 Gojūonzu - Table of fifty sounds (Noun)

・これ Kore - This (Demonstrative)

・藤原 Fujiwara - Fujiwara (Surname)

・花子 Hanako - Hanako (Personal Name)

・ヒラリー・クリントン Hirarii Kurinton - Hillary Clinton (Personal Name)

・私 Watashi - I (Pronoun)

・歌いました Utaimashita - Sang (Polite Verb)

・泳ぎました Oyogimashita - Swam (Polite Verb)

・投げました Nagemashita - Threw (Polite Verb)

・見ました。 Mimashita - Saw (Polite Verb)

・思う Omou - To think (Verb)

・好き Suki - Like (Adjective)

・です Desu - Is/Are (Copula Verb)

・が Ga - Subject marker (Particle)

・を Wo - Direct object marker (Particle)

・で De - Location marker (Particle)

・は Wa - Topic marker (Particle)

・はい Hai - Yes (Interjection)

・ああ Ā - Ah (Interjection)

・何 Nani - What? (Question word)

・そして Soshite - And (Conjunction)

I: Word Order

In Japanese, the subject is typically followed by the object and the verb comes last. If you don't know what a subject or object is, don't worry. The definitions are below, and if this doesn't help, the example sentences that follow should make things clearer. 

Subject: The item of discussion in a sentence.
Object: What an action is directed at.
Verb: An action or state of being. 

The subject and object may flip, and the simplest sentence only needs a verbParticles go after words to show grammatical function. Particles make up a part of speech that English lacks. These words often equate to prepositions in English but not always. In proper speech, you should expect a particle (small word) to be in between the major noun phrases to string the sentence together. Below are various possible word orders. 

(わたし) + は +(うみ)+ で + (およ)ぎました。
Literally: I ocean in swam.
Translation: I swam in the ocean.  

ボール + を + ()げました。
Literally: Ball threw.
Translation: I threw the ball.

わたし + は + 日本人にほんじん + です。
Literally: As for me, Japanese am.
Translation: I am Japanese.

Literally: Sang.
Translation: I sang.

Practice (1): Rearrange the following sentences into a Japanese-like word order.

1. He played in the mud.  2. You went by car? 3. I sang today.

II: Macro-to-micro

     The most important things in a sentence come first. Japanese allows its word order to be flexible to prioritize things out of semantic necessity. For instance, if the verb comes to mind first, you can say it first and have the rest of your statement be an afterthought. Now, don't get carried away with this as people don't purposely always speak with inverted sentences.

This hierarchy even explains why one's family name comes first. However, Japanese actually respects the names of people and places from other languages. Many learners feel like inverting their name to be more Japanese, but this is not necessary and may end up confusing Japanese people who anticipate the first part of your name to be your given name.

1.藤原(ふじわら)花子(はなこ   Hanako Fujiwara

2. ヒラリー・クリントン
    Hillary Clinton

Punctuation Note: 中黒(なかぐろ), ・, is placed in between two uncommon foreign words.

III: Endings and Bases

It's important to know that conjugation is done via chains of endings. The thought of using "base + ending" is very confusing to a lot of people, mainly because the names of the bases are added to the discussion and most people often never bother to learn how things go together. Because Japanese is what we call an agglutinative language, one which likes to add endings in chains, it's actually beneficial to know how the system works. If you do, there really isn't any memorization to conjugation. 

To showcase what is to come, say you wanted to say "not go". First, you would need to know the verb for go, which is iku. You would then need to know that you must change the base to be able to attach the negative ending, -nai. This base for all intended purposes is the negative base and this base ends in the vowel a for the verb iku. Therefore, iku → ika- + -nai = ikanai.  

This example should not have been painfully difficult. Conjugation really is this simple. You might be wondering how many bases and endings there are. Although there are many endings that you can use, only six bases exist. For any given verb/adjective class, the bases might not all look different, which makes memorization easier. Certain ones are used a whole lot more than others, meaning you won't be responsible for the entire system until later on in your studies.  

IV: Parts of Speech

Japanese relies a lot on part of speech and context to distinguish homophones. So, it's no surprise that there are 11 different parts of speech. Word classes can either be independent (can be used by themselves) or dependent (must be used with something else), and they may either conjugate or not conjugate. 

The chart below may not seem of any help to you. After all, there are no words or example sentences of these parts of speech. However, learning how to use them all in one go is not wise. We will need time to look at them individually. Most of them, though, should already sound familiar to you from knowing English. For now, it's alright to equate these classes with those of English and any differences will be mentioned in due time.  

 Function Class Function
Nouns Person, place, thing PronounsI, you, he, etc.
Verbs Action/processAdjectivesCondition
Adjectival Nouns ConditionAuxiliary VerbsVerbal modifiers
Particles Grammatical markersInterjections Express emotion
ConjunctionsConnect clauses
Attributives Modify nouns
Adverbs Modify verbs/adjectives  


1. Only particles and auxiliaries are dependent.

2. Only verbs, adjectives, and auxiliary verbs can conjugate. Adjectival nouns need an auxiliary to conjugate.

Particle Note: Particles are always after what they modify! Particles in Japanese are traditionally classified under six types. However, all of these types are not necessarily relevant to Japanese studies or even necessarily existent as a separate "class" of particles. So, we will only deal with four kinds that you will immediately come in contact with. Just like above, there aren't any examples of these kind of particles in the chart below.

Particles are extremely difficult to get right, so it would be meaningless to list them all now and go through their usages. Instead, focus on what to expect particles to do in a sentence. If you know now how they could act and how varied they are, you won't be so confused on why so many particles have different classes and thus very different usages, nor will you grapple with the definition of what a particle is. 

 Case Indicates the grammatical role of noun phrases in a sentence. 
Conjunctive Connects clauses together like "and" and "but" in English.
 Final At the end of phrases to show emotion like verbal emoticons.
 Adverbial Translated as adverbs and used after various things for various roles. 

Practice (2):

  Categorize the following words by part of speech.

1.  Hi (Day/Sun) 2. ああ  Ā (Ah) 3. おもう Omou (To think)
4. そして Soshite (And) 5. わたし Watashi (I) 

What is a Word?

Japanese is an agglutinative language because affixes (things that attach) attach to things. So, where do you draw the lines to count words? As you can see, there are several ways of counting the words in this simple sentence translated as "I saw a gull at the beach". 

 All affixes separated わたし + は + かいがん + で + かもめ + を + み + まし + た 9 Words
 Only particles separated わたし + は + かいがん + で + かもめ + を + みました 7 Words
 Only phrases separated わたしは + かいがんで + かもめを + みました 4 Words

V: Vocabulary

     Words in Japanese come from three sourcesSino-Japanese words are from Chinese readings of Kanji and make up ~60% of Japanese. Native words are original Japanese words. Although only 30% of words are native, they're the most commonLoan words come from other modern languages. 

Believe it or not, knowing where a word comes from will help you in many ways later on. Phrasing and style of diction often have different percentages of these kinds of words. For instance, Sino-Japanese words are usually more formal but native words are predominant in the spoken language.  

 Sino-Japanese Rōmaji Meaning Native Rōmaji Meaning Loanword Rōmaji Meaning
 かざん Kazan Volcano ひと Hito Person ケーキ Kēki
 にがつ Nigatsu February うま Uma Horse ズボン Zubon Pants
 ほん Hon Book はな Hana Flower ドア Doa  Door
 すうがく Sūgaku
 Math みず Mizu Water チーズ Chiizu Cheese

VI: Politeness and Dialects

Formality is determined by the relationship between the speaker and listener. Plain speech is used in novels, songs, essays, articles, towards people you’re close to and is often grammatically necessary. Polite speech shows deference between the speaker and listener. Honorifics are often used with superiors, but you will first be introduced to plain and polite speech.

By no means should you skip to other lessons and learn these styles all at once now. Learning how to master the different politeness levels of Japanese is hard even for native speakers, so be content with the basic outlines of them now and to come until we are able to look at them in greater detail. 

Japanese has many dialects. As a beginner, you should focus on Standard Japanese. Significant dialect remarks will be made on occasion. Sometimes comments will be made about grammaticality in the context of dialectical variation. However, if you are to ever come across dialectical speech that is otherwise incorrect in Standard Japanese, it is best to not mimic in situations in which you should use proper Japanese. 

VII: Articles, Number, and Gender

Articles ( a, an, the) don't exist. Nouns have no number (singular and plural forms). There are plural suffixes, but they work differently. Japanese nouns don't have grammatical gender, but some words should only be used by men or women.

Practice (3): Make these English sentences even more Japanese-like.

1. The water covers the trees.
2. I hate ants.
3. I love dogs.
4. An animal is in the house.
5. The school is big.

VIII: Writing Systems

Kana and Kanji are used to write Japanese. 2,136 Kanji are designated as general use characters necessary for literacy. Even English letters to a small extent, are also used with Kanji. The Kana are organized into a chart called the Table of 50 Sounds (五十音図ごじゅうおんず) seen in Lesson 2. Many people know 3,000+ Kanji. Some speakers know 7,000+ characters can be applied, but going this far is not necessary.

IX: Quality: Emotion

Describing one's emotions is different than describing someone else's. Tone of voice and choice of final particles reflect one's attitude. Emotion is put into words more explicitly in Japanese than in English. As you learn Japanese, you will discover that this is easier to talk about than use. For English speakers who are simply used to changing inflection to express emotion, Japanese's complex means of indicating emotion will certainly cause headaches. Because Japanese also tends to drop pronouns like "I" and "you," context plays a huge role in determined who a statement is referring to and how. 

X: Punctuation

There are no spaces between words, and you write to the next line even if this breaks up a word. Text may go down from left to right or down from right to left. Horizontal text was historically right to left.

 、 The comma 。 The period ! The exclamation mark ? The question mark 

Punctuation marks are written with the same space as regular characters. Commas are often where particles are omitted. ! and ? have been borrowed for emphatic purposes to further demonstrate tone and emotion.  

3. わたしは(、)これがきです。
    Watashi wa(,) kore ga suki desu.
    I like this.

4. なに?

5. はい!

Next Lesson → 第??課: Nouns & Pronouns


Read the instructions. The keys to 1 and 3 are not reflective of natural English but what English would look like if it placed words in a Japanese word order. The entire purpose of these exercises is for you to get used to how words are placed in a Japanese sentence. Just looking at the keys and not the questions is irresponsible. Please do not be that student.  

Practice (1)

1. He mud in played.
2. You car by went?
3. I today sang/Today I sang.

Practice (2)

1. Noun 2. Interjection 3. Verb 4. Conjunction 5. Pronoun

Practice (3)

1. Water trees covers. 2. I ants hate. 3. I dogs love.
4. Animal house in is. 5. School big is.