第38課: Interrogatives: Who, What, When, Where, & Why?

In English, we create questions with what are colloquially called "wh-words." Although there are quite a few of these words in English, it's customary to view "who," "what," "when," "where," and "why" as the basic five.

In grammar, these words are called "interrogatives." These words in English, though, have two fundamental kinds of usage. The following examples demonstrate this with the words "when" and "where."

i. When did he go home?
ii. I like it when you dance.
iii. Where do you live.
iv. The place where I bought my dog is really nice.

In Japanese, interrogatives are called gimonshi 疑問詞. This word literally means "part of speech for questioning." As this name implies, the meanings of these words revolve around questioning. Although each individual word may have a variety of usages, unlike English, they will always be used in some sense in questions/describing uncertainty.  

In English, there is a grammatical rule that interrogatives go at the start of a sentence and/or clause. In Japanese, there is no such rule. To put this in perspective, consider the following examples.

v. Who went with you to the park?
vi. Last night when I came home from work, [who was it to that you were talking on the phone with]?

In v., the word "who" must be at the front of the sentence. Although some speakers may occasionally something like, "The person you went on a date with was who again?" However, this is rarely the case. In vi., "who" is at the start of the independent clause, which is the clause enclosed in brackets. In Japanese, this restriction on where interrogatives go doesn't exist. Since we haven't learned what they are just yet, we'll hold on this point for now. However, it is important that you go into learning them without any preconceptions on how they'll work. 

In this lesson, we will learn about the basic question words of Japanese. To make thing simple, we will only look at polite speech. This is because there is a lot of variation in how you say things depending on the speech style one needs to use. Due to the emphasis placed on politeness in Japanese, questioning is something that you have to go about with caution. Yet, basic personal questions, unlike in Western culture, are deemed natural and key to starting conversations as icebreakers.

As a Japanese learner, being able to ask questions is especially important. Otherwise, you'll lose the ability to figure out how and when questions are formed. As the Japanese learner, however, there is a general understanding that you will be asking all sorts of questions, similar to children as they are still trying to grasp what things mean. Use this expectation to your advantage as it will certainly speed up the language learning process. 

Vocabulary List

Nouns

・疑問詞 Gimonshi – Interrogatives

・社長 Shachō – Company president

・妻 Tsuma – Wife

・科学者 Kagakusha - Scientist

・担当者 Tantōsha – Manager/person in charge

・お土産 Omiyage - Souvenir

・履き物 Hakimono – Footwear

・日 Hi – Day/sun

・仕事 Shigoto – Job/work

・名前 Namae – Name

・趣味 Shumi – Hobby

・エアコン Eakon – Air-conditioner

・住宅 Jūtaku – Residence/housing

・時期 Jiki – Time/period

・請求 Seikyū – Billing

・雛人形 Hina-ningyō – Hina doll

・サプリ(メント)Sapuri(mento) – Supplement

・タイミング Taimingu - Timing

・苺 Ichigo - Strawberry

・携帯電話 Keitai denwa – Cellphone

・地震 Jishin – Earthquake

・速報 Sokuhō – News flash/bulletin

・復興 Fukkō – Reconstruction/restoration

・電池 Denchi – Battery

・数学 Sūgaku - Math

・住所 Jūsho – Address

・トイレ Toire – Toilet/bathroom

・お手洗い Otearai – Restroom/bathroom/lavatory

・街 Machi – Town

・コンビニ Kombini – Convenience store

・お握り Onigiri – Rice ball

・飛行機 Hikōki – (Air)plane

・座席 Zaseki - Seat

・郵便局 Yūbinkyoku – Post office

・牛 Ushi – Cow

・乳 Chichi – Milk (from mammalian breasts)/breasts

・火山 Kazan – Volcano

・名詞 Meishi – Noun

・人々 Hitobito – People

・神 Kami – god/deity

Proper Nouns

・マレーシア Marēshia – Malaysia

・スミスさん Sumisu-san Mr. Smith

・日本 Nihon/Nippon – Japan

(ru) Ichidan Verbs

・似る Niru – To resemble  (intr.)

・出る Deru – To exit/come out/leave/appear (intr.)

suru Verbs

・発明する Hatsumei suru – To invent (trans.)

・噴火する Funka suru – To erupt (intr.)

 Adjectives

・いい Ii – Good/nice

・安い Yasui – Cheap

・美味しい Oishii – Delicious

Adjectival Nouns

・好き{な} Suki [na] – To like

・一緒{の}Issho [no] – Together

・有利{な} Yūri [na] – Advantageous/lucrative

・ベスト{の・な} Besuto [no/na] - Best

・緊急{の・なDemonstratives

・この Kono – This (adj.)

Question Words

・誰 Dare – Who?

・何 Nani/nan – What?

・いつ Itsu – When?

・どこ Doko – Where?

・何故 Naze – Why?  

Number Phrases

・2週間 Nishūkan – Two weeks

Prefixes

・お~ O- – Honorific prefix

Suffixes

・~頃 -goro – Around

・~後 -go – After…

Interjections

・え E – Eh?/What

Adverbs

・一番 Ichiban – Best/most

・今日 Kyō – Today

・今 Ima – Now

・毎日 Mainichi – Every dayKinkyū [no/na] – Urgent

(u) Godan Verbs

・住む Sumu – To live  (intr.)

・思う Omou – To think  (trans.)

・成る Naru – To become/come into fruition (intr.)

・生る Naru – To ripen  (intr.)

・鳴る Naru – To sound/ring (intr.)

・変わる Kawaru – To change (intr.)

・買う Kau – To buy (trans.)

・飾る Kazaru – To decorate (trans.)

・仕上がる Shiagaru – To be finished (intr.)

・飲む Nomu – To drink/swallow/take (medicine) (trans.)

・空く Aku – To be open/empty/hungry (intr.)

・壊す Kowasu – To break (trans.)

・行く Iku – To go (intr.)

・祈る Inoru – To pray (trans.)

・太る Futoru – To gain weight (intr.)

Interrogatives in Polite Speech

The first interrogatives that we will be going over are "who," "what," "when," and "why." In Japanese, these words can appear in more places in the sentence than in English. This difference happens to affect various factors in how they're used. In the following chart, take note of the differences between interrogatives used at the start of a sentence and interrogatives used at the end of a sentence.

 Interrogative Start of a Sentence End of a Sentence
 Who Dare ga...desu ka? 誰が…ですか? ...wa dare desu ka? …は誰ですか?
 What Nani ga...desu ka? 何が...ですか? ...wa nan desu ka? ...は何ですか?
 When Itsu (ga)...desu ka? いつ(が)...ですか? ...wa itsu desu ka? ...はいつですか?
 Where Doko ga...desu ka?どこが...ですか? ...wa doko desu ka? ...はどこですか?
 Why Naze...no/n desu ka? 何故...{の・ん}ですか? ...(no) wa naze desu ka? ...(の)は何故ですか?

The placement of interrogatives is determined by how much emphasis you are placing on the individual words in the sentence. The closer to the front of a sentence something is, the more emphasis is placed on it. This principle helps determine the nuances in the examples below designed to give you a thorough range of grammatical complexity that comes about simply from the patterns above.  

1a. だれ社長しゃちょうですか。
Dare ga shachō desu ka? 
1b. 社長しゃちょうだれですか。
Shachō wa dare desu ka?
Who is the company president?

Sentence Note: Ex. 1a. would only be used in the sense of “who is the company president?” It would only be used when asking about who the company is in a conversation where said person would not be present. This is unlike 1b. which could be used to ask who the company president is out of a group of people visible/near the speaker and listener(s).

2. (だれ)()きですか?
Dare ga suki desu ka?
Who do you like?

3. (つま)(だれ)()てると(おも)いますか?
Tsuma wa dare ni niteru to omoimasu ka?
Who do you think my wife looks like?

4. (だれ)一緒(いっしょ)()んでいますか。
Dare to issho ni sunde imasu ka?
Who do you live together with?

5. 一番好(いちばんす)きな科学者(かがくしゃ)(だれ)ですか。
Ichiban suki na kagakusha wa dare desu ka?
Who is your favorite scientist?

6. 担当者(たんとうしゃ)(だれ)になりますか。
Tantōsha wa wa dare ni narimasu ka?
Who will be(come) the manager?

7. (なに)()わったのですか。
Nani ga kawatta no desu ka?
What has changed?

8. お土産(みやげ)(なに)がいいですか。
Omiyage wa nani ga ii desu ka?
What would be good for souvenirs?

9. ()(もの)(なに)がいいですか。
Hakimono wa nani ga ii desu ka?
What would be good for footwear?

10. 今日(きょう)(なん)()ですか。
Kyō wa nan no hi desu ka?
What day is it today?

11. え、(なん)ですか。
E, nan desu ka?
Uh, what?

12. お仕事(しごと)(なん)ですか。
O-shigoto wa nan desu ka?
What is your job?

Phrasing Note: Ex. 12 could be rephrased as nan no shigoto wo shite imasu ka? 何の仕事をしていますか. In this phrasing, greater emphasis is placed on "what." As such, it could be translated as "What line of work are you in?" 

13. お名前(なまえ)(なん)ですか。
O-namae wa nan desu ka?
What is your name?

14. 趣味(しゅみ)(なん)ですか。
Shumi wa nan desu ka?
What are your hobbies?

15. エアコンはいつが(やす)いんですか。
Eakon wa itsu ga yasui n desu ka?
When is it that air conditioning is cheap?

Grammar Note: いつ, along with なぜ,  are typically used as adverbs. The other interrogatives are always used as nouns. As for いつ, it can also be used as a noun, and when it is used as a noun, it's very similar to "what time (period)?"  

16. 住宅(じゅうたく)有利(ゆうり)()時期(じき)はいつがいいんですか。
Jūtaku wo yūri ni kau jiki wa itsu ga ii n desu ka?
What time is good to lucratively buy a home?

17. 雛人形(ひなにんぎょう)(かざ)時期(じき)はいつごろが()いですか。
Hina-ningyō wo kazaru jiki wa itsu-goro ga ii desu ka?
About what time would be alright to display hina dolls?

Phrase Note: -goro 頃 is used after time phrases like "when" to mean "around..." 

18. このサプリ(メント)は、()むタイミングがいつがベストなんですか?
Kono sapuri(mento) wa, nomu taimingu ga itsu ga besuto na n desu ka?
As for this supplement, what timing would be best to drink it?

19. 請求(せいきゅう)はいつになりますか。
Seikyū wa itsu ni narimasu ka?
When will billing be?

20. いつ仕上(しあ)がりますか。
Itsu shiagarumasu ka?
When will you be finished?

Grammar Note: Using ni に after itsu いつ in this sentence would be grammatically incorrect.  

21. イチゴはいつ()るんですか?
Ichigo wa itsu naru n desu ka?
When do strawberries ripen?

Spelling Note: Ichigo may occasionally be spelled as 苺.

Grammar Note: Itsu ni naru いつになる translates as "when will...be?" The "when" is essentially the same as "what time?" If you were to not use ni に, naru なる would have to interpreted as 生る (to ripen), 鳴る (to sound/ring), or 成る (to come into fruition). 

22. ケータイの緊急地震速報(きんきゅうじしんそくほう)はいつ()るんですか。
Kētai no kinkyū jishin sokuhō wa itsu naru n desu ka?
When does the mobile emergency earthquake alert go off?

Word Note: The formal word for cellular phone in Japanese is keitai denwa 携帯電話. Because /ei/ can be pronounced as /ē/, this explains the colloquial spelling ケータイ.

23. 復興(ふっこう)はいつ()るのですか。
Fukkō wa itsu naru no desu ka?
When will restoration come into fruition?

24. 「いつが()いてます?」「2()週間後(しゅうかんご)()いてます!」
“Itsu ga aitemasu?” “Nishūkan-go ga aitemasu!”
“What time is available?” “Two weeks from now is available!”

Grammar Note: With the use of ga が after the respective time phrases, it is apparent that openings in schedules are being referred to.  

25. (いま)(は)、いつですか。
Ima (wa), itsu desu ka? 
What point in time is it now?

Sentence Note: One can imagine this sentence would be used by someone from the future confused as to what point in time he has traveled to. The use of the particle wa は enhances the emphasis placed on the "now" in the sentence.   

26. いつマレーシアに()ましたか。
Itsu Marēshia ni kimashita ka?
When did you come to Malaysia?

27. 電池(でんち)は、いつ、(だれ)発明(はつめい)しましたか。
Denchi wa, itsu, dare ga hatsumei shimashita ka?
As for the battery, when and who invented it?

28. スミスさんはどこで(なに)(こわ)しましたか。
Sumisu-san wa doko de nani wo kowashimashita ka?
What did Mr. Smith break and where?

29. 日本(にほん)の{(なに)・どこ}が()きですか。
Nihon no [nani/doko] ga suki desu ka?
What about/where in Japan do you like?

Sentence Note: The use of doko どこ can actually stand for either nuance whereas the use of nani 何 would only result in the first nuance. 

30. 数学(すうがく)のどこが()きですか。
Sūgaku no doko ga suki desu ka?
What part about math do you like?

31. 住所(じゅうしょ)はどこですか。
Jūsho wa doko desu ka?
What is your address?

Grammar Note: Contrary to English, the word for "where" needs to be used in asking what someone's address is.  

32. {トイレ・お手洗(てあら)い}はどこですか。
[Toire/otearai] wa doko desu ka?
Where is the bathroom?

Phrase Note: Otearai お手洗い is a more refined means of saying "bathroom" in the same way "restroom" is more refined than saying "bathroom."  

33. なぜ(まち)()ったのですか。
Naze machi e itta no desu ka?
Why did you go to town?

34. コンビニのおにぎり、どこが美味(おい)しいと(おも)いますか。
Kombini no onigiri, doko ga oishii to omoimasu ka?
As for convenience store rice balls, where are they really good at?

35. 飛行機(ひこうき)座席(ざせき)はどこがいいですか。
Hikōki no zaseki wa doko ga ii desu ka?
What seats on a(n air)plane are good?

36. 郵便局(ゆうびんきょく)はどこですか。
Yūbinkyoku wa doko desu ka?
Where is the post office?


Why? 

To use the word for "why" other than when you're just saying naze (desu ka?) なぜ(ですか), you need to use the particle no の with it in some fashion. When naze なぜ is at the front of a sentence, the sentence should end in n/no desu ka ん・のですか.  Contracting no の to n ん is done largely in the spoken language. When following verbs or adjectives, nothing else need to be done to the sentence, but if following nouns or adjectival nouns, then na な will need to placed in between the noun/adjectival noun and n/no desu ka ん・のですか. 

37. (うし)は、なぜ毎日乳(まいにちちち)()るんですか。
Ushi wa, naze mainichi chichi ga deru n desu ka?
Why do cows produce milk every day?

38. 火山(かざん)はなぜ噴火(ふんか)するんですか。
Kazan wa naze funka suru n desu ka?
Why do volcanoes erupt?

39. なぜ名詞(めいし)なんですか。
Naze meishi na n desu ka?
Why is it a noun? 

Under the same principles, if naze なぜ is at the end of the sentence, a noun phrase has to precede it. If the phrase is a full sentence, then the particle no の needs to be used to make into a noun before naze なぜ can create the question. In this situation, no の shouldn't ever be contracted.

40. 人々(ひとびと)(かみ)(いの)るのはなぜですか。
Hitobito ga kami ni inoru no wa naze desu ka?
Why do people pray to God/the gods.

41. (ふと)ったのはなぜだと(おも)いますか。
Futotta no wa naze da to omoimasu ka?
Why do you think it is you got fat?