In English, the words “this” and “that” are perhaps the most important words to refer to things, regardless of whether the things they refer to are physically present. No distinction is made between their uses as a noun (pronoun more specifically) or as an adjective.
i. This is a beautiful house.
ii. That is a very tall tree.
iii. This song is amazing.
iv. That blade is sharp.
In Japanese, “this” and “that” are not this simple. Instead, they both have a pronoun and an adjectival form. As you will see, though, this will not be the only thing to consider as you learn about what word to use and when.Curriculum Note: Words like “this” and “that” fall under a category of words like demonstratives (Shijishi 指示詞). Demonstratives are pronoun/adjectival phrases that indicate which entities are being referred to and how. They are referred to as kosoado こそあど because each syllable represents the syllables that can possible start these kinds of words.
In Japanese there are two forms of the word “this”: kore これ and kono この. The first is its pronoun form and the second is its adjectival form.
Kore wa tamago desu.
This is the egg/these are eggs.
Kono tsukue wa furui desu.
This desk is old/these desks are old.
Grammar Note: As seen by these two examples, there is no distinct difference in Japanese between “this” and “these.” Although a distinction is possible, we will leave that for a later discussion.
There are two fundamentally different uses of the word “this.” You could be speaking about something physically present, or you could be speaking about a “this” in context.
When you are using "this" to refer to something that is physically close to you, you use kore これ or kono この depending on whether “this” is the subject or “this” is a part of the subject’s description respectively.
Kore wa nan desu ka?
What is this?
Kore wa man’nenhitsu desu.
This is a fountain pen.
Kore wa eiwa jiten desu.
This is an English-Japanese dictionary.
Katsute, kono atari wa shizukana tokoro deshita.
This neighborhood was once a quiet place.
Spelling Note: Katsute means “once” and it can alternatively be spelled as 嘗て.
Kono hebi wo koroshimashita.
I killed this snake.
Spelling Note: The noun hebi meaning “snake” can alternatively be spelled as 蛇.
When a “this” in context is being spoken about, it is the speaker who holds the information and is referring to his own information with “this.” What we refer to as “this” tends to be important information. This dialogue about the word “this” itself is important to the author, it is one written by the author, and it is giving the reader information important to learning Japanese. As you can see, English and Japanese do not differ in this use of “this,” and no different words are needed to use this “this.”
Kore wa jūyō na tegakari desu.
This is an important clue.
Kore wa taihen desu!
This is serious!
Kono hanashi wa himitsu desu yo.
This conversation is a secret.
Particle Note: The particle yo よ at the end of this sentence adds emphasis to the importance of the predicate, which is “is a secret.”
The words sore それ and sono その mean “that,” and the former is the pronoun form and the latter is the adjectival form.
Sore wa oran’ūtan desu yo.
That’s an orangutan.
Sono tsumori wa nai.
I don’t have that intention.
Sono ari wa kawaii desu ne.
This ant is cute, isn’t it?
Those ants are cute, aren’t they?
Particle Note: The particle ne ね at the end of this sentence seeks agreement from the listener.
Spelling Note: The noun ari means “ant” and can alternatively be spelled as 蟻.
As you can see, there is no important distinction between “that” and “those” in Japanese. Just as was the case with “this,” both sore それ and sono その can be used in reference to “that” which is in physical proximity and “that” in context. There is, however, a catch.
The "that" must be close to the listener when speaking about something in physical proximity.
Sore wa nan desu ka?
What is that?
Sentence Note: The "that" which the speaker is asking about is close to the listener but not to the speaker.
Sore wa wani desu.
That is a crocodilian.
Sono kyōkasho wa yasukatta desu ka?
Was that textbook cheap?
Furthermore, the "that" must either be familiar to either the speaker or the listener but not both parties. It also works when you know something about the “that” but not everything about it.
Sono gakusei-san wa dare desu ka?
Who is that student?
Sentence Note: This sentence would be used in context of the speaker mentioning the student and then asking the listener to tell him/her who that student actually is.
A, sono hanashi wo kikimashita.
Oh yeah, I heard about that.
Sentence Note: Even though both the speaker and listener know something about the conversation being referenced, only the listener would know the full story.
Ē. Sore, hontō desu ka?
Eh? Is that true?
Sono hi wa kumori deshita.
That day was cloudy.
Sentence Note: In this example, the speaker is informing the listener that the day in question was cloudy.
Sore wa irimasen.
I don't need that/that's not necessary.
Sore no nani ga ikenai desu ka?
What is wrong with that?
Sentence Note: The use of no の after sore それ is not wrong. In this sentence, sore no nani それの何 literally means "what of that." As such, whenever you are using "this" or "that" as the subject but are using it in a possessive manner, you cannot drop the /re/.
Japanese has two more phrases for “that,” but they’re not the same as those above. Are あれ and ano あの both refer to “that” which is neither close to the speaker not to the listener. In context when the “that” is not present, the information regarding it is known fully well by all parties involved. If it’s just oneself, it’s “that” which one has an image of. Again, as was the case above, are あれ is the pronoun form and ano あの is the adjectival form.
Are wa cafeteria desu.
That over there is a cafeteria.
Ano tatemono wa gijidō desu.
That building is The National Diet.
Culture Note: The National Diet is the parliament house of Japanese government. The word gijidō 議事堂 can in principle refer to other country’s legislative branch building, but context would be needed to clarify.
Watashi mo ano neko ga suki desu.
I too like that cat.
Sentence Note: The cat in question may be physically in sight but away from the speaker or listener, or it may be a cat that both the speaker and listener personally know but is not in sight.
“Are wa nan desu ka?” “Koinobori desu.”
“What is that?” “It's a koinobori”.
Culture Note: A koinobori 鯉幟 is a giant paper carp flown atop poles next to houses that are celebrating Children's Day on May 5th with male children.
Sentence Note: The koinobori would be positioned away from both the speaker and the listener.
Ano resutoran, oishikatta nā.
Aah, that restaurant was delicious.
Particle Note: The particle nā なあ is used to give a heightened sense of appreciation and yearning for the restaurant’s food.
Tashika ni are wo tabeta ne.
I definitely ate that, right?
Sentence Note: Even when you forget a certain detail, you still use these forms of “that” because you are simply conjuring up knowledge that had already been established between you and the listener.
In more casual speech, the particle wa は contracts with the pronoun forms of the words for “this” and “that (over there).”
|Standard Speech||Casual Speech||Dialect/When Angry/Other|
|Kore wa これは||Korya こりゃ||Kora こら|
|Sore wa それは||Sorya そりゃ||Sora そら|
|Are wa あれは||Arya ありゃ||Ara あら|
These casual forms can be used in rather coarse yet informal situations. The latter column, however, is trickier. Kora こら is either used to mean “hey!” when angry, or it’s the same as kore wa これは in other dialects. Sora そら is either used to mean “look!” in which case it’s interchangeable with hora ほら, or it’s the same as sore wa それは. Ara あら is used to mean “oh?” in female speech. The gender neutral way of saying “oh?” happens to be are あれ.
Nan da, [korya/kora].
What the heck (is this/going on)!
Sentence Note: This example shows that the casual forms are just as capable of being used when one is angry as is the case for kora こら and sora そら. This sentence also shows that given the enhanced angry tone of the statement, you find korya/kora こりゃ・こら inverted to the end of the sentence.
Dialect Note: In Kansai dialects, which are well known for being spoken in West Japan in places like Ōsaka 大阪, the adjective omoshiroi 面白い (interesting) gets contracted to omoroi おもろい.
Arya, taihen datta ne.
That was difficult, huh.
Particle Note: Nē ねぇ is the same as ne ね but with a trailing pronunciation that gives a tone of relief/consolation.
32. あら、その音、聞こえた？ (Feminine)
Ara, sono oto, kikoeta?
Oh? Did you hear that sound?