第8課: Nouns & Pronouns

Nouns are the easiest words to learn in a foreign language. Memorizing them all, however, is no easy task. By learning nouns, though, you will create a framework which, when paired with grammar, will allow you to express the things you want to talk about.

In addition to nouns, this lesson will also serve to introduce you to pronouns, which are words that indirectly refer to people, direction, and things that require context to be properly understood. 


In a basic understanding, a noun (meishi 名詞) represents a person, place, state, quality, event, or thingIn Japanese, nouns have no number or gender. This means that there is no fundamental distinction between singular and plural forms or masculine and feminine forms. In addition, there are no articles like "a," "an," or "the" that accompany nouns like is the case in English. 

Some of the most common nouns in Japanese include the following. Many of these words are also written with the most basic Kanji 漢字 that are taught early on in Japanese education. 

 Karaoke Karaoke カラオケ
 Ramen Rāmen ラーメン
 Karate Karate 空手
 Alcohol  (O-)sake(お)酒 Sushi Sushi 寿司 Mountain Yama
 Anime Anime アニメ Manga Manga マンガ Dog Inu
 Cat Neko Tea Ocha お茶 Water Mizu
 Sea Umi 海  Fire  Hi 火  Bamboo  Take 竹 
 Hill  Oka 丘  Tree  Ki 木  Grass  Kusa 草 
 Person Hito 人  Car  Kuruma 車  Yen  En 円 
 Flower Hana 花  Sound  Oto 音  Sky  Sora 空 
 Mouth  Kuchi 口   Hand  Te 手  Leg/foot Ashi 脚・足 
 Ear Mimi  Man Otoko 男  Woman  On'na 女 
 Sun Hi/taiyō 日・太陽  Stone Ishi  River Kawa 川 
 Village Mura 村  Town Machi 町  Bug Mushi 虫 
 Countryside Inaka 田舎   Ground Tsuchi 土  Book  Hon 本 
 Name Namae 名前  Strength Chikara 力  Eye(s)  Me 目 
 King Ō Queen Jo'ō 女王 Rain  Ame
 Gold Kin 金  Silver  Gin 銀  Money  Okane お金 
 School Gakkō 学校 Thread Ito  Year Toshi
 Cloud Kumo Song  Uta 歌  Fish Sakana 魚 
 Face Kao 顔  Cow  Ushi 牛  Shape  Katachi 形 

Grammar Note: Making nouns plural, although not common, is still possible. One method involves the suffix -tachi たち, which is typically used to refer to a group of people or (living) things. 

1. 女性じょせいたち
(Group of ) women

2. 男性だんせいたち
(Group of) men

3. いぬたち
(A group of) dogs 

Proper Nouns 

In English, a proper noun is a noun that indicates an individual person, place, organization, etc. and is spelled with initial capital letters. In Japanese, words are not capitalized, but the concept of proper noun (koyū meishi 固有名詞) still exists. Below is a chart with some very important examples. 


 Tōkyō 東京


 Kyōto 京都


 Ōsaka 大阪


 Yokohama 横浜


 Nihon/Nippon 日本


 Amerika アメリカ


 Roshia ロシア


 Chūgoku 中国


 Kankoku 韓国


 Hokkaidō 北海道


 Honshū 本州


 Shikoku 四国


 Kyūshū 九州


 Okinawa 沖縄


 Ajia アジア


 Yōroppa ヨーロッパ


 Afurika アフリカ


 Ōsutoraria オーストラリア


 Nankyokutairiku 南極大陸


 Indo インド

 Kanto Region

 Kanto Chihō 関東地方

 Kinki Region

 Kinki Chihō 近畿地方

 Shinzo Abe

 Abe Shinzō 安倍晋三

 Barack Obama

 Baraku Obama バラク・オバマ

 Tokyo Skytree

 Tokyo Sukaitsurii 東京スカイツリー

 Ueno Park

 Ueno Kōen 上野公園

Word Notes:
1. There are four main islands of Japan. The northernmost island is Hokkaido. South of it is the largest island, Honshu. Further south are the islands of Shikoku and Kyushu, with Kyushu being the southernmost island. Further south is a chain of islands referred to as Okinawa. 
2. The Kanto Region encompasses the capital of Japan, Tokyo, as well as the surrounding area.
3. The Kinki Region encompasses both Osaka and Kyoto and their surrounding areas. 
4. Shinzo Abe is the current Prime Minister of Japan.
5. Barack Obama is the 44th president of the United States.
6. Tokyo Skytree is the second tallest structure found in the world and is located in Tokyo.
7. Ueno Park is a very spacious park found in Tokyo. 


A loan-word is a word borrowed from another language. In Japanese, there are many loanwords from all sorts of languages. Loan-words are called Gairaigo 外来語, and this term typically refers to words that have been borrowed in the last two, three centuries from the world's modern languages. Words borrowed from Chinese during the language's development--Kango 漢語--are usually treated separately. Words that have come from Chinese languages in recent centuries like chāhan 炒飯 (fried rice), though, are treated as Gairaigo 外来語.

Although loan-words come from dozens of languages, the overwhelmingly majority of them come from English. As convenient as that may be, you must still treat these loan words as Japanese words. This means you can't simply pronounce it as if it were English. You will likely not be understood. It is always important that you pronounce words in Japanese like any other word in Japanese regardless of whether or not it comes from English. 

 Meter Mētoru メートル
 Game Gēmu ゲーム
 Bus Basu バス
 Pen Pen ペン
 Sofa Sofā ソファー
 Pie/pi Pai パイ
 Point Pointo ポイント
 Cola Kōra コーラ
 Coffee Kōhii コーヒー
 Tobacco Tabako タバコ  Tomato  Tomato トマト  Banana Banana バナナ 

Pronouns: Grammatical Person

A pronoun (daimeishi 代名詞) indirectly refers to an entity that involves a person, direction, or thing. The meaning of said entity is determined by context. For instance, proper names are pronouns because they stand in place of the actual person/thing they reference. Proper names can also be shared with others or other things, and so we need context to truly understand what is meant by say the name "Seth." This can refer to the creator of this curriculum, or it can refer to any other person whose name is "Seth." Because of this, the word "Seth" is a pronoun. 

Similarly, words like "here" and "there" or even words like "this" and "that" are also pronouns. This is because no one can ascertain what they refer to without context.

Generally, when we think of pronouns, we think about pronouns that are used to establish grammatical person. For instance, in English we make the following distinctions in grammatical person.

 Person Singular Plural
 1st I We
 2nd You You (all)
 3rd He/she/it They

In English, gender and number both play roles in determining what grammatical person is used in a sentence. In Japanese, however, there isn't a single pronoun that corresponds to each of the pronouns for grammatical person. Meaning, there is more than one word for "I," "we," etc. This is because all pronouns in Japanese started out as typical nouns, or they were far vaguer pronouns that didn't necessarily match up with the concept of showing grammatical person. 

 In Japanese, pronouns differ by their politeness and by who actually uses them. Many pronouns are reserved for whether the speaker is male or female, or whether the person is young or old. Dialects also differ majorly in what pronouns are used.

For the purposes of understanding basic Standard Japanese, the pronouns listed below are the most essential. As you will see, the notes provided for them show just how different they are from their English counterparts.

 Person Singular Plural
 1st Wata(ku)shi
 Wata(ku)shitachi 私たち
 Bokutachi 僕たち
 2nd Anata あなた Anatatachi あなたたち
 3rd Kare 彼 (He)
 Kanojo 彼女 (She)
 Karera 彼ら (They)
 Kanojotachi 彼女たち (They)

Usage Notes:

1. Watakushi わたくし is the respectful form of watashi わたし. Typically, watashi わたし will suffice in most situations. However, "I" is often dropped altogether. So long as it is known that the sentence is about oneself, there is no need to have to use a pronoun for "I."
2. Boku 僕 is another pronoun for "I" which is used heavily by male speakers, both young and old, in various situations. 
3. There are many pronouns for "you" in Japanese, but the most neutral in terms of politeness and purpose is anata あなた. However, it is typically dropped from most sentences altogether. Anata あなた is inherently direct, which is a quality not typically found in statements directed at others. Second person statements are rarely stated in absolute terms. Usually, referring to others in third person is preferred.
4. Anata あなた may also be used as a term of endearment to refer to one's male partner/spouse, both when one is happy and mad at one's significant other.
5. In casual settings, the pronouns kare 彼 and kanojo 彼女 may respectively mean "boyfriend" and "girlfriend." 
6. The plural form of kare 彼, karera 彼ら, uses another suffix for making plurals, -ra ら. We will
revisit the concept of pluralization in Lesson 92.
7. Karera 彼ら may refer to a group of people with both men and women, but kanojotachi 彼女たち only refers to groups of women.
8. The pronoun "it" is omitted because it is combined in Japanese with the concept of "that," which is also a pronoun. It will be introduced later in this lesson. 
In English, pronouns change form depending on their grammatical purpose in a sentence. In grammar, this is referred to as grammatical case. Grammatical case reflects the function that a given phrase has in a sentence. In English, pronouns are what change the most depending on their case. For instance, "my" is the possessive form of "I."

In Japanese, grammatical case is marked by the use of what are called "case particles." Case particles take the place of form change to nouns/pronouns to indicate what function said word has in a sentence. For the purpose of pronouns, there are two grammatical cases you should know about: the nominative and the possessive.
  • Nominative Case: Noun/pronoun used as the subject of the sentence.
  • Possessive Case: Noun/pronoun form that shows ownership. 
i. I am an American man. (I = nominative)
ii. Your dog is adorable. (Your = possessive)
iii. We are scientists. (We = nominative)
iv. Our goal is world peace. (Our = possessive) 

The subject of a sentence is the person/thing that performs an action or exhibits some description which is what the sentence is about. In Japanese, case particles attached to noun/pronouns express these grammatical concepts. To mark something as being in the nominative case, you add the particle ga が to said noun/pronoun. To mark something as being in the possessive case, you add the particle no の to said noun/pronoun. 

  Nominative  Possessive
 I... Wata(ku)shi ga 私が
 Boku ga 僕が
 My Wata(ku)shi no 私の
 Boku no 僕の
 We... Wata(ku)shitachi ga 私たちが
 Bokutachi ga 僕たちが
 Our Wata(ku)shitachi no 私たちの
 Bokutachi no 僕たちの 
 You... Anata ga あなたが Your Anata no あなたの
 You (all)... Anatatachi ga あなたたちが Your Anatatachi no あなたたちの 
 Kare ga 彼が (He)
 Kanojo ga 彼女が (She)
 Kare no 彼の
 Kanojo no 彼女の
 They... Karera ga 彼らが
 Kanojotachi ga 彼女たちが
 Their Karera no 彼らの
 Kanojotachi no 彼女たちの

Grammar Note: To make a third person reference into the possessive case, just add no to whatever name you're using. This means that "Seth's" would be expressed as Sesu no セスの.

When we start learning how to make sentences in Lesson 9, it will be important to remember that different things will happen in a Japanese sentence. However, we won't revisit the particle ga が until Lesson 11. 

Pronouns: Place & Things (Demonstratives)
In addition to the pronouns shown above for grammatical person, we still need to learn about the basic pronouns used to indicate place or thing. As was the case with the pronouns above, none of these words are used exactly like their English counterparts. This means that later on, we will have to revisit them to learn more about how they're truly used. For now, it's important to simply have them in your vocabulary.
 Close to Speaker Close to Listener/
 Known only to Speaker
 Far from Speaker and Listener/
 Known to both Speaker and Listener
 Here There Over There
 Koko ここ Soko そこ Asoko あそこ
 This That That over there
 Kore これ Sore それ Are あれ

Chart Notes
Sore それ is the closest Japanese equivalent to "it."
2. For now, we will forego covering what these words look like in the grammatical cases mentioned above. This is because things become 
slightly more complicated with these sorts of pronouns than with pronouns for grammatical person.  
When speaking about entities physically visible, there is a three-way distinction made based on the proximity of the entity from the speaker and listener. An entity may be close to the speaker, close to the listener but not the speaker, or far from both the speaker and the listener(s). When the entity discussed is not physically visible, there is a two-way distinction made based on who knows about the entity in question. The criterion then becomes whether only the speaker knows about the entity or if both the speaker and listener(s) know about it.