A lot can be said about the words for “yes," and in this lesson, we will study the following words:
Curriculum Note: Because these words, at times, require context to be understood, there will be some grammar used that has not been formally introduced. At those points, simply focus on understanding the "yes" phrase at hand.
Usage 1: Answering "Yes-No" Questions
The most fundamental usage of hai はい is "yes" in answering “yes-no” questions.
“Hai” wo oshite kudasai.
Please press “Yes.”
Ei-shi: Ashita, kaimono ni ikimasu ka?
Bii-shi: Hai(, Kosutoko ni kaimono (shi) ni ikimasu).
Person A: Are you going to go shopping tomorrow?
Person B: Yes(, I’m going to go shop at Costco).
Although simply saying hai はい could suffice in answering a yes-no question, explicitly stating an answer is often needed to not be vague. Tone can also help convey affirmation. Also, if you are speaking to a superior to whom giving a succinct answer is expected, just answering with hai はい would be inappropriate.
Usage 2: Showing Confirmation
Hai はい also shows confirmation. If the question is in the affirmative, hai はい confirms the affirmative. However, if it the question is in the negative, hai はい confirms the negative. This is unlike English where the latter situation would be answered with “no.”
Ei-shi: Kotoshi Sesu wa nijūkyūsai ni narimasu ne.
Bii-shi: Hai(, sō desu ne).
Person A: Seth turns 29 this year, right?
Person B: Yes(, that’s right).
Phrase Note: Sō desu ne そうですね and its variants can often be treated as beings synonymous to “yes” and do not need to be used with a yes-word to be used as such. This is no different than the English expression “that’s right.”
Ei-shi: Asu, Kyōto e ikanai n desu ka?
Bii-shi: Hai, ikimasen ne. Tabun kotoshi wa ikanai to omoimasu.
Person A: Are you not going to Kyoto tomorrow?
Person B: No, I’m not. I probably won’t go this year.
Sachiko: Yasumu n desu ka?
Yasuhiko: Hai, chotto kyū na yoji ga arimashite.
Sachiko: Are you taking the day off?
Yasuhiko: Yes, I have an urgent thing to attend to.
Dōryō Ei: Ikanai n desu ka?”
Dōryō Bii: Hai, ikimasen.
Colleague A: Are you not going?
Colleague B: No, I’m not going.
Usage 3: Showing Agreement/Consent
Hai はい may also show agreement to a request, in which case it is accompanied with an affirmative tone. This can also be viewed as an offshoot of answering to a yes-no question, only with “no” not being an option.
Kachō: Kono fairu wo Tsuji-san ni tensō shite kudasai.
Shain: Hai(, shōchi shimashita).
Section Manager: Please forward these files to Tsuji-san.
Employee: Yes(, understood).
Phrase Note: The phrases for "understood" are listed below in order of how polite/humble they are.
Shōchi itashimashita 承知いたしました
Shōchi shimashita 承知しました
Polite (To Equals)
Ryōkai shimashita 了解しました
Polite (General Use)
Ryōkai desu 了解です
Wakatta わかった・Ryōkai 了解
Usage 4: Answering the Phone
Hai はい is the go-to phrase when responding to someone calling (for) you, both in person and on the phone.
Fujita: Kochira ni kite moratte ii desu ka?
Kaneko: Hai, nan desu ka?
Fujita: Could you please come here?
Kaneko: Yes, what is it?
Hahaoya: Moshimoshi. (Denwa)
Musume: Hai. A, o-kā-san!
Mother: Hello. (Phone)
Daughter: Hello. Hey, mom!
Usage 5: Marking a Starting Point
Another usage of hai はい is to indicate the start of a joint activity.
De wa, chōri kaishi desu ne, hai.
Well then, cooking begins. Yes.
Kore wo ano benchi ni oitokimashō. Chotto omoi node ki wo tsukemashō. Ja, ichi, nii no, san, hai!
Let’s place this on the bench over there. It’s a little heavy, so let’s be careful. Alright, one, two, three, here we go!
Usage 6: Indicating that One is Listening
One usage of hai はい that is far removed from the English concept of “yes” is indicating to the speaker that one is listening. The purpose here is not to interrupt who is talking, which is how it may seem to an English speaker. Once the other person is done speaking, however, simply responding with hai はい would be inappropriate as its interpretation would default to this usage.
Ei-shi: Tsugi no gurafu wo mite morau to.
Ei-shi: Wakaru to omoimasu ga.
Person A: If I have you look at the next graph.
Person B: Uh-huh.
Person A: I believe you’ll understand, but…
Person B: Uh-huh.
It may not always be the case that one is the intended listener when using hai はい in this fashion. This is especially the case in TV programs where one person may be directing comments to the audience while another person is to the side nodding off and making interjections as the person speaks. This is done largely to encourage engagement from the audience.
The applications of this usage thus far have been harmless, but it can also be used to tell the speaker you’ve heard enough.
Hai hai, mō wakattemasu yo.
Yes, yes, I know already.
With a change in intonation to that of a question, hai はい can be used when you would otherwise indicate that you’re listening to imply that you’re shocked by what is said—simultaneously asking that the speaker repeat oneself.
Usage 7: Reaffirming a Statement
Responding to sō desu ka? そうですか is an important function of hai はい.
Ryōko: Kinō, Shirakobato Suijō Kōen ni ikimashita yo.
Sara: A, sō desu ka?
Ryōko: Hai, sugoku tanoshikatta desu yo. Zehi itte mite kudasai.
Ryoko: I went to Shirakobato Water Park yesterday.
Sara: Oh, really?
Ryoko: Yeah, it was really fun. Definitely try going there.
Usage 8: Anticipatory Response
Hai はい is often used as an anticipatory answer at the end of a sentence, especially by store clerks.
Kyaku: Ima no shun no shokuzai wa nan deshō ka?
Tenchō: So desu nē. Ima no jiki, oishii sakana wa ippai aru n desu kedo, toku ni oishii no wa yappari tai desu ne, hai.
Customer: What ingredients are in season now?
Shop Manager: Well, there are a lot of delicious fish this season, but the one that’s especially delicious would have to be sea bream. Yes.
Usage 9: Presenting Something to Someone
Hai はい is used when presenting something to someone. This can also be said when arriving somewhere, with the destination being what is presented.
Hai, takikomi-gohan desu. Dōzo.
Here’s mixed rice. Feel free.
Hai, kochira wa Sutābakkusu Kōhii Ichigōten de gozaimasu.
Now right here is Starbucks Coffee’s first store.
Hai, tōchaku shimashita.
Alright, we’ve arrived.
Usage 10: When Giving Instructions
Hai はい is frequently used right as one is giving instructions.
Hai, reizōko ni irete kudasai.
Yeah, put it in the refrigerator.
Usage 11: When Telling Someone to Stop
Hai はい is used to indicate to others they stop what they’re doing.
Hai, soko made (da)!
Alright, stop there!
Seito Ei: Watashi wa shōrai uchū-hikōshi ni naritai desu!
Sensei: Hai. Ja, Kenta-kun wa?
Student A: I want to become an astronaut in the future!
Teacher: Alright. Now how about you, Kenta-kun?
Usage 12: Getting People's Attention
Hai はい can be used to get people’s attention.
Sensei: Hai, hai. Mina ochitsuite kudasai.
Okay, okay, everyone settle down, please.
Usage 13: When Being Asked for Commentary
Hai はい is frequently used in response to being asked for commentary.
Saitō: Katō-san, dō omoimasu ka?
Katō: Hai, ano, watashi mo hantai desu ne.
Saito: What do you think, Kato-san?
Kato: Yes, um, I’m also against it.
Usage 14: Prompting More of a Response
Hai はい is also frequently used after someone makes a comment to get the individual to say more. This can be viewed as an offshoot of Usage 6.
Higaisha: Watashi wa ao ni kawatta no wo kakunin shite kara kuruma wo chokushin ni hassha-sasemashita.
Higaisha: Hai, sono ato, hidarigawa kara kuruma ga miete burēki wo fumimashita ga, ma ni awazu jiko ni narimashita.
Higaisha: Sono toki, taikōsha wa ichidai deshita.
Injured Party: I went straight in my car after verifying that the light had turned green.
Injured Party: Ok, afterward, I could see a car from the left. I braked but didn’t make it in time, which led to the accident.
Injured Party: At that time, there was one oncoming car.
Usage 15: Creating a Rhythm
At times, hai はい is simply used to create a rhythm, especially in folk songs. It may also be used as an interjection when pounding mochi 餅 (sticky rice cake).
Hai, hai, hai, hai.
One, two, one, two.
The Variant Hā はあ
There also exists hā はあ, which is treated as a simple alteration of hai はい that is used by male speakers, and it can be used for most of the previous usages above excluding 4, 8, 10, 11 12, 15.
Hā, shōchi shimashita.
Hā, sono jishin wa taihen deshita ne.
Yeah, that earthquake was terrible, huh.
Hā, nan deshō ka?
Yes, what is it?
Hā, sore wa sō desu ga.
Yes, that’s true, but…
Hā, uso deshō?
What, you’ve got to be kidding!?
Ah, damn it!
Usage Note: One usage that hā はあ has that it doesn’t share with hai はい is being used as an interjection when one is really in a rut.
Hai はい is the most multi-faceted word used in this lesson. It is also the most formal. With that being said, ē ええ is not as complicated. Regardless of how it’s used, it is an affirmative response of one’s thought and/or emotions, which is why it can at times be perceived as rude if used out of place. Below are various implications had when using ē ええ:
・To show confidence.
・To make it known that you already know about what’s been talked about.
・Indicative of being older, composed, and being able to affirmatively look back.
・To show elitism.
・To give an at-home feeling to those especially close.
・Responding to audience but without appeal unless mixed together with hai はい.
・Seemingly able to talk on and on, indicative of female conversation.
Usage 1: Yes-No Questions
Saeki: Shachō wa Nagasaki e shutchō suru no desu ka?
Saeki: Is the company director going to Nagasaki on business.
Usage2: Acknowledgement of Listening
Shōhei: Chotto o-negai ga aru n desu ga.
Satoshi: Ē(, nan deshō)?
Shōhei: Aiteru toki wa ginkō ni tsurete itte kuremasen ka?
Satoshi: Ē, mondai arimasen yo.
Shohei: I have a small request.
Satoshi: Yes, what is it?
Shohei: When you’re free, could you take me to the bank?
Satoshi: Yeah, no problem.
Usage 3: Showing Confirmation
Ē, sō desu yo.
Yes, that’s right.
Ē, seikai desu.
Yes, that’s the correct answer.
Ē, yoku aru koto desu.
Yes, it happens often.
Ē, iu tōri da to omoimasu.
Yes, I believe you're exactly right.
Usage 4: Responding to Request/Suggestion: Agreement/Sympathy
Yes, by all means.
Ē, ii kangae da to omoimasu ne.
Yes, I think that’s a good idea.
5. Surprise (Low-High Intonation)
This usage does not fit any of the aforementioned implications.
Ē, hontō desu ka.
What, you’re kidding!?
Un うん is a very casual means of saying "yes" that should only be used with those who one is very friendly and close with. When behaving as a means of saying "yes," it has the following purposes.
“Pengin wa tori na no?” “Un(, tori da yo)”
“Are penguins birds?” “Yes(, they’re birds).”
Hanako: Atashi no tanjōbi na no yo.
Hanako: Is my birthday.
Iya, sono mama de ii n ja nai, un.
“No, it’s fine as is, right? Yeah.”
Un un, kimi no iu tōri da ne.
Yep, yep, you're exactly right.
Un, sono kimochi wakaru yo.
Yeah, I get what you’re feeling.
“Gomen-nasai.” “Un, ii n da yo.”
“Sorry.” “No, it’s ok.”
Jūgyōin: Koike-san wa kono shu no shigoto ni muite inai n desu ka?
Shihainin: Un, muitenai na.
Employee: Is Koike-san not suited for this kind of work?
Manager: No, he really isn't suited for it.
Un, sō da yo na. Hai, sō desu ne.
Yeah, that’s right. Yes, you’re definitely right.
Sentence Note: The first half of this example would be an example of answering one’s own question. Only the latter part would be directed at the listener, as indicated by the difference in speech style.
Chichioya: Bōru nagete!
Father: Throw the ball!
As an Onomatopoeia
Unrelated to the meanings of "yes" outlined so far, un うん may also be used as onomatopoeia for the following purposes.
・The sound of bees, horseflies, etc. in great number flying about.
・The faint sound of machinery.
・The sound of someone in anguish.
Pasokon ga un’un itteru kedo daijōbu kana?
The computer is sure making noise. I wonder if it’s alright?
Itami ga hidokute beddo de un’un to unatte ita.
The pain was awful; I was groaning in bed.