Way back in Lesson 7, we learned briefly that the words for “yes” and “no” were hai はい and iie いいえ respectively. However, it couldn’t be further from the truth that this is all you need to know to use these two words correctly, or even to express “yes” and “no” correctly in every circumstance. These words, aside from being literal replies to yes-no questions, can also be used as aizuchi 相槌 in back-channeling, where one interjects to indicate that one is paying attention.
Incidentally, a lot can be said about both the words for “yes” and about the words for “no.” Meaning, there are several ways to go about saying both, and each word brings along with it usages that you may not necessarily think of as an English speaker. In this lesson, we will focus solely on the words that translate as “yes.”
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.
1. The most fundamental usage of hai はい is meaning "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 because this isn’t the only function hai はい has. Tone, for one, is very important. If one’s tone doesn’t convey affirmation, then hai はい won’t likely be interpreted as a simple “yes.” Also, if you are speaking to a superior/client where giving a succinct answer is expected, just answering with hai はい would be inappropriate. The same could be said in the English-speaking business world if one were to continuously say “yes” without providing anything substantive.
2. Hai はい also shows confirmation, which is in and of itself an offshoot of above. 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 nijūyonsai ni narimasu ne.
Bii-shi: Hai(, sō desu ne).
Person A: Seth turns 24 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.
3. 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.
|Most Humble||Kashikomarimashita 畏まりました|
|Very Humble||Shōchi itashimashita 承知いたしました|
|Humble||Shōchi shimashita 承知しました|
|Polite (To those equal or below oneself)||Ryōkai shimashita 了解しました|
|Polite (General-Use)||Wakarimashita わかりました|
|Polite (To equals)||Ryōkai desu 了解です|
|Casual||Wakatta わかった・Ryōkai 了解|
4. 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?
Fujita: Could you please come here?
Hahaoya: Moshimoshi. (Denwa)
Musume: Hai. A, o-kā-san!
Mother: Hello. (Phone)
Daughter: Hello. Oh, mom!
5. 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!
6. 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: Mm.
Person A: I believe you’ll understand, but…
Person B: Mm.
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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. Hai はい is used when presenting something to someone. This can also be said when arriving somewhere, with the destination being what one is bringing attention to.
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.
10. Hai はい is frequently used right as one is giving instructions.
Hai, reizōko ni irete.
Yeah, put it in the refrigerator.
11. 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?
12. Hai はい can also be used to get people’s attention.
Sensei: Hai, hai. Mina ochitsuite kudasai.
Okay, okay, everyone settle down, please.
13. 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.
14. 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 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.
15. 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.
Variation Note: There also exists hā はあ, which is treated as a simple alteration of hai はい that is used by male speakers, but its usage remains exactly the same.
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 over failing at something, etc.
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 scenarios most suited for 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.
1. Yes-No Questions
Saeki: Shachō wa Nagasaki e shutchō suru no desu ka?
Saeki: Is the company director going to Nagasaki on business.
2. 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.
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.
4. Responding to Request/Suggestion: Agreement/Sympathy
Yes, by all means.
Ē, ii kangae da to omoimasu na.
Yes, I think that’s a good idea.
5. Surprise (Low-High Intonation)
Ē, hontō desu ka.
What, you’re kidding!?
Usage Note: This usage does not follow the restrictions outlined at the start of this section.
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, it’s exactly what you said.
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 muitenai 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!
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.