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How-to Use Commas in Japanese (Intro to)

The comma punctuation (読点/とうてん) has been used in the Japanese language for decades (since the 1940s); but relative to the history of the entire Japanese language, a couple of decades actually isn’t quite that long at all.

As you might have been able to guess, the comma (and the period) were imported into the Japanese language from Western languages; and as such, the general function of it is pretty much the same as the English comma. However, wherein the English language has strict grammatical guidelines for where a comma must or must not appear (e.g. before a conjunction that connects two non-simple clauses, between entities in a list, etc.), the Japanese comma is used much, much, much more liberally, to the point where it is essentially up to the author of the sentence whether or not they want to include a comma at all.

With this information so far, we native English speakers have a somewhat decent idea of where to expect commas in Japanese sentences. If there would be a comma in that position in the English version of the Japanese sentence, then you can expect a comma there. Or not. It depends on if the author wants it there or not.

If you’ve read/watched enough of our other lessons, we’ve covered a decent amount of grammar patterns that would qualify as conjunctions of sorts-words or phrases that connect both halves of a sentence basically, and you might have noticed in said lessons that the example sentences would occasionally have commas positioned right before said words or phrases.

Here are a couple of examples pulled from various lessons:

皆の決定に従って、プロジェクトをやり直した。
Minna no kettei ni shitagatte, project o yarinaoshita.
(“Following the decision we made together, we redid the entire project.”)
*from Xに従って(従い) as “following X, in accordance with X”

ジョージワシントンはもう大人なのに、昨日、車の代わりに自転車を買った。
George Washington wa mou otona na no ni, kinou, kuruma no kawari ni jitensha o katta.
(Even though he’s already an adult now, George Washington went and bought a bicycle instead of a car yesterday.)
*from NOUNの代わりに as “in the place of NOUN, instead of NOUN, in lieu of NOUN”

私は一般的に肉が好きですが、今日、代わりにサラダにします。
Watashi wa ippanteki ni niku ga suki desuga, kyou, kawari ni salad ni shimasu.
(Although I’m usually fond of meat, today, I’ll go with salad.)
*from NOUNの代わりに as “in the place of NOUN, instead of NOUN, in lieu of NOUN”

 

With all that, we’ve basically covered half of what we need to know about Japanese commas.

The next half revolves around the concept that Japanese commas can pretty much appear in any position where the speaker would take a quick pause if the sentence was actually being spoken aloud. The general explanation for this is that the comma is used to separate elements within a sentence, in which case, said elements can pretty much be anything. At times, commas can also be placed between large conglomerates of kanji to avoid confusion. Both of these possibilities enable for much more radical and liberal placement for commas in Japanese sentences that may catch us off-guard.

Example(s):

今日、仕事がありますか?
Kyou, shigoto ga arimasuka?
“Do you have work today?”

こちらこそ、どうぞよろしくお願いします。
Kochirakoso, douzoyoroshikuonegaishimasu.
“It is I, who is looking forward to being under your care.”

日本では、まだ女のひとの生活に自動車を運転するということが普通になっていない。
Nihon de wa, mada onna no hito to no seikatsu ni jidousha o unten suru toiu koto ga futsuu ni natte inai.
“In Japan, women driving cars as a part of their daily lives has yet to become the norm.”

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How-to use ~らしい to mean “heard that~, seems like~, looks like~, etc.”

How-to use ~らしい to mean “heard that~, seems like~, looks like~, etc.”

Construction:
Plain-Form VERB + らしい
NOUN + (Conjugation) + らしい
い-ADJECTIVE + (Conjugation) + らしい
な-ADJECTIVE + (Conjugation) + らしい

Using the らしい grammar pattern is one of the many ways to express that you have heard something. Other such similar grammar patterns include ~みたい, ~よう, ~そう; and while there are times when usage of these grammar patterns are interchangeable, it is important to know the different nuances they have for the times when they are not.

The らしい grammar pattern is used when you are making a statement about something you have learned about from another source and not through first-person experience. This could be by means of hearing about, reading about, etc. This contrasts to the ~みたい and ~よう grammar patterns because they in fact can be used to make statements based off your own inferences and assumptions. As such, らしい is essentially never used to talk about oneself, as everything the speaker knows about themselves is from first-hand experience and not indirect sources.

Finally, the difference between らしい and ~そう (Plain Form Version) is that the latter expresses stronger degree of accuracy for the statement made.

(らしい also has a second, more adjectival function of expressing that something has a very characteristic quality of something else, but this will covered in a separate lesson.)

Example(s):
彼女は夫と離婚するらしい。
Kanojo wa otto to rikon suru rashii.
“I hear she’s going to divorce her husband.”
*Note how the usage of らしい here as opposed to みたい or よう implies that the speaker heard talk of the divorce happening as opposed to some first-hand experience such as the speaker witnessing the couple’s strained relationship and inferring that a divorce would occur.

彼は入学試験に失敗したらしい。
Kare wa nyuugakushiken ni shippai shita rashii.
“It appears he failed his entrance exam.”

明日は台風が来るらしい。
Ashita wa taifuu ga kuru rashii.
“It seems that a typhoon is suppose to come tomorrow.”

明日は、いい天気らしい。
Ashita wa, ii tenki rashii.
“It seems like tomorrow’s weather will be good.”

ここは世界的に有名なお店らしいです。
Koko wa sekaiteki ni yuumei na omise rashii desu.
“I heard that this place is a famous all across the world.”

Similar Grammar Patterns:
~みたい
~よう
Plain-Form CLAUSE + (そうだ) as “heard that ___”
Pre-ます Form VERB + そう
~らしい as “~-like”

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How-to use っぽい to say something-ish, -like

「Learn Japanese」 How-to use っぽい (to say something-ish, -like, -looking, -ly)

The grammar pattern Xっぽい is used to express that something is very “X-ish,” “X-like,” “X-looking,” or “X-ly.”

As one might have been able to guess from the somewhat cute-sy nature of  っぽい’s pronunciation, this word is predominantly used in conversational Japanese and is seldom seen at all in written language (most likely only when what is written is a transcript of a conversation).

Not only is っぽい more conversational and casual than most Japanese grammar patterns, but it is also very modern and actually even continually changing. So while there are in fact some words that just don’t sound right with the っぽい suffixed attached to them for various reasons (grammatically incorrect, unnatural sounding, more suited for other similar grammar patterns); when it comes to language, once something is used over and over and enters the majority (especially in mass media)-even if it is incorrect, it eventually becomes the norm.

Additionally due to this, っぽい is quite the nuance grammar pattern, so take some precaution in automatically translating to “-ish” or another definition every time you come across it. We have provided multiple English definitions/translations because none are universally compliant with っぽい, something that should become more apparent with the example sentences below.

Construction:
NOUN + っぽい
Pre-ます-VERB + っぽい
い-ADJECTIVE Stem + っぽい
な-ADJECTIVE + っぽい

Regardless of the initial word type (noun, verb, adjective), when っぽい is added as a suffix, the resulting compound word is an い-ADJECTIVE. As such, it henceforth follows the grammatical guidelines of an い-ADJECTIVE, e.g. its ADVERB form would be Xっぽく and its Negative Form-ない would be Xっelない.

Example(s):

彼は忘れっぽいから、ちょっと心配だ。
Kare wa wasureppoi kara, chotto shinpai da.
“He is kind of forgetful, so I’m a bit worried.”
*Notice the minor alterations we have to make to the word 忘れっぽい to naturalize it into English, as “forget-ish” would have simply been grammatically incorrect.

その赤っぽい車の隣に有名な店がある。
Sono akappoi kuruma no tonari ni yuumei na mise ga aru.
“Next to that reddish car right there is a famous shop.”

最近自分が男っぽいと悩む女性は多いようだ。
Saikin jibun ga otokoppoi to nayami josei wa ooi you da.
“It seems that nowadays there are a lot of woman who are insecure about how manly they come off as.”

日本にアニメグッズを買いに行くのはジョージっぽい。
Nihon ni anime goods o kai ni iku no wa George-ppoi.
“Going to Japan to buy anime goods is such a George-like thing to do.”
*Notice how you don’t always have to be instigating a comparison/contrast when calling something Xっぽい, as the X can even be someone’s own name, thus calling them very much like themselves.  

子供っぽい行動
kodomoppoi koudou
childish behavior

色っぽい話
iroppoi hanashi
an erotic tale

熱っぽい
netsuppoi
fever-ish

怒りっぽい
okorippoi
hot-tempered

Similar Grammar Pattern(s):

〜気味 as “slightly〜”
~らしい
~みたい

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How-to say “I get the feeling that ___” (___ような気がする)

How-to say “I get the feeling that ___” (___ような気がする)

The grammar pattern ~ような気がする as “I get the feeling that~/I get the feeling like~” is used when a speaker wants to express that they think-or more adequately, feel that something is true. It is a softer version of the grammar pattern that is ~気がする, which conveys a stronger confidence in what you are feeling. It is also somewhat similar to the grammar pattern ~ようだ, which also has a more affirmative tone. Finally, the “like” in “I get the feeling like~” is similar to the translation of the よう from the grammar pattern ~ような/ように to “like” as well.

Construction:
Verb-casual + (ような) 気がする
Noun + (のような) 気がする
いadj + (ような) 気がする
なadj + (な/のような) 気がする

Example(s):

雨が降るような気がする。
Ame ga furu you na ki ga suru.
“I have a feeling that it’ll rain.”

日本語は、勉強すればするほど難しくなるような気がする。
Nihongo wa, benkyou sureba suru hodo muzukashiku naru you na ki ga suru.
“With Japanese, I get the feeling that the more you study, the more difficult it becomes.”

前にあの人を見たことがあるような気がする。
Mae ni ano hito o mita koto ga aru you na ki ga suru.
I get the feeling as if I’ve seen that person before.

彼女は約束を守る気がする。
Kanojo wa yakusoku o mamoru ki ga suru.
“I have a feeling that she’ll keep her promise.”

皆が私達の秘密を知っているような気がする。
Mina ga watashitachi no himitsu o shitte iru you na ki ga suru.
I get the feeling that everyone knows our secret.

Similar Grammar Patterns:

NOUN + のよう(な/に) ____ as “like NOUN”
気がする
〜よう(だ/です)

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Basic Japanese Sentence Structure (How-to Form a Simple Sentence in Japanese)

Basic Japanese Sentence Structure (How-to Form a Simple Sentence in Japanese)

Let’s learn how-to form a simple sentence in Japanese! This lesson is 100% friendly to complete beginners to the Japanese language.

Here’s a list of vocabulary terms we will be using for this lesson:

私 (watashi) – “I”
ジュース (jyuusu) – “juice”
飲む (nomu) – “to drink”
テレビ (terebi) – “television, T.V.”
子供 (kodomo) – “children, kids”
見る (miru) – “to see, to watch”
彼女 (kanojo) – “girl, she”
家 (uchi) – “home”
帰る (kaeru) – “to return”
幽霊 (yuurei) – “ghost, apparition, spirit”
壁 (kabe) – “wall”
壊る (kowareru) – “to break”
コンピューター (konpyuutaa) – “computer”
買う (kau) – “to buy”

In order to make faster sense of how a Japanese sentence is constructed, we will be comparing the Japanese sentence structure to that of the English language’s sentence structure.

English:
S-V-O
SUBJECT – VERB – OBJECT
“I drink juice.”

Japanese:
S-O-V  
SUBJECT – OBJECT – VERB
“I juice drink.”
私はジュースを飲む。
(”Watashi wa juice o nomu.”)

*If we included an indirect object as well as a direct object, it would appear before the direct object, just like it generally does in English!

Similarly to the English language however, this structure can get mixed up when we enter realms where creative license can take effect, e.g. characters in books, movies, television shows. However, Japanese has a sort of upper edge to English for when something like this happens because alongside those words, it has something called particles.

Introduction to Particles

The English language doesn’t have as many particles as the Japanese language in terms of simple sentences, but it does have some. We much more commonly refer to them as prepositions, because they denote something about the word they are right before and that something they denote is a relation to another part of the sentence. For example, when we hear the English particle “from,” we automatically have an idea of what the word right after it is going to be. Maybe a place, a time, or a noun. We also know that it definitely isn’t going to be a verb, because that would be grammatically incorrect.

Particles in the Japanese language work in the same way, except they’re indicative of the word right before it instead of right after it. So technically, they’re postpositions instead of prepositions. Also, like I said earlier, they have a wider range of word types they apply to. For example, the word could be a subject, an indirect object, a direct object, a location, etc.

(*Side-note: This is also one of the main reasons why spaces between words are considered unnecessary in the Japanese language, because particles-which are always in kana while the more meaningful words are usually in kanji, already serve that function of making it easy to tell when a word ends and a new one begins.)

Additionally, we have multiple options for particles to choose from for certain word types. For example:

は (wa) – the topic marker (can also be used to mark the subject)
が (ga) – the subject marker
を (o) – the direct object marker
に (ni) and へ (e) – the destination/location (either can be used but not both at the same time)

The word type that most apparently doesn’t have a particle-or particles, associated with it are the verb actions of the sentence; this is probably because the verb action almost always appears at the end of the sentence or clause so there’s not as much a need to distinguish it with a particle.

Introduction to the Concept of a Topic of a Sentence

So, sentences having a topic as well as a subject is something that is 100% unique to the Japanese language, at least if we’re just comparing Japanese to the English language. And what it is is pretty much just that, the topic of the sentence. If we were to literally translate it, it would be something like “Speaking of X,” or “As for X,” and then whatever the rest of the sentence is would come right after that.

The important thing for us to know now is that the topic doesn’t necessarily replace the subject of the sentence. There can be a sentence with a topic, a subject, and an object.

But in some cases it can replace the subject.
Our very first example was an example of this.

“I juice drink.”
TOPIC/SUBJECT – OBJECT – VERB
私はジュースを飲む。
(”Watashi wa juice o nomu.”)
*The topic marker は is used to mark “I,” which makes it not only the subject but also the topic.

The topic can even replace the object of the sentence.

テレビは子供が見る。
(”Terebi wa kodomo ga miru.”)
“Speaking of television, children watch (it).”
TOPIC/OBJECT – SUBJECT – VERB

*The concept of the topic marker は is actually something that we could talk about for hours, but this is where we’ll stop. It will definitely show up again with its complicated nature as you continue your Japanese studies.

Great, so now with what we’ve learned, we are now capable of forming pretty much any simple Japanese sentence with the help of a dictionary for some vocabulary.

彼女は家に帰りました。
Kanojo wa uchi ni kaerimashita.
“She went home.”
[SUBJECT-LOCATION-VERB]

幽霊を見た。
Yuurei o mita.
“(I) saw a ghost.”
[(SUBJECT)-OBJECT-VERB]

壁が壊れた。
Kabe g kowareta.
“The wall broke./The wall gave in.”
[SUBJECT-VERB]

コンピューターを買う。
Computer o kau.
“(I) will buy a computer”
[(SUBJECT)-OBJECT-VERB]

So, you might have noticed that in a decent amount of those examples, we omitted the subject from the entire sentence for some reason, despite that this whole lesson was about where the word types of the sentence should appear! The truth is doing that makes our speech sound a lot more natural and not like it came straight out of a textbook. How Japanese speakers frequently drop not only the subject of their sentences but also other parts such as the objects is a topic we’ll have to save for another lesson!

Awesome! So now that we’ve learned how to form the simplest kind of sentence in Japanese, we’re ready to move onto snazzier kinds of sentences that involve things like adjectives and verbs that just aren’t in the positive form. The following links below are recommendations on which subjects to learn about next to do just this, or, if you’re feeling adventurous you can find an index of every single one of our video lessons on our official website that makes it easy to find whatever thing you’re trying to learn next!

Related Topic(s):

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How-to turn NOUNS into ADJECTIVES (and ADVERBS) with 的 (てき)

How-to turn NOUNS into ADJECTIVES (and ADVERBS) with 的 (てき)

In the English language, words are relentlessly interchanging between word types. For example, the word “force” can be used as a noun (“a force”), a verb (“to force”), and an adjective (“forceful”).
When we talk about the specific case of turning noun words into adjectives, things can really messy in terms of what suffix we’re suppose to attach to them. Some words require the suffix “-ful” (forceful, wonderful, beautiful), some words require the suffix “-al” (mechanical, internal, musical, logical), some words require the suffix “-ous” (dangerous, fabulous, courageous). The list goes on and on.
(This isn’t even mentioning the numerous letter changes you have to do for each individual word before even adding the suffix on, e.g. “beauty” changing to “beauti” before adding on the “-ful” suffix)

Fortunately, the same process in the Japanese language is far simpler, as we only need to remember one suffix, 的 (てき). Adding the character 的 after a Japanese NOUN word will effectively turn that NOUN word into an ADJECTIVE word that means “[whatever the definition of the NOUN word is]-ish.”

Example(s):
効果 (“effect”) + 的 (“-ish”) = 効果的 (“effective”)
美術 (“art, fine arts”) + 的 (“-ish”) = 美術的 (“artistic”)
仮説 (“hypothesis”) + 的 (“-ish”) = 仮説的 (“hypothetical”)

When a NOUN word is turned into an ADJECTIVE word in this manner, the resulting ADJECTIVE word is always a な-Adjective and not an い-Adjective. And since all ADJECTIVE words used in this way are な-Adjectives, we can go even further and effectively use this same idea to turn NOUN words into ADVERB phrases due to the fact that all you need to turn a な-Adjective into an ADVERB phrase is the particle に appearing right after it. As such, we can have our previous three example words undergo an additional word-type transformation:

効果的 (“effective”) + に (“-ly”) = 効果的 (“effectively”)
美術的 (“artistic”) + に (“-ly”) = 美術的 (“artistically”)
仮説的 (“hypothetical”) + に (“-ly”) = 仮説的 (“hypothetically”)

Example Sentence(s):
もっと効率的に日本語が勉強したいです。
Motto kouritsuteki ni nihongo ga benkyou shitai desu.
“I want to be more efficient with my Japanese studies.”

具体的な日取りは決まっていない。
Gutaiteki na hidori wa kimatte inai.
“The exact date hasn’t been decided.”

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Causative-Passive Form (Verb Conjugation) (させられる)

Causative-Passive Form (Verb Conjugation) (させられる)

Construction:
As the name implies, the Causative-Passive Form of verb words is constructed simply by taking the Causative Form of the respective form and in turn conjugating that into the Passive Form, i.e. replacing the final る to られる.

(As we should know, there are two guidelines on conjugating verb words into their Passive Form depending on whether the word is a る-Verb type or an う-Verb type; however since all verb words conjugated into their Causative Form are automatically る-Verb types, we need not worry about choosing between the two guidelines in this case.)

*A review on how to conjugate verbs into their Causative Form is included at the end of this post.

Example(s):
たべ = たべさせられる
= みさせられる
= いわせられる
= かわせられる
= よませられる

The Causative-Form for the two irregular verbs くる and する are こさせられる and させられる respectively.

While the Causative-Passive Form of verbs isn’t used extremely often, it definitely still has grammatical significance; it is used to express that something is made to do something by something else. That second something will be indicated with the particle に.

Example(s):
感動させられた
Kandou saserareta.
“I was moved/I was forced to be moved.”

僕は事件の身代わりにさせられた
Boku wa jiken no migawari ni saserareta.
“I was made to be the scapegoat for the incident.”

母に勉強させられる
Haha ni benkyou saserareru.
“I am forced to study by my mom.”

いつも彼女に買い物に行かせられる
Itsumo kanojo ni kaimono ni ikaserareru.
“I am always forced to go shopping by my girlfriend.”

学生は先生にたくさん漢字を書かせられている
Gakusei wa sensei ni takusan kanji o kakaserarete iru.
“The students are forced to write a lot of kanji by the teacher.”

嫌いなものをムリヤリ食べさせられたことで、ますます大嫌いになることもある。
Kirai na mono o muriyari tabesaserareta koto de, masumasu daikirai ni naru koto mo aru.
“It is possible that when they are forced to eat things they don’t like against their will, people end up disliking it even more.”

A review on how to conjugate verbs into their Causative-Form:

To conjugate る-Verbs into their Causative Form, drop the final る character and replace it with させる.

Example(s):
見る (みる) = 見させる (みさせる)
食べる (たべる) = 食べさせる (たべさせる)
寝る (ねる) =  寝させる (ねさせる)

To conjugate う-Verbs that end in the vowel character う into their Causative Form, drop the final う and replace it with わせる.

Example(s):
買う (かう) = 買わせる (かわせる)
言う (いう) = 言わせる (いわせる)

To conjugate う-Verbs that end in any character other than the vowel character う into their Causative Form, drop the “u” inside the final character to isolate the respective consonant that should now be at the end of the verb and replace it with an “a” to form a new Japanese character. Then, add after it all せる.

Example(s):
死ぬ (しぬ) = 死なせる (しなせる)
行く (いく) = 行かせる (いかせる)
読む (よむ) = 読ませる (よませる)

There are two irregular verbs for the Causative Form and they are the same two for the Passive Form:

来る = 来させる
する = させる

Similar Grammar Pattern(s):

Passive Form (Verb Conjugation) (Post | Video)
Causative Form (Verb Conjugation) (Post | Video)

Passive Form (Simple) (Post | Video)
Passive Form (Adversity with Transitive Verbs) (Post | Video)
Passive Form (Adversity with Intransitive Verbs) (Post | Video)
Causative Form (Post | Video)

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Negative-ず-Form (Verb Conjugation) – How-to say “to do VERB2 without doing VERB1” ( Negative-ず-Form VERB1 + に + VERB2)

Negative-ず-Form (Verb Conjugation) – How-to say “to do VERB2 without doing VERB1” ( Negative-ず-Form VERB1 + に + VERB2)

In addition to having the standard Negative-ない-Form, the Japanese language also has the Negative-ず-Form.

Construction:
The conjugation of verbs into their ず-Form is fairly simple, even more so if you are already familiar with the Negative-ない-Form as you simply replace the final ない with a ず.
たべる -> たべない -> たべず
のむ -> のまない -> のまず
いく -> いかない -> いかず
はなす -> はなさない -> はなさず
きく -> きかない -> きかず

*The two verbs する and くる express irregularity with this conjugation (as they do with numerous other conjugations) and become せず and こず respectively.

Historically, the Negative-ず-Form was just as generally used for negative forms as the Negative-ない-Form, however in modern Japanese it retains usage with only one grammar pattern: Negative-ず-Form VERB1 + に + VERB2 to mean “to do VERB2 without doing VERB1.”

This grammar pattern is essentially identical to the grammar pattern Negative ない-Form VERB1 + で + VERB2 as “to VERB2 without doing VERB1.“ It only differs in that is is considered more formal due to the ず-Form’s rather archaic status and is more commonly seen in written Japanese. However, there are certainly occasions in which it may appear in spoken language (e.g. depending on the actual statement, one might opt for ず-Form VERB + に over ない-Form VERB + で to avoid confusion with ない-Form VERB + で also serving as the grammar pattern that means “don’t do VERB.”)

When used in sentences, this grammar pattern is commonly paired with the particle に. While not doing so would not make the sentence grammatically incorrect, the presence of the particle is almost always the way this grammar pattern is used in modern Japanese and more accurately expresses the action not performed as an adverbial phrase to the action that is performed.

Example(s):

彼女は何も食べずに帰りました。
Kanojo wa nanimo tabezu ni kaerimashita.
“She returned home without eating anything.”

ドアに鍵をかけずに旅行した。
Doa ni kagi o kakezu ni ryokou shita.
“I left for a trip without locking my door.”

あの子はいつも歯を磨かずに寝る。
Ano ko wa itsumo ha o migakazu ni neru.
“That child is always going to sleep without brushing their teeth first.”

何となく、勉強せずに試験に合格した。
Nantonaku, benkyou sezu ni shiken ni goukaku shita.
“Somehow, I passed the test without studying.”

私のことは気にせずに先に行って下さい。
Watashi no koto wa ki ni sezu ni saki ni itte kudasai.
“Please go on ahead without worrying about me.”

ぐずぐずせずに早くしろ!
Guzuguzu sezu ni hayaku shiro!
“Hurry up and get going without dilly-dallying!”

Similar Grammar Pattern(s):
How-to say “to VERB2 without doing VERB1” (Negative ない-Form VERB1 + で + VERB2)

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Can You Learn Japanese from Watching Anime?

Can You Learn Japanese from Watching Anime?

So, you want to know if you can learn Japanese from watching anime.
With almost all answers from me, the response is it depends. Yes and no.

We’re in for a long read here, so just to start off, I’m going to shoot out a bunch of yes no answers real quick:

  • No, you can’t learn Japanese JUST from watching anime (unless you’re some kind of genius).
  • Yes, you can IMPROVE your Japanese from watching anime
  • No, you should not speak Japanese like how anime characters do
  • No, this doesn’t mean you can’t learn other things from anime such as vocabulary terms and grammar patterns
  • Yes, You can spend years studying Japanese formally at university or any other kind of institution, and still learn things from watching anime, even if it’s just a new vocabulary or common phrase here and there.
  • Yes, there are certain types or genres of anime much more suited to learning from (romantic comedies set in a school campus are much more friendly than science fiction mecha series with an overload of technical jargon).
  • Yes anime is cool as hell, no matter how old you become.
  • And lastly, but most relevantly now: No, watching anime is nowhere near the most efficient way to learn Japanese.

This is where my personal advice comes in:

If you intend to start studying Japanese seriously, as in you have a set goal to be this level within this amount of time or are going to be moving to Japan or anything like that, do not put hard time and effort into trying to learn Japanese from anime. Instead, put that time and effort into studying more educational resources, and the ability to understand the Japanese in anime will naturally come along with that.

This approach that we’re going to talk about should only really apply to people who love anime, watch a lot of it, and want to turn that enjoyable experience into the seeds of an educational opportunity too , even if just super casually at first. For example,  maybe you’re in high school right now and plan to take Japanese classes and study it seriously in college, but have a couple of years and a lot of anime you’ll be wanting to watch until then. For example, maybe you’re not invested in learning the language enough to study kanji 2 hours every single day or are too shy to practice speaking to a stranger online for practice. But what you do do is watch an episode of anime every day while eating dinner or something. Even with something as simple as that, that’s 2.333 hours of being exposed to Japanese speech a week. If you been a fan of anime for even just a year, that’s roughly 120 hours total. The idea here is to take advantage of that decent amount of exposure and turn it from Japanese just sounding like an alien language to Japanese being something you’re able to at least make a bit of sense of and in turn have an opportunity to learn some new-say a new word, or phrase, or grammar pattern, from each line of dialogue you hear.

So basically, what you want to do is introduce yourself to the absolute basics of the language and reach a bare minimum level.

And the good news is that if you watch enough anime, it’s already very likely that you’ve done this, just to a lesser degree. Lots of anime fans will know and are likely to never forget the definitions of words like (Ready? Anime word recognition test in 3,2,1…) kanojo, kokoro, suki, baka, kawaii, senpai, tsundere, bakemono, chikara, daijoubu, ganbaru, jigoku, kareshi, mochiron, sasuga, sugoi, tomodachi, etc. despite never having learned hiragana (the Japanese characters) or what sounds the Japanese language even uses. Why? Simply because those words are among the most commonly used words in anime and after you’ve heard them so many times, they’ve become ingrained in your memory. We’re going by the same principle here. We just have to establish the foundation for it to happen for a wider range of words-and even further, for grammar.

And so, the approach that we’re going to recommend for people interested in accomplishing this is to:

Spend a good week or two at least learning the absolute basics of the Japanese language:

  • The letters, or more correctly termed, characters it uses. While there are three different writing systems for the Japanese language, they all use the same pronunciation, so you theoretically could get by with just learning the first of the three, hiragana, in the beginning. (1-4 days)
  • After that, you learn the basic sentence structure to Japanese sentences. (1 day)
  • Then get introduced to word types, adjectives, nouns, verbs, particles, etc. and get an idea of how to distinguish a given word as one of those types. (1-5 days)

So now you might be going, whoa, whoa, whoa, 1-2 weeks to learn all that information? Just because you’re calling it the basics, doesn’t mean it takes that little time to learn.

Well, let’s see if we can boost your confidence a bit by doing a condensed, proportional example version right now and get a glimpse of the process. First, we’ll try to introduce you to the utmost introductory information about each of those subjects, then we’ll jump into an example line from an anime and break it down with just that information.

-We are going to skip hiragana/katakana/kanji because that simply cannot be taught in the span of a few minutes-

Basic Japanese Sentence Structure (loosely the opposite order of English sentence structure):

In English:
I ate a hamburger.”
(SUBJECT > VERB > OBJECT)

In Japanese:
“Watashi wa hamburger o tabemashita.”
私はハンバーガーを食べました。
(Literal English translation: “I hamburger ate.”)
(SUBJECT > OBJECT > VERB)
*plus particles after NOUN words to mark them as such, e.g. topic/subject marker particle wa after the noun watashi to mark it as the subject/topic and direct object marker o after the noun hamburger to mark it as the direct object

Japanese Word Types:

Adjectives: 2 Types. What we call i-adjectives (い) and na-adjectives (な). i-adjectives are called that because they end in the i-sound. On the other hand, na adjectives can end in anything and are called that because the character na appears after them when they modify nouns.

Nouns: The most vast word group, these words can end in essentially any character/sound.

Verbs: Also a very vast word group. Has the most forms of conjugation, which take a lot of time to learn but become easier to distinguish once done (e.g. words ending in (ました, ませんでした, etc. are obvious verb words). Generally divided into two sub-groups, ru-verbs and u-verbs, because they end in ru (る) and u (う) respectively. However, this only applies when they are in what is called the Dictionary Form, which is the superficial equivalent of the present/future tense in English.

です (desu) and だ (da): A copula, a word used to link subject and predicate. Usually marks the end of a clause or sentence.

Now, a short and simple line from one of my favorite anime series, One Piece.

ルフィは海賊王になる男だ!
“Luffy wa kaizokuou ni naru otoko da!”
(Literal translation: “Luffy is Pirate King become man!”)
(Proper translation: “Luffy is the man who will become Pirate King!”)

Of course, the English translation of the line right there is going to be something you’ll be given if you’re watching the show with subtitles. The Japanese line we have provided and written out is something you’d have to pick up yourself by ear. It goes without saying that this is why learning at least hiragana would be important.

Now for the analysis. How many of these words in this Japanese line, of the seven, do we recognize with our current knowledge?

  • (Luffy/ルフィ) = name of character = noun (also appears before subject/topic marker wa, which means it is a subject/topic/noun)
  • (wa/は) = particle/topic marker
  • (kaizokuou/海賊王) – one of the words we’re likely to not know as a complete beginner
  • (ni/に) = particle
  • (naru/なる) = another word we’re likely to not know as complete beginners, but from what we just learned, we could assume it’s a verb because the ru ending
  • (otoko/男) = the last of three words here that we’re likely to not know, but we might be able to presume that it’s maybe a noun based on the spelling
  • (da/だ) = copula to end the sentence.

So, four out of seven. Not bad. This gives us:

“Luffy is [UNKNOWN NOUN] [UNKNOWN VERB] [UNKNOWN NOUN].”

The only verb in the English translation we have available is “become”, so then we now have:

“Luffy is [UNKNOWN NOUN] become [UNKNOWN NOUN].”

We know from Japanese sentence structure that object type words such as direct objects, indirect objects, etc. are positioned before the verb action unlike in English where they appear after the verb.

So this means the word positioned before our verb, naru/なる, is connected to the action. We refer to the English translation and see that that word is “pirate king”. So then we confirm that kaizokuou/海賊王 means “pirate king.”

“Luffy is Pirate King become [UNKNOWN NOUN].”

Which leaves the last unknown word to become the last word left in our English translations, “man.” Thus, otoko/男 means “man.”

“Luffy is Pirate King become man.”

While this is our definitive answer when it comes to meaning, but we do need to naturalize it to make it sounds like proper English.

”Luffy is the man who will become Pirate King.”

In the end, if we didn’t take the time to learn about Japanese sentence structure, verb words, noun words, adjectives, particles, etc. we would not have had any means to engage in this process of elimination and potentially learn 3 new words from one line of dialogue: kaizokuou/海賊王 means “pirate king,” naru/なる means “to become,” otoko/男 means “man.”

Even if you’re not catching the Japanese lines by ear perfectly and are barely only making sense of two of the seven words-say you only heard the “ni naru” part of that sentence, that can still be good for you because it’s reaffirming for you various nuances about the language such as the fact that you use the particle ni with naru to make the grammar pattern that is “to become.” Admittedly, ni naru is perhaps an overly simple example, but there are in fact a lot of verbs out there wherein it’s hard to remember whether to use them with the particle ni/に or some other particle like o/を.

 

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Is There Really No Such Thing as Swear Words in Japanese?

Is There Really No Such Thing as Swear Words in Japanese?

A. No. There is such a thing as swear words in Japanese, but the “profanity” often heard on Japanese TV isn’t the same kind of profanity as English swear words because they’re not considered “taboo” language.

If you watch a decent amount of Japanese TV such as anime, movies, live-action dramas, etc., you might have noticed that a lot of times subtitles will translate the dialogue to include English profanity or cussing, like the words “shit,” “fuck,” “bitch,” etc.. You might in turn then be wondering if these are accurate translations, because surely the Japanese-equivalent of these words wouldn’t be a part of something like an anime or TV show meant for kids airing in the middle of the day.

This will be the context for this lesson.

Perhaps the simplest way to distinguish between profanity in English and profanity in Japanese is that in English swear words have a double-function of being harsher (or cooler) than normal language and being taboo. And as you can probably already tell, the coolness or the harshness is something that directly derives from the fact that the words are considered inappropriate/taboo. Calling someone “a fucking idiot” as opposed to “a complete idiot”-despite the fact that they both mean the same thing, is way harsher or cooler because the word “fuck” is considered inappropriate/taboo.

Japanese profanity for the most part does not have this double-function. It separates the two functions into two different realms.

It has taboo words but they are scarce, represent a minority of “Japanese profanity,” and you’ll pretty much never hear someone say them in public, even if they’re adults. These will be words such as racially discriminatory terms or perhaps the most infamous example: the Japanese word for vagina. The thing to point out regarding this minority is that they’re typically used for literally cursing someone and do not become flexible like English swear words in which you can say something like “fucking X” or “piece of shit X,” wherein you add on the swear to any given statement to make it sound harsher/cooler overall.

The same pretty much goes for the other way around in that there are also ways the Japanese language makes things sound harsher or more aggressive, but these words won’t be taboo. In fact, most of the time, it won’t even be the actual words but rather the grammar of the entire speech that makes a statement insulting/harsh in Japanese.

If you aren’t a complete beginner of the Japanese language, you’ll know that it has a pretty extensive system of enforcing grammatical specifics like conjugating words a certain way to maintain your speech as-say: polite, formal, honorific, humble, casual, etc. For better or for worse, simply not using polite language to someone in Japanese could be considered insulting enough. This inherent cultural and linguistic difference between Japanese and English in turn influences the way speakers of those respective languages “swear.”

To exhibit this, see the following examples of common Japanese “swearing” and how they are actually words you could perfectly use in formal, real-life conversations, but once you “grammatize” them a certain way they become full-on insulting and frowned upon.

Example(s):

糞 (くそ/kuso)
Definition: “feces, excrement, dung, poop, bullshit, shit, damn”
This is considered a swear when it is said alone and likened to the English exclamation of “Shit!” or “Damnit!” But the word itself is not profane at all, as shown by the following perfectly normal compound words that contain it.

糞虫 (くそむし/kusomushi)
“dung beetle”

鼻糞 (はなくそ/hanakuso)
“booger, snot, mucus, nasal discharge”

糞食らえ (くそくらえ/kuso kurae)
“eat shit!”
In this example, it returns to being part of a swear but it still is not because the word 糞 (くそ/kuso) itself is considered profane. Instead, it is the imperative/command form of the verb 食らう that makes this statement insulting.

糞餓鬼 (くそがき/kusogaki)
“piece of shit brat, son of a bitch”
Another example of it being a part of a swear because the overall statement is offensive

ふざけるなよ! (fuzakeru na yo!)
“cut the shit! stop fucking around!”
This derives from the perfectly normal verb word 巫山戯る (ふざける/fuzakeru), which simply means “to fool around, to joke around, to kid around, to jest, to screw around, etc.”
It becomes an offensive swear not because the word itself is profane but because the casual verb conjugation of it is considered rude. (ふざけんな! would be even stronger with its even shorter/slang-ish form.)
Alternatively, if we were to conjugate it into the more polite, て-Form + 下さい to mean “please do VERB,” then it would become ふざけないで下さい and would be a perfectly okay statement to say in a real life conversation without insulting someone, translating to “please stop fooling around”

うるさい (urusai)
Literal definition: ”noisy, loud“
Likelier English translation (due to how rude it is to be telling someone straight to their face that they are being loud): “Be quiet! Shut up!”

どけ! (doke)
Literal definition of original verb word 退く: “to step aside, to move, to make way”
Likelier English translation (again, due to the imperative command form verb conjugation that expresses aggression): “Get out of my way! Fuck off!”

くたばれ! (kutabare)
Literal definition of original verb くたばる: “to kick the bucket, to drop dead, to die, to croak”
Likelier English translation (again, due to the imperative command form verb conjugation that expresses aggression): “Drop dead! Go to hell!“

Exception Example(s):
These word(s) are both insulting/offensive and considered taboo.

手前 (てめえ/temee)
Definition: “you” (used when the speaker is extremely angry and implies that the addressee is of an inferior stature, therefore it is usually translated into English to something along the lines of “bastard, motherfucker, etc.” instead)

Conclusion: 
While there is such a thing as Japanese profanity, it is very different from English profanity. English profanity is more imaginative, colorful, and has something of a subculture to it, in which new profane, slang words are being termed pretty much everyday (e.g. fuckboy, asshat, dickweed, cumswallow, cocknose shitbucket, etc.). Japanese profanity for the most part consistently derives from the technical points of its grammar due to the language being influenced by Japanese polite culture.