skilled (sup. hand)
so, appearance of
! (…, I’d say!)
to be (arcaic)
- Words ending in -i and -na, like ‘haya-i’ and ‘jouzu-na’, are i-adjectives and na-adjectives.
- Kanjis in red are correct but usually the word is written in kana.
Eng: Your Japanese is good!
lit: You? Your Japanese! You are skilled at it!
formal (show me)
anata wa ni-hon-go ga jouzu desu ne!
あなたは にほんごが じょうず ですね。
casual (show me)
kimi wa ni-hon-go ga jouzu da na!
きみは にほんごが じょうず だな。
The following comments explain some of the grammar in more detail.
to be – desu
In Lesson 1 we saw ‘desu’, the formal non-past positive of the verb ‘to be’. Lesson 2 introduces ‘ja arimasen’, the formal non-past negative. All of these terms have a casual form:
- ‘da’ is the casual form of ‘desu’,
- ‘ja’ is the casual form of ‘dewa’, and
- ‘nai’ is the casual form of ‘ari-masen’
Hence, the positive and negative non-past conjugations of ‘desu’ are:
All combinations of [dewa/ja][arimasen/nai] are valid; in general, the longer the combination, the more formal the form, e.g.,
You? You are Japanese.
You? You are not Japanese.
anata wa nihon-jin desu.
anata wa nihon-jin da.
anata wa nihon-jin dewa ari-masen.
anata wa nihon-jin dewa nai desu.
anata wa nihon-jin dewa nai.
anata wa nihon-jin ja ari-masen.
anata wa nihon-jin ja nai desu.
anata wa nihon-jin ja nai.
‘dewa’ and the ‘masu’ form are always formal, while using ‘desu’ adds to the formality of a sentence.
Prefixes and suffixes
o – お
‘o’ (お) is an honorific; we add it to a word to show respect. As a general rule, ‘o-‘ is used only with words of Japanese origin, like ‘o-sake’ (rice wine) or ‘o-mizu’ (water) , while the honorific ‘go-‘ is only used with words of Chinese origin, like ‘go-han’ (rice or meal), or ‘go-kazoku’ (your family); words of foreign origin, usually written in katakana, normally don’t take neither ‘o-‘ nor ‘go-‘ [wikibooks].
An exception to restricting the use of ‘o-‘ to Japanese words is ‘o-cha’, i.e., tea; the Japanese adopted tea so strongly and so long ago that the word is treated as a Japanese-origin one. Tea was imported from China, so there is no Japanese original word for it, and thus its kanji, 茶, doesn’t have Japanese readings (kun-yomis) but only the Chinese readings (on-yomis) ‘cha’ and ‘sa’.
We do not apply honorifics to ourselves or anyone or anything related to ourselves, like our own family or company. Hence, let’s go over the last example: ‘genki’ doesn’t mean ‘health’ exactly; it is something like ‘vigor’ or ‘life energy’, and asking for someone’s ‘vigor’ is similar to the English ‘Are you well?’. Now, we’d use the ‘o-‘ honorific when we ask about how someone is faring because someone else’s well-being is very important, but when we refer to our own well-being that, politely-speaking, is not as important, we do not use the honorific:
Are you well?
Yes, I am well.
o-genki desu ka?
hai, genki desu.
Lesson 2 introduces the i-adjectives and na-adjectives. i-adjectives behave like verbs – we can conjugate them, while na-adjectives behave more like English adjectives.
Lesson 2 introduces two i-adjectives: ‘haya-i’ (is early), from which we get the greeting ‘o-hayou’, and ‘i-i’ (is good), which is a special case of i-adjectives. In Lesson 7 we will see the i-adjective ‘hoshi-i’ (is desirable), which we also use here for the examples.
All i-adjectives end with an ‘-i’ that plays the role of the verb ‘is’. The stem of an i-adjective is the adjective without this final ‘-i’, e.g., the stem of ‘hoshi-i’ is ‘hoshi’, and the stem of ‘i-i’ is ‘i’:
i-adjectives don’t change when we use them as nouns, or when we use them to modify nouns; in the next example, ‘good’ works as an adjective in the first sentence (‘good weather’), and as a noun in the second one (‘is good’), but in both cases we simply write the adjective as ‘i-i’:
It is good weather.
the weather! It is good.
i-i o-tenki desu.
o-tenki ga i-i.
いい おてんき です。
In ‘i-i o-tenki desu’, ‘i-i’ is an adjective that modifies the noun ‘o-tenki’; all Japanese sentences end in a verb, so we need to add ‘desu’ to get a complete sentence:
i-i o-tenki desu ➝ good the weather is
The second sentence is different, though, because apparently it does not end in a verb, but instead ends in an adjective. However, i-adjectives work as verbs , because the final ‘-i’ works as ‘is'[stackexchange]. Hence, this sentence is correct:
o-tenki ga i-i ➝ the weather! good is
We cannot add the verb ‘desu’ to the end of this sentence, because we end up with
o-tenki ga i-i desu ➝ the weather! good is is
which is incorrect; basically we would have two verbs. However, we can still use ‘desu’ as a decorator that adds politeness to the sentence without conjugating it, i.e., we can add it or remove it at will:
the weather! It is good.
o-tenki ga i-i desu.
o-tenki ga i-i.
おてんきが いい です。
So, in this case, ‘desu’ is not acting as a verb, but merely as a decorator that increases the politeness of the sentence. Also, we can use ‘desu’ to raise the politeness of the casual form, but we cannot use ‘da’ to lower it. Hence, ‘-i desu’ is correct, but ‘-i da’ is not.
Since ‘desu’ works as a decoration to make the causal i-adjective formal, we can also use it to decorate the casual negative adjective and make it formal:
-ku [ari-masen/nai (desu)]
Again, notice that ‘-i’ was conjugated to ‘-ku [ari-masen/nai (desu)]’ but ‘desu’ remained the same, without conjugating to its negative ‘ja ari-masen’ [thoughtco]. Also, we can raise the politeness of ‘-ku nai’ but not that of ‘-ku arimasen’. For example:
I [don’t/won’t] desire
hoshi-ku nai desu.
This grammar is different from English. In English, we would say ‘I want x’, using the verb ‘to want’, while in Japanese we say ‘x is desired’ or ‘x is desirable’, using the adjective ‘hoshi-i’.
i-i – good
‘i-i’ (is good) is an exception to the conjugation of i-adjectives. The old way to write ‘is good’ is ‘yo-i’; it later changed to ‘i-i’ so now the stem of this i-adjective is ‘i-‘, which is used for the non-past positive, but for all other tenses the old form of ‘yo-‘ is still used:
It [is/will be] good
It [isn’t/won’t be] good
yo-ku nai desu.
na-adjectives don’t change when we use them as nouns, but we have to add the suffix ‘-na’ when we apply them to nouns. For the next example, we use the na-adjective ‘iya’ (bad, disagreeable), that we will see in Lesson 3, so we can contrast it with the i-adjective ‘i-i’ (good) from this lesson:
it is bad weather
the weather! it is bad
iya-na o-tenki desu.
o-tenki ga iya desu.
いやな おてんき です。
おてんきが いや です。
Conjugate the na-adjectives using the copula, as follows:
[dewa/ja] [ari-masen/nai (desu)]
All combinations of [dewa/ja][arimasen/nai (desu)] are valid; the longer the combination, the more formal the form, e.g.,
I [am/will be] skilled
I [am not/will not be] skilled
jouzu dewa ari-masen.
jouzu dewa nai desu.
jouzu dewa nai.
jouzu ja ari-masen.
jouzu ja nai desu.
jouzu ja nai.
i-adj. conjugated as na-adj
To the Japanese ear, conjugating a na-adjective sounds more ‘poetic’ than conjugating an i-adjective, so sometimes an i-adjective is conjugated as if it was a na-adjective; this happens often in songs. The three most common i-adjectives that we can conjugate as na-adjectives can mean many different things:
big, large, great; loud; extensive, spacious; old; important
small, little, tiny; slight, minor; soft; young; unimportant
funny, amusing; strange, odd, peculiar; improper; suspicious
big, large, great
small, little, tiny
ridiculous, odd, funny
de – で
This conjunction does not appear in Lesson 2, but it is the origin of ‘dewa’, which is the formal version of ‘ja’, that does appear.
‘de’ (で), as a conjunction, means ‘so’ or ‘and then’.
dewa/jaa – では・じゃあ
‘jaa’ (じゃあ), also written as ‘ja’ (じゃ), is the contraction of the conjunction ‘de’ (で) and the particle ‘wa’ (は); this is why we can replace ‘dewa ari-masen’ with ‘jaa ari-masen’.
‘de’ (で) means ‘so’ or ‘and then’, and ‘wa'(は) is the question mark ‘?’, so ‘de-wa’ would mean a polite ‘Then?’. In the recordings, the contraction ‘jaa’ (じゃあ) is translated as ‘Well, then…’, but we will simply use ‘Then…’ often. Whether this ‘Then…’ is formal or casual depends on whether we use ‘dewa’ or ‘jaa’.
ne/na – ね・な
This particle seeks agreement (ne?), or provides confirmation (ne!). The formal version of the particle is ‘ne’ (ね), and the casual one is ‘na’ (な):
seeking agreement – ne?
In this case, the sentence is a question, and ‘ne?’ means ‘wouldn’t you say?’, or ‘right?’:
Nice weather, right?
i-i o-tenki desu ne?
i-i o-tenki da ne?
i-i o-tenki da na?
いい おてんき ですね?
いい おてんき だね?
いい おてんき だな?
providing confirmation – ne!
In this case the sentence is a statement, and ‘ne!’ means ‘right!’, ‘I agree!’, or “I’d say!”. We’ll translate this ‘ne!’ as a simple exclamation mark ‘!’:
It is so!
sou desu ne!
sou da ne!
sou da na!
It’s not so!
sou dewa ari-masen ne!
sou dewa nai ne!
sou ja ari-masen ne!
sou ja nai na!
そう では ありませんね!
そう では ないね!
そう じゃ ありませんね!
そう じゃ ないな!
masculine and femenine language
- ‘ne’ (ね) is neutral, and is used by both men and women
- A woman might say ‘wa ne’ (わね) or ‘waa ne’ (わあね) instead of ‘ne’
- A man might say ‘ze’ (ぜ) instead of ‘ne’
mata – また
‘mata’ (また) means ‘again’; we combine it with ‘dewa’ or ‘ja’ to say ‘Then… (see you) again’, which means ‘see you later’; we can also drop the ‘mata’ to simply mean ‘Then… (see you)’:
Then… (see you) again
Then… (see you)
‘morning – おはよう, お早う
- ‘o-‘ is the honorific
- ‘hayou’ is a noun meaning ‘early’. Its kanji is 早う.
- ‘gozaru’ is an old form of the verb ‘to be’, so the -masu form makes it a polite ‘is’.
Although ‘o-hayou gozai-masu’ means ‘good morning’, in certain contexts it can be used at any time. For example, in some places it is used to greet someone for the first time in a day, regardless of when the encounter takes place.
It has many shortened forms; the shorter the form, the more casual it is:
kana show me
‘ossu’ would be something like ‘hey’ or ‘sup.
That is so – そうですか・そっか
A lot of the expression of the Japanese language comes from ending particles and intonation. The same expression can indicate a mild or a strong agreement, self-reflection, exasperation, a question, etc. We were introduced to the verb ‘desu’ (with its casual form ‘da’), which means ‘to be’, and the two particles ‘ka’ and ‘ne’ (with its casual from ‘na’). In future lessons we will also be introduced to the ending particle ‘yo’, which indicates a stronger feeling, and ‘nani’/’nan’ which means ‘what’. ‘sou’ glues all these words together to indicate mild and strong agreement, self-reflection, and exasperation. Here is a summary of their meanings.
that is right
is that right?
is that really right?
You are so right; that is how it is!!!
You are right; that is how it is!
I agree; that is how it is
that’s is so
sou nan desu ka?
sou desu ka
sou desu ka?
sou desu ka…?
sou desu yo
sou desu yo ne
sou desu ne
sou nan da?
sou da [ne/na]
- Although ‘yo’ shows up soon enough in the lessons, in a pinch, if we can think of ‘ne’ and ‘na’ as an exclamation mark (!), we can think of ‘yo’ as three exclamations marks (!!!).
- As shown above, all the forms in which ‘desu’ appears are formal, and all of those in which it is replaced by ‘da’ or it is absent are casual.
- In the list, ‘sou desu ka?’ is an example of when we pose the expression as a question, and ‘sou desu ka…?’ is an example of when we pose it as a self-reflection.
- ‘sou desu yo ne’ is interesting because it averages the strong agreement effect of ‘yo’ and the simple agreement effect of ‘ne’. This combination of ending particles to express degrees or combinations of feelings is common.
- ‘sou ka na’, which combines the ending particles ‘ka’ and ‘na’, appears to be similar to the expressions above; however, it does not indicate agreement but instead it means ‘I wonder if that is right?’, casting a doubt on the statement.