Monday, December 3, 2012

There Are 2 Kinds of Verbs! - う Version

The other main kind of verb is the う verb. The real difference between irregular, る, and う verbs is that they are conjugated differently.

For う verbs, the verbs all end in the う sound. Unlike る verbs where they just ended with る, う verbs end in all other う sounds (く, す, つ, む, ぬ, etc.) INCLUDING る.

Recall that for る verbs, the sound before it was either an い or え sound (i.e. たべる taBERU, おきる oKIRU). For う verbs, it can be any sound. That includes い or え sounds also, making it more confusing!

What does this all mean though? If a verb ends in -ある, うる, or おる, it IS an う verb. If a verb ends in いる or える, it is EITHER a る or う verb. The only way of telling is if you recognize one of its conjugations to distinguish it as る or う, or if you just know what kind of verb it is. Let me give you an example:

かえる (kaeru) - to return
はしる (hashiru) - to run

They both end in いる and える, so that makes them る verbs right? If you were to conjugate these into their -masu forms (drop the る, add -ます), they turn into:

かえます (kaemasu)
はします (hashimasu)

However, this is INCORRECT! It's because these two verbs are う verbs! Their correct -masu forms would be かえります (kaerimasu) and はしります (hashirimasu), respectively. The point here is that if a verb ends in る (even if the sound before it is an い or え sound), it doesn't necessarily make it a る verb! I know this sounds confusing, but you'll eventually learn different conjugations and be able to tell which verbs are る or う.

Here are some examples of  う verbs so you can get a sense of what they look like:

かく (kaku) - to write
よむ (yomu) - to read
はなす (hanasu) - to speak
たつ (tatsu) - to stand
うる (uru) - to sell
あそぶ (asobu) - to play

As you can see, う verbs are much more diverse in the sense that they have more variety in the ending sounds, like -aku in かく (kAKU) and -obu in あそぶ (asOBU).

I know that う verbs seem difficult, but as you learn more and more Japanese you'll learn to tell う and る verbs apart. It'll also be important to recognize the difference too when it comes to seeing conjugated forms so you can work backwards and figure out what the verb actually is. Of course though, this all takes practice, so study hard!

Friday, November 23, 2012

There Are 2 Kinds of Verbs! - る Version

In Japanese, there are two main kinds of verbs. Since it might be confusing for new learners, I'll split it up into two lessons (る and う) and then compare them in the latter lesson.

All Japanese verbs either end in る or う (not necessarily う, but the う sound). For now, we'll focus on る verbs.What is a る verb? Simply put, it's a verb that ends in る. The character BEFORE the る is either an え (e) or い (i) sound. This is very important, and you'll have to remember that. る and う verbs are conjugated differently, with る being the more simple one. Here are a few examples of る verbs in their short form.

たべる (taberu) = to eat
でる (deru) = to exit
みる (miru) = to look; see
おきる(okiru) = to wake up

Notice that they all end with る, and the character before る is either an え (e) or い (i) sound. For the most part, conjugating る verbs is pretty simple. Generally, you'd just drop the る and add the verb suffix to it. For example, if you were to conjugate the verbs above into their -masu form, you'd drop the る and add ます at the end.

たべます (tabemasu) = to eat
でます (demasu) = to exit
みます (mimasu) = to look; see
おきます(okimasu) = to wake up

Pretty simple, right? That's basically how る verbs work. Hopefully this isn't too difficult to understand now, although I understand if it still feels like it. Slowly but surely, we'll learn more about grammar and things will begin to fall in place.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Introduction to Verbs

In Japanese, there are two kinds of verbs: る and う. Well, there are actually three, with the third kind being "irregular verbs." But since there are only two irregular verbs, we'll cover those really quick!

So why are there three different kinds of verbs? It's mainly because they are conjugated differently. Let's take a look at the two irregular verbs:

する (suru) = to do
くる (kuru) = to come

The regular, unchanged form of these verbs is called the "Dictionary" or "Short" form. This form is also used in casual speech, so it may also be viewed as a casual form. The importance of this is that all verbs are conjugated FROM their dictionary forms. します (shimasu) is the -masu form conjugation of する. Although we'll cover -masu forms later, I'll use a little bit here to explain the two irregular verbs.

る and う verbs have their own rules of conjugation, but since する and くる irregular, you'll have to learn these two specifically. To change する and くる to their -masu forms:

する becomes します.
くる becomes きます.

These two verbs will have their own specific forms when it comes to the many Japanese conjugations. For now, the important thing to remember is that する and くる are both irregular verbs! Whenever you learn a new conjugation or verb form, you'll have to find out what する and くる is specifically, since they don't have their own set rules. This may sound confusing, but when you learn about the other verbs and forms of conjugation, I promise it'll be easier to understand.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Particle の

の denotes ownership. Putting の after a noun makes it possessive. For example, わたし means I, or me. わたしの means my, or mine. By doing this, you can put a noun after の to make the first noun possessive of the second noun. That sounds a little confusing, but it's just like this:

A の B

A and B are nouns. A has ownership over B. わたしのねこ (my cat), ともだちのほん (friend's book), せんせいのけんきゅうしつ (teacher's office) are some examples. の can be thought of as "of" or apostrophe S ('s). So those translations can also be "cat of mine," "book of a friend's," "office of the teacher," and it would all generally still have the same meaning. English just has many ways to say one thing.

Hopefully this isn't all too difficult to understand. Start practicing this grammar! You will see it everywhere in Japanese writing and speech.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Sentence Structure

Before we move onto verbs and sentences with verbs, it's important to take a look at sentence structure. To understand the sentence structure of Japanese, we have to take a look at English sentence structure and compare them. Take for example:

I go to school.

I is the subject, go is the verb, and school is the object. So for English, the sentence structure for this is subject, verb, object. Now let's take a look at Japanese.

(Watashi wa gakkou ni ikimasu.)
I go to school. (A literal translation would be 'I school go')

わたし (I) is the subject, がっこう (school) is the object, and いきます (to go) is the verb. As you can see, this is different from English, as the sentence structure is subject, object, verb. It may seem a little confusing, but this is important for forming sentences in Japanese when you use verbs.

So to recap, sentence structure for English and Japanese is like this:
English: subject, verb, object
Japanese: subject, object, verb

This will become more apparent later and especially once you begin forming sentences. Study hard! 

Monday, November 5, 2012

My Name Is...

In this lesson, we'll learn how to introduce ourselves and say our name. Let's take a look at this sentence:

わたしY です。
I am Y.

Does this look familiar? It should, because it's the basic "X は Y です" format. X is わたし (watashi = I), and Y is your name. By using this sentence, you are saying "I am (name)." Let's look at another sentence:

わたしのなまえY です。
My name is Y.

It still uses the same format, except X is わたしのなまえ (watashi no namae = my name). の is a particle that denotes ownership and is like the equivalent of apostrophe S ('s), or "of." The possessive of me is my or mine, which is why わたし itself means "I" and わたしの means "my" or "mine." We'll learn more about particles later.

わたし is used by both males and females, but only males (usually young boys) use ぼく (boku). It would be strange to hear a girl use ぼく. For now, this should be enough information to tell someone your name.

Now that you know how to say your name, go ahead and practice!

Monday, October 29, 2012

X は Y です

Today's lesson is the most basic of sentences in pretty much all languages. We will cover particles later, so for now we'll practice forming the sentences and sounding them out.

"X は Y です" means "X is Y." That's it, simple. The は (ha) that you see in the sentence is not pronounced "ha," but "wa." This is a particle, and it is pronounced that way. For now, just remember that because particles are a whole new lesson themselves (and some people will argue that it is the hardest thing about learning Japanese).

です (desu) is a copula. It's kind of equivalent to the English "to be." It's not a verb though, and it connects a subject and predicate. You will be using です a lot when you speak and write. To say it fast and fluently, it sounds more like "des."

With this sentence format, you can create seemingly complex sentences. For example:

The student who goes to school is a good person.

The sentence may sound complex because there are verbs and adjectives modifying the nouns (student who goes to school, good person) but it's really just in X is Y format. X is student, and Y is person.

Congratulations on learning how to say your first sentence in Japanese. I encourage you to practice and create sentences with nouns that you may know.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Reviewing Katakana

Hopefully you've memorized some Katakana by now. What next? Before we move on, it's time for a pop quiz. They're not fun, but it'll test you on how much you've been practicing.

Highlight with a mouse to see your answer.

オレンジ     オ(o) レ(re) ン(n) ジ(ji)                               orange
パーティー    パ(pa) ー(a) ティ(ti) ー(i)                            party
マクドナルド  (ma) ク(ku) ド(do) ナ(na) ル(ru) ド(do)   McDonalds
ハンバーガー  (ha) ン(n) バ(ba) ー(a) ガ(ga) ー(a)       hamburger
アメリカ      (a) メ(me) リ(ri) カ(ka)                           America
コーラ      (ko) ー(o) ラ(ra)                                    cola
シャツ       ャ(shya) ツ(tsu)                                      shirt
イヤリング    (i) ヤ(ya) リ(ri) ン(n) グ(gu)                   earring
カップル      (ka) ップ(ppu) (small tsu!) ル(ru)           couple
ホチキス      (ho) チ(chi) キ(ki) ス(su)                       stapler

So how did you do? Hopefully you did well. Keep practicing and keep in mind that you'll always have to sharpen and improve your Hiragana and Katakana no matter how skilled you become.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Stroke Order

In this lesson, we're covering the importance of stroke order. What is stroke order? Basically, it's the way you write a character or letter. Take for example a lowercase "t". How do you write this "t"? Do you write a horizontal line first, and then a vertical line? Do you draw from left to right? Up to down? When writing letters of the English alphabet, the order in which you write a character doesn't really matter. In Japanese though, each character has a certain way it is supposed to be written, thus each character has a "stroke order."

Photos source: Wikipedia

You may recall the strange markings on the Katakana chart in the last lesson. I've reposted it above. Notice how there are numbers and arrows. The numbers tell you which stroke to write first, and the arrows tell you in which direction.

You're probably thinking, can't I just cheat and write it however I want? Yes, you can. In fact, when it comes to Kanji, new learners of Japanese often write how they want. I've had a Japanese friend tell me that not writing with the correct stroke order makes the character wrong. I've also had another Japanese friend tell me that it doesn't really matter.

So what's the point of stroke order? Regardless of it being "more work" and "more memorization," there are benefits to running that extra mile. For one, you'll be able to write characters more easily and fluidly because that's how they are supposed to be written. Also, you won't forget the character as easily because writing it over and over develops muscle memory. There have been many instances when I've managed to write a Kanji that I've forgotten, all because my hands were familiar with the stroke order. It's saved my life many times over countless Kanji quizzes and lesson exams in school.

I can give you one more reason, and this one is a personal one I can relate to. Ever get called on in class to write something on the board? Or how about just writing while someone is watching you? Yeah. Too many times I've been embarrassed because I write with incorrect stroke orders in front of a whole class, or having my teacher look over my shoulder to see that I've wrote a Kanji wrong.

And so because I try to write with the correct stroke orders, I generally have less issues with writing a character incorrectly. Some of my friends on the other hand aren't so fortunate. Believe me, sometimes it's just not cool to get points off a problem just because you missed one little stroke on a character. But whether or not you'll be learning Japanese in a classroom setting or on your own, in the long run, committing to stroke orders will very likely do you a lot of good.

I suggest practicing stroke orders now with Hiragana and Katakana. From now on, I also suggest that when you learn a new Kanji, make sure that you learn its stroke order. (Don't be intimidated though, once you start practicing Kanji you'll find that you can get used to it and stroke orders will become second nature).

Friday, September 21, 2012


Now that you've hopefully grasped Hiragana, it's time to learn Katakana. If you forgot, Katakana is the alphabet used for foreign words or expressing emphasis (similar to all caps in English). It has its own 46 characters, but don't worry. They are all the same sounds as Hiragana.

Photo source: Wikipedia

Disregard the WI and WE characters, as they are now obsolete.

Can you see some similarities with Hiragana? The sounds are all the same, but even some characters look similar too. Aside from the similarities though, there are some things unique about Katakana.

Katakana's long sounds (long sounds are covered in an earlier post) don't use any a, i, u, e, or o. Instead, they use a stick, ー. For example, the word party is パーティー (paatii). To make a sound long, you simply have to put in a stick, that's it. I bet it's a major relief, considering that for Hiragana you have to remember that う is used for both long U and O sounds.

Now, I know it seems like I'm contradicting myself. I said before that Japanese people don't really have a sound for "ti" right? In Katakana however, yes, you can make this sound. You do this by writing テ (te) with a small イ (i). This combined creates the "ti" sound.

Similar to "ti," we can also create a "wi" sound (like the Nintendo Wii). We do this by combining ウ (U) with a small イ (I): ウィ. It's literally sounds like UI, but if you say it fast and combine both sounds, it begins to sound like (wi).

Katakana is strange, yes. But it's another alphabet for the Japanese language and is as crucial as Hiragana. As a student, you shouldn't complain about having to memorize more characters, because they are pretty easy to memorize if you study them! From my own personal experience, Hiragana and Katakana can be mastered in about a month each (or even less if you're really dedicated).

Begin studying and memorizing your Katakana!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Reviewing Hiragana

Hopefully you've been studying your Hiragana and have began memorizing the characters! Before we move onto Katakana though, it's always important to review what you've learned so far. I'll write some simple words and see if you can try and read them. Highlight the black lines for the answer. がんばって!

Bonus Points! Try to pronounce it correctly and read it out loud!

うち        (u) (chi)                            house
いぬ        (i) (nu)                              dog
あかい      (a) (ka) (i)                    red
たべもの    (ta) (be) (mo) (no)    food
はしる      (ha) (shi) (ru)                to run
おおきい    (o) (o) (ki) (i)            big
つなみ      (tsu) (na) (mi)               tidal wave
たこやき    (ta) (ko) (ya) (ki)      octopus dumplings
きっぷ      (ki) っぷ(ppu) (small tsu!)   ticket
わたし      (wa) (ta) (shi)               I; me

How well did you do? If you got them all correct, great! It never hurts to keep practicing Hiragana even if you can already read it because you can improve your reading speed. And trust me, reading speed is very important when learning a new language!

Anyways, this is all for now. Be ready for Katakana next time!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Long Sounds

I'm back again with another quick lesson about Hiragana! This time it's as the title suggests: long sounds.

What are long sounds? They're basically just making a character sound longer. Take for example, とうきょう (Tōkyō). To English speakers, the capital of Japan is Tokyo, but it's really pronounced Tōkyō, with both O's being long. The length of pronouncing it should be about 2 syllables, and here's why.

とうきょう is spelled in romaji "toukyou." The う (u) that you see is not pronounced "ooh," (to-ooh, kyo- ooh is incorrect) because it follows an -o sound. If う (u) follows an -o sound, it makes the O sound long. So simply saying "Tokyo" when you're speaking Japanese is incorrect. You have to make the O's long, the length of two syllables: "Too-kyoo."

To make -a sounds like ka, sa, ma, etc. long, you follow the characters with あ.
To make -i sounds like ki, shi, mi, etc. long, you follow the characters with い.
To make -e sounds like ke, se, me, etc. long, you follow the characters with え.*
To make -u sounds like ku, su, mu, etc. long, you follow the characters with う.
To make -o sounds like ko, so, mo, etc. long, you follow the characters with う.**

*This is pretty uncommon, although it exists. You'll more likely see combinations of -e with い (i), as in せんせい (sensei).
**Mentioned earlier above with the example with とうきょう (Toukyou), to make -o sounds long, you have to follow it with う. Very rarely will you see -o with an お. HOWEVER, it does exist, making it that much more confusing! A very common word, such as おおきい (big) exists. The "o" sound is long, because there are two お's. You'll just have to remember which -o words are long with お!

I know this little lesson may be confusing, so if there are any questions or comments, or more examples are needed, comment below!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Combinations in Hiragana

So we've learned the Hiragana characters and all the extra characters... but there's just a little more. Don't worry, it's not as bad as you think it is.

The main combinations that we'll use over and over again (and you'll see a lot of it in words) consist of a character (usually from the -i sound) combined with a small Y character. As you may remember, there are only 3 Y characters: ya, yu, and yo. What this combination does is that it just combines the sound into one. I know this may sound confusing, but let's take it step by step.

Compare these two:

きよ (kiyo) and きょ (kyo)

Do you notice that the regular-sized yo is its own sound, whereas the small yo paired with ki makes it into one sound altogether? The same is true for other combinations of -i and the Y characters:

きゃ (kya), きゅ (kyu), しゃ (sha or shya), しゅ (shu or shyu), しょ (sho or shyo), びゃ (bya), びゅ (byu), びょ (byo), just to name a few.

Pretty easy, right? Now, you can take a look at the last box below the main Hiragana chart (given two posts ago) and understand what those characters are. Remember, a regular-sized Y character and a small Y character are not the same! Using them incorrectly or writing them ambiguously may confuse readers and even spell different words! Take a look at this example, it's two words that tripped me up quite a few times:

びょういん (byouin) = hospital
びよういん (biyouin) = beauty salon

Yeah, you want to avoid these mistakes. If you ever get confused or can't tell if it's a small character, make sure that you ask someone!

Now go and study your Hiragana! If there are any questions or comments, please post them below!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dakuten and Handakuten (Tenten and Maru)

We're back with where we left off on our Hiragana lesson! This time we're covering dakuten and handakuten. Dakuten () is also called ten ten (which means dot dot) and handakuten () is called maru (circle). This is colloquial, meaning that dakuten and handakuten are really only called tenten and maru in speech. If you've ever been taught Japanese from a professor, most likely you'll have heard it as tenten and maru. For this lesson, we'll use tenten and maru.

So what the heck does tenten and maru do? Well, recall that Japanese characters usually consist of a consonant and a vowel. If you look at the Hiragana chart from the last lesson, you might notice that those aren't all the consonants. Yes, that's right, there are more: G, Z, D, B, and P. These characters though use the same characters as the K, S, T, and H column, except they include a tenten or maru. It's a little hard to explain, but seeing it this way might make it easier to understand:

K  + (tenten) =  G
か (ka) + (tenten) = が (ga)

S  +  (tenten) = Z
さ (sa) + (tenten) = ざ (za)

 And the pattern repeats itself, with: T + tenten = D, and H + tenten = B.

It's different with P though, and this is where maru comes in:

H + (maru) = P
は(ha) + (maru) = (pa)
I enlarged the text to make the maru more visible. On normal sized font, it's so small it may be mistaken for a tenten (ぱ). See what I mean?

Anyways, P is the only consonant that uses maru, so whenever you see a character with a maru, you should know right away that it is a P sound. To recap, H can split into B or P depending on if it uses a tenten (it becomes B) or if it uses a maru (it becomes P).

Now that you know this, you can take a look at the Hiragana chart posted on our last lesson and look at the smaller chart to the left of it. It makes sense now, doesn't it?

Lastly, something to note about these additional characters.

You remember that ち is pronounced chi and not ti, right? And し is pronounced shi, not see? With tenten, these two characters become ぢ and じ, respectively, but they are both pronounced the same: ji. Also similar to this is づ (dzu) and ず (zu), as they are both pronounced zu. It's strange, I know (za, ji, zu, ze, zo for the Z column and da, ji, zu, de, do for the D column). You'll probably see one more common than the other, but that does not mean that they are the same character! For example, you'll rarely see the character ぢ (dji) and づ (dzu) compared to じ (ji) and ず (zu), but they'll appear in some words: つづく (tsuzuku = to continue). つずく (pronounced the same way) is a misspelling for this verb.

And this is the end of our lesson for today! If there are any questions or comments (I know this stuff can be pretty confusing), please post them below!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Photo source: TextFugu, with editing for formatting

Hey everyone, I'm finally back with a new lesson after a long period of inactivity, and this time it's all about Hiragana! I'm sure you have an idea of what Hiragana is by now, but if you've forgotten, it's mainly the alphabet for Japanese words.

First, I want you to take a look at the chart posted above. Focusing on just the bigger chart on the top-left, notice that there are a total of 46 characters. These are the characters that make up Hiragana. This chart is read from right to left (I know, I know... but trust me, it's not that bad looking at it this way). Look at the column on the right side, and notice that it's just the vowels: A I U E O. If you've forgotten how to pronounce them, there are little bubbles on the right that will give you an example of what it sounds like. Now, keeping in mind that reading the column goes like "ah, ee, oo, eh, oh," move over to the next column to the left.

Notice that the next characters all start with the consonant K? So read down that column: "kah, key, koo, keh, koh." Easy, right? With the alphabet in this format, all of a sudden Japanese doesn't seem so difficult anymore yeah?

Go to the next column, and this time the consonant is S: "sah, shee, soo, seh, soh." Whoa, wait- what? "Shee?" That's right, the character し (shi) is pronounced "shee" instead of "see." Why is that? Well, simply put, the Japanese language doesn't have a sound for "see," and usually, Japanese people can't pronounce these characters that are either modified in sound or taken out (more on that in a bit). Just keep in mind that it's pronounced "shee."

As you can see, the next columns just replace the consonants with other ones: T, N, H, M, R, Y, and W. If you look in the T column, "tee" is pronounced "chi" and "too" is pronounced "tsu." Again, this is how they are pronounced, and it's usually difficult for Japanese people to pronounce "tee" and "too." Also, you might have noticed that there are some blank spots in the Y column, and most of the W column. Yes, that's right. The Japanese language doesn't have characters and sounds for "yee, yeh, wee, woo, and weh." Now, you'll probably understanding why learning Japanese is a lot easier for English speakers and not for the other way around. We can pronounce all of their characters, even the missing ones that we think should be there.

Lastly, some notes about these characters: を (wo) is generally pronounced the same as お (o), although some dialects retain it as "wo." Whenever you see it though (trust me, you will), just pronounce it the same as お (o), or "oh."

And as stated earlier in one of my posts, is just "nn." Clench your teeth together when you say it, it should sound like "mm" (you know, when you eat something good), except with an N instead of M. This will probably seem like a strange character, but it isn't and is pretty common in a lot of words. For example: きん "kin," = gold.

If there are any questions or comments, please post them below! I was going to include dakuten in this lesson but I think this post is long enough. Until then, print out the chart and start memorizing your Hiragana!