handakuten [ ゚] and dakuten [ ゙], and the little や、ゆ、よ, and つ (Unofficial Tips & Notes)

[This version is open for comments.]

If you tend to get overwhelmed with technical stuff, I recommend reading this whole thing once. Then, go through and focus only on the highlighted parts. (All of this is good, but the yellow stuff is essential. I recommend writing it down to help it stay in your memory.)

The handakuten [] and dakuten [] are Japanese diacritical marks that alter the sound of the kana they are attached to. For instance, は (ha) becomes ぱ (pa) and て (te) becomes で (de).

Hirigana diacritical chart.
To see what these look and sound like without the handakuten and dakuten, click here

There are two things Japanese learners generally think of when someone mentions "little kana". The first is "furigana". These are the miniature hiragana sometimes placed over kanji to give you the pronunciation.
Furigana Usagi

The second kind are the や、ゆ、よ, and つ.

Starting with や、ゆ、よ, these have to do with mora (timing).

Take the words byouin (hospital) and biyouin (beauty parlor). These words are very similar to each other. However, Japanese has no stand alone B sound. And, also these words are pronounced slightly different.

What is the difference in pronunciation?

(With little ょ):
びょういん Byo/O/I/N (hospital)
(4 beats of sound)

(Without little よ):
びよういん BI/YO/O/I/N (beauty parlor)
(5 beats of sound)

*Note: Space between / and / take up one beat of sound.

Note on pronunciation: whenever you see お (O) followed by う (U), it means to draw out the O sound for an extra beat of time, instead of making the U sound.

The sokuon works a little bit differently. (sokuon = The miniaturized tsu っ or ッas represented in katakana). This appears when there is a doubled consonant, because in Japanese double consonants create a glottal stop. For instance, matte in English is not written as まてて in kana. It is written as まって.

To pronounce this, think of beats of sound:
まて is MA/TE (2 beats of sound).
まって is MA/ /TE (3 beats of sound.)

To form the Japanese glottal stop in まって:
After saying MA, put the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth, but hold it for just a second before saying the final TE.

Other Unofficial Tips & Notes:
Japanese Skill: Position

As always, I am not a native Japanese speaker. If I have made a mistake, you are welcome let me know in the comments below. ^_^

July 13, 2017


One minor point: I think you got the words for beauty parlor and hospital mixed up.

hospital: びょういん

beauty parlor: びよういん

July 13, 2017
  • 1405

Mixing those up could prove rather awkward in real life! :-) It beautifully illustrates the importance of choosing the correct symbol, however.

July 13, 2017

Yes, just imagine if you told the cab you wanted to go to the nearest hospital, and they took you to the nearest beauty parlor! It is why I chose those two, maximum mnemonic potential :)

July 13, 2017

This is a good point, beginners of the language tend to get these mixed up. They look and sound similar, but they are quite different.

I always tell people to look at it like this:

Hospital = Byo-in (byoo-een) A quick byo sound

Beauty Parlor = Bi-You-in (bee-yoh-een) A short Bi sound beside a long Yo sound.

July 13, 2017

Faisane, thank you so much for catching that!

July 13, 2017

No problem. Very useful article, btw!

July 13, 2017

Thank you for posting this! Another tip is if you are writing them on genkou youshi (Japanese writing paper split up into boxes) the small kana goes in the upper right corner of the box :)

July 13, 2017

Very useful overview! I liked your furigana example^^

July 13, 2017

We are from the same Japanese club, right?

July 13, 2017


July 14, 2017


July 13, 2017

Hey good job! I always enjoy reading your posts.

July 13, 2017
  • 848

Thank you for the tips

July 13, 2017


July 13, 2017
  • 1405

Excellent post! :-)

July 13, 2017


(Okay, I installed the keyboard purely to say thank you, and wow, the Japanese keyboard on iOS is totally confusing LOL so I ended up using voice recognition. This is by way of saying, if I messed up, I'm sorry. But thank you, this is very useful. I remembered about the dashes and the dots, but I had forgotten (and couldn't figure out from the course) what the little kana meant.)

August 3, 2017

Sokoun =

You misspelled "Sokuon" in the parenthetical after "The sokuon works a little bit differently."

October 15, 2017

Many thanks for catching the typo, V2Blast!

October 15, 2017
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