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Japanese - basic info about grammar and writing systems (JLPT series).

The Japanese language is:

  • SOV (Subject - Object - Verb) order language:
    the verb comes last in the sentence, though exclamation marks, such as yo (よ) or ne (ね), or the question mark ka (か ) or no (の) may be placed after it.

  • Head-final, left branching:
    the particle modifying the word comes AFTER the word:

This is like placing adjectives in English - the noun (modified part) comes after the adjective (the modifying part) - ie. nice person - "nice"modifies the "person". (in contrast to "person nice")


ADJECTIVE + THING = THING that is ADJECTIVE; shiroi neko(しろいねこ) - white cat

PERSON + no (の) + THING = PERSON'S THING; kare no kuruma(かれのくるま) - his car

TIME/SPECIFIC PLACE + ni (に) = at TIME/SPECIFIC PLACE; (Watashi wa) kouen ni ikimasu.((わたしは)こうえんにいきます。) - (I) go to the park.

PLACE + de (で) = at PLACE; gakkou de(がっこうで) - at school

It carries over to constructing complex sentences, for example relative clauses:

I drink water, then I eat bread. - 水お飲んで、パンを食べます

Subordinate sentences always precede what they refer to.

Because it's cold, I'm wearing a jacket. -さむいから、うわぎをきています。

  • Topic prominent:

Watashi wa Maria (私はマリア) - I am Maria. - as for me/speaking of me, I'm Maria.

Watashi ga Maria (私がマリア)- I am Maria. - emphasis that it is you that is Maria.

  • Japanese nouns are noninflexing and don't have grammatical gender, number and articles:

there's no plural form of nouns; "neko" can mean both "cat" and "cats", which can mean both male and female cats; the differences have to be picked up from the context. There are no grammatical cases - although, there are particles.


Case Particle
Nominative が (ga) for subject (emphatic), は (wa) for the topic
Genitive の (no) - possesive particle
Dative に (ni) - at time/location/place, で (de) - at place
Accusative を (wo) - action performed ON something
Lative (contains locative) へ (e) - used for general destination direction, に (ni) - for specific direction
Ablative から (kara) - used for source direction, since, from,
Instrumental で (de) - using, by means, at a specific place,
  • The grammatical subject is often omitted:

(Watashi wa) inu ga suki desu. - Inu ga suki desu. - (I like) dogs.

(Watashi wa) hoteru ni ikimashita. - Hoteru ni ikimashita. - I went to the hotel.

The "watashi wa"part can be ommited, since considering the context, you're referring to yourself. Silarly, when asking question to specific person, "anata wa" at the beginning can be ommited.

When does that happen:
- when the subject can be omitted without causing ambiguity;
- when the sentence is connected to the previous sentence;

Order of writing:

Traditionally, Japanese is written vertically (縦書き - tategaki). Characters are written in columns, from top to bottom, and from right to left, just like in the Chinese traditional order. It is still used in manga (although with left-to-right order), poetry and some novels and magazines, but in modern Japanese texts the horizontal writing (横書き - yokogaki ), top-to-bottom and left-to-right, is mostly used.

INTERESTING FACT: materials written in vertical writting are usually bound on the right side, to make turning pages easier. Punctuation marks adapt to the order of writing by rotating clockwise 90 degrees.

Japanese writing systems - introdution.

There are three writing systems in Japanese:

Two syllabic scripts (kana - 仮名):

  • Hiragana (平仮名) - used for native or naturalised Japanese words; also used for inflectional endings - okurigana (送り仮名): 見 ->見: see -> saw; 白 ->白かった:white -> was white

  • Katakana (片仮名) - used for loanwords (garaigo - words that are foreign in origin); examples: トイレ - toilet, テレビ - TV), foreign countries (アメリカ - America), places and names; scientific terms (animals, plants and minerals; especially their Latin names), onomatopoeia (ピンポン - pinpon, the "ding-dong" sound of a doorbell) and sometimes emphasis (similar to italicisation); they're also used for terms that are comlicated to write in kanji (example: ローソク - rōsoku, candle; it's kanji it's rather difficult to write: 蝋燭); also used to imply that the speech is robotic or foreign in accent; sometimes it is used for transcription of company names: スズキ - Suzuki, トヨタ - Toyota;


  • Hiragana and katakana both have 46 basic characters (or 48, with two obsolete kana "wi" ゐ/ヰ and "we" ゑ/ヱ, which are not in common use anymore), called the gojūon - 五十音, "fifty sounds" which refers to the size of the grid representing them; each of them corresponds with a one sound - mora.

  • The rows are called dan (段), and the columns gyō (行). They are named for their first entry; the rows are: あ段, い段, う段, え段, お段 ; the columns are: (in left-to-right order) わ行, ら行, や行, ま行, は行, な行, た行, さ行, か行, あ行.

NOTE: Colored kana are obsolete and rarely used now.

  • Hiragana (Katakana):
~ k s t n h m y r w
a あ (ア) か (カ) さ (サ) た (タ) な (ナ) は (ハ) ま (マ) や (ヤ) ら (ラ) わ (ワ) ん (ン)
~ a ka sa ta na ha ma ya ra wa -n
i い (イ) き (キ) し (シ) ち (チ) に (ニ) ひ (ヒ) み (ミ) り (リ) ゐ (ヰ)
~ i ki shi chi ni hi mi - ri wi
u う (ウ) く (ク) す (ス) つ (ツ) ぬ (ヌ) ふ (フ) む (ム) ゆ (ユ) る (ル) -
~ u ku su tsu nu fu mu yu ru -
e え (エ) け (ケ) せ (セ) て (テ) ね (ネ) へ (ヘ) め (メ) - れ (レ) ゑ (ヱ)
~ e ke se te ne he me - re we
o お (オ) こ (コ) そ (ソ) と (ト) の (ノ) ほ (ホ) も (モ) よ (ヨ) ろ (ロ) を (ヲ)
~ o ko so to no ho mo yo ro wo

The 46 characters are: 5 singular vowels (a, i, u, e, o), 40 consonant–vowel unions, 1 singular consonant (n).

Some basic consonant-vowel unions can be modified by:

  • dakuten [ ゙ ] (濁点 - "voicing mark"; colloquial: "dots" 点々 - ten-ten) - indicates that the voiceless consonant should be voiced: k→g, ts/s→z, t→d, h→b and ch/sh→j; (for example: か (ka) ->が (ga))

  • handakuten [ ゚ ] (半濁点 - "half voicing mark"; colloquial: "circle" 丸 -maru) - makes "h" pronounced as "p"(example: へ (he) -> ぺ (pe))

  • Dakuten & handakuten:

g z d b p ng
a が (ガ) ざ (ザ) だ (ダ) ば (バ) ぱ (パ) か゚ (カ゚)
~ ga za da ba pa nga
i ぎ (ギ) じ (ジ) ぢ (ヂ) び (ビ) ぴ (ピ) き゚ (キ゚)
~ gi ji ji bi pi ngi
u ぐ (グ) ず (ズ) づ (ヅ) ぶ (ブ) ぷ (プ) く゚ (ク゚)
~ gu zu zu bu pu ngu
e げ (ゲ) ぜ (ゼ) で (デ) べ (ベ) ぺ (ペ) け゚ (ケ゚)
~ ge ze de be pe nge
o ご (ゴ) ぞ (ゾ) ど (ド) ぼ (ボ) ぽ (ポ) こ゚ (コ゚)
~ go zo do bo po ngo

Extended katakana (tokushuon)

  • sometimes used for transcribing foreign words.

Additional syllables:

a-row:: クヮ-kwa, グヮ - gwa, ツァ - tsa, ファ - fa, ヴァ - va;
i-row:: クィ - kwi, グィ - gwi, スィ - si, ズィ - zi, ティ - ti, ツィ - tsi, ディ - di, フィ - fi, イィ - yi, ウィ - wi, ヴィ - vi;
u-row::トゥ - tu, ドゥ - du, ホゥ - hu, ウゥ - wu, ヴ - vu;
e-row:: クェ - kwe, グェ - gwe, ツェ - tse, フェ - fe, イェ - ye, ウェ - we, ヴェ - ve;
o-row:: クォ - kwo, グォ - gwo, ツォ - tso, フォ - fo, ウォ - wo, ヴォ - vo;
ya-row:: フャ - fya, ヴャ - vya;
yu-row:: テュ - tyu, デュ - dyu, フュ - fyu, ウュ - wyu, ヴュ - vyu;
ye-row:: キェ - kye, ギェ - gye, シェ - she, ジェ - je, チェ - che, ニェ - nye, ヒェ - hye, フィェ - fye, ビェ - bye, ピェ - pye, ミェ - mye, リェ - rye, ヴィェ - vye;
yo-row:: フョ - fyo, ヴョ - vyo;
  • Digraphs - yōon (拗音) - words contracted from diphtong (kana + smaller version of "ya", "yu", "yo") Example: today - kyō - きょう- with small "yo" (よ)

NOTE: In earlier Japanese, yōon could also be formed with the kana wa, wi, we, and wo: くゎ/クヮ kwa, くゐ/クヰ kwi, くゑ/クヱ kwe, くを/クヲ kwo. Although obsolete in modern Japanese, kwa and kwi can still be found in several of the Ryukyuan languages today, while kwe is formed with the digraph くぇ. Instead of the kana き, these are formed with the kana for ku, く/ク.

k s t n h m r
ya きゃ (キャ) しゃ (シャ) ちゃ (チャ) にゃ (ニャ) ひゃ (ヒャ) みゃ (ミャ) りゃ (リャ)
~ kya sha cha nya hya mya rya
yu きゅ (キュ) しゅ (シュ) ちゅ (チュ) にゅ (ニュ) ひゅ (ヒュ) みゅ (ミュ) りゅ (リュ)
~ kyu shu chu nyu hyu myu ryu
yo きょ (キョ) しょ (ショ) ちょ (チョ) にょ (ニョ) ひょ (ヒョ) みょ (ミョ) りょ (リョ)
~ kyo sho cho nyo hyo myo ryo
  • Yoon + Dakuten/Handakuten:

| | g | j | j | b | p | |---|---|---|---| | ya | ぎゃ (ギャ) | じゃ (ジャ) | ぢゃ (ヂャ) | びゃ (ビャ) | ぴゃ (ピャ) | | ~ | gya | jya | jya | bya | pya | | yu | ぎゅ (ギュ) | じゅ (ジュ) | ぢゅ (ヂュ) | びゅ (ビュ) | びゅ (ピュ) | | ~ | gyu | jyu | jyu | byu | pyu | | yo | ぎょ (ギョ) | じょ (ジョ) | ぢょ (ヂョ) | びょ (ビョ) | ぴょ (ピョ) | | ~ | gyo | jyo | jyo | byo | pyo |

Japanese texts usually consist of mix of kanji, hiragana and katakana.


  • Kanji (漢字 - kanji - "Han characters") - logographic signs for words, adopted from Chinese hanzi signs; used as nouns, stems of verbs, adjectives and adverbs, Japanese personal names and names of Japanese locations (Tokyo -東京, Tanaka -田中). They can have two or more readings (on'yomi - original Chinese reading, and kun'yomi - Japanese reading), some kanji are written with different sings depending on the context;

There are some lists of kanji created for various levels of schooling and usage purposes:

  • kyōiku kanji (教育漢字 - きょういくかんじ - "education kanji"): 1,006 (originally 881, expanded to 996 in 1977 and to 1006 in 1982) characters that Japanese children learn in elementary school. The grade-level breakdown of these kanji is known as the gakunen-betsu kanji haitōhyō : (学年別漢字配当表 - がくねんべつかんじはいとうひょう - "list of kanji by schoo year") or the gakushū kanji : (学習漢字 -がくしゅうかんじ - "primary school kanji").

  • jōyō kanji (常用漢字 -じょうようかんじ "regular-use Chinese characters", "kanji for common use"): 2136 characters (originally 1945) and their readings, as of 2010 (announced by Japanese Ministry of Education); introduced in 1981, replacing list of 1850 of tōyō kanji (secondary school-level kanji, standarized after WWII); they are considered a literacy threshold for those who completed compulsory education and a list permitted for use in official government documents; the kyōiku kanji is included (and 1130 additional kanji taught in secondary school), and foreign learners often use the jōyō kanji as a reference list for kanji learning;

  • tōyō kanji (当用漢字, general-use kanji) - introduced in 1946, also known as tōyō kanjihyō (当用漢字表, "list of kanji for general use")

  • jinmeiyō kanji (人名用漢字 - "kanji for use in personal names") - it consists of 2999 characters containing jōyō kanji plus an additional kanji for names usage;

  • hyōgai kanji (表外漢字 - "unlisted characters") - kanji not contained in the jōyō kanji and jinmeiyō kanji lists; also known as jōyōgai kanji (常用外漢字);

total number of kanji: there's no denifite count, just as for the Chinese hanzi, however sources listed below give numbers such as:

SUMMARY: about 2000-3000 characters are commonly used, where a total of 13,108 (as of 2017) characters is used by Japanese Industrial Standards for kanji (日本工業規格 - Nihon Kōgyō Kikaku) - used for industrial terms and information processing.


  • Rōmaji - transcription of Japanese characters to the Latin alphabet, widely used for learning and foreign usage (street signs, passports, textbooks), input of Japanese into devices and also, in the proper language usage, used to write acronyms and initialisms (BBC, CNN, HTML, NATO), personal and company names intended for international use, such as: Suzuki, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Canon, Casio, Nintendo, Sony, Toshiba, Wacom.

  • Furigana (振り仮名)—phonetic renderings of kanji placed above/beside the kanji character; mainly used in children's books and for rare kanji readings; also used for words usually written in hiragana to give them more formal meaning (example: "kawaii"- "cute": かわいい / 可愛い);

Additional signs:

  • Sokuon "ゝ (ヽ) / ゞ (ヾ)" (促音) - the "small tsu" (colloqulially "chiisai tsu" - 小さいつ):

a small "tsu" sign in either hiragana or katakana; it makes the kana after it repeated (geminated, doubled), for example; て (te) ->って (tte), ち (chi) -> っち (tchi); it doesn't appear at the beginning of the word, before a vowel (choonpu is used instead) ar after the n-row syllables (in which case the -n (ん) is used for doubling); at the end of the word, it indicates a glottal stop.

  • Chōonpu "ー" (長音符) - the "long sound symbol" (also known as chōonkigō (長音記号), onbiki (音引き), bōbiki (棒引き) ) :

it indicates the prolonging of the vowel sound coming before it, for example: は (ha) -> (はあ) haa; it's mostly used with katakana, rarely with hiragana (which simply uses another vowel); example: おじいさん instead of おじーさん - ojiisan - grandfather); in loanwords, it's often used to approximate the native pronounciation: カー - car ("kaa" instead of "kar");

NOTE: In informal writing, small versions of the five vowel kana are used to represent trailing off sounds (はぁ - haa, ねぇ- nee).

The Japanese materials repository thread

January 29, 2018



Good job. There are a number of errors, but most of them seem to be the same errors as on Wikipedia.

The main one that gets me every time I see it is how whoever wrote it on Wikipedia calculated the amount of jinmeiyō kanji as being 3,119. There has never been that specific amount of jinmeiyō kanji at any point in the past, yet this figure keeps popping up when people talk about it.

Before the last change to the jōyō list in 2010, for a time there were 1,945 jōyō kanji and 983 non-jōyō jinmeiyō kanji. Adding these two amounts together would mean there were 2,928 jinmeiyō kanji back then.

When the jōyō list was ammended in 2010, at that time 196 kanji were added and 5 kanji were removed, meaning a difference of +191 kanji. So the jōyō list increased from 1,945 to 2,136 kanji.

Now, if you were to add that previous 983 figure to this 2,136 figure, then you would actually manage to come out with 3,119 kanji... HOWEVER the jinmeiyō list was ammended to 985 kanji a whole year and a half before that jōyō list change...

Not only that but the jinmeiyō list was changed again at the exact same moment that the jōyō list changed in 2010. In fact, 129 of the 196 new jōyō kanji were actually transfers from the jinmeiyō list, and those 5 kanji that left the jōyō list were relegated to the jinmeiyō list. 985 - 129 + 5 = 861 kanji in the jinmeiyō list after the 2010 change..

  • Before the 2010 change: 1,945 jōyō + 985 jinmeiyō = 2,930 combined.
  • 2010 change: 2,136 jōyō + 861 jinmeiyō = 2,997 combined.
  • Now (as of 2018-01-30): 2,136 jōyō + 863 jinmeiyō = 2,999 combined.

In short: there are 2,999 jinmeiyō kanji, not 3,119. ^^


Thank you, I'll correct it later (I almost fell asleep right after posting it, time zone differences FTW ;) ) and also edit the format a bit ^.^

Edit: corrected now. I'll certainly read even more on this subject ^.^ and what happened here? That's very useful info, but you got a lot of downvotes just now... :(


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