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Japanese Lesson 3: Basics 1 Part 1

For those of you who jumped to this one and have no experience with the language, please go take a look at the Pronunciation and Writing Systems lessons first.

Okay. Hopefully this isn't too rushed. But we'll go ahead and start with Duolingo style basics now. :)


Man: (there are actually a few ways to say "Man")

Otoko: おとこ: 男

Otoko no hito: おとこのひと: 男の人

Dansei: だんせい: 男性

Woman: (likewise there are a few ways to say "Woman")

Onna: おんな: 女

Onna no hito: おんなのひと: 女の人

Josei: じょせい: 女性

I: (there are a few ways to say "I" but for now we'll stick with "Watashi")

Watashi: わたし: 私

am: Desu: です (desu stands for "is", "am", and "are") ((pronounced Dess))

a: Japanese doesn't have a word for "A". You CAN use the number "one" and a counter, but that's not necessary. I will teach those later. For now let's just ignore this article.

Boy: (like Man and Woman there are a few ways to say "boy")

Otokonoko: おとこのこ: 男の子

Shounen: しょうねん: 少年

Danshi: だんし: 男子

As you can see some of these words have "no" 「の」 in them. 「の」 in this instance acts as a possessive... think of it as an " 's " (not as in the shortened version of "is") but these mini-phrases actually function as just one word.

男の人 (man) lit: "man's person"、 女の人 (woman) lit: "woman's person"、 男の子 (boy) "man's child"

I really don't want to get too far into it just in case it causes confusion. Just learn them as single words and I will cover 「の」 and it's many uses later. :)


Alright guys! Now we get to make our first sentences! So let me introduce you to some grammar and your first PARTICLE!


No that's not a typo. When HA (は)is used as a particle it's sound changes to "Wa" It's a little strange, but the good news is there are only TWO particles that change sound like this. :)

Wa is a subject marker... or a topic marker depending on who you're learning from. But today you're learning from me and I'm not a huge fan of fancy parts of speech words so let me break this down another way!

"Wa" comes after the person/place/or thing that is doing an action. Or at the very least not having an action DONE to it. We'll cover that more in depth soon though.

Japanese sentence structure is a little bit backwards. Japanese is a subject object verb language. The biggest thing you need to know about this is that the verb must ALWAYS be at the END of the sentence. ... the rest is sometimes optional.

So "Desu" (is/am/are) is your verb for these sentences. Here we go

I am a Woman:

Watashi wa onna desu. = I (wa) woman am.

わたし は おんな です。


I am a Man:

Watashi wa otoko desu. = I (wa) man am.

わたし は おとこ です。

I am a Boy:

Watashi wa otoko no ko desu. =I (wa) boy am

わたし は おとこ の こ です。


Alright, you know how I just said that some (or even most) of the sentence besides the verb is optional?

Well. In Japanese, pronouns are avoided if the subject of the conversation is known. So in this case, as long as everyone knows the conversation is about you, you can say the following:

I am a woman:

onna desu = Woman am

おんな です。


I am a man:

Otoko desu = Man am

おとこ です


I am a boy

Otoko no ko desu = Boy am

おとこのこ です。


Just remember to be absolutely sure everyone knows who or what is being talked about. Or leaving the subject out could be hella confusing.

I'm going to try to keep these more or less bite sized and cover grammar and building larger sentences as we move along to make this as easy as possible. :)

私はキヨミです! I am Kiyomi! Happy Learning!

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March 4, 2015



Okay that's all I'm posting for now. ;^; let me know if you want more, or want me to stop. Or if this needs corrections. Or if anyone's confused. Etc. etc.


Everything is great! Everything you wrote makes perfect sense. You are doing a huge favour to everybody that wants to learn this beautiful language. Thank you!


Since it comes up so early maybe include a comment that の in some of these words is acting as a particle indicating like.. not a possessive (the word I'm looking for currently escapes me). I think it's one of the easier particles to wrap one's head around.


I shall do that. I was thinking about that earlier. like "these words in and of themselves are phrases, really."


I think Duolingo should adopt all of your lessons as "tips and notes" of the future English-Japanese course. 大変な労力だと思いますが、無理せず続けてくださいね。応援してます!


(。TωT)ノ☆・゚:*: どうもありがとうございます。ウワ~。

I can't even express what your words mean to me, thank you. I will be sure to continue then. ^_^


Why is 男 both dan and otoko?


Multiple Readings of a kanji. So On'yomi which is Chinese reading of a Kanji, is Dan. (On'yomi, would be similar to Mandarin and Korean pronunciations of this kanji. Chinese being Nan2 and Korean Nam) Kun'yomi which is Japanese reading, would be completely unique pronunciations for Japanese only which is Otoko.


Ref. 男の人 (man) lit: "man's person"、 女の人 (woman) lit: "woman's person"、 男の子 (boy) "man's child"

The structure ...のDのCのBのA is just like NOUN CHAINS in English:

  • we're actually talking about the part at the end of the chain (A)

  • the rest just adds information about the next link in the chain: (D) tells about (C); (C) tells about (B); (B) tells about (A)


baseball game ticket price increase proposal

a proposal (A) to increase (B) the ticket price (DのC) for baseball games (FのE)


  • 男の人 is a person 人 (A) of the type “male” 男 (B) = male person (BのA)

  • 女の人 is a person 人 (A) of the type “female” 女 (B) = female person (BのA)

  • 男の子 is a child 子 (A) of the type “male” 男 (B) = male child (BのA)

By the way, thank you very much for these lessons!!!


if I comment will it bump it back to visible?


When do you use kanji instead of hirigana? Do you write nouns, verbs and adjectives in kanji and the rest (of native Japanese words) in hirigana?


Hiragana is usually used for grammatical functions (e.g., particles, verb inflections, etc.) and for words for which there doesn't exist kanji, or for words whose kanji are non-standard. Katakana is used for loan words.


So what happened (give or take some accuracy) is that originally Japanese was written using only the writing system imported form China, i.e. Kanji. Then one day a Japanese guy reasoned that it wasn't really a wonderful way of writing Japanese so he created hiragana to indicate grammatical features in Japanese and katakana to write foreign loan words. So, it doesn't quite work 100% of the time, but they way you can usually get away with thinking about it is that kanji are used to write the roots of words and hiragana is used to indicate like different inflections and particles and everything else (other than loan words of course).

So for example 食 is a kanji used usually for words relating to eating, 食べる taberu is to eat, 食べますtabemasu is (polite form) to eat, 食べない tabenai is to not eat, 食べません tabemasen is (polite form) to not eat, 食べました tabemashita is (polite form) to have eaten, 食べませんでした tabemasen deshita is (polite form) to not have eaten, 食べている tabete iru is to be eating, and ... well you can go on for a long time. In all those words every charater that isnt 食 is hiragana.

You can even see 食 as a constituent part in other kanji like 飲 which is related to drinking (飲む nomu to drink, 飲み屋 nomiya bar).

Then of course you can also find 食 in words like 食べ物 tabemono food (物 means something like object or thing) and 食事 shokuji meal (事 is like matter or reason).


And then there's a vulgar form of "to eat": kuu 食う


Hiragana was actually developed and originally only used by women. So it definitely wasn't a japanese guy who created it.


Even though it was popularised by women its invention is credited to a Buddhist monk called Kūkai.


I checked that article and all that is mentioned is "kana", not hiragana. Kana also refers to katakana, which is recognized as being created by men.


The creation of hiragana is often attributed to possibly the greatest Japanese calligrapher of all times, a Shingon priest (真言宗, Shingon is a major Japanese Buddist school) and Sanskrit scholar Kūkai (空海, 774–835).


Hiragana characters are basically the simplification of a specific kanji written in sosho (cursive script). The invention of the hiragana is often attributed to Kukai, a famous Buddhist monk who traveled to China in the 8th century and learned calligraphy, poetry, and Buddhism.



Thank you for the follow up, Happy! I learned something new today. :)


These lessons are really great :D


:) Thank you guys for answering others' questions!


Thanks so much for this. The reverse tree is not good for adding to my Japanese vocab, due to all the kanji. So having the romaji and kana here is great!


Ah yes. Kanji's a real pain in the butt when you first start out with it. Then as you get more used to it you may find you prefer it. I can read over 200 Kanji (my bet is I'm actually between 400 and 800 kanji... :/ I'm un-rusting myself currently though).

For stuff I can't read I either use Rikaichan (see resources page for link) so I can get the reading and a quick definition, or I use my language bar's IME pad to find a Kanji I don't know, and then jisho.org for the reading and definition. It's a real life-saver while I'm playing Pokemon Y... but I'll only do that when I'm tired of seeing one kanji over and over and not knowing what it means XD. Mostly I just muddle through the game understanding less than half of what I'm reading. x_x

That was slightly off topic. :3 I'm glad this is helping you learn! Good luck!!


Actually, there are kanji that I know the meaning of, but I don't know all the readings. 少女:I know that it must be girl, because what else could a sukoshi onna be? So thanks for letting me know that it's shojo. :)


春日 = Haruhi
Or Haruka
or Kasuga

XD I love those.


What's the difference between だ and です when expressing "to be"? For example, is there a difference between "(私は)男の人です" and "(私は)男の人だ"?


The only real difference is that です is more formal. Basically, you will want to use です around the general public, people you don't know, and people of higher rank than you. (that's a weird way to phrase that I'm sorry)

だ is informal, so this is most acceptable around close friends and family.

Pretty much every verb had a formal and informal form, the meanings themselves are identical, but you should use formal form around people you don't know, and informal only around friends and family. (of course there are exceptions but that's the general rule)


Dude, you seriously should contribute to a "Japanese for English speakers" course, incredibly well done, foolproof just like any Duolingo course, and overall very useful.


Thank you! I have applied to contribute to the Japanese for English Speakers course already. I'm hoping that when that time comes, if selected as a contributor, my work and home schedule will allow for it.


Here's a lingot for you, you deserve it.


so... i still have no clue why "は"(wa) is being used here. couldn't i just use "わたし"(watashi) alone since it still means "I"?


は is a particle that tells us what the topic of the sentence is. Who or what we are talking about.

In English, if we leave off pieces of the language, we still might be understood, I George (am). But sometimes it becomes muddled and imprecise. I museum (go to). I museum am (in/at a/the).

Japanese in lower level courses have a very pronounced basic sentence structure: TTPOV (Topic, Time, Place, Object Verb). But Japanese in real life can put those in just about any order. So particles become even more important for making sense of the sentences.

I hope I've made correct statements. I am only at a lower level of Japanese myself.


ok, makes enough sense. Thanks!

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