In this post, you can learn from zero how to construct “Noun be Noun” sentences (e.g. “I am Takashi”, “He is a student”) in Japanese.
Table of Contents
“I am Takashi.” in Japanese
私(わたし) は たかし です。
watashi wa takashi desu
– 私 (わたし, watashi): “I” (personal pronoun)
– は (wa): “topic marker particle” (which indicates that 私 is the subject )
– たかし (takashi): Takashi (name)
– です (desu): be (copula)
The first word, 私 (わたし, watashi) is a first-person pronoun meaning “I”. The next word は is called a “topic marker particle”, and it is usually put after a noun (e.g. 私) to indicate that it is the subject of the sentence. In Japanese, there are various types of particles that denote grammatical roles of nouns, and は is one of them — you can think of them as something like prepositions in English (or rather, “postpositions”, as they are usually put after a noun). One important thing you should note about は is that it is pronounced as “wa” when used as a particle, which differs from its standard pronunciation, “ha”, e.g. はさみ (hasami), “scissors”.
The third word たかし (Takashi) is my name, and you can replace it with your name to introduce yourself. The last word です (desu) is something like “be” in English, and therefore the word-to-word translation of this sentence is “I Takashi am”. In Japanese, a verb generally comes at the end of a sentence like this, and hence it is regarded as an “SOV (Subject-Object-Verb)” language, which contrasts with “SVO (Subject-Verb-Object)” languages, such as English, French, Italian, Chinese, just to name a few. Other SOV languages include Korean, Turkish and Hindi; and in particular, Korean is often said to be one of the most similar languages to Japanese in terms of grammar (in terms of orthography, obviously Chinese is the closest because the Japanese kanji characters originate from Chinese).
“I am a student.” in Japanese
私 (わたし) は 学生（がくせい） です 。
Watashi wa gakusei desu .
– 私 (わたし) means “I”
– は: “topic marker particle” (which indicates that 私 is the subject )
– 学生（がくせい, gakusei ）: “student”
– です (desu): be (copula)
In this sentence, たかし (Takashi) used in the previous sentence is replaced by 学生（がくせい, gakusei）meaning “student”, and therefore its translation is “I am a student”. As you can see, there is no article like “the” and “a” in Japanese; and furthermore, there is no plural form of nouns, either. Therefore, 学生 can mean “a student”, “the student”, or “(the) students”, and its meaning depends on the context — this is one of the reasons why Japanese people often inadvertently drop articles in English. Regarding the kanji characters of 学生, 学 (がく, gaku) means “study” and 生 (せい, sei) means “life/people”, and hence 学生 means “people who study something”, i.e. “student”.
Similarly, the following sentence means “He/She is a student”:
彼 (かれ)/彼女 (かのじょ) は 学生（がくせい）です 。
kare/kanojo wa gakusei desu.
Here, 彼 (かれ, kare) and 彼女 (かのじょ, kanojo) mean “he” and “she”, respectively. Interestingly, 彼/彼女 also means “boyfriend/girlfriend”, and its meaning depends on the context.
“He is my father.” in Japanese
彼 は 私 の お父(とう)さん です。
kare wa watashi no otousan desu
– 彼（かれ, kare）: “he” (3rd-person pronoun)
– は: “topic marker particle”
– 私(わたし, watashi): “I”
– の (no): possessive particle
– お父(とう)さん: father
– です (desu): be (copula)
の (no) is a Japanese particle called “possessive particle “. It is usually put between two nouns and indicates that the first noun modifies or possesses the second noun. In this case, の is put between 私 (watashi, “I”) and お父(とう)さん (otousan, “father”), and therefore 私のお父さん (watashi no otousan) means “my father”. In Japanese, there is no single word for “me/your/him/her”, and the possessive forms are represented by pronouns (私/あなた/彼/彼女, “I/you/he/she”) + の. Instead of お父(とう)さん, you can also say 父 (ちち, chichi), which also means “father” and sounds more formal than お父さん. One of the differences between 父 and お父さん is that 父 is used to describe your father only, not someone else’s. Some Japanese textbooks also say that you use 父 when you talk about your father with others, and use お父さん when you call your father at home. However, in reality, お父さん is also used in the same way as 父 (although it sounds more casual/less formal).
Similarly, you can say “She is my mother.” in Japanese as follows:
彼女(かのじょ) は 彼(かれ) の お母(かあ)さん です。
kanojo wa kare no okaasan desu
Here, 彼 (kare, “he”) + の (possessive particle) means “his”, and 彼のお母(かあ)さん means “his mother”. Similar to お父さん and 父, both お母(かあ)さん (okaasan) and 母 (はは, haha) mean “mother”, but in this context お母さん sounds more natural because 母 is usually used to refer to one’s own mother, not someone else’s.
Using what you have learnt so far, you can say “My father’s name is Takashi” in Japanese as follows:
私(わたし) の 父(ちち) の 名前(なまえ) は たかし です
watashi no chichi no namae wa takashi desu.
– 名前 (なまえ, namae) = “name” (noun)
– 私(watashi) の 父（ちちおや, chichi）: My father
– [私の父] の 名前 : [My father]’s name
が (ga) particle
Similar to は particle, が (ga) particle indicates the subject of a sentence, as follows:
彼 (かれ) が たかし です 。
Kare ga takashi desu .
“He is Takashi.”
The difference between は and が is one of the most complicated grammar topics in Japanese, and hence it is to be explained later at some point.
Form a Question in Japanese
The last topic of this post is how to form a question in Japanese. Thankfully, it is very easy to ask a question in Japanese: simply add “か (ka)” at the end of a sentence.
“He/She is a student”
彼/彼女は学生です (kare/kanojo wa gakusei desu)
“Is he/she is a student?”
彼/彼女は学生ですか (kare/kanojo wa gakusei desu ka)
Note that a question mark (?) is not necessary in Japanese, yet used sometimes for clarity.