Just like all my “Let’s Learn” post, I need you to know kana. Go here to learn how I learned kana.
I remember back in 2004 or 2005 when “baka” (idiot, stupid, moron, etc.) and “konnichiwa” were the Japanese words that were thrown around by anime fans alike (if you weren’t aware, I was an otaku up until my junior year of high school, in 2008/2009). They were used in sort of the right context – mean, how hard is it to mess up calling someone “stupid” and saying “hello”? Nowadays, the younger otaku, or if you would prefer to call them, weaboos, throw around another word: desu.
I just cringed right there, typing that out in romaji. Seeing です in romaji just brings me memories of mispronunciations and misuse. Perhaps because I’ve already started learning the language by the time this word came into the overseas otaku vocabulary (most likely thanks to Rozen Maiden’s Suseiseki, who ends nearly every sentence with “desu”), I’m kind of at a lost of what people mean sometimes. Sometimes people use it in the grammatically correct, but other times, they don’t. Particularly the people who say something like “that is so desu”. What the heck is that suppose to mean? Seriously, what do those people think it means? I can’t even figure it out from context. Perhaps it’s because I already know how to use it grammatically speaking that I’m unaware of what people think the meanings are.
If you haven’t guess by now, today I am going to be talking about です. If you don’t know how to read kana by now, you should be able to at least guess what the heck です is since I just wrote it in romaji a ton of times.
Section 0.) Vocabulary
I’m guess at this point, you are here to learn Japanese. You probably don’t much. You most likely want to expand your nearly non-existence vocabulary, right? Well, this section is here for that reason!
私 – わたし – I
お母さん – おかあさん – Mother
お父さん – おとうさん – Father
お姉さん – おねえさん – Older sister
お兄さん – おにいさん – Older brother
妹 – いもうと – Younger sister
弟 – おとうと – Younger brother
先生 – せんせい – Teacher
学生 – がくせい – Student
高校生 – こうこうせい – High School Student
大学生 – だいがくせい – University/College Study
女の子 – おんあのこ – girl
男の子 – おとこのこ – boy
女の人 – おんなのひと – woman
男の人 – おとこのひと – man
友達 – ともだち – friend
あなた – you
猫 – ねこ – cat
犬 – いぬ – dog
魚 – さかな – fish
馬 – うま – horse
本 – ほん – book
ペン – pen
傘 – かさ – umbrella
鞄 – かばん – bag
机 – つくえ – desk
コンピューター – computer
鉛筆 – えんぴつ – pencil
手紙 – てがみ – letter
時計 – とけい – watch/clock
高校 – こうこう – high school
大学 – だいがく – university
公園 – こうえん – park
〜歳 – 〜さい – ~years old
花 – はな – flower
いくらですか – how much
面白いい – おもしろいい – interesting
〜円 – 〜えん – ~yen
〜時 – 〜じ – ~o’clock
I do mention numbers in this lesson. However, I’ve already talked about numbers in another post, so go there.
Section 1.) Particles
I’m not talking about what makes up the air and other things. I’m talking about something that is VERY important in Japanese grammar.
Particles link words together in a sentence. They can be dropped in casual speech, but for proper learning, learn them.
I’ll be going over more particles in future lessons. For now, I will teach you the ones that will appear with these lessons or are so basic, you should know them.
の – indicates possession.
は – indicates the topic of the conversation. The topic does not have to be the subject of the sentence (this won’t make any sense whatsoever until you read examples). Note that は is pronounced as “wah” in this case, instead of “hah”. Don’t ask me why. It just is.
が – indicates the subject of the sentence.
を- indicates the indirect object of the sentence.
か – question particle. It basically makes a sentence a question. Think of it like a verbal question mark.
Go check out Tae Kim’s Grammar Guide for more information.
Section 2.) To Be
「で す」is a Japanese verb meaning “to be”. It’s a super common word and is used often in Japanese, hence why I’m talking about it first.
*It is pronounced as “dehs”. NOT “deh-soo”. Don’t believe me? Go double check your anime, your j-dramas, or anything that has speaking in Japanese. Otherwise, go here and listen.
*It may be a speaker’s choice on how it’s pronounced, but most of the time, “dehs” will be the correct pronunciation. If you see ですう or ですぅ written, then you can read it like “dehsoo”.
In order to use it, you simply put a noun or an adjective (I suggest you hold up trying to use adjectives right now – I’ll explain why in a future post) before です.
猫です。- ねこです。- It’s a cat.
ペンです。- It’s a pen.
かわいいです。- It’s cute.
Pretty straight forward, right?
[noun/adjective] + です。= “It’s ______.”
There is also ある and いる that sort of have to do with what something is, but that’s for another lesson.
So, let’s say that you wanted to tell someone that the pen you are holding is yours. How would you say that?
私のペンです。- わたしのペンです。- It’s my pen.
Do you see what I did there? I used the particle 「の」. It links you and the pen together.
私の本です。- わたしのほんです。- It’s my book.
妹の鞄です。- いもうとのかばんです。- It’s my younger sister’s bag.
先生の机です。- せんせいのつくえです。- It’s the teacher’s desk.
How about if you wanted to say that your friend’s mother was a high school teacher?
友達のお母さんは高校の先生です。- ともだちのおかあさんはこうこうのせんせいです。- [My] friend’s mother is a high school teacher.
The topic of the sentence is your friend’s mother, hence why は came after 友達のお母さん. 高校の先生 indicates that she is a high school teacher. I hope that makes sense. If not, I can explain it and pull it apart more!
Section 3.) Here, There, Over There, and Which?
So, now you know 「です」. You can now tell me that something is something. How about telling me where something is though.
There are three words you can use for this:
これ – this
それ – that
あれ – that…over there
If the object is near you, you say これ. If it is near the person you are speaking to, you use それ. If it’s not by either you or the listener, you say あれ.
これはペンです。- This is a pen.
それは本です。- それはほんです。- That is a book.
あれは馬です。- あれはうまです。- Over there is a horse/That is a horse over there.
The これ、それ、あれ is the topic of sentence (marked by は). The following is what you are pointing out and the です is basically reinforcing what it is.
So, let’s say you have a pile of books in front of you. You look at your classmate and want to ask them which book is there’s. What do you say?
どれ – which
Hopefully you get what あなたの本です means at this point. If not, ask.
か simply indicates that it’s a question – I am asking you “Which [one] is your book?”, after all.
So then, what about that が? Why が and not は? Well, question words in Japanese cannot use the particle は. They must use が. If you need me to elaborate on it, well, I can’t. Since I don’t really know why myself. It might be one of those “just because” sort of rules.
Note you can use これ／それ／あれ／どれ alone – you can simply ask これ／それ／あれ／どれですか or say これ／それ／あれ.
In addition to those words, you can also use この (this…)、その (that…)、あの (that…over there)、and どの (which…). Unlike the previous words, these canNOT stand alone. They must always be followed by a noun.
この時計はいくらですか。- このとけいはいくらですか。- How much is this watch?
この本は面白いいです。- このほんはおもしろいです。 – This book is interesting.
その本はいくらですか。- そのほんはいくらですか。- How much is that book?
あの花はいくらですか。 – あのはなはいくらですか。- How much is that flower [over there]?
どの鞄が千円ですか。どのかばんがせんえんですか。- Which bag is 1000 yen?
どの acts like どれ, so it uses が instead of は.
As you can hopefully see, the 〜の series specifies the noun that comes after it.
Compare the following two sentences:
If we break down and observe these sentences, the first thing we should notice is how they both contain the same words (minus the これ／この), but in a different order. The first sentence is saying that the book that is near you is an interesting book. The second sentence, however, is specifying that the particular book near you is interesting.
Another way for me to explain it is that the first sentence is specifying that what is near you is an interesting book. The second sentence, on the other hand, is describing that the book near you is interesting.
If you need me to translate it:
これは面白いい本です。- これはおもしろいいほんです。- This is an interesting book.
この本は面白いいです。- このほんはおもしろいいです。- This book is interesting.
Essentially the same meaning, but such a different feeling. If you don’t get it, take a break and come back to it.
Let’s try another:
それはペンですか。- Is that your pen?
そのペンですか。- Is that pen yours?
Just like the above example, essentially the same meaning, but a different feeling and different word arrangement. The first one is specifying that the pen is yours. The second sentence is specifying the pen – that the particular pen that is near you is yours. I hope this is making sense – I’m not really sure how to describe it.
Section 4.) What?
So, you know how to ask “which”. So what about “what” (or “how” or some other question word depending on the situation)?
The word for “what” in Japanese is 何 (なに or なん depending on the word). It is usually grouped with another word to make it into a question.
何歳ですか。 – なんさいですか。- How old are you?
何時ですか。- なんじですか。 – What time is it?
この本は何ですか。- このほんはなんですか。- What is this book?
Pretty easy, right? You basically just shove 何 with another word to make it into a question word.
I hope this second lesson was helpful to you! I know it was for me! I actually learned things. Mainly that I definitely know and understand more than I thought I did. I guess that’s the beauty of actually using the language! I hope you feel the same one day!