Daily Japanese Study Unit Index

So our Daily Japanese Study Unit series is exclusive to our dontcallmesensei blog, meaning that you’ll have to go there to see it. But over here we’ve taken the liberty of providing links to each unit.

The DJSU units consist of 10 grammar points, taken from JapaneseTest4You, 20 vocabulary words from Routledge’s A Frequency Dictionary of Japanese, and 15 Kanji from the Kyouiku Kanji series in order.

Unit 1 Unit 2 Unit 3 Unit 4 Unit 5

Unit 6 Unit 7 Unit 8 Unit 9 Unit 10

Unit 11 Unit 12 Unit 13 Unit 14 Unit 15

Unit 16 Unit 17 Unit 18 Unit 19 Unit 20

Unit 21 Unit 22 Unit 23 Unit 24 Unit 25

Unit 26 Unit 27 Unit 28 Unit 29 Unit 30

Unit 31 Unit 32 Unit 33 Unit 34 Unit 35

Unit 36 Unit 37 Unit 38 Unit 39 Unit 40

Unit 41 Unit 42 Unit 43 Unit 44 Unit 45

Unit 46 Unit 47 Unit 48 Unit 49 Unit 50

Unit 51 Unit 52 Unit 53 Unit 54 Unit 55

Unit 56 Unit 57 Unit 58 Unit 59 Unit 60

Unit 61 Unit 62 Unit 63 Unit 64 Unit 65

Unit 66 Unit 67 Unit 68

An Abundance of Ending Particles

Every now and again academics who work on similar matters have to get together and decide what the big questions in the field are. Then for the next few years they work to find the answers.

We’re not part of the proverbial Ivory Tower, so what exactly Japanese linguists are fussing over at the moment is unknown to us. But here’s what’s bugging us: the abundance of ending particles.

Ending Particles are equivalents are too many for comfort.

There are a set of lexical items we all agree are ending particles:

よ、ね、か、かい、な、わ、ぞ、ぜ    [Thus far 8]

And they make sense in that they’re monosyllabic and don’t seem to share any meaning with anything else.

But the plot thickens:

Then there are a few items that seems to just show up at the end sometimes:

って、さ、さあ    [Thus far 11]

But these items can actually be elsewhere in the sentence. って is a quotative; and さ and さあ are filler words (so they’re a little bit like “eh?” in some North American English dialects)

We can resolve さ and さあ easily, because they’re filler words and we can consider them interjections and thus we don’t have to pay too much attention to them for syntactic purposes.

But って, we can’t ignore. Essentially if it’s at the end of a sentence then we want to say that the speaker is quoting something and the verb (be it 言う or 聞く or whatever) is being omitted. And that’d be fine… if it was a quote of some sort. But it seems that often when someone does end a sentence in って, it isn’t a quote. So this isn’t a thought, or something one heard or something one said.

So we have to create a work around: we say that って is an expression. We say that Japanese has a Foghorn Leghorn expression. So sometimes the Japanese are just saying “I say, I say” a bit randomly and for the sake of semantics we can ignore it. Fine. So we say we have an Inflexional Phrase, that it’s being quoted, and that the main verb dropped off. That’ll work.

But there is another set of ending particle-esque things that are kind of like って:

の、 なの    [Thus far 13]

So の is that substantivizing suffix we continuously talk about. な is semi-copula that nouns (not all, but many) take. So they’re functionally different and we know what they are. That’s wonderful.

But here’s the problem: just like って, you don’t need it. Nothing “needs” to be a noun phrase. It’s just there as an expression. It seems to be a feminine thing to do.

So we can essentially ignore it for the sake of semantics since nouns and verbs in Japanese inasmuch as they are parts of speech, are more functional than semantic anyway.

But wait, there are verbal expressions too that are ending particle-esque:

でしょう、だろう    [Thus far 15]

These two are equivalent. One is more polite than the other. We have reason to believe they’re contractions of ですよ and であるよ. Okay, so they’re verbs, fine.

But the problem is this: you can actually end your main component of the Inflexional Phrase in a verb and then add だろう or でしょう to the end.

So syntactically you can’t really call it a verb. It won’t work out. It has to be in the position of the ending particle.

But wait, there are even at least one topical-verbal-ending particle-esque lexical item:

じゃない    [Thus far 16]

This is a contraction of ではない. That we know. We also know that では is the topical particle and that ない is the indicative, negative, present conjugation of the copula ある. So we know what it is.

But the problem is this: topical particles follow noun phrases, not verb phrases. So, like with でしょう and だろう, we cannot think of them as topical-verbal in our syntactic analysis.

But wait, there are compound ending particles!

でしょうか、だろうか、じゃないか、よね、よな、なのよ、のよ、かね    [Thus far 24]

And it’s at this point that someone stops us and tells us “Okay, some we don’t have to consider ending particles, and the others don’t exactly have new meanings. They’re just the meaning conveyed by one ending particle along with another. Like か, which just makes everything a question.”

And to that, we say, yes! And this makes us very happy in the sense that one can reason one’s way to the meaning of the compound ending particles.

But here’s the totally insane thing: There’s an order in which the ending particles appear. よ appears before ね. か always appears in the end (except in one or two cases, which seem to be expressions in themselves), and all the expressions appear before ね, よ, and か.

What does this imply? That very possibly, there exist three classes of ending particles that go in a specific order. That idea freaks us out. We need to look at more data before making an assertion, but it is something to look into and consider very seriously.

(Note: We do handle things very differently from conventional Japanese grammar. We are aware of that. Every now and again someone will ask why we make a big deal out of things that the Japanese don’t make a big deal of. It’s part of the job of a linguist. 🙂 )

Grammar/Vocab/Kanji (4)

We’ve been MIA for a while! So sorry about that! We still have two models to go through before we decide on which one to go with. Without further ado…


1. のがへた (no ga heta)

Parsing: [Verb Phrase] [no (substantivizer)] [ga (nominative particle)][heta (noun-unskillful)]

Meaning: (Someone) is unskillful/bad at [Verb Phrase]


2. すぎる (sugiru)

Parsing: [Verb stem] [sugiru (verbal suffix- too much)]

Meaning: to [verb] too much OR to exceed in [verb]-ing


3. たい (tai)

Parsing: [Verb stem] [tai (desiderative verbal suffix)]

Meaning: to want to [verb]

Note: -tai as such is normally used for personal desires.


4. たことがある (ta koto ga aru)

Parsing: [Verb-past] [koto (noun-thing/experience)] [ga (nominative particle)] [aru (copula verb – to be/to have)]

Meaning: to have the experience of [verb]-ing


5. ている (te iru)

Parsing: [Verb- Te form (gerund)] [iru (copula verb- to be/to have]

Meaning: Periphrastic progressive aspect: to be [verb]-ing


6. てもいい (te mo ii)

Parsing: [Verb- Te form (gerund)] [mo (secondary particle-too)] [ii (adjectival verb- good]

Meaning: It is okay to [verb]


7. てから (te kara)

Parsing: [Verb- Te form (gerund)] [kara (post-position – after)]

Meaning: After [verb]-ing


8. てはいけない (te wa ikenai)

Parsing: [Verb- Te form (gerund)] [wa (topical particle] [ikenai – (verb-potential negative – to not be able to proceed]

Meaning: One must [verb]


9.  (to)

Parsing: [Noun] [to (parallel conjunction] [Noun-2]

Meaning: [Noun] and [Noun-2]


10. つもりだ (tsumori da):

Parsing: [Verb Phrase] [tsumori (dependent noun – intention)] [da (copula verb – to be]

Meaning: One intends to [Verb Phrase]


1. その — (adjective) that (close to the addressee)

2. あの — (adjective) that (close to neither the speaker nor the addressee)

3. どの — (adjective) which?

4. あそこ — (pronoun) over there

5. どこ — (pronoun) where?

6. 誰(だれ)— (pronoun) who?

7. 美味しい(おいしい) — (adjectival verb) delicious

8. 魚(さかな) — (noun) fish

9. 豚カツ(とんかつ) — (noun) Pork cutlet

10. 肉(にく) — (noun) meat

11. メニュー — (noun) menu

12. 野菜(やさい) — (noun) vegetable

13. 鉛筆(えんぴつ) — (noun) pencil

14. 傘(かさ) — (noun) umbrella

15. 鞄(かばん) — (noun) bag

16. 靴(くつ) — (noun) shoes

17. 財布(さいふ) — (noun) wallet; handbag

18. ジーンズ — (noun) jeans

19. 辞書(じしょ) — (noun) dictionary

20. 自転車(じてんしゃ) — (noun) bicycle


1. 天

Meaning: Heaven
Chinese Reading: テン
Japanese Reading: あめ・あま

2. 生

Meaning: Life
Chinese Reading: セイ・ショウ
Japanese Reading: い(きる)・う(む)・なま

3. 花

Meaning: Flower
Chinese Reading: カ
Japanese Reading: はな

4. 草

Meaning: Grass
Chinese Reading: ソウ
Japanese Reading: くさ

5. 虫

Meaning: Insect
Chinese Reading: チュウ
Japanese Reading: むし

6. 犬

Meaning: Dog
Chinese Reading: ケン
Japanese Reading: いぬ

7. 人

Meaning: Person
Chinese Reading: ジン・ニン
Japanese Reading: ひと

8. 名

Meaning: Name
Chinese Reading: メイ・ミョウ
Japanese Reading: な

9. 女

Meaning: Female
Chinese Reading: ジョ・ニョ
Japanese Reading: おんな

10. 男

Meaning: Male
Chinese Reading: ダン・ナン
Japanese Reading: おとこ

Japanese: Grammar/Vocab/Kanji (3)

And we’re back! This is a third idea. The main thing is the Kanji table (forgive the bad resolution; I can make it as a PNG if we decide to go for the table). The Grammar section also offers no real linguistic explanation besides saying what part of speech it actually is, which I’m not keen on myself, but if you all like it I can live with it.

Let me know what you think at the end of the week!


  1. もう (mou): adverb | “already/anymore” | “mou V[past]” – “Already V-ed”| “mou V[neg] – “Does not V anymore”
  2. (na): imperative negative suffix | “do not” | “V[present affirmative]na” – “Do not V.”
  3. ないでください (naide kudasai): verbal expression | “please do not” | “V[present negative]de kudasai – “Please do not V.”
  4. なる (naru): verb | “to become” | “N ni naru” – “to become N” | “Vi[stem]ku naru” – “to become Vi”
  5. (ni): dative particle | “at, for, by” | the dative case marks a location intrinsic to the action or indirect object (mainly).
  6. (he): /locative particle | indicates a destination. NOTE: the dative particle can carry out this same function. NOTE: Pronounced /e/
  7. に行く (ni iku): verbal expression | “to go in order to” | “V[stem] ni iku” – “to go in order to V”
  8. にする (ni suru): verbal expression | “to decide on” | “N ni suru” – “to decide on N”
  9. のがじょうず (no ga jouzu): noun expression | “is skilled at” | “V no ga jouzu” – “is skilled at V-ing.”
  10. のがすき (no ga suki): noun expression | “likes” | “V no ga suki” | “likes Ving”


  1. 文学  (ぶんがく・bungaku)— (noun) Literature
  2. 歴史 (れきし・rekishi) — (noun) History
  3. 仕事 (しごと・shigoto) — (noun) job; occupation
  4. 医者 (いしゃ・isha) — (noun) medical doctor
  5. 会社員 (かいしゃいん・kaishain) — (noun) office worker
  6. 高校生 (こうこうせい・koukousei) — (noun) high school student
  7. 主婦 (しゅふ・shufu) — (noun) housewife
  8. 大学院生 (だいがくいんせい・daigakuinsei) — (noun) graduate student
  9. 弁護士 (べんごし・bengoshi) — (noun) lawyer
  10. お母さん (おかあさん・okaasan) — (noun) mother
  11. お父さん (おとおさん・otoosan) — (noun) father
  12. お姉さん (おねえさん・oneesan) — (noun) older sister
  13. お兄さん (おにいさん・oniisan) — (noun) older brother
  14. 妹 (いもうと・imouto) — (noun) younger sister
  15. 弟 (おとうと・otouto) — (noun) younger brother
  16. これ (kore) — (pronoun) this (thing)
  17. それ (sore) — (pronoun) that (thing) [close to the addressee]
  18. あれ (are) — (pronoun) that (thing) [close to neither speaker or addressee]
  19. どれ (dore) — (pronoun) what? (thing)
  20. この (kono)  — (adjective) this



Japanese: Grammar/Vocab/Kanji (2)

And we’re back! Today’s format will be more streamlined – quite different from what we saw before. Let me know which one you like better at the end of the week!


  1. (ka): secondary suffix | “X ka Y” – “X or Y” | X and Y can be any noun or verb (or adjective)
  2. から (kara): post-position | “X kara Y” – “From X, Y” | X will be a noun
  3. から (kara): conjunction | “X kara X” – “Because X, Y” | X will be an inflexional phrase
  4. けれども (keredomo): conjunction | “X keredomo Y – “Although X, Y” | X will be an inflexional phrase. (Conjunctions けど (kedo) and けれど (keredo) are functionally the same)
  5. くらい (kurai): suffix | “X (Y) kurai” – “about X (Y) | X will be a number; Y is an optional counter
  6. まだ (mada): adverbial noun | “Mada X” – “Still X” | X is an inflexional phrase; “mada” modifies the verb.
  7. まえに (mae ni): noun and dative particle | “X mae ni” – “Before X” | X will be an inflexional phrase modifying “mae.” If X is a noun phrase, then it will become an inflexional phrase through the additional attributive form of the copula “da,” viz. “no,” at the end. ([Noun phrase] no mae ni)
  8. ませんか (-masen ka): expression | “X[pol. neg. pres.] ka” – “Why don’t we X?” | X is a verb conjugated for the polite, negative, present with the interrogative ending particle. This functions as an invitation to do something.
  9. ましょう (mashou): expression | “X[mashou]” – “Let’s X!” | X is a verb conjugated in this particular way. This functions as soft cohortative.
  10. (mo): secondary particle | “X (Y) mo” – “Even X” or “X, too” | X will tend to be a noun phrase. Y will be the main case particle, which in the case of “ga,” “wo” and “wa” will drop out when they precede “mo.”


  1. 日本 (nihon/nippon) – (noun) Japan.
  2. 〜年生 (nensei) – (suffix) -year (commonly used for school and college year.) E.g. 2年生 “second year (student)”
  3. はい (hai) – (interjection) Yes.
  4. 半 (han) – (suffix) half-, half past-. E.g. 六時半 “half past six.”
  5. 番号 (bangou) – (noun) number; series of digits.
  6. 留学生 (ryuugakusei) – (noun) international student.
  7. 私 (watashi) – (pronoun) first person singular, “I.”
  8. アメリカ (amerika) – (noun) casual term for the U.S.
  9. イギリス (igirisu) – (noun) casual term for the U.K.
  10. オーストラリア (oosutoraria) – (noun) Australia.
  11. 韓国 (kankoku) – (noun) casual term for the nation of South Korea.
  12. スウェーデン (suweeden) – (noun) Sweden.
  13. 中国 (chuugoku) – (noun) China.
  14. 科学 (kagaku) – (noun) Science.
  15. アジア研究 (ajia kenkyuu) – (noun) Asian Studies.
  16. 国際関係 (kokusai kankei) – (noun) International Relations.
  17. コンピューター (konpyuutaa) – (noun) computer.
  18. 人類学 (jinruigaku) – Anthropology.
  19. 政治 (seiji) – Politics; Government.
  20. ビジネス (bijinesu) – Business.


百 — もも ー ヒャク ー Hundred

千 — ち ー セン ー  Thousand

上 — うえ ー ジョウ ー Above

下 — した ー  ー Under

左 — ひだり ー サ ー  Left

右 — みぎ ー ウ・ユウ ー Right

中 — なか ー チュウジュウ ー Inside/Middle

大 — おお ー ダイタイ ー Big

小 — ちい ー ショウ ー Small

月 — つき ー ゲツカツ ー Moon

Japanese Grammar/Vocab/Kanji (1)

  1. (This is a post from dontcallmesensei!)

    This is my beta test of something I’d like to make a daily series sooner than later. What we’ll be doing is looking at grammar points, vocabulary, and Kanji from a linguistic perspective. So let’s try some thing out this week.

    Grammar (from JapaneseTest4You)

    1. だけ (dake)- is a substantivizing suffix, meaning that it is a suffix that, if it attaches to a verb, makes it syntactically a noun. “Dake” means “only.” “N dake” and “V dake” mean “Only N” and “Only V;” but remember that after “V dake” you may need a copula: “V dake da.”
    2. だろう (darou)- is a verbal expression. It functions as the verb of the sentence, but does not conjugate. It replaces copulae, but does not replace other verbs, which will remain the same when the expression is used, making “darou” seem like a verbal suffix of sorts. It mans “It seems that…” “[Inflexional Phrase] darou” means “It seems that [Inflexional Phrase].”
    3. (de)- is a post-position. It’s like a preposition, giving us spatio-temporal information, but coming after the phrase instead of before. “De” indicates location. It tends to be translated as “at,” but it can also be “on” or “in” depending on context. “[Noun Phrase] de” means “at [noun phrase]
    4. でしょう (deshou)- is just the nicer version of “darou.” They mean the same thing.
    5. (ga)- is a conjunction. It connects two inflexional phrases (or sentences); and it conveys as sense of contradiction of dissonance between the two phrases, thus gets translated as “but” or “though.”
    6. [Noun Phrase]がある (ga aru)- is a sentence construction using the copula “aru,” which, unlike “da,” can easily convey an existential property and not just a categorical property. This is the difference between “It is X” and “There is an X.” “[Noun Phrase] ga aru” conveys the latter for non-living things.
    7. [Noun Phrase]がいる (ga iru)- is the same as the previous, except that the copula is “iru,” and it conveys an existential property for living things.
    8. [Verb Phrase]ほうがいい (hou ga ii)- is a verbal construction. In Japanese, nouns are modified by verb phrases preceding them. “Hou” is a noun that means “way” or “manner.” With the verb phrase preceding it, it means “the way that [Verb Phrase]” “ga” is our nominative particle, indicating that “hou” is the subject of the sentence; and “ii” is the adjective (though it really isn’t an adjective) meaning “good.” So what this is expressing is that “the way that [Verb Phrase] is good.” What the expression is implying is that “One should [verb phrase].”
    9. [Verb Phrase [V-neg]]ほうがいい (hou ga ii)- is the same as the previous, except that the verb in the verb phrase is negative. In this case, as logic would dictate, the implication is that “One should not [verb phrase [V-pos]].”
    10. 一番 (いちばんー ichiban)- is a word that is a noun and adverb- and as an adverb it modifies nouns (meaning it behaves like an adjective). In other words, it’s a very versatile word. It means “number 1″ or “the most.” It will go before the noun or verb it wants to modify.

      A construction JapaneseTest4You brings up is: “[Verb Phrase] no ga ichiban [adjectival noun] da.” “No” is a substantivizing suffix. So the whole verb phrase is a noun. “Ga.” is the nominative particle, meaning it’s the subject of the sentence. (One may also have “wa,” the topical particle, where the meaning doesn’t change much.) And then you have the adjectival noun and “ichiban.” What this conveys is that “[Verb Phrase] is the most [adjectival noun].

    Vocabulary (from Genki 1) 

    (We’ll be using Routledge in the near future. For now, Genki will have to do.)

    1. あの (ano)- is an interjection, equivalent to “umm…”
    2. 今 (いま – ima)- is an adverb meaning “now.” It can also be used as a noun.
    3. 英語 (えいご – eigo)- is a noun meaning “the English language.”
    4. 学生 (がくせい – gakusei)- is a noun meaning “student.”
    5. 〜語 (〜ご – ~go)- is a suffix meaning “language.” It’s what you see in “英語.”
    6. 高校 (こうこう – koukou)- is a noun meaning “high school,” referring specifically to the last 3 years of pre-college education.
    7. 午後 (ごご – gogo)- is an adverb that functions adjectivally meaning “p.m.” It will go immediately before the phrase indicating the time in hours and minutes.
    8. 午前 (ごぜん – gozen)- is just like “午後,” except that it means “a.m.”
    9. 〜歳 (〜さい – ~sai)- is a suffix meaning “years old.” It will go after a number. The only exception that comes to mind is 20歳, which is said “hatachi,” which has nothing to do with Kanji.
    10. 〜さん (~san)- is an address suffix. You put it after someone’s name (most commonly their family name.)
    11. 〜時 (~ji)- is a temporal suffix, indicating an amount of hours. Like “〜歳” it comes after a number.
    12. 〜人 (~jin)- is a suffix indicating one’s nationality or ethnicity; but it is used mostly for the former. It comes after the names of countries.
    13. 先生 (sensei)- is a noun and address suffix. As a suffix, it goes after a person’s name. What it indicates is someone who has a didactic or guiding role in one’s life. This is most commonly used for schoolteachers, professors, doctors, and famous authors.
    14. 専門 (senmon)- is a noun meaning “speciality” or “expertise.” It can be used to refer to one’s “major,” but a better term for one’s major is “専攻 (せんこう – senko).”
    15. そうです。(Sou desu.)- is an expression meaning “It is so.” When make a question, “Sou desu ka,” it indicates intrigue.
    16. 大学 (だいがく – daigaku)- is a noun meaning any “post-secondary education institute” so it refers to both college and university.
    17. 電話 (でんわ – denwa)- is a noun meaning “telephone.”
    18. 友達 (ともだち – tomodachi)- is a noun meaning “friend.”
    19. 名前 (なまえ – namae)- is a noun meaning “name.”
    20. 何 (なに/なん – nani/nan)- is an interrogative pronoun meaning “what?”

    Kanji (from the standard Kyouiku Kanji curriculum)

    Kanji Meaning Chinese Reading Japanese Reading

    一   One    いち         ひと

    二   Two    に          ふた

    三   Three   さん         みつ

    四   Four    し          よん

    五   Five    ご          ご

    六   Six    ろく         むつ

    七   Seven   しち         なな

    八   Eight   はち          やつ

    九   Nine   きゅう         ここの

    十   Ten    じゅう         とう

    So that’s one format we can go for. I’ll throw out another idea tomorrow.

An Important Announcement About Patreon

Hey everyone,

Happy Saturday. We hope you are all doing very well and enjoying the weekend as much as you can.

As many of you know, we do have a Patreon. As you may not have known, we have yet to gain any Patrons. 

We originally set up the Patreon to charge per Saturday post, meaning weekly, in order to safeguard you from us going AWOL. This ensured that you would not be charged if we did not deliver.

We have now changed our Patreon to a monthly system. Realizing that the level of entry was originally $4 a month and that that is quite high, now it is only $1 a month.

The benefits for our first two tiers have remained the same. And we have added a third tier.

We really do not like talking about money due to the sensitivity of the subject, but it is important due to how revenue will affect the pace and the quality of our work.

We guarantee that you will get service and benefits equal to your support. You not only help this project continue, but you will gain other fun and valuable resources for an insanely low cost.

Thank you.

Japanese Keigo (Polite, Respectful, Honorific Verbs)

The following is a brief introduction to how Japanese convey politeness through special verbal construction. This will not be covering special nouns, just the verbs; because we’d be here all day if we talked about nouns.

Politeness in Japanese is conveyed on two axes: one of politeness (or gentility, if it makes the double use of the word less confusing) and one of status.

Gentility refers to one’s disposition, to one’s character, to the energy one wishes to convey. This is very simply handled in Japanese.

Status refers to acknowledgments of how the people involved into a discussion are related. There are people who are higher than you in status; and there are people lower than you in status. Japanese has no language of condescension, so to speak to someone on an equal level is to talk to them “plainly.”

The dimension of status, then, concerns itself with a view towards people of higher status: how one refers to them and their actions (honorific language) and how one refers to one’s own (humble language.)

Here’s something interesting: the language one uses for a person is determined by the person one is talking to.
What does this mean?
If you are talking to your boss, you refer to your boss with honorific language, and to yourself with humble language.
But if you are talking to a customer, you refer to them with honorific language, to yourself with humble language, and to your boss in humble language – because you are representing the company or business and the company as a whole is subservient to its customers.
Likewise, if you talk about your family, because they are an extension of you, you speak about them with humble language rather than with honorific language. (You really don’t “show off” your family in Japanese culture)

Polite Verbs (Teineigo)

To make a verb polite, you take the verbal stem, add the appropriate mood suffix, and add an -ιmas suffix to it; and then a subsequent temporal/polar suffix to it.

/ι/ stands for a weak vowel that appears in the surface form of a word as an /i/ whenever the lexical stem of the verb does not end in /ε/, which is a vowel that occasionally appears in the surface form as /e/ and sometimes not at all. I talk all about it in my verb runthrough.

The temporal/polar suffixes are these:

Affirmative Present/Future: -u

Affirmative Past: -ita

Negative Present/Future: -en

Negative Past: en deshita (periphrastic)

For verbs that use ω as a temporal/polar suffix (ω being what ends up as i/katta/kunai/nakatta):

You can add the polite form of the copula da, desu, to the end to take more polite, albeit semi-illogical. In this case, the verb desu is not acting as a verb but as a politeness suffix.

Here’s the catch: Japanese admits this kind of politeness as standard only when it is the verb of a verb phrase that is not embedded into another verb phrase. This means that indirect quotes are not conjugated for politeness, and neither are attributive phrases.

Humble Verbs (Kenjougo) and Honorific Verbs (Sonkeigo)

Humble Verbs and Honorific Verb are a bit more tricky, because there exist a few verbs that imply humility and are used in humble language.

Let’s look at a quick table where there they use Teineigo and Kenjougo and Sonkeigo together.

(Courtesy of https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Japanese/Grammar/Honorifics)
(And if you’re a bit more confident with your Kanji reading, you can visit more thorough listings here and here)

Note: The three very important verbs this list misses are “morau” and “kureru.” “Morau”’s Kenjougo equivalent is “itadaku;” the Sonkeigo equivalent to “kureru” is “kudasaru;” the Kenjougo equivalent to “ageru” is “Sashiageru.”

Other than these exceptions, which are admittedly very common verbs, the verb construction is to take the verb’s verbal stem, add the prefix o- and the verb “suru” in Kenjougo and “naru” in Sonkeigo.

Sonkeigo: o + verbal stem + naru

Kenjougo: o+ verbal stem + suru

If there exist a special verb with the humility or honor implied (so if it’s part of the list), then one does not use this construction.

Kenjougo and Sonkeigo work along with Teineigo as seen in the table, but this is only when applicable, not all the time. It tends to be that if you are going to work along the status axis, you are going to be making your verbs polite. The only place where this is not the case is in anime and perhaps some dramas, where you hear the governing verbs of IPs in their plain form.



Address suffixes are also considered part of Keigo.

To speak on those briefly, for this is probably the most common form of Keigo.

The standard address suffix for people is -san.

The address for people of authority who have some form of didactic/guiding role is -sensei.

The address for someone who is of a higher rank than you but not -sensei, used mainly in schools by lowerclassmen to upperclassmen is -senpai.

The -sama address is used for someone of an unbelievably high rank, like high religious figures and royalty.

The address suffix -kun is used towards young males.

The address suffix -chan is an address suffix used for children and animals; and it is also an intimate address suffix for young girls. Note that -kun and -chan are not equivalent. A young girl can call a young boy -kun without knowing him well, but the boy cannot call the girl -chan.

The intimate address suffix -bou exists for males, but does not carry into adolescence, and thus is used for small boys.

The J-Sub Experiment Starter Kit (Part 7)


We’ve talked about a lot! Now that we understand parts of speech, we can talk about Syntax, and after this you’ll have a very good grasp of what goes on in Japanese sentences.

Syntax refers to the way that the ordering and grouping of words and phrases in specific orders conveys specific meanings. Syntax wonders why “John ate the apple.” and “The apple ate John.” are very different sentences.

Japanese is what linguists call a synthetic language, meaning that one has a fair amount of flexibility with how the phrases are ordered while preserving meaning. This is possible because our particles tell us the function of the phrase and not the phrase’s place in the sentence (as is the case in English.) It’s not the most synthetic language out there, and there are structure rules, but it’s something to be aware of.

What we will provide here is the core of syntax: the relationship between the arguments, the adverbs, and the verb. We will write more on syntax in the future.

Let’s start out with a guide of the different kinds of phrases and what they’re made up of. Everything optional is in green.

Inflexional Phrase: [Inflexional Phrase][Conjunction][Noun Phrase][Verb Phrase][Conjunction][Inflexional Phrase]

Verb Phrase: [Adverb Phrase][Noun Phrase][Verb]

Noun Phrase: [Verb Phrase][Adjective Phrase][Noun]

Adjective Phrase: [Adverb Phrase][Adjective]

Adverb Phrase: [Adverb Phrase][Adverb]

(We won’t talk about Adjective Phrases because they’re rare, but we’ll talk about the rest.)

So here are some important things to note.

The only thing necessary in an inflexional phrase is a verb. An inflexional phrase is essentially a sentence, or at least a complete idea.

In a verb phrase, the noun phrases we’ll call arguments: the subject and the direct and indirect objects.

Verb phrases that precede nouns are modifying the noun.

In this way of seeing things, we do not easily account for quotations; but quotations are a kind of adverb that is restricted in its positioning.

Interjections are IPs in themselves. They do not really exist as part of another sentence.

A Japanese sentence ends with a verb, aside from the ending particles, and any phrase coming after the final finite verb is called a displacement, which means that its position is irregular.

The head of a phrase is the part of speech that corresponds to the phrase; and it is always at the end of the phrase.

So let’s look at a sentence!

(Okaasan wa takai sushi wo tabete, otousan ga osake wo nonde, oneesan ga hayaku tabako wo suu.)
“My mother eats expensive sushi, my father drinks alcohol, and my sister smokes tobacco  quickly.”

This is a weird sentence, but it is a sentence.

Let’s identify the IPs 

[Okaasan wa takai sushi wo tabete]
[otousan ga osake wo nonde]
[oneesan ga hayaku tabako wo suu]

Now let’s identify the conjunctions

The conjunctions stem from the function of the gerunds (Te-forms) “tabete” and “nonde.” That’s okay.

Let’s identify the topical phrases in the inflexional phrases

That would be [Okaasan wa] in the first IP; and there is no other.

Let’s identify the main verb phrases

[takai sushi wo tabete]
[otousan ga osake wo nonde]
[oneesan ga hayaku tabako wo suu]

Let’s identify the main verbs


Let’s identify the noun phrases

[takai sushi wo]
[otousan ga]
[osake wo]
[oneesan ga]
[tabako wo]

Let’s identify the modifying verb phrases


Let’s identify the adverb phrases


So everything is identified! That wasn’t so bad. Now let’s get it into the structure we described in the beginning:

[IP [IP [NP Okaasan wa] [VP [NP [VP takai] [N sushi wo]] [V tabete,]]] [conj. gerund] [VP [NP [N otousan ga]] [NP [N osake wo]]  [V nonde]],[conj. gerund] [VP[NP N [oneesan ga]] [AdvP [Adv hayaku]] [NP [N tabako wo]] [Vsuu.]]]

And that in a tree will look like this!


Okay, thats it!

I hope all this has been helpful. We do explain things over and over again in our lessons, so don’t feel as if you have to memorize all this. We’re not here to test you, we’re here to help you. This is not the definitive guide to Japanese by any stretch of the imagination; but it should be enough to get you going.

The J-Sub Experiment Starter Kit (Part 6)

Those who have followed our work will know that we do not believe that the things Japanese calls adjectives are actually syntactically adjectives. That’s just to say that one can explain Japanese just fine without having to call the vast majority of adjectives, well, adjectives. That makes this following part extra complicated; but bear with us.

The following will be the most complex part of this Starter Kit. It may be easier to learn about it the conventional way (through textbooks and the like) before listening to us talk about it. But, here it goes.

We should also note that this is a controversial topic; and, like before, we do not have the last say on the matter. We hope that our ideas on this matter, as with many others, will mature over time.


While Japanese’s nouns don’t change a lot, its verbs make up for it in spades. You’ll remember that we called the changes nouns go through declension. The equivalent phenomenon in verbs is called conjugation. The general term for both phenomena is inflection.

Japanese verbs conjugate for two voices, two tenses, two poles, and three moods. That sounds like a lot, but we’ll get through it.

Verbal Stems

Verbal Stems are the verb without any verbal suffixes that make it conjugate. To find the verbal stem, one just removes all the suffixes. If one looks it up in the dictionary, one will find the indicative, positive, active, present/future conjugation of the verb. To that, one just has to take off the final /u/ or /ru/ and one will have the verb stem.

For example:

たべる (taberu) ー> tabe
きく (kiku) ー> kik
よむ (yomu) ー> yom
つかう (tsukau) ー> tsuka

That’s the stem in the underlying form. The underlying form is a level in morphology that exists before the word is said or written. It is similar to how things are 0’s and 1’s in a computer under they appear on the screen. The opposite is the surface form, which is how they appear in elocution.

The surface form of the verbal stem involves one adding an /i/ to the end of the verbs except when the stem ends in /e/

Tabe ー> (ends in /e/, no addition) たべ (tabe)
Kik ー> (does not end in /e/, add /i/) きき (kiki)
Yomー> (does not end in /e/, add /i/) よみ (yomi)
Tsukaー> (does not end in /e/, add /i/) つかい (tsukai)

The verbal stem is seen in use as a participle, meaning that it modifies a variety of things with its verbal meaning. They’re very frequent; and in our parsings we run into tons of them.

The constructions of our verbs will be based on the underlying form of the verbal stem.


Mood is a linguistic term to describe how some verb’s actions do not take place in reality, but as possibilities, thought experiments, logical processes, etc.

For example: “I eat an apple.” vs  vs. “I can eat an apple.” vs. “I made him eat an apple.” These are all slightly different and in Japanese involve different moods.

Japanese’s Three Moods:

  • Indicative– indicating that something is happening in reality.
  • Potential– indicating that something can happen.
  • Causative-indicating that something is made to do something.

The Indicative

The indicative is the easiest to understand, and lucky its suffix is a zero suffix, meaning that it involves no additional suffix.

The Potential

Hold onto your hats. Things are going to get crazy. The suffix in the underlying form is -βαβe. And before you tell us to go to hell, hear us out! β is going to be our stand-in letter meaning that it is an extremely weak consonant  that, if it does make it to the surface form, will be /r/. α is our stand-in for a weak vowel that, if it does make it to the surface form, will be /a/.

Here’s the rule:

Both β and α it to the surface form IF what precedes is ε and only ε. So it’s an all or nothing deal with the stand-ins.

(Again, before you tell me to piss off, ε is a stand-in for a letter in the underlying form that may or may not be there in the surface form; but if it is, it’s an /e/. The stem “tabe” has a ε. )

Tabε ー> (ends in ε, retain βαβ) たべられ (taberare)
Kik ー> (ends in a consonant, drop out βαβ) きけ (kike)
Yom ー> (ends in a consonant, drop out βαβ) よめ (yome)
Tsukaー> (ends in a vowel, drop out βαβ) つかえ (tsukae)

Oh, and by the way, that last /e/ in the suffix is a ε. I just didn’t want you to freak out too much.

The Causative

The suffix of the causative is -σasε. Similar story as before. σ is a stand-in for a letter that, if it makes it to the surface form, it is an /s/.

Here’s the rule: δ makes it to the surface form ONLY IF it is preceded by ε. It’s the same rule as before.

Tabε ー> (ends in ε, retain σ) たべさせ (tabesase)
Kik ー> (ends in a consonant, drop out σ) きかせ (kikase)
Yom ー> (ends in a consonant, drop out σ) よませ (yomase)
Tsukaー> (ends in a vowel, drop out σ) つかわせ (tsukawase) NOTE

Here is another morphological rule: if the stem ends in /a/ and the suffix has an /a/ and the two are juxtaposed, a /w/ comes between them, as is the case with /tsuka./



Voice refers to how the verb treats the agents (the subject and the objects). Japanese has two voices: active and passive. Active is to say “John ate the apple.” and Passive is to say “The apple was eaten by John.”

The Active Voice

The active voice has a zero suffix.

The Passive Voice

The suffix is -βarε. We know the rules for β. Let’s see them in action!

Indicative Passive

Tabε ー> (ends in ε, retain β) たべられ (taberare)
Kik ー> (ends in a consonant, drop out β) きかれ (kikare)

Potential Passive

Taberarεー>(ends in ε, retain β) たべられ (taberare) NOTE
Kikー>(ends in ε, retain β) きけられ (kikerare)

Causative Passive

Tabesasεー>(ends in ε, retain β) たべさせられ (tabesaserare)
Kikasεー>(ends in ε, retain β) きかせられ (kikaserare)

The second extraordinary morphological rule we note is an anti-duplicate rule, stating that if two suffixes are going to look exactly the same, one becomes a zero stem. So the meaning is still there; but one cannot see it. (And this one mood might have a periphrastic, but we’ll let you know when we find out if it’s an actual periphrastic and not just an equivalent.)


Tense and Polarity

Japanese has two tenses and a periphrastic tense that gives the tense aspect. Tense refers to the time in which something happened. Japanese has two tenses: imperfective and perfect. The imperfective tense, or the present/future tense as many call it, indicates that the action happens now or will happen in the future. The perfect tense indicates that something happened in the past, and is not the case now. We’ll talk about the periphrastic progressive aspect later.

The truth of the matter is that Tense and Polarity work together. It is very difficult to talk about one without the other, given that the affirmative has a zero suffix and the negative suffix has its own present tense suffix. So we will look at them together.

Let’s do this systematically:

1. The suffix for the affirmative, imperfective is -βu.

It works beautifully for the potential and causative moods. It is always -ru is the surface form.

With the indicative, you are back to deciding on whether or not the conditions are met for β to make it to the surface form. But if it doesn’t then it’s just an -u.

Tabεー>(ends in ε, retain β) たべる(taberu)
Kik ー>(ends in consonant, drop out β) きく(kiku)

2. The suffix for the affirmative, perfect is -ζα

ζ is the big bad wolf in the underlying form. There is a certain logic to it; but that’s a long story. Here’s what results from it. (There are exceptions to this.)

A) If the word its attaching itself to ends in β, then it turns itself into /t/.
B) If the word its attaching itself to ends in a vowel or /ts/, then it turns itself and the /ts/ (if present) into /tt/.
C) If the word its attaching itself to ends in a /k/, then it turns itself and /k/ into an /it/.
D) If the word its attaching itself to ends in a /d/, then it turns itself and /k/ into an /id/.
E) If the word its attaching itself to ends in a /b/, /m/, or /n/, it turns itself and the consonant into /nd./

Tabεー>(ends in ε, turn into /te/) たべた (tabeta)
Kikー>(ends in /k/, turn into /ite) きいた (kiita)

3. The suffix for the negative, imperfective is -κnaω

The rule for κ is the opposite of α, in that it disappears then ε precedes it and in no other case; and also, it’s surface form is /a/. ω is a bigger big bad wolf. When it it is in final position, it makes it to the surface as /i/.

Tabεー>(ends in ε, drop out /κ/) たべない (tabenai)
Kikー>(ends in /k/, retain /κ/) きかない (kikanai)

4. The suffix of the negative, perfect is -ζα applied to ω.

ω + ζα = /katta/

たべなωー>たべなかった (tabenakatta)
きかなωー>きかなかった (kikanakatta)

And that finishes things off with verbs!


Gerund (Te-Form)

The gerund is like the participle in that it’s a non-verb with verbal qualities. In Japanese,  what the Te-form does is make a verb atemporal and makes it either adjectival or nominal (a noun).

The suffix for the gerund is -ζe. ω + ζe = /kute/

Tabeー>たべて (tabete)
Kikー>きいて (kiite)
namenaiー> なめなくて (namenakute)


Periphrastic Progressive

Progress is an aspect. Aspect is a linguistic term referring to the time in which an action takes place. Japanese verbs normally have simple aspect, which means that one can assume that they will happen an unspecified amount of time. “John eats one apple.” can mean that John eats an apple once or that maybe he eats an apple as a habit. Progressive aspect refers to the action still taking place. “John is eating an apple.” and “John was eating an apple.” reflect progressive aspect.

Here’s the construction: V[gerund] + “iru”

“Iru” is a copula, meaning “to be” or “to have.” This is now your main verb. (Grammar calls it an auxiliary verb, but really it is now the verb that will go through any necessary conjugations).
So conjugate “iru” as you need it, and you have progressive aspect.

The stem of “iru” is /iε/, in a case where ε does not surface.


First Order Suffixes

There are a series of suffixes we shall know as first order suffixes, which means that they occur at the same level as tense and as such go where -βu would go if it were an affirmative, present sentence.

The Volitional

The volitional indicates an encouragement to do something. “Let’s eat an apple!” The suffix if is -υou.

The rule is the same as β and σ: Only if it is preceded by γ will it make it to the surface. And if it makes it to the surface, it is /y/. The nice thing about the imperative is that once you’ve attached its suffix it’s a fully functioning verb, nothing else needed.

Tabε ー> (ends in ε, retain υ) たべよう (tabeyou)
Kik ー> (ends in a consonant, drop out υ) きこう (kikou)
Yom ー> (ends in a consonant, drop out υ) よもう (yomou)
Tsukaー> (ends in a vowel, drop out υ) つかおう (tsukaou)

The Imperative Positive

The imperative indicates an order. “Eat an apple!” The suffix is -βe.

Tabε ー> (ends in ε, retain β) たべれ (tabere)
Kik ー> (ends in a consonant, drop out β) きけ (kike)
Yom ー> (ends in a consonant, drop out β) よめ (yome)
Tsukaー> (ends in a vowel, drop out β) つかえ (tsukae)

The First Conditional

There are two conditional suffixes in Japanese. This one tends to have an implication that one is focusing on the conditions and not the result. The second is the opposite. The suffix is -ρeba. This is the only suffix of the three that interacts with ω.  ω+ρeba = /kereba/

The rule is the same as β and σ and υ. We can call these “weak consonants,” if we want to, since they follow the same rule.

Tabε ー> (ends in ε, retain ρ) たべれば (tsukareba)
Kik ー> (ends in a consonant, drop out ρ) きけば (kikeba)
Yom ー> (ends in a consonant, drop out ρ) よめば (yomeba)
Tsukaー> (ends in a vowel, drop out ρ) つかえば (tsukeba)
Namεー> (ends in ω, becomes /kereba/) なめなければ (namenakereba)

Polite Suffix

The polite suffix is something that is harder to pin down in terms of function than one would think. Yes, it makes the verb polite. But when one uses it is on the practical level depends on the person. The way the textbooks teach it is that one uses it only in the main verb, but in day to day speech one finds it elsewhere as a sub-standard form of hyper-politeness.

The suffix is -ιmas, with the ι being a vowel that drops out when it precedes γ and in the surface form is /i/.

Tabε ー> (ends in ε, drop ι)  tabemas
Kik ー> (ends in a consonant, retain ι) kikimas
Yom ー> (ends in a consonant,retain ι) yomimas
Tsukaー> (ends in a vowel,retain ι) tsukaimas

Then one adds the tense and pole suffixes -βu and -ζa for the affirmative. For the negative, it has some “special suffixes,” which are Western regional things that creeped their way into standard Japanese.

Negative imperfective: -en

Negative perfect: -en deshita

The negative perfect is a periphrastic construction, meaning that it depends on another verb to get to that meaning. The verb is the polite, negative, perfect of the copula “da,” which is a truncation of a historical form of the verb (de aru ー> de arimashita).


Second Order Suffixes

Is a series of suffixes that go after a certain tense and pole. So they are the last thing one needs to add in a conjugation.

The Second Conditional

This is the conditional focusing on the result. The suffix is -ra. This attaches to the affirmative, perfect tense.

たべた (tabeta)ー> たべたら (tabetara)
きいた (kiita)ー> きいたら (kiitara)
よんだ (yonda)ー> よんだら (yondara)
つかった (tsukatta)ー> つかったら (tsukattara)
なめなかった (namenakatta)ー> なめなかったら (namenakattara)

The Volitional Negative

This indicates that does not intend to do something. The suffix is -mai. This attaches to the affirmative, imperfective.

たべる (taberu) ー> たべるまい (taberumai)
きく (kiku) ー> きくまい (kikumai)
つかう (tsukau)ー> つかうまい (tsukaumai)
みされられる (misaserareru)ー> みさせられるまい (misaserarerumai)

The Imperative Negative

This indicates that one orders another to not do something. The suffix is -na. This attaches to the affirmative, present.

たべる (taberu) ー> たべるな (taberuna)
きく (kiku) ー> きくな (kikuna)
つかう (tsukau)ー> つかうな (tsukauna)
みされられる (misaserareru)ー> みさせられるな (misaserareruna)


The Desiderative Mood?

There is one mood we did not talk about; because we are unsure if it is a mood; it is the desiderative, which expresses a desire.

The suffix is -ιtaω. It attached to the verbal stem without any real problems. Then the ω conjugates as needed.

Tabε ー> (ends in ε, drop ι)  tabetai
Kik ー> (ends in a consonant, retain ι) kikitai
Yom ー> (ends in a consonant,retain ι) yomitai
Tsukaー> (ends in a vowel,retain ι) tsukaitai



Now that we’ve talked about ω, talking about adjectives becomes much easier. ω is what we call a copula. It’s a verb that tells us whether something is or isn’t, was or wasn’t something. They tend to lack some or all other moods.

Conventional Japanese Grammar talks about i-adjectives and na-adjectives. It will admit that na-adjectives are nouns with a verbal suffix when in attributive position (“na” for the present affirmative.) It will hold, however, that i-adjectives are true adjectives, however.

We say nay. Why? Because the /i/ in i-adjectives are ω; and we know that ω is verbal. It conjugates for the tenses and poles, and for the gerund. So let’s look at that.

Affirmative Imperfective: i

Affirmative Perfect: katta

Negative Imperfective: kunai

Negative Perfect: kunakatta

Gerund: kute

All this data indicates that ω is something like /kuξ/, ξ is something that, if left alone, turns everything into /i/ and if paired with ζ somehow turns everything into /katta/. These are things to do research on.

So i-adjectives are verbs. The only thing is that semantically they are adjectival; but that is not so strange.

Having said that: Japanese does have adjectives, except that they are not an open class. By that we mean that one cannot make Japanese adjectives. They end up being nouns that in one way or another modify another noun through verbal suffixes (so -na or the attributive form of the copula da, which is no.)

The adjectives that do exist are created over time through shorthands or historical variants on old lexemes. Even then, we have reservations about some of these; and we’ve written about this before. This is one of specialty topics, so expect to hear from us a lot about this.

Okay, enough with the parts of speech. Next time: Syntax! And after that, we’re done!!