Japanese Case Particles and Their Evil Twins!

Originally posted on Tumblr on March 22nd, 2017

Hey guys!

We wanted to take a moment to return to the idea of case particles and perhaps create a more refined model.

So, to review some terms real quick…

Nouns in Japanese don’t generally decline for number (meaning that they are not explicitly plural or singular or anything in between), but they decline by case.

Grammatical case refers to a function or identity that the noun carries. In English, the pronouns decline into nominative, genitive and objective.

Nominative: He, She, They

Objective: Him, Her, Them

Genitive: His, Her, Their

Japanese marks case through particles. Indo-European languages, like English, tend to do them by suffixes that are sometimes to figure out. So we’re very lucky, in a way.

Linguists aren’t in total agreement as to how many cases Japanese has, mainly because of a few odd places one sees Japanese’s case particles. But here are the cases that are indicated.

Topical (は/wa): indicates the topic of the sentence. It exists pretty independently.

Nominative (が/ga): indicates the subject of the sentence.

Accusative (を/wo): indicates the direct object.

Genitive (の/no): indicates possession of categorization.

Dative (に/ni): indicates the indirect object and location.

Instrumental (で/de): indicates a tool or cause.

Lative [or Locative] (へ/e): indicates direction toward.

Ablative (から/kara): indicates direction from.

Cases in any given language will tend to have multiple functions. In fact, there is a good likelihood that secondary functions of the same cases are repeated between languages. That is to say, if the accusative in Japanese can sometimes indicate motion through, it is likely that another language will have one such indication. And that is the case. There are also various “datives of manner,” which is what the “adverbial ni” actually is.

We here for now tend to talk about a topical, nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, and locative. We don’t talk about the ablative, and the idea of calling the locative lative seems to be a remnant from the old idea that Japanese is related to Uralic languages (like Finnish and Estonian.) But it works really well, so we’ll keep it around.

(By the way, it’s generally accepted that Japanese is a language isolate. The idea of an “Altaic” family has been discredited, which I believe is a concept that was taught many years ago to Japanese (and Korean) students, so you’ll find language books claiming that Japanese (and Korean) is an Altaic language.)

The ablative, on the other hand, we’re afraid to indicate because of its “evil twin.” An “evil twin” is a counterpart to a case particle that works in a manner that is very different from the original case particle.

We often see “kara” as a post-position (or you can call it a conjunction, it really doesn’t really matter right  now.) The thing is that it will work with an entire verb phrase, which is not okay.

Japanese Evil Twins:

から (kara): marks a cause or reason. (”because”)

が (ga): conjunction, marks that both inflexional sentences are not comparable, meaning that you wouldn’t figure that one follows from the other. (”though…”)

で (de): post-postition, marks the location of an action when the location itself is not very relevant to the action. (”at,” or “in”)

の (no): attributive copula, serves as the copula in an attribute phrase. (”…that is…”

と (to): conditional conjunction, marks that the occurrence of an action is dependent on another. (If…)

We didn’t speak of “to,” because we are unsure if it’s a conjunction or if it is a comitative case marker. The comitative case marks that an action is done with or in the company of, which is possible in Japanese but it is rare. (E.g. 僕と行きますか? Will you go with me?)

The plot thickens:

If から is a case particle, an ablative, then まで (made) surely must be a case particle. And some have suggested to call it a “limitative” case, which would be unique to Japanese (as far as we know). But the nice thing about cases is that they’re something you can see in multiple languages, so we’re hesitant to concede that. That’s why we’d rather treat both as post-positions.

Japanese grammar tends to deal with this by calling them all “particles” and then giving them as many jobs as needed, but thinking of them all as a single grammatical unit. The bad thing about this, of course, is that then you don’t have “case” particles and it ignores the patterns seen in the case particles when compared to so many other languages.

But it is very strange that we have so many evil twins. It’s easy to dismiss one or two, but five (or six), that is a lot. The answers to all this probably lie in the history of the language, with things stemming from Old and Middle Japanese, some things most likely lost to us (things like idiomatic phrases truncated). So we’ll have to wait a while to figure it all out.

Anyway, we just thought you’d find this interesting. Food for thought.

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. 🙂 )

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.

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Japanese Phonemes and Phones

You’d be surprised how hard it is to get a straight answer on how many phonemes exist in Japanese. Most of the time, what you get are the phones of Japanese, which, of course, are quite different. Today we’ll try to settle the question once and for all:

If you’ve ever seen a Kana chart, then you’ve seen the Gojuuon, of the 50 sounds. This in itself gives us a really great starting point to finding the answer.

(Courtesy of myjapaneseprofessor.com)

From here, we can guess that there have to be at least 5 vowels and 9 consonants, assuming that the solo ん and な,に,ぬ,ね, and の use the same /n/.

/k/ /s/ /t/ /n/ /h/ /m/ /y/ /r/ /w/ ||  /a/ /i/ /u/ /e/ /o/

But wait, there’s more!

We also know that Japanese voices various columns, through the dakuten, those being the ゛marks you see after a kana.

With the dakuten, you get voiced /k/ /s/ and /t/; and you also get a voiced bilabial plosive of /p/, which is what /h/ was once upon a time. So we have /g/ /z/ /d/ and /b/. And we also have the handakuten, which is the ゜you sometimes see after the kana starting with /h/, which make /h/ into /p/.

/k/ /g/ /s/ /z/ /t/ /d/ /n/ /h/ /b/ /p/ /m/ /y/ /r/ /w/ ||  /a/ /i/ /u/ /e/ /o/

But wait, there’s more!

We also have the phenomenon of palatalization, which is represented by the ゃゅょ you can see after き,ぎ, し, じ, ち, に, ひ, び, ぴand み, effectively making digraphs.

For the sake of simplification and, we will call these digraphs /ky/ /gy/ /sy/ /zy/ /ty/ /ny/ /hy/ /by/ /py/ and /my/. This does not correspond with the romanization system we use, but that’s okay. When we’re just transliterating, we’re not terribly concerned about phonemes as such.

Okay, so here’s our answer

/k/ /g/ /ky/ /gy/ /s/ /sy/ /zy/ /z/ /t/ /ty/ /d/ /n/ /ny/ /h/ /hy/ /b/ /by/ /p/ /py/ /m/ /my/ /y/ /r/ /w/ ||  /a/ /i/ /u/ /e/ /o/

24 consonants, and 5 vowels. (We’ll eventually concede them an extra nasal phoneme, but let’s pretend all non-fontal nasals are the same.)

Now let’s figure out the phones.

In a perfect world, one would have one phone for one phoneme. But that’s really never the case. Fair warning, phonetics is a hotly debated topic, so if you talk to 5 different people, you’ll get 5 different answers.

The crossed out phonemes are the ones that we won’t worry much about because they do not have allophones.

/k/ /g/ /ky/ /gy/ /s/ /sy/ /zy/ /z/ /t/ /ty/ /d/ /n/ /ny/ /h/ /hy/ /b/ /by/ /p/ /py/ /m/ /my/ /y/ /r/ /w/ ||  /a/ /i/ /u/ /e/ /o/

Allophones are two phones that correspond to the same phoneme under different distributions. You’ll see what I mean in a minute.

Distribution refers to the surroundings of a phone, i.e. what comes before and after it. Depending on it’s distribution, the sound a phoneme is will change. For example, take the words “house” and “Hugh.” Notice how the /h/ changes from an open sound to a constrained sound. The sound changes because of what’s coming in front of it, it’s distribution.

In Japanese, the most important factor in phoneme distribution is what comes after it, meaning, in most cases, what vowel comes after the consonant. There are three instances where what comes before the phoneme is important: /g/, and /u/ and /n/.


The easiest case to talk about is /u/, because everyone becomes savvy to this very quickly.

Let’s take two anime names: “Uzumaki” and “Sasuke.” Note that those two middle /u/’s are pronounced different. In the first case, it’s pronounced; and in the second it isn’t.

When /u/ is between two voiceless consonants, it is silent.

Let’s look at once more case, that of verbs: “desu,” “kimasu,” “korosu.” Here /u/ is also silent. But if you look at verbs such as “kiku” and “naku,” the /u/ is pronounced.

In final position, if preceded by /s/, /u/ is silent.

In the case of /g/, this is a dialectical thing, but it’s common enough to talk about. (I’d even say that it’s exaggerated in some instances where people are trying to speak clear, Standard Japanese.)


With /g/, there is a chance it will turn into the velar nasal: [ŋ]

[ŋ] is the same sound that Spanish’s “ñ” represents. It’s the same /n/ in sing.

You’d be surprised by how difficult it is to pin down when this phenomenon happens. It has probably changed a lot in the past 50 years. We have heard from people who learned Japanese 30 years ago that it’s supposed to be a posh feminine thing, but we’ve heard audio of men doing it all the time. Just keep in mind that it does happen.


There seems to be some consensus that the /n/’s in な, に, ぬ, ね, and の are all the same. It’s the alveolar nasal [n].

In the case of ん, where the thing following it is not a vowel, it will assimilate in position according to the features of the consonant. If it’s followed by a vowel, however, it will be [n], which is why we’ll try to keep it one phoneme. (Some linguists believe that this is actually a nasalized vowel, but we cannot quite see it.)

The most famous case of this kind of assimilation happening is with the word 先輩 (せんぱい/senpai), where it is pronounced with an [m], “sempai.” [m] is the bilabial nasal, and [p] is a bilabial plosive.

The same thing happens with velar consonants [k] and [g]. 産休 (さんきゅう/sankyuu) will be pronounced as our friend [ŋ].

In cases where it is at the end of the sentence, it will be pronounced as the uvular nasal [ɴ].

When /n/ precedes a bilabial consonant, it is [m].

When /n/ precedes a velar consonant, it is [ŋ].

When /n/ is in final position, it is [ɴ].

In all other cases, /n/ is [n].


/r/ is another famous case. This is a case of two allophones having “equal distribution,” i.e. you can exchange one for another and you’ll never really have a problem.

/r/ is both a flap and a lateral. To put it colloquially, you can pronounce either as an r or as an l. Some people have developed rationales for when a consonant is pronounced either as an the flap [ɾ] or as the lateral [l], but there is a lot of inconsistency between them.


There exist a couple of variations with /h/ (and aspirations with certain plosives), but the one case we need to talk about is when /h/ precedes /u/.

The tendency is to place /h/ generally in the glottal area, so the glottal fricative [h].

Before /u/, /h/ can be pronounced as a bilabial fricative [ɸ], the labiodental fricative [f], or the glottal fricative [h].

The standard pronunciation, to our understanding, is [ɸ], but the others are heard.


/w/ is a dying phoneme. There originally existed four Kana for it (which can still be heard in the Iroha poem): わ, ゐ (wi), ゑ (we), and を. Now only two are in use: わ and を; and を is dying out. If it were not for its functional use, for clearly marking the accusative case particle, it would be gone as well.

We bring up /w/ because there are those who pronounce the /w/ before /o/ and those who don’t. Both seem to be fine, though some may claim that this is an abnormality known as hypercorrection, where a sound is produced unnaturally for the same of some kind of regularity (this is common in cases of assimilation, such as pronouncing the final /s/ in “rings” as an [s] and not as a [z]).

Regardless, there is an older generation that did learn to pronounce を with the /w/.

When /w/ precedes /o/, it can either be silent or pronounced.

/t/ /d/ /s/ /z/

These four consonants undergo a similar transformation before /i/.

The consensus is that they become post-alveolar affricates.

/t/ before /i/ becomes [tɕ]

/d/ before /i/ becomes [dʑ]

/s/ before /i/ becomes [ɕ]

/z/ before /i/ becomes [ʑ]

It’s worth noting here that the palatal phonemes that /ty/, /gy/, /sy/, and /zy/ have these very same phones.

Then, in the case of /t/ and /d/, when they precede /u/, they become affricates, but alveolar and not post-alveolar, so [t͡s] [d͡z].

/t/ before /u/ becomes [t͡s]

/d/ before /u/ becomes [d͡z]

And that, friends, covers most of everything.

There are some things involving loanwords and nuances, such as /s/ remaining [s] before /i/ and there being a [v] and not just a [b], but that’s secondary to all this.

Phonemes, Phonetics, and the IPA chart.

Those of us who grew up speaking a language that uses an alphabet are taught to think of language being made up of “letters” and that “letters,” depending on where they are, sound different.

Let’s consider the letter /p/.

People vs. Hop vs. Shipping

In the first case we have an initial /p/ that comes along with some air. Say the word with your hand in front of your mouth and you’ll feel that hair.

In the second case we have a final position /p/ which really isn’t a lot like the first /p/ but more like a closing of the mouth.

In the third case, we have a /p/ like the first one sans the air.

So these are 3 different sounds, but they’re all /p/’s…

Here we see the divide between phonetics and phonemics. 

Phonemics concerns itself with groups of sounds that languages treat as the same and with their pronunciation as different depending on where it is in a word. Those different sounds are the concern of phonetics.

How do we find a phoneme?

We find phonemes through “minimal pairs.” A minimal pair is a set of two words that are exactly the same except in one sound. If that difference changes the meaning of the word, then we have a new phoneme.

For example:

Moose vs Noose

They’re exactly the same except in one sound, that initial nasal consonant, and they mean two very different things.

Let’s try something else:

Going back to the /p/ example, take the first and third variations of /p/ and say the word “potato.” Think of the way the Minions from the Despicable Memovies say the word “potato,” if you can’t imagine the word with the 3rd variation.

(Normal) Potato vs. (Minion) Potato

Question: Does that change the meaning of the word?

It doesn’t; and that’s a very good indication that these two phones, or sounds, are parts of the same phoneme.

Phonemes are the easy part, most of the time. The hard part are the phones.

Linguists have their own alphabet to describe sounds, commonly referred to as the IPA Chart.

The IPA is divided into two main sections: Vowels and Consonants

The identified vowels are 28 and are distributed according to where and how they are produced. “Closed” and “Open” refer to how open or closed the mouth is. That [i] you see on the top left is the /e/ in “me.” That [a] you see at the bottom left is the Bostonian /a/, as in “car.” “Front” and “Back” refer to the place of elocution. That [u] in in the top right is the /ou/ in “Lou.” Try it out!

The consonants are many more, about 60.

As the notice says at the bottom, the consonants on the left side of each cell are voiced; an the ones are the right are voiceless (or unvoiced). [d] and [t] are the same sound save that one requires the use of one’s vocal cords and the other doesn’t. Give it a shot!

Moving left to right, you make a similar journey as you do with the vowels, starting with consonants made at one’s lips all the way to the glottis.

Moving up and down, you get different kind of consonants. “Plosives” are sounds made with a single movement, sounds you can’t sustain.

Nasals are sounds made with vibrations in the nose.

Trills continuous repetitions of one sounds.

Taps are like trills except they happen only once.

Fricatives are sounds you can sustain.

Lateral Fricatives are sounds made by sending air through the sides of the mouth, determining the flow with one’s tongue.

Approximants are hard to describe, but it’s good to think of them as continuous sounds that are like nasals but occur in the mouth and not in the nose.

Lateral approximants are approximants that occur at the sides of the mouth.

Here are some examples that might help!

The lateral approximant [l] is the /l/ in English’s “love.”

The approximant [ɹ] is the /r/ in English’s “rob.”

The fricative [ɸ] is one of the ways you can pronounce ふ /fu/ in Japanese.

The fricative [ð] is the /th/ in English’s “the.”

The flap [ɾ] is one of ways, and probably the standard way, one pronounces the phoneme /r/ in Japanese. (in らりるれろ)

The nasal [ɲ] is what in Spanish is written as /ñ/.

This is a great site where you can listen to the phones in different parts of a syllable.

This is a chart where you can see and download the chart itself, including the digraphs and annotations that we didn’t cover here.

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!!

The J-Sub Experiment Starter Kit (Part 5)


Post-positions are like pre-positions, except that they come after the phrase. So imagine “at school” being written as “school at.” That’s what post-positions are.

Easy examples of post-positions are から (kara)、まで (made)、で (de). Kara means “from,” made means “until” or “up to,” and  de means “at.” Yes, there are two de’s; but don’t worry, they’re easy to distinguish. The difference between de, indicating location, and ni, the dative particle indicating location, is that ni indicates that the action is somehow very important to the action. Once you see it a few times, it’ll make sense.


Conjunctions are words that connect phrases. “I brushed my teeth and went to bed.” “Would you like soup or a salad.” “I like you, though you scare me a little bit.”

The most famous conjunction is と (to): which is a parallel conjunction, meaning it connects two things of the same kind in the same way to the rest of the sentence. “I ate chicken and turkey.” There is another conjunction, also と (to), which is a conditional conjunction. “X to Y” can be “If X, Y”

The disjunctive conjunction is, A or B, is か (ka).

There are listing conjunctions, those being たり (tari) and し (shi), which tells us about a number of things occurring in a non-exhaustive way.

だって (datte) and けど (kedo) connect entire phrases. They have the semantic dimension of expression a certain amount of reservation.

There are verbal conjugations that are also conjunctive, which we’ll talk about once we get there.

Japanese’s conjunctions are often interpreted as suffixes; and that’s fine. We have treated them as suffixes, too, at times; and this is one of the many exciting things we get to deliberate about.

Functional Particles

Functional Particles are a special set of particles that indication function, intent, or tone.

An example of a functional particle is と (to; and yes, there are many “to”‘s) , which is a quotative particle. It marks a quote.

There are various ending particles, meaning they come at the end of the sentence (which is after the verb):

か (ka): marks a question.

ね (ne): marks a doubt or a intends to soften the statement.

よ (yo): marks an exclamation or emphatic statement.

ぞ (zo): marks exhortation.

さ (sa): marks an explication.

の (no): marks a noun phrase/makes a verb phrase syntactically a noun phrase.

ん(n): marks a noun phrase/makes a verb phrase syntactically a noun phrase.

This is one of the bigger puzzles in Japanese: how to sort out the particles, post-positions, functional particles, and suffixes in such a way that they all share similar features and work in similar ways. This is definitely not the final say on the matter, but it’s enough to get your bearings.

In Part 6 we will talk about Verbs and Adjectives!

The J-Sub Experiment Starter Kit (Part 4)

Japanese Parts of Speech

Japanese has a few parts of speech, thankfully none of them terribly unfamiliar to us. We have nouns,particles (which can be seen as suffixes to a noun), adverbs, conjunctions, post-positions (which are like pre-positions), verbs, and adjectives (maybe). There are also expressions, which are not parts of speech but do hold a lot of semantic weight. Those are included in this discussion.

For the next few parts, we’ll be talking about these things. Most of them aren’t hard to wrap one’s head around. The only tricky things are verbs and adjectives, which we’ll talk about in the end.

Nouns and Pronouns

Nouns are names for things and ideas. This is universal.

In some languages, nouns change form depending on quantity and function in the sentence. The changes nouns undergo is called declension. English verbs decline for number: “cat” vs. “cats.” “louse” vs. “lice.” And English pronouns decline for function, in linguistics known as case: “he” vs. “him” vs. “his.”

Japanese nouns do not decline for number or case. Congratulations! There is a small caveat, though, for some suffixes that indicate the plural for nouns referring to people, but that’s about it.

Pronouns are words that substitute a name. These are “he,” “her,” “it,” “everybody,” “nobody,” “that” and the like. These work just like regular nouns most of the time.

It is important to note, however, that the personal pronouns are tricky, particularly the second and third person singular pronouns, of which there are a few, and, if you intend on speaking Japanese, you need to know when to use them. So please read what we have to say on all that in our lessons.


In lieu of case declension, Japanese uses particles to indicate case. What this means is that depending on the function a noun has, it will take a certain particle.

In linguistics, there exists a certain set of cases, and most languages’ cases seem to match the descriptions of that relatively small list. Further, it tends to be that one case will have many roles; and cross-linguistically languages tend to group functions to a case pretty consistently.

In our lessons, we give you the case and the function of each particle. You don’t need to guess!

Nevertheless, we’ll do a quick runthrough of the particle, the name of the case, and the main functions.

が (ga): nominative case, indicates the subject of the sentence. Sometimes emphatically indicates the direct object of the sentence.

は (wa): topical case, indicates the topic of the sentence. The topic exists separate from all other phrases in a sentence.

の (no): genitive case, indicates that the phrase is a subset or holds a relation to another phrase.

に (ni): dative case, indicates the location of the action and the indirect object in the sentence.

で (de): instrumental case, indicates the means with or reason for the action of the sentence.

を (wo): accusative case, indicates the direct object in the sentence.

へ (he) locative case, indicates the direction of the action. The dative case can do this same action. This one is quite rare.

So let’s look at a sentence!

(Jinrui wa josei ga hon de kodomo ni no kako no monogatari wo oshieteageru.)

Translation: “In the human race, women teach children the legends of the past with books.”

人類は (jinrui wa): is the noun meaning “humanity” or “the human race” with “wa,” the topical particle. This is the topic of the sentence. We’re talking about humanity in general.

女性が (josei ga): is the noun meaning “female” and the nominative particle “ga.” This is the subject of the sentence.

本で (hon de): is the noun meaning “book” with the instrumental particle. So whatever the verb is, it’s done with a “book” or “books.” (Remember that there isn’t declension for number, so context is important.)

子供に (kodomo ni): is the noun meaning “child” or “children” with the dative particle “ni,” indicating the indirect object.

過去の (kako no): is the noun meaning “the past” with the genitive particle “no.” This is indicating that this noun phrase is part of the next noun phrase. “X no Y” is very often translated as “Y of X,” and even when it isn’t, it’ll help you get an idea of what we’re talking about.

物語を (monogatari wo): is the noun meaning “tale” or “legend” plus the accusative particle, indicating the direct object.

教えてあげる (oshieteageru): is the verb, translating “to teach.” I’ll tell you about it in the verb section.


Adverbs words that modify the verb. In English these are words such as “often,” “hardly,” “merrily,” “meticulously,” etc.

Japanese has three kinds of adverbs. The first are adverbs that has no suffix indicating they’re adverbs, adverbs that are nouns with the suffix -ni, and a special kind of verb that has a semi-copula that has an adverbial form. (We’ll talk about the last one in the verbs section.)

The first kind is very easy, like nouns.

Adverbs with suffixes without the suffix are nouns. For example: 別 (betsu) is a noun meaning “difference” or “exception.” With the adverb suffix  -ni, it becomes adverbial and means “especially” or “separately.”

These are some of the most consistent parts of speech. These don’t cause problems.

In Part 5, we’ll be talking about conjunctions and post-positions!


The J-Sub Experiment Starter Kit (Part 2)

Hiragana and Katana, together referred to as called Kana, are often called syllabaries, meaning that they’re sets of symbols that describe syllables. That’s not quite right, because they aren’t describing syllables, but morae. A syllable has to do with one’s breath. A mora (singular of morae) has to do with the sound in the syllable. Take any sentence, and say it in a whisper and say it mute, syllable by syllable. The breaths that you’re expelling are the syllables. The sounds, which you aren’t making, are the morae.

In Japanese, we can have a sentence like this: “Kyūshū wa toshi ga chiisai.”  If we do the same exercise and thus divide the sentence by syllables, we’ll get “Kyuu-shuu-wa-to-shi-ga-chii-sai.” (8 syllables) But what the Kana does is divide it by morae: “きゅうーしゅうーはーとーしーがーちいーさい.” (12 Kana) So there are more Kana than syllables.

Hiragana and Katakana have near perfect equivalency, meaning that almost everything you can write with one, you can write with the other (the exceptions are very minor technical things.) Every あ (Hiragana) can be switched out with ア (Katakana), every い with イ, etc. So if you know how to work with one of them, you know how to work with the other.



Hiragana is the “smooth kana.” It’s the more common of the two (not by a lot, but it is.) Hiragana’s main function in day-to-day business is to serve as “okurigana,” which are the prefixes and suffixes that are attached to lexical stems. Imagine that the word “destined” was Japanese for a second. The /destin/ would be the lexical stem. It’s where the meat and potatoes of the meaning lies; and we see it in a lot of other words, like “destiny” and “destination.” The the /ed/ is just a suffix. This qualifies the word and makes it a specific part of speech. The /destin/ would be written in Kanji and the /ed/ would be written in Hiragana.

When one lengthens vowels in Hiragana, one tends to write the character including the vowel alongside the sole vowel/morae. For example: “ちいさい” begins with “chii,” two /i/ vowels. So you write ち, which we romanize as “chi,” and add い, which is romanized as “i.” The lengthening of the /o/ vowel tends to be written with an /u/; but there are words, especially older words, where the lengthening happens with two /o/’s, which as とお, “too,” meaning “ten.”

Children, or people who are in the process of learning Kanji, write almost everything in Hiragana. A special function of Hiragana is to make things look a bit more effeminate. So one may opt to write something entirely in Hiragana just for that aesthetic.



Katakana is the “fragmentary kana,” which refers to how a lot of it is sharp lines and how in writing it’s nice to have some kind of flow (like the curves in Hiragana).

Katakana has a number of functions. It’s most famously used for loanwords and foreign names, which are quite a lot in Japanese. It’s also used in textbooks for readings of Kanji; and, as an extension to that, one finds it as an explanation of the reading of a proper name in Kanji.

Vowel lengthening in Katakana tends to occur with a dash (ー), called a “chounpu” in Japanese. So “chii” in Katakana is not チイ but チー. The dash is sometimes seen in Hiragana for stylistic reasons, particularly if one wants to note the pronunciation of something. For example, there’s an expression in Japanese, “しつれいします,” “shitsurei shimasu,” used when one is entering a superior’s office. Japanese people sustain that last /a/, so it sounds like “shitsurei shimaaaasu.” So someone may decide to write that as しつれいしまーす.”

It’s also used when you want to make things sound more masculine. So in the same way that you might right something entirely in Hiragana to make it sound more feminine, you might write something in Katakana to make it sound more masculine.

Important Notes

Certain kana take a symbol called “dakuten,” or voicing maker (the two lines in が.) These are the kana whose syllable is /k/, /t/, /s/, and /h./ Voicing is a phenomenon in phonetics that makes it so that a consonant whose elocution does not involve the moving of the vocal cords to now use the vocal cords.
/k/ becomes /g/, /t/ becomes /d/, /s/ becomes /z/, and /h/ (the exception to this) becomes /b/. This is because once upon a time /h/ was /p/; and the voiced counterpart to /p/ is /b/.

The /p/ consonant still exists in Japanese, though it is probably the rarest of consonants. To write a mora with the /p/ consonant, one takes the /h/ morae with the same vowel and adds a “handakuten,”  the small circle in  ぱ.

Morae can also be palatalized, which means that they’re pronounced at the palate of the mouth, another phonetic phenomenon; and that involves the writing of a small や、よ、or ゆ next to the mora that can be palatalized. We romanize this as the main consonant plus a /y/ and the vowel. So は (“ha”) is palatalized to ひゃ (“hya”).

The /w/ is slowly disappearing in Japanese. The mora を, “wo,” is now pronounced as a pure “o.”  There are Hiragana and Katakana for “we” and “wi,” (Hiragana: ゑ and ゐ; Katakana: ヱ and ヰ) but they came into disuse only 2 generations ago.

Also, from this you’ve probably gathered that Japanese’s set of sounds is quite small. That is true. There are about 100 different morae in Japanese; and like 50 of them are variations of the basic ones (through voicing and palatalization). There are languages with fewer phonetic sets, like Hawaiian, but this is definitely small, much smaller than English.

Also worth noting: Japanese people, when whispering, divide the sentence into morae. It’s just a habit of theirs; but when they speak normally, the syllables match what we talked about.

So that’s all I have to say right now about Kana. Let’s talk about Kanji!