[aDoBJG] Characteristics of Japanese Grammar - Section #6-9 💮 A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar

For me, it isn’t so much reading/understanding the keigo stuff that I have trouble with. ^^ Although if you asked me “humble or honorific?”, I’d probably have to think about that a while :joy:. More like keeping track of which is which and which one should be used when. Mainly, I think the labels doesn’t work so well for me. :woman_shrugging:

But yeah, casual language is a much harder thing to learn to parse since at least honorific/humble language is pretty easy to look up in a dictionary, while casual speech can not just be put in a dictionary (most of the time). :joy:


Very insightful part, I liked to learn the origin of おはようございます and おめでとう!
Also sometimes it’s a very hard read, just to compute what the English sentence mean, so very grateful for this book club. Taking it all in in small chunks is manageable, and on some things I am reading less intensely (hello Keigo), but well, at least I know it’s there


Sentence ending particles: I feel like I’ve kinda been ignoring these for a while. They seem to add more nuance or emphasis and beyond the basics, I feel like I’m not ready to fully understand the nuance yet.

Reading this section confirmed what I had noticed: な seemed to be used a lot more than as a negation. I’d actually thought it was slang/dialect, but this part showed me that actually no one had told me な had multiple meanings. :woman_facepalming:

I hope the actual rules for when it can be a negation are correct because it would make it so much easier if I can just memorize that, rather than needing context to clue me in if someone was negating their sentence or not.

When it comes to かなあ… It seems to be the same as かな, right? And it isn’t usually used by men anymore but pretty equal? Or is it that men say かなあ while women say かな? Or is it actually mostly men who use かな (too) and my memory is faulty?

In any case, I’ll definitely go back to the な part a few times to help myself memorize that.

Sound Symbolism—giseigo and gitaigo or onomatopoeia by even fancier names. xD Well, I guess technically according to this section onomatopoeia only covers giseigo. But I usually see all of them swept under that term for Japanese.

Does anyone know if all these guidelines/trends have any basis in Japanese itself? Like historically? This feels to me like some linguists got together and tried to figure out how they could categorize onomatopoeia and figured something out, especially after they started to split kana in half and distinguish consonant from its vowel.


Tons of great detail in this section, helping me make some connections and tie up some loose ends in my understanding.

The section on 擬声語(ぎせいご) and 擬態語(ぎたいご) was especially informative, as my native language doesn’t feature anything like the latter. Until reading this it had never really dawned on me that there are shared characteristics between entire groups of these based on the vowels and consonants they contain.


This week has been super insightful and quite enjoyable (like others have already mentioned). I really liked the insights into the sentence ending particles and the nuances - it was good to refresh my knowledge on that. But I think my favourite bit was the giseigo and gitaigo, and how the different sounds/letters tend to represent different things. Some of those seemed somewhat logical to me (such as the glottal stop for more emphasis) but I had no idea there were so many nuances and different meanings. I’m really enjoying learning these new points.


When I was in Korea, I was meeting a lot of people and interacting with strangers and acquaintances regularly, so I thought about them a lot but never got totally familiar with them. In Korea, there seem to be more subtleties and rules about when to use certain language. But I left the country and stopped studying the language before I figured it all out…

With Japanese, my main focus is my family (and my students)… so I end up hearing and using casual, informal (Chikugo-ben) Japanese quite a bit. It’s probably resulted in me committing some faux paus in public settings on occasion… but I try to nod to be polite (a habit I picked up in Korea).

The main times I hear humble and honorific language is while on public transportation and while listening to NHK. I’d eventually like to improve in this area, but I’m not at the point yet where it’s a priority…


Hmm, sadly I don’t think 100 % rules exist, there will always be cases where it depends on context and/or intonation (in spoken speech). Especially in casual contexts. Like, when you take the sentence そんな言い方するな. It could be either 確かにそんな言い方はするなぁ or そんな言い方をするな!
But if the な gets combined with other particles, it becomes easier. Like するよな vs するなよ


Thanks! As long as the dictionary was correct that な can only be a negation when paired with nonpast informal/dictionary form, that still cuts down the number of times it could possibly be a negation.

It does? Let’s hope I get/guess this right, because a quick look in that section of the dictionary didn’t say (I didn’t check if な also shows up as a main entry).

するよな = The kinda な that indicates emphasis or such things.
するなよ = This would be the “don’t (do it)” plus emphasizing よ.

Right? :see_no_evil:


You got it :smiley:


Obviously the Politeness section is the longest and densest section I’ve read.
From now on, I’m going to be measuring politeness in millimeters. According to this system, お連れいたします is about 5mm more polite than お持ちします. This is of course an easy to use, and consistent metric. The fact that this turned into an 8mm of difference on my screen just says that my screen is inherently more polite than this book.

“Under normal circumstances the speaker can’t take the viewpoint of a dead person” That’s ominous.


After spending a few minutes looking over hundreds of manga dialogue balloons ending in a single particle な following a situation other than nonpast informal/dictionary form, I didn’t see a single one that was negation. (In other words, the rule held up!)

Just so long as we remember that な with a nonpast informal/dictionary form may not be negation.


Female usage count in manga I've read: very high.









Male usage count in manga I've read: fairly low.





@ChristopherFritz to the rescue! Thank you!

Cool to know that the な rule seems to hold!

And かな seems to have totally flipped, huh? (Aka females/women use it more than men.) I was thinking I saw more female characters using it, but I figured I just didn’t remember the male characters using it, but apparently my memory of only seeing male characters using it occasionally while female characters using it a lot was correct.

I might have to go look at my copy of 耳をすませば that was published around the same time this dictionary was. I wonder what the usage is in that one, if it appears (probably).

You must have looked at so many examples. :bowing_woman:


That matches my experience :+1:

I think we can further narrow this down by considering that the negation-な is not just a negation but it is in fact a negative imperative (i.e. “don’t …!”). So to stick with your example screenshot, we need to think about whether “don’t 違う!” has a useful meaning or not, which should be of enormous help in distinguishing the two cases :laughing:


My wife uses it a lot and her usage sounds to me like the word “maybe” in English.


To be honest, I had the same feeling. I’m not convinced at all that there is sound symbolism on the level of “this vowel means that thing”, mostly because things like that have been said for other languages too, and it’s usually bullshit.

That said, who knows, maybe there is some factual basis in it, but the evidence wasn’t super convincing to me.

However, I don’t think that it’s fair to say that they are “splitting Kana in half”. Phonetically and phonologically, Japanese is made up of consonants and vowels (arranged into particular patterns), and the fact that the language uses a syllabic script to write that down instead of an alphabet is just totally arbitrary.


Okay, from what I’ve seen/read about Japanese that is not my impression (however none of that is academic texts or such on the language). Instead it has been impressed on me that kana is kana, aka か is ka not k + a.

But maybe that was done for some teaching purpose or other. Wouldn’t be the first time something wrong was taught for the purpose of stopping some (early) beginner mistakes. :woman_shrugging:


Haven’t there been child language studies where you show them a round object and a spiky object and ask which is the (made-up-word-with-spiky-consonants)? Most of the vowel-related sets in the Dictionary’s list do seem like a bit more of a reach, though.

Personally I think that since you need to learn the onomatopeia meanings one by one anyway, you’ll pick up on the patterns naturally to the extent that they’re real and helpful (like the voiceless/voiced consonant one). The most important advice in this section is “don’t just ignore this category of words because English doesn’t have it”.


I think it’s quite common for Japanese people to believe that kana are atomic units, because the power of the writing system is pretty strong. I think the linguistics view, though, is that it’s consonants and vowels that form syllables, same as every other language. This comes out pretty clearly in verb conjugations – 聞く:聞かない:聞こう, わかる:わからない:わかろう etc are changing ending in the same way (-u : -anai: -ou), but if you limit yourself to kana then you have to jump through more hoops or end up classifying the verbs as behaving differently.


Politeness and Formality

I had a hard time wrapping my head around honorific and humble Japanese at first, but working through the chapters on it in Minna no Nihongo really helped me a lot! I definitely would struggle a bit with producing it, but I don’t think I have trouble recognizing it and telling the two apart when I see it in native media (hearing it can be difficult, though, as I often get a bit lost in all the extra syllables… :sweat_smile:).

I have a super fun example of this from pro wrestling! There’s a wrestler in Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling called 沙希様, which Mr. Haku romanizes as “Sakisama” because the 様 is just part of her name, haha. Her character is a joke that’s a bit hard to explain… She’s portrayed by a DDT wrestler named Saki Akai (the woman in my profile picture!), but Saki Akai and Sakisama are considered completely different characters in kayfabe and have separate backstories, though other wrestlers will occasionally point out that they look remarkably similar…

In any case, Sakisama is VERY elegant, and she absolutely uses extreme polite speech to add to that effect. When I first translated her over a year ago, the keigo went almost entirely over my head, haha, but I totally caught what was going on when I translated her most recent post-match comments! It’s a fun challenge trying to figure out how to convey this in English.

(This is from TJPW Grand Princess on March 18, 2023)

Hard mode: here is the video of Sakisama and Mei Saint-Michel’s post-match comments. The transcript of the Japanese is from shupro; the translations are all mine and might contain errors.
(Note: Sakisama typically spells 試合(しあい) as 試愛(しあい), which the transcriber has faithfully reproduced here, haha)


Sakisama: “It has been a while since we’ve graced this ring with our presence, but you could hardly call it our return to the ring. Every day we are always surrounded by rings. But, standing here for the first time in a long time, I dare say it was somewhat pleasant. Mei-san, how did you feel?”


Mei-san: “Oui. I am very pleased to be at Ariake Coliseum. And, and… Odaiba? I heard that it was very close.”


Sakisama: “Yes, indeed. It seems that there is a mysterious large globe at Odaiba. We have to find out what is inside of it.”

(Will you sojourn here for a while this time?)

“We still have yet to decide on our schedule for tomorrow. It depends entirely on our mood. If Mei-san is hungry, she won’t participate in the match, and if she’s full, she’ll go to sleep. She’s a moody person.”

(Did you have wrestling matches in France?)

“No, but we hosted a ball at our estate every evening. Today, we had a match, but we were dancing in the ring. I think everyone was watching. A ball is like a match. Is there anywhere you want to go besides Odaiba this time?”


Mei-san: “Besides that… I heard that there was a giant robot stomping around there somewhere.”


Sakisama: “I have a hunch that it’s life-sized, but I wonder where it is. You’re saying we should investigate it? Let’s go, Mei-san.”

Incidentally, (spoiler for the next section! :scream:) the example above is the only example I can find of かしら getting used in my translations (though again, I cannot stress enough that Sakisama is putting on a very certain character with her speech patterns). かなあ also has just one use in my translations.

Sentence-final Particles

I totally got thrown in the deep end with these when I started translating wrestling, haha. I still make mistakes, especially when I don’t catch the intonation (here’s a video on that. Highly recommended watching!), but I am starting to gradually get better at it.

As far as gender stuff goes, I can definitely say that I hear な pretty frequently in TJPW, so women definitely do use it in some circumstances! Same with ぞ (and ぞー for that matter…).

Here's an example with several sentence-ending particles, featuring Hyper Misao and Shoko Nakajima's comments after their match at TJPW's January 4, 2023 show:

Hard mode: here’s the video if you want to try to listen for them.


Nakajima: “A draw, huh?”

ミサヲ「ドローだとお? 引き分け? いや、ドローじゃない。どっちも勝者だ」

Misao: “A draw? A draw?? No, it’s not a draw! Both of us are winners!”


Nakajima: “Is there such a thing as both sides winning a match?”


Misao: “Is there?”


Nakajima: “Well, we got three cute bunnies, so I guess it’s alright.”


Misao: “I guess so.”


Nakajima: “There’s that tournament, huh?”


Misao: “There’s the tournament coming up, so it’s important that neither of us got a loss here, right?”


Nakajima: “Yes!”


Misao: “Neither of us have lost yet.”


Nakajima: “We both got the first win!”


Misao: “In any case, we’re definitely going to win!”


Nakajima: “We’re going to win!”

Sound Symbolisms

The bane of my existence as a translator :weary:. I still struggle a lot with these, and no amount of reading about them has really helped, haha. I’ve just gradually gotten a sense for them by exposure. A few in particular appear over and over again in TJPW, like キラキラ (it’s always spelled in katakana in the transcripts).

Here's an example from the TJPW Tokyo Princess Cup finals on August 14, 2022:

No video for this one, sorry! This is from Yuka Sakazaki’s promo in-ring after she beat Miu Watanabe and won the tournament. The translation is mine, though I had Mr. Haku’s live translation thread on twitter to reference, so some of the wording is his. Look for ギラギラ, キラキラ, and ぐしゃぐしゃ!

坂崎「…夏に勝ったぞー! 9回目のこのトーナメントで、メンバーが減ったり増えてるなかで、こんなにみんな強くなってて…めっちゃだるいけど、めっちゃ嬉しいです! やべーよ、アイツ! どんどん選手層も厚くなってて、一人一人がギラギラしてて。キラキラだけじゃない東京女子も見てもらえたかなと思います。夏に嫌われ続けた女がこうやって新しいトロフィー…ちょっとピンクで気にくわないけど、でもこんなトロフィーが私の中にあって、とっても嬉しいです(涙)。でも今回のトーナメントで結果私以外は悔しい思いをしたみんながいて。トーナメントに9回出てる山下とか中島が負けてる姿を見て、私の中でもなんか変わるものがあって。すごい、このトーナメント中に心が揺さぶられました。感情がぐしゃぐしゃになって…なんて言えばいいのかな(涙)」

Sakazaki: “I surpassed summer! This is my 9th time doing this tournament. Members have come and gone, but overall the roster has gotten so much stronger… It’s lame, but I’m so happy! Holy shit, Miu was so tough! The bracket just keeps getting tougher and tougher, and everyone is shining. I hope you were able to see a side of TJPW that isn’t just sparkles. The woman who hated summer got the new trophy. The pink makes me a little bit sick, but having a trophy like this, it makes me so happy (cries). But the end result of this tournament is that everyone feels frustrated except for me. Yamashita and Nakajima have participated in the tournament nine times, and when I saw them lose, something changed inside of me. My spirit was so shaken during this tournament. My feelings are so messy… what can I say (cries)."

Part of the learning curve with these for me has been not only learning the Japanese meanings, but figuring out how to translate sentences containing them into things that we would say in English…


Another tough one for me, due to the tendency Japanese has of omitting personal pronouns :weary:! I feel like I can figure it out maybe like 95% of the time? 自分 in particular has a tendency to trip me up…

Here's an example with two 自分s (with the same viewpoint, but different speakers) from Nao Kakuta and Hikari Noa's post-match comments after TJPW's March 22, 2023 show:

Hard mode: here’s the video! The portion transcribed below starts around 1:55.


Kakuta: “Because that’s totally how I felt today. I thought I’d definitely win and then be the first to make a move. I was at home, watching the WBC from the moment I woke up. Yesterday’s game, too, I thought we might lose, but we won, and today we won just at the last minute. I cried. It was amazing. I had never really watched baseball before, but I realized how much sports can move people’s hearts. It really moved mine. So I want to become a pro wrestler who can do that. Mizuki-san is a senpai who has this quality, which is my goal. I wanted to step forward because I was thinking about it the most, so I asked her.”


Hikari: “…Yes. That’s how it is. I heard that Nao-san was feeling optimistic, so I thought I should leave it in her hands today. She’s in the middle of rehearsing for the stage, and the fact that she can make a decision like this while she’s doing all of that without taking a break, she’s just getting stronger and stronger. I think she’s cool, and I was really moved by her challenging while she has so many irons in the fire. So I know for sure that this title match is going to bring out an unbelievable Nao Kakuta. Please give her your support!”

I have no idea if all of the wrestling examples are helpful or if they’re annoying, but I figured they have the advantage of having text and audio options (well, most of them do), plus some sort of translation, haha :sweat_smile:.


Really interesting to see what is considered the polite form of something (side eyes the irregular forms).

To be honest, the irregular forms make a lot of sense to me; you tell your friend to “sit down” and when you are polite to someone to “please take a seat” (leaving the verb to sit out completely). But they’ll be a pain to learn and recognize.

Edit 2023-04-11: Read the part about sound symbolisms. A lot of it read like hearsay or like someone is trying to explain linguistic concepts to a layperson and ends up sounding like they themselves don’t know what they’re talking about. “X tends to represent Y”, well maybe I’d like to hear some sources on that.

I’ve tried to wrap my head around these giseigo / 擬声語(ぎせいご) (Onomatopoeia) and gitaigo / 擬態語(ぎたいご) (mimetic sound).

  • phonomimes (sound), klangnachahmend: a dog goes “woof”
  • phenomimes (motion), bewegungsnachahmend: I agree and go “nod-nod”
  • psychomimes (emotion), gefühlsnachahmend: my heart goes “doki-doki”

Because the latter two are not found in every language, here’s some further reading about these Ideophones. Has some examples in Tamil, which seems at a glance to use these very similarly to Japanese. Well, that fact lead me down a rabbit hole, because I couldn’t stop thinking about possible pidgin/creole connections. :upside_down_face:

Apparently many people have had similar ideas (see Dravido-Korean languages) but it’s not been researched in depth, so who knows what’s going on here.