Does emphasis matter?

Whilst listening to people speak, I heard two different pronunciations of the same word (おやすみ).
One person pronounced it oYAsumi and another pronounced it oyasuMI. I’m confused! Is it a regional thing? Did I hear it incorrectly? Please help!

Yes, it does matter. Different words have sometimes the exact same pronunciation but a different pitch (search for “pitch accent” on this forum for more information). Words or whole sentences can have a different intonation and mean completely different things.
Yes, there are also big regional differences and strong dialects.

Some people on WaniKani think that it’s super important to learn the right pitch and intonation (“Tokyo standard dialect”) from the very start but others don’t focus on it.

I’m not far enough into learning Japanese to give you good advice on this.
Just a personal anecdote: My Japanese roommate told me that her father doesn’t care about intonation at all and is really bad at it. With other words, even native Japanese speakers get it wrong sometimes. That can of course lead to misunderstandings.

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Heh, what?! You want boots for breakfast?! No, I said PANCAKES…
Well, thank you! I guess I will try my best to copy whoever is speaking, but I suppose it’s not too important right now. :thinking:

Putting emphasis on the right syllable is important to sound natural, but I’d say a little less important than in English. In general, Japanese is a little flatter in intonation than English is, at least I think so. And yes, some words like in your example, and also arigaTOU / ariGAtou seem to shift depending on context (and region). Rather than worrying about each individual word’s intonation (or “pitch accent” which is related but has more to do with pitch than volume), I suggest shadowing audio dialog to learn speech patterns and rhythms for sentences.

Also, if you are an English speaker, pay particular attention to single vs double vowels (both in speaking and in listening) because though we don’t have those in English, they’re very clear and obvious to Japanese people and can easily lead to people misunderstanding or simply not understanding what you’re trying to say.

If you say for example “fukuro” (bag) instead of “fukurou” (owl), people will usually not guess what you meant to say because those words sound completely different to Japanese people. It’s similar to the way “Bus” and “Bath” sound the same to Japanese people if they haven’t really trained their ears for English, but sound completely different to us.

To bring it back to the original question, the long vowel “ou” in “fukurou” might sound to English ears as though there is emphasis on that final syllable, although Japanese people will not think of it that way.


You will probably never be able to match any particular dialect’s pattern perfectly, but what is probably more important is to use patterns that at least exist in Japanese.

For instance, the pitch of the second mora is always the opposite of the first. If the first is low, the second is high, and if the first is high, the second is low. Then, once the pitch of a word falls, it never rises again within that word. This extends to any particles that attach as well.

Learners often erroneously emphasize particles, which will sound strange if the pitch already fell before that.

So if you can at least follow patterns that sound like they exist in Japanese, you’ve already come farther than the average learner ever gets.


This was a very detailed reply! Thank you; I appreciate it! I will certainly look in to listening exercises.

Thanks for the reply! :slight_smile: I’m trying, heh. :sweat_smile: I guess I will try to focus harder on copying emphasis.

Just one extra note, this is different from stress or emphasis in English. It sounds similar, but the mora don’t actually get any extra energy in Japanese. It’s just a matter of pitch change. If you put that extra “oomph” into it, it sounds distinctly foreign.


I Googled “mora,” but I’m having a hard time grasping the concept of it. Is it about timing rather than stress?

Mora is just a word for one character (in the case of Japanese anyway). In the word にほん, there are 3 mora. In わにかに there are 4. In がっこう there are 4. In きょう there are 2, the linked ones count as one.

It’s a more precise word than syllable.

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Ohh! So more like higher or lower rather than louder or softer?

Yes, different mora will have a “pitch” that is higher or lower than the others around them.

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Okay! I think I understand now. Thank you all for helping me! :slight_smile: :*

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Try checking out this course:

Thanks! I will look into it :slight_smile:

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