How to use なん?

I usually just rip pieces off with my hands and dip it in my curry. How about you?

No! Wait, I actually have a real question. Does anyone know much about the - what seems to me to be fairly random - insertion of なん in spoken Japanese?

I’m not talking about real questions, I mean things like: 「面白いなんだけどさ。。。」

Does it mean anything specific? Is it just a kind of hesitation device, like なんか (which I never learned but suddenly started using all the time)? I sometimes can kind of feel it on the tip of my tongue when I’m speaking, but since I don’t really understand what use it has, I always stop myself from using it.

I think なん is short for なの. I don’t have an answer for what it means or how to use it, but maybe that will help you find the answer.

Yeah, in that example, it’s just a verbal bridge. い adjectives don’t take だ so you need something in there to link it to that second portion, which is really only there to fill space too.

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の can also be used as an “explanatory” particle, often used when seeking more info or providing an explanation to someone. It’s written as なの after a noun or na-adjective and shortened to なん when followed by things like だ or です. Adding it to a sentence can mean the difference between a statement of fact and a statement containing some amount of emotion/inquiry/etc.

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Do you use it yourself? I’ve found a few things (なんか、さ and まあ in particular) that I would start by noticing a lot in others’ speech, get curious about, find no satisfactory explanation and then, somehow, notice I’d started using them myself. I just can’t get the same feel for this though - I hear it all the time, but, I don’t know, I always feel like it’s unnatural when I say it.

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Can’t say I have, no.

さ is something that I can’t imagine using, maybe because it’s the kind of thing that teenage girls tack onto the end of every sentence you can hear on the train.

Like how Americans might fill their gaps with “ya know” or “like”. I’m not sure I want to add that kind of stuff to my speech.

I believe they are rhetorical.

So when you say なんか for example it fills the gap. You are not literally asking someone “what is the word i’m thinking of” but rather thinking/talking to yourself. In English you might hear someone talking and then say something like “oh what’s the word…” but that is different to literally asking someone “what is the word I would use to describe XYZ”. I use えーとquite a lot because using Japanese fillers keeps my brain in “Japanese mode”.

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You’re in Kobe, right? I heard it’s more prevalent in the east. In Tokyo / Kanagawa, I hear it all the time. Teenage girls, yeah, but also guys, older people. I think I picked up off my conversation partner. Not the type of thing you say consciously - just kind of comes out. I think “like” is the closest in English - you know it’s not ‘proper’ but…you, like, just say it anyway?

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Ah, maybe that explains why I only associate it with young people. Yeah, I really don’t hear it much from other age groups.

I think なんか is similar to えーと, no? I hear a lot of people use it at the start of sentences - even when they clearly know what they’re going to say - almost like a clearing of the throat to say: I’m about to speak now.

Interesting point about “Japanese mode”, though. I think it’s good to try and do this - remove English hesitation etc when speaking Japanese. I still find myself saying right / yeah when listening sometimes, but I try and cut it out as much as possible.

なんか has a few meanings.

It can literally just be “something”, filler, coming before stuff like you mentioned. Or it can come after a word to kind of lower the status of that, give it a general negative vibe.

Someone like me is okay?

That is quite an interesting point too! I think part of using these words (even when you already know what you are going to say) comes from politeness. You don’t want to sound overly confident as it may come across as ‘rude or impolite’ so speakers may sometimes throw fillers in at the start to soften their conversations. I’m not sure if this has the same effect when used in the middle of a sentence but I think it is really cute when people say あのう!

Chanel your inner nihonjin~

That’s another thing I’ve not quite got a handle on (the negative vibe part). I’ve read it in textbooks but haven’t been able to differentiate it in other people’s speech or use it myself.

I wonder if there’s a difference in intonation between the two uses. Like わたし [break] なんか [break] ~~ seems like hesitation and a linked なんかいい gives it the negative feeling.

I don’t think 面白いなんだ is correct,
I think they say 面白いんだ with i-adjs.
An example with a na-adj / noun would be 嫌いなんだ

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