Quick grammar lesson?

Hello again WK community. :slight_smile:

I started Genki the other night to compliment my WK studies and I ran into something that has me kind of confused… I’m sure it’s a question that gets asked a lot so I will probably get yelled at… lol.

I was doing my workbook questions and I had to form a question for the answer “My phone number is xyz”
I wrote: あなたのでんわばごうはなんですか
Yet the correct answer was : でんわばんごうはなんですか

This doesn’t quite click in my head… We are saying that the topic is “phone number” then proceeding to say “what is?”.
I would have thought that the topic should be “your phone number”, but it technically is just “phone number” (at least to my understanding).
There is some wizardry going on in the background that somehow makes it so that the correct sentence does indeed translate to “what is your phone number?” yet there is an explicit mention that the topic is just “phone number”… Is there some sort of implication that I am missing here?

Sorry if this is such a dumb question… .-.
And thanks in advanced for your answer(s). :slight_smile:

Its not that your sentence was wrong grammatically, but rather that it was unnatural.

Often times if something can be omitted in japanese, it will be. In this case its understood whos number you’re asking about.

Its not a dumb question at all. The idea of omitting things in sentences to the extent that japanese people do is quite a surprise to many people and it takes some getting used to. In fact, a very easy way to tell someone is new to Japanese is just by hearing them say “watashi wa” at the start of their sentences a few times.


Thank you very much! So I suppose it all relates back to the whole “omitting” phenomenon that I heard a lot about. It makes more sense now, but it still feels so weird… It’s hard for me to explain but I didn’t really realize just how much you could get away with omitting.

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In both:

あなた の でんわばんごう は なん ですか
でんわばんごう は なん ですか

The topic is the same, it’s the phone number, but in the first sentence you mention “your”.
In Japanese the subject is often dropped, so personal pronouns like わたし when it’s obvious you’re talking about yourself, or if you’re asking a specific person a question and it’s clear you’re talking about them, you drop the “you”.

If in the previous sentence, for example, you were talking about たなかさん but then you switched to talking about the person in front of you, you might want to say “you” to clear any confusion. If you were already talking about the person in front of you, there’s no reason to say “you” twice, it’s already clear you’re talking about them.

I’m not the best resource so I’ll drop a link that exaplains better.


Japanese is a pro-drop language. Everything that is obvious by context is dropped. And if there is no specific context, the default is: when doing a statement, you are usually talking about yourself so the わたし can be dropped, and when asking a question to someone, you are usually talking about that someone so the あなた can be dropped.

If the question is surprising, like “what is MY phone number ?” (Sudden amnesia?) then it’s better to clarify わたしのでんわばんごう


Once you start reading, listening, and watching things in Japanese it will start making much more sense. After a while, the あなた〜 construction will start sounding weird or even rude.

But yeah, in the beginning, it does sound a bit strange coming from English.

Its not an exaggeration to say that some sentences will literally have over half of their content omitted. It’ll be a pain in the ass down the road, but once you get used to it you won’t even notice that sentences are “missing” something.


And even there it’s pretty likely while speaking to just omit the 忘れちゃった/忘れちゃいます part.

For a fun example of this:


Meaning: “The elephant ate the apple (that was tossed onto the ground in front of it)!”

We do similar with pronouns in English, of course.

Meaning: “He ate it!”


The answer to でんわばんごうは何ですか could literally be any phone number depending on what preceded the question. For instance, if you say “I want to order something from that restaurant” before you ask the question, it’s clear you want to know the restaurant’s phone number.

It’s just that if you say でんわばんごうは何ですか with nothing leading up to it, the most obvious assumption is that you want to know the listener’s number.


In short (though I realise everyone has been saying this), you need to be context-aware when you speak Japanese. Your answer wasn’t wrong, but あなたの is unnecessary. Another thing: あなた is rarely used in real life, and overusing it even in contexts where it might be appropriate (e.g. in ads, when companies really have no other way of referring to their audience) can seem overly pushy and rude, like saying ‘hey, you’ over and over in English.

I speak a context-aware version of English when I’m in my home country, so for me, it comes naturally. (I’m from Singapore – try looking up Singlish if you need examples.) I also speak Chinese, which is context-aware as well. I don’t really have any tips for how to determine what you don’t need to say, but uh… just look at the previous sentence along with the general flow of discussion thus far and ask yourself what’s already been mentioned and what elements you actually need to fill in. Also pay attention to who’s talking to/about whom. It’s really like filling in a bunch of slots. Be as efficient as possible, because a lot is already implied. That’s how these languages work. If you need more clarity because one thing might get confused with another, then add information.


This looks like Mitsuboshi Colors… Am I correct?

It is. (From volume 1.)

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Short answer:

You can often drop the subject in Japanese, and that’s what’s happening here.

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Or indeed, second-person pronouns in general are almost never used. In English, we use them all the time, so it can be hard to break that habit (especially when textbooks keep including lessons like あなたの名前は何ですか or あなたはお元気ですか in chapter one), but the sooner you can manage it, the more normal your Japanese will start sounding.


Obviously I agree with the sentiment, but just wanted to say that yesterday I heard an old dude call two women 君ら yesterday as he scolded them for having a long, loud conversation on the train (coronavirus concerns and whatnot). Was kind of surprised, because you just tend to not see much confrontation at all. So, yeah, I guess that emphasizes that natives can take advantage of the general lack of pronouns to give them extra oomph when they are used.


For an excellent explanation of this topic- omitting pronouns- everyone might enjoy reading Jay Rubin’s book, “Making Sense of Japanese: What the Textbooks Don’t Tell You.” Rubin is one of Murakami Haruki’s translators. “Making Sense” is a straightforward and pleasant explanation of issues that Japanese learners often find difficult or counter-intuitive.
Good luck to everyone on your studies and thanks for always sharing your questions, ideas, and answers.


P.S. I should have mentioned that the first chapter of Rubin’s book addresses this topic head on under the sub-title, “The Myth of the Subjectless Sentence.” Sorry for posting twice!


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D’oh! Pretty simple, but I missed it.
Thanks for pointing that out, Saida.

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