Simple vocab tips for new users

Addendum: After finally delving into a proper grammar guide, I can confidently say it’s where you should start your adventure with Japanese. At the very least, reading a bit about what kanji are, how they are structured, where did they come from and how did they come to be like that will help you a lot in learning them in the future.

You know, stuff like “all verbs end with u”, “the kana in the verb modify the meaning” and “I-adjectives’ with さ in place of い are nouns”

“all verbs end with u” - 言う, 引く, 足す, 立つ, 休む, 来る (but not all words ending with u are verbs 全く)

“the kana in the verb modify the meaning”
見る - to see
見える - to be visible
見せる - to show
分かる - to understand
分ける - to separate
(often changing the object of the action)
上がる - to rise (yourself)
上げる - to raise (something else)
代わる - to replace (yourself, substitute for someone, etc.)
代える - to replace something (like a broken vase)

“i-adjectives’ with さ in place of い are nouns”
There are two types of words that can be uses as adjectives in Japanese, often referred to as i-adjectives and na-adjectives, or adjectives and adjectival nouns respectively. The former are regular adjectives, and in their basic form they always end with い, hence some grammar books call them i-adjectives. The other group are nouns, some of which can be used as an adjective, with a -な attached at the end, hence na-adjectives. (Like the word 馬鹿(ばか - baka), which can be used both as a noun meaning idiot, and as an adjective meaning stupid) (In their basic, noun form they can also end with い, as do other types of words, so you shouldn’t assume that all words ending with い are i-adjectives.)
長い - long
長さ - length
高い - tall
高さ - height
大きい - big
大きさ - size
(but not all i-adjectives’ noun form has さ at the end)
白い - white (adjective)
白 - white (noun)
赤い - red (adjective)
赤 - red (noun)

Edit: Even more basic stuff, but I though it’s a good place to mention it.

Most kanji have several spellings, separated into on’yomi (borrowed from the Chinese language, which, despite only having a single spelling for each kanji, still evolved throughout the ages, and the Japanese language, which kept borrowing new words from Chinese over the centuries, ended up using several versions of it for different words), and kun’yomi (from old Japanese words, that had a similar meaning). There’s also nanori used for old Japanese names, but I’ll skip that one. Most of the time, on’yomi is used when you combine several kanji together, like when you want to say “sea fish” 海魚(かいぎょ), while kun’yomi is used for separate use, like when you want to say just “fish” 魚(さかな), though not always. Apart from nouns, both versions can also appear as the core (the kanji part) of adjectives, “black” 黒い(くろい), adverbs, “first of all” 先ず(ず), verbs, “to see” 見る(る), etc. With WK you mostly learn on’yomi as Kanji items and kun’yomi as Vocab items (though not always), so don’t be surprised when you run into situations when you learn the spelling for a kanji as a Kanji item and then see it with a completely different spelling as part of a verb later on.

Not all expressions with multiple kanji use the on’yomi, “this month” 今月 (こんげつ), “every month” 毎月(まいつき). Similarly, there are single-kanji words that use the on’yomi reading, like “king” 王(おう), “rain” 雨(あめ), or the numerals. There are also some Kanji that originated in Japan, and might not have an on’yomi reading, as there are old Japanese words, that use multiple kanji, since they share their meaning, but not their spelling, resulting in irregularly spelled words like “adult” 大人(おとな), or “today” 今日(きょう), that use neither of the regular spellings, or the other way around, using the kanji for their sound, and not the meaning, both for Japanese and loaned words, “haphazard” 出鱈目(でたらめ), “America” 亜米利加(アメリカ).

There’s also a thing called rendaku, when combining kanji, where the spelling of one of them gets slightly altered, to make it distinguishable from the sound of the separately used kanji, and there’s no rule to it.
兄 + 弟 = 兄弟 (きょう + だい = きょうだい)
王 + 子 = 王子 (おう + = おう)
人 + 工 = 人工 (にん + こう + じんこう)

To sum up, you basically have to learn the spelling separately for each word. Have fun :slight_smile:

Edit2 - Counters
Nouns don’t have plural form in Japanese, so you’ll often see numbers being used to express the count of things you’re talking about. However, in order to accentuate what are you counting, you need to add an appropriate counter at the end (and there are a lot of them). For example, the counter for people is ~人(にん), so three students would be 三人学生(さんにんがくせい), while three computers would be 三台コンピュータ(さんだいコンピュータ), ~台(だい) being the counter for large machines.

On that topic, a lot of words borrowed from English language, function in Japanese as proper Japanese words written in katakana, like コンピュータ(computer), レストラン(restaurant), or タクシー(taxi). Though they sound alike their English parents, they are proper Japanese words, and you should learn them separately, as in, a Japanese person who doesn’t speak English will not understand you if you say “computer” instead of コンピュータ(konpyūta) even if they sound very similar. (ā, ē, ī, ō, ū are elongated vowels in transcription. They generally mean double vowels, though it doesn’t always mean that it’s the same vowel used twice. For example the kanji “ten” 十(とお - too) and “correct” 当(とう - tou) will both be written as “tō”)

Edit 3 - Homonyms and Accent
This one’s just the best. Not only do elongated sounds change the meaning of a word (ie - house, iie - no), but the sound you put the accent on in a word also does (ima - now, ima - living room)


There’s a lot of rules in Japanese that follow the pattern of “all X are Y, but not all Y are X”…

Well, more specifically, ~さ is a suffix similar to ~ness or ~ity in English (and not just a nominaliser). It describes the amount of an adjective held by an object. 近い = close, 近さ = closeness.


I’m not sure what you mean by this, but your examples are just… different verbs. They are obviously related in meaning and probably origin as well, but for all intents and purposes they are just different words in modern usage.

Actually you can say for example 白さ which would mean “whiteness.” I’m pretty sure every い adjective can conjugate to a さ form. The noun forms of colors are somewhat of an exception in the sense that most adjectives do not have a direct noun equivalent.


I meant verbs with the same kanji, guess I’ll rephrase that.

Is “whiteness” 白さ? Jinsho tells me it’s 白み.

Yeah, I’ve added that part just it case. People tend to generalize things.

That’s a different word. 白さ is an inflection of 白い. There can be multiple words that mean the same thing, just like in any language.

I think the rules you’re picking up here are things you would learn by studying grammar.
I recommend beginning grammar as early as possible and learn it alongside Wanikani in the time intervals between reviews.

Grammar books and resources will usually provide you with the vocabulary you need for their exercises and examples, so you don’t have to wait until you learn it in Wanikani.


When I first started learning Japanese grammar, I immediately run into the problem of not having enough vocabulary to use, not to even mention kanji, so I decided to postpone it until I reach at least lvl 10 and know enough words to build my own sentences with. Nevertheless, I tried to list simple things that would be useful to a person who’s just starting with WK with no prior grammar knowledge.

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I would recommend using Bunpro For grammar learning. It’s the WaniKani of Japanese grammar, especially in the practicality field.

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I’ll give it a try. I have a book from my university, but it has proven a bit… trying to explain Japanese to a Polish person. And since our grammar is a total mess (nouns have 126 possible conjugations, etc.) it ended up being neither here or there, with a lot of redundant stuff.

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Ok, after reading through a couple of chapters of a good grammar book, I agree with the idea that you should start both grammar and kanji at the same time. Bunpro is nice for remembering things, but you should still go through the textbook at least once as well, to learn those items in context first.

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Sorry to be barging in like a salesman putting a foot at the door, even though I’m selling something free really. Just letting you know that I have a Polish classmate during my weekend Japanese class.

She’s a 60 years old + grandmother (but let’s pretend she’s 20 forever) and I think if you could join this free weekly Japanese class, she’ll be really excited having someone from the same country. Especially since she sometimes struggles with English and having another Polish classmate might be helpful to make sense of the language differences between Japanese, Polish and English.

The downsides are that Second Life might be confusing to use at first but I think you will learn fast over time. And also we’re almost at the end of Genki 1 textbook, going into Genki 2. Don’t worry if you don’t have the textbook as Yoshi Sensei provides them during class. It might feel a bit overwhelming but many of us still need to revise the early grammars again. So having a new Japanese learner will help brush up our memory as well, while making you learn faster.

Yoshi Sensei have always been welcoming to new learners and if the class still feels too difficult (though I highly doubt it with my broken beginner level Japanese, lol), you can come by to observe, ask questions before class starts or take part in a new-learner friendly Japanese x English language exchange Shiritori event on Fridays. The Shiritori event will definitely improve your vocab as you practice making sentences with many native Japanese there.

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“Free” is a very relative term :slight_smile:

Sorry, but my learning schedule so far has been so irregular, I don’t think a proper class would work for me. I tend to not do anything for a week, and then blitz through stuff that’s built up during that time. I spent a week, trying to figure out WK’s unlocking algorithm to speed up how fast I unlock things, then I stopped doing WK for half a year, and then I came back and started from the beginning with a completely opposite “whenever I get an item wrong, it’ll stand out, so I’ll remember it better next time” attitude.

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