Some phrases... But first some stuff to make sense of the phrases.
i - m"e"
u - "e"w
e - "e"gg
o - "o"h
n - like oo"m"ph, but a hardened n instead of m
Any time you see a double consonant, stop short on the vowel before it for just a moment, and let the consonant roll off as if you "dropped" it after the fact. The part that rolls off doesn't have to be super hard, it's more breathlessly catching up. (This is called a glottal stop.) "Yatta!"
pronounced more like Ya,[wait for it a split second] -TA! = "I did it!" (Or you, or we, whoever.)
When you see the same vowel twice, make it twice as long as a single one. "Ee,"
an informal word for yes. This is true for some (though not all) other vowel combinations. The one to know right away: "ou"
= a long "o" sound. "Ikou"
= informal, "let's go."
So much of Japanese happens at the end
of the phrases. To make what comes next a little less odd... A standard ending for polite language is "desu" or "masu." This is actually pronounced a little more like just des
, with a sort of trailing off the last s. It's not usually a full "SU" -- save that for sushi.
Desu is basically a period to a statement: Stuff "is" like whatever was just said. That's the state of the world. Or, one can "be" whatever is before desu: Gaikokujin desu = (whoever applies) is a foreigner... Canadajin desu =... is a Canadian, etc. Btw: I say whoever, because in Japanese it is not mandatory to be explicit about the subject. If you are the only foreigner in the room and you are speaking and introducing yourself, well, people are expected to figure out the "I" -- and likewise when others in the same room are speaking about "you" or (to each other) "him/her."
"Masu" is an ending that gets attached to verbs, and usually marks the end of a phrase too. It's a present or future tense thing. Don't worry too much about desu or masu for now. Just expect to hear lots
of those. ("Da" or "ta" are the informal versions of desu/masu, and you will hear them, but they often form subclauses so they're more confusing at first.)
So now that you're armed and bewildered... Useful phrases:(Nihongo de) Nan to iimasuka?
= What is it called (in Japanese)?
Or simply, point to something and say, Nan desu ka?
- What is it?
Phrases ending in KA, often desu ka
are questions. I spell them here with a space before the ka to be clear, but in speech say it all as one word: desuka. One thing: The "ka" falls slightly. It doesn't rise as a question does in English. Unless you want to sound a bit hysterical Ikura desu ka?
- How much does it cost? How much is it? etc.
When you want to be more specific about "this/that"
Something you're pointing to, close to you: Kore.
Something not too far, but closer to the listener than to you: Sore
Something apart from both you and the listener: Are
So now you can say, [Kore - Sore - OR Are] wa nan to iimasu ka? ... Or [Kore / sore / are] wa ikura desu ka?
"wa" marks topics. X wa Y desu. = Y is the state of X. (Remember, what you really wanted to know is probably at the end.)
Again: Kore wa nan desu ka = What's this? (or more literally
, "this is what?")Doko
So very useful: Otearai wa doko desu ka?
= Where's the restroom?
(In a rush, get by with informal: Otearai wa doko?
Sometimes you can forget desu ka.)
But substitute whatever you need for the restroom. It can be the bank, the post office, Macy's, whatever. Start memorizing stuff to look for
Arimasu = polite form of "to have" (something)
Imasu = polite for someone living to exist
So... Otearai arimasu ka = Is there a restroom?
Michael imasu ka = Is Michael here/there? (And again, substitute whatever/whoever.)
Going Places:Place ni ikitai desu.
= I want to go [wherever place] - Toukyo ni ikitai desu
, I want to go to Tokyo. Etc.
If you're close that place and there is no other context, people may take this as a request for directions.
... Btw, -tai
turns verbs into desire/wanting stuff. You can sometimes say these phrases without the desu, if you're nice (or very informally)- Ka
makes whole phrases into questions, so...Kyouto ni ikitai desu ka?
= Do you want to go to Kyoto?Ni
has a couple functions. I think of it as a pointer that goes with targets. They can be either places (as above)...
Or with times:
Time is Number + hour of the clock = JI + number + minutes = FUN (aka bun/pun
but don't worry yet).
Verb form with shou
on the end = "let's" (or more generally, suggestion)
For example, 3 = san. 5=go - (but you know to learn numbers right
)San-ji go-fun ni aimashou
= Let's meet at 3:05.
for convenient questioning... San-ji ni ikimasu ka?
= Will you [or we, whoever] go at 3:00 ?
Ni can also "point" something to people:Kore, (Name ni) agemasu.
= This is for you (i.e. it's a present.)
Technically, you don't even need the stuff in parentheses, but it sounds nice and polite. In Japanese, you can just say a person's name to be polite and usually avoid having to pick whatever pronoun to call them. So it can be Kore, Yamashita-san ni agemasu
, etc. "Kore" is "this," or whatever you're holding and offering out to them. There are more flowery ways to say this, but worry about that another time
Stuff that's more set piece:Arigatou gozaimashita
= thank you (for something already done). Shita
makes it past tense.Arigatou gozaimasu
= thank you (for something generally in progress / that will be done)Arigatou
= generic thank you, quick but informalDoumo
super generic thank you, like for random person who holds a door open at a store or for a cup of tea poured in the officeSumimasen
= all-purpose apology, or attention grabber when asking for help - more a "sorry to trouble you with extra fuss" senseGomen kudasai
= Polite way to call for attention at stores/hotels Gomen nasai
= Rather polite apology (like for stepping on someone's toes work-wise or really botching/interrupting some particular thing)Chotto
= "Wait, hold on, a little more" - Can be used to indicate something isn't quite right, or to grab attention from someone getting away too quickly (informal)
Eeee = Something to say while thinking of wtf to say. Japanese often like people to make involved sounds even when they're not saying much.
Ee (shorter) = yes
Iie = No
Iya (said quickly) = No, informal [ as opposed to Iyaaa, which is more like "Ugh" or "No way!" or "how awful"]
Nai = a negative for verbs - so just Nai desu
= no, there aren't any (such things) here. Arimasen
= the same (politer). Imasen
= Not here, but for people (or animals).
Sou desu. = Yes, That's the sum of it.
Sou desu ne. = Hmm, well, let's see [just expect it - this one takes practice to guess if it's just "involved" or supportive or just thinking.]
Anou = "Well, umm" (sort of hesitant to mention something/interrupt, or maybe trying to think)
Eeee-to = digging something out of memory here
Then there's the stuff you'll soon be sick of:
... The thing to notice here is GA paired with the question at the end. Ga
as used here, is actually fairly similar to wa
(it ushers in stuff to describe whatever topic came along just before). For now, the topic is ability - or lack of ability - to do stuff:
Nihongo ga wakarimasuka (hanasemasuka)? = Do you understand (can you speak) Japanese?
Nihongo ga wakarimasen (hanasemasen)? = Negative forms of the above.
Ohashi ga tsukaemasuka? = Can you use chopsticks? (Practice if you haven't, if your hands are not totally off for them.)
Anyway, that's a start. Have fun!