Essential Vocabulary

The idea here is to list a few categories of vocabulary which are absolutely essential to understanding Japanese. For the most part, that means how numbers and pronouns work. Not only are those critical in all languages, but the way they work in Japanese is very different from English, so a dictionary alone won't cut it.


Japanese Numbers
Counting Words
Grammatical Vocabulary
Pronouns and Closely Related Words
  Interrogative Pronouns
  Personal Pronouns
  Semi-Personal Pronouns
  Impersonal Pronouns, Demonstratives and More
Less Simple Example Sentences


Japanese Numbers


一 (いち) For example: 十 (じゅう) 10 For example:
二 (に) 十三 (じゅうさん) 13      百 (ひゃく) 100 七兆一百一億三十五万九千六十二
三 (さん) 四十八 (よんじゅうはち) 48 千 (せん) 1,000 7,010,100,359,062
四 (よん or し) 七十 (ななじゅう) 70 万 (まん) 10,000
五 (ご) 十万 (じゅうまん) 100,000
六 (ろく) 百万 (ひゃくまん) 1,000,000
七 (なな or しち) 千万 (せんまん) 10,000,000
八 (はち) 億(おく) 100,000,000      or 10,000^2
九 (きゅう) 兆(ちょう) 1,000,000,000,000      or 10,000^3
十 (じゅう) 10  京 (けい) 10,000,000,000,000,000      or 10,000^4


Counting Words


Now that you've seen basic numbers, we can move on to what makes Japanese number usage very different from English number usage: counting words.


This is one of the few categories of vocabulary that not only should but must be explained before you can just look stuff up on your own.  In English, we have the numbers one, two, three and so on, and you say you have one, two or three of something.  In Japanese, you have the numbers いち, に, さん and so on, and instead you say you have ひとつ, ふたつ or みっつ of something.  The first three are just "numbers" while the latter three are "counting words."  It turns out there are several sets of counting words for different kinds of objects.  Irregular ones include:


General: 一つ (ひとつ), 二つ (ふたつ), 三つ (みっつ), 四つ (よっつ), 五つ (いつつ), 六つ (むっつ), 七つ (ななつ), 八つ (やっつ), 九つ (ここのつ)
People: 一人 (ひとり), 二人 (ふたり), 三人 (さんにん), 四人 (よんにん), 五人 (ごにん)
Animals: 一匹 (いっぴき), 二匹 (にひき), 三匹 (さんひき), 四匹 (よんひき), 五匹 (ごひき)
Days: 一日 (いちにち), 二日 (ふつか), 三日 (みっか), 四日 (よっか), 五日 (いつか), 六日 (むいか), 七日 (なのか or なぬか), 八日 (ようか), 九日 (ここのか), 十日 (とおか), 十一日 (じゅういちにち)
Months: 一ヶ月 (いっかげつ), 二ヶ月 (にかげつ), 三ヶ月 (さんかげつ)
Cylindrical or Prism-Shaped objects: 一本 (いっぽん), 二本 (にほん or ふたほん), 三本 (さんほん)


Most counting words (including these and other irregulars) are easy to recognize if you're familiar with those above, and easy to look up in any decent dictionary, but you should remember these details:


・The general counters stop at nine, even though every other set can theoretically go on forever with the same suffix. The closest thing to a general counter above nine would be the 〜個 -ko set.

・一人 and 二人 are counting words for "one person" and "two people" as well as adjectives meaning "alone" and "together."  一人ぼっち and 二人っきり specify the adjective usage, though 二人っきり tends to be much closer to "just the two of us" than 二人 (and the っきり suffix can be used similarly on 三人 and up as well).

・The day counters (like 二日) can indicate days of the month ("the 2nd") as well as numbers of days ("two days").  In contrast, 一月 (いちがつ) only means "January" while 一ヶ月 (いっかげつ) only means "one month."  I have absolutely no explanation for that ヶ.

・The suffix 目 (め) changes a "cardinal number" such as 一つ "one" into an "ordinal number" such as 一つ目 "first". So 一日目 means "first day," 二人目 means "second person," etc.

・The prefix 何 (なん): 何人 means "how many people?," 何ヶ月 means "how many months?," etc. For the general counters, use 幾つ (いくつ) "how many?".

・The prefix 数 (すう): 数日 means "a few days," 十数匹 means "ten and a few animals," 百数十人 means "a hundred and a few tens of people," etc. Be careful not to confuse 十数 with 数十.

・When you see something like 二〜三十分, it means "twenty to thirty minutes". Not "two to thirty", but "twenty to thirty" (or more literally: "two to three tens of minutes"). This is a really easy mistake to make since in English "twenty" and "thirty" are not the same thing as "two tens" and "three tens".


Grammatical Vocabulary


It's debateable whether or not these are particles or just really common words.  Either way, they are so incredibly common that you have to learn them sooner or later to understand any remotely complex sentences, so you should start paying attention to them early. Also, many of these words are impossible to truly define, in the same way that "is" or "of" can't be directly defined in English. So, the best I can do is list some English words and phrases which come close enough that they should give you a good idea where to start.


や = and/or

から = so, because, from, since, starting from _

だから = like I said, because, therefore

ながら = while, during

まで = until, as far as, as much as, even

もう = already, no longer, more (can also be an interjection expressing strong displeasure)

いくら = how many/much/far, as far as

また = again

まだ = still, not yet

はず and べき = should, ought (hazu is likelihood, beki is moral obligation)

しかし = however, still, but

しかも = not only, on top of that

くらい = only, at least, to the point of being (sometimes just emphatic)

さえ = even, as far as, just, only, not even

こそ = the very _, precisely because, the one/thing which will

だけ = only, just, degree, extent (placed after a noun or verb)

ただ or たった = merely, only, just (placed before a noun or adjective)

そして = and, and then, also, in addition

として = as a _, in the manner of a _

かも or かもしれない or かもしらない = maybe, might, possibly

しか_ない = nothing but, no choice, no other way

けれど or だけど or けど or だが = but, however, although

でも = even, but, something like (also modifies pronouns a lot like the "-ever" suffix in English; see pronoun list)

やっぱり or やはり = as I thought, indeed, after all

ずつ = in pieces/blocks/periods of, each/every, at a time

もしかして or もし = perhaps, maybe, if

じゃ = if/then/in the case of _

みたい = apparently, seems like, resembles

らしい = apparently, seems like, I heard that, I was told that

ばっかり or ばかり or ばっか = nothing but, lots of (after a noun), only just finished (after a verb)

それに = besides, however, on top of

それにしても = despite, in spite of, although

など = _ and the like, things such as _, etc.

やら = _ and the like, things such as _, _ever, by/with some _


Pronouns and Closely Related Words


Again, just need-to-know vocab plus a bunch that a dictionary isn't much good on. By "interrogative" I mean used to ask a question, by "personal" I mean used to denote a person, by "semi-personal" I mean used to denote either a person or a thing, and by "impersonal" I mean used to denote a thing. These are far from strict categories, and are only here to make it a little easier to wrap your head around the very large number of pronouns and other words I've listed.


Interrogative Pronouns


何 (なに or なん) what?
何か something (colloquially used to mean somehow/somewhat)
何も or なんにも nothing (if verb is negative), everything (if verb is positive)
なんでも whatever, whichever, no matter what
なんとか somehow, in some way, by some means
なんとなく somehow, in some way, by some means, without any particular intent of doing so
なんか or なんだか something, somehow, for some reason


誰 (だれ) who?
誰か someone, somebody
誰も or 誰にも no one, nobody (if verb is negative), everybody, everyone (if verb is positive)
誰でも whoever, whomever
全て (すべて) or 全部 (ぜんぶ) all, everything
皆 (みな or みんな) everyone, everybody
何故 (なぜ) or 何で (なんで) why? for what reason?
何故か for some reason


ここ here, this place
そこ there, that place (relatively close)
あそこ there, that place (relatively far away)
どこ where?
どこか somewhere
どこにも nowhere (if verb is negative), everywhere (if verb is positive)
どこでも wherever
いつ when?
いつか sometime, someday
いつも never (if verb is negative), always (if verb is positive)
いつでも whenever


Personal Pronouns


〜達 (たち) and 〜等 (ら) plural suffixes for most of the following pronouns
after a name, they mean something like "_ and the other(s) with him/her"


私 (わたし) I or me the most common way of referring to oneself, since it implies a mild but not excessive degree of politeness.
あたし I or me same as わたし, but often preferred by middle-aged adults or teenage girls when not trying to be polite
私 (わたくし) I or me a level of politeness above わたし, often used when addressing someone worthy of an honorific like "-sama" or "-dono."
俺 (おれ) I or me very popular among teenage males (and tomboys)
僕 (ぼく) I or me a slightly childish pronoun usually used by little boys or boyish girls
我 (われ) I or me classical pronoun implying either strong pride or authority
我が (わが) mine an old-fashioned possessive, often used with a sense of pride or authority
儂 (わし) I or me used mostly by old men and women


お前 (おまえ) you the default second-person pronoun (especially for males)
君 (きみ) you more friendly than おまえ, implying that there is some sort of relationship
貴方 (あなた) you a second-person pronoun used by females, sometimes used specifically to address her husband
あんた you a more colloquial version of あなた without the strong connotations
てめ you used primarily to express contempt of the subject
Also, attaching め to the end of any noun or pronoun conveys the same nuance of contempt.
貴様 (きさま) you essentially a more formal version of てめ
In some contexts this does not convey contempt, but rather an expectation of humility or submission.
お主 (おぬし) you a very old second-person pronoun


彼 (かれ) he or him sometimes implies a close relationship since it's part of the word for boyfriend: 彼氏 (かれし)
彼女 (かのじょ) she or her sometimes implies a close relationship since it also means girlfriend


自分 (じぶん) oneself i.e., can be myself/yourself/themselves/etc.
己 (おのれ) oneself but sounds more old-fashioned. As an interjection, it acts like 貴様


Semi-Personal Pronouns


こいつ this can refer to a person (he/she/him/her) or an object (it),
so it is often interpreted as either belittling a person or personifying an object
そいつ that (relatively close) can refer to a person (he/she/him/her) or an object (it),
so it is often interpreted as either belittling a person or personifying an object
あいつ that (relatively far away) can refer to a person (he/she/him/her) or an object (it),
so it is often interpreted as either belittling a person or personifying an object
どいつ which, what, who, or whom can refer to a person (he/she/him/her) or an object (it),
so it is often interpreted as either belittling a person or personifying an object
こっち this way, me, or my situation most often used to contrast with other ways/situations
そっち that way (relatively close), him/her, or his/her situation most often used to contrast with other ways/situations
あっち that way (relatively far away), him/her, or his/her situation most often used to contrast with other ways/situations
どっち which way?, who?, or whose situation?


Impersonal Pronouns, Demonstratives and More


これ this strictly a pronoun, so これがいい "That is good" is correct
but これものがいい "That thing is good" is wrong.
この this strictly an adjective, so このものがいい "This thing is good" is correct
but このがいい "This is good" is wrong.
こんな this, this sort of strictly an adjective
こんなに this much, this far, to this degree strictly an adverb
こう this, this way, in this manner, like this
それ that (relatively close) strictly a pronoun, so それがいい "That is good" is correct
but それものがいい "That thing is good" is wrong.
その that (relatively close) strictly an adjective, so そのものがいい "That thing is good" is correct
but そのがいい "That is good" is wrong.
そんな that, that sort of (relatively close) strictly an adjective
そんなに that much, that far, to that degree (relatively close) strictly an adverb
そう that, that way, in that manner, like that (relatively close),
that is so, is that so?, I see
あれ that (relatively far away) strictly a pronoun, so あれがいい "That is good" is correct
but あれものがいい "That thing is good" is wrong.
あの that (relatively far away) strictly an adjective, so あのものがいい "That thing is good" is correct
but あのがいい "That is good" is wrong.
あんな that, that sort of (relatively far away) strictly an adjective
あんなに that much, that far, to that degree (relatively far away) strictly an adverb
ああ that, that way, in that manner, like that (relatively far away)
どれ which?, what? strictly a pronoun, so どれがいい "Which is good?" is correct
but どれものがいい "Which thing is good?" is wrong.
どの which?, what? strictly an adjective, so どのものがいい "Which thing is good?" is correct
but どのがいい "Which is good?" is wrong.
どんな which?, what?, which sort of?, what sort of? strictly an adjective
どんなに how much?, how far?, to what degree? strictly an adverb
どう how?, what?, what way?, in what manner? see Confusing Vocabulary for common but puzzling phrases using this
どうか or
somehow, somewhat, in some way usually used to beseech, as in "please, if you could somehow find it in your heart to _"




いう (not 言う) means "sort of" after こう, そう, ああ or どう
means "that which is/can be called _" after って or と
くれぐれ each and every, everything, all of these _ effectively a special plural of これ
それぞれ each and every, everything, all of those _ effectively a special plural of それ
相手 (あいて) refers to the "other" person/group in any context with exactly two people/groups For example: the object of a crush, an opponent in a duel, a partner in an assignment, someone you talked to one-on-one, etc.
先方 (せんぽう) refers to the "other" person/group in any context with exactly two people/groups A more formal version of 相手(あいて), most often used to refer to the "other party" in a legal dispute or business transaction.


I know it's a lot, but trust me, it's worth it. Thankfully a lot of them fit into neat little sets (especially the impersonals).


Less Simple Example Sentences


Same as last time, except now I'm adding compound particles and grammatical vocabulary to make the sentences a little more complicated. Verb forms will still be grayed out.


(B D T) 簡単なものから始まる

(B D T) あの雲だって白じゃない

(B D T) これも嫌いけどいいかも

(B D T) 誰が試験を落ちたの

(B D T) そして全部をできるはず

(B D T) そんなに綺麗なのか?

(B D T) しかし皆失敗したみたい

(B D T) 読むとすぐに眠るのは何故

(B D T) 大学へと進むべきです

(B D T) 一週くらいでいい

(B D T) 一人ずつ話すんだって

(B D T) 自分を教えるしかない

(B D T) てめ、本当に殺すぞ

(B D T) 面白いとは言うべきかも

(B D T) また変なのが来たみたい

(B D T) 彼女との関係は?

(B D T) もう復活するはずがない

(B D T) 難しいじゃ分からないでしょ

(B D T) 自分の部屋だからできる

(B D T) 私には蛇が恐ろしい

(B D T) 何も考えてないから終わる

(B D T) 三匹の兎まで飼うだっけ?

(B D T) いくら白でも鴉は鴉だろ

(B D T) こういう方法で買うの?

(B D T) 二ヶ月書くのが危険だけど一つの名作くらい書きたい




Next is Grammar Part 2: Conjugation.