In the previous article on basic grammar, I covered how to make simple statements that follow the pattern of “X is Y.” In it, two concepts were covered, the topic particle は and the copula です. Here we will be covering two more particles that will allow you to ask simple yes/no questions, and ask if X is also Y. Additionally, I will cover how to negate sentences and also take a brief look into the differences between informal and polite Japanese.
There are quite a few grammar points covered in this section so I would definitely recommend taking your time going through each of them and coming up with as many of your own example sentences as possible.
First, here is some more useful vocabulary you should know
- はい・ Yes(Polite)
- いいえ・ No (Polite)
- みかん・A type of orange
- コンピューター ・ Computer
- えんぴつ ・ Pencil
The version of the copula, です, taught in the previous lesson, was the polite form, which should be used when talking to strangers, coworkers, teachers/bosses and the elderly. It is a “safe” word to use in a majority of situations.
However, there also exists a blunter, more informal copula,「だ」. There are many differences in usage between です and だ when dealing with adjectives and verbs, but you do not have to worry about these differences yet. For now, you can remember that when dealing with nouns and *only* nouns, you can swap out です for だ .
これはりんごです – This is an apple (polite)
これはりんごだ – This is an apple (informal)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, you can also leave out the copula completely, just like you can leave out the topic of the sentence, and it will be understood by context. Leaving out the copula だ can make your statement seem more soft, while including it makes your statement more declarative and forceful.
これはコンピューターです – This is a computer (polite)
これはコンピューターだ – This is a computer (informal, declarative)
これはコンピューター – This (is) a computer (informal, soft)
コンピューター – A computer or (It’s) a computer
If you want to say “X is not Y”, you have to change the copula to its negative form. This is surprisingly a more difficult topic to discuss than it initially appears, as there are numerous forms of the negative, each with their own subtle differences in nuance concerning politeness and formality. However, we will be going over just two of them today, じゃない and じゃないです.
The casual form of the copula, to go along with だ, is じゃない。So to say “X is not Y”, you can say 「XはYじゃない」. The polite form of this is じゃないです. This may seem confusing, as the polite negative simply attaches the positive polite copula to the end of the casual negative (じゃない + です). To avoid this confusion, it’s best to think of this as just one long word, and not to worry about its constituent parts.
私は学生じゃない – I am not a student (casual)
私は学生じゃないです – I am not a student (polite)
これはえんぴつじゃない – This is not a pencil(casual)
これはえんぴつじゃないです – This is not a pencil (polite)
The Particle も
As mentioned before, Japanese is full of tiny little words called particles, which serve specific grammatical functions and show relationships between words. 「も」is one such particle, and it can be used to mean “also.”
Using も is simple. All you have to do is replace は with も and you’ve changed the meaning of your sentence from “X is Y” to “X is also Y. “
これはペンです – This is a pen
これもペンです – This is also a pen
私は学生です – I am a student
私も学生です – I am also a student
The Particle か
In English, when you want to ask a Yes/No question, you invert the word order. Note the difference between “You are a student” and “Are you a student?” Japanese is a bit simpler in this regard, because the word order always stays the same.
For a polite question, you simply add the question particle か to the end of the sentence. You do not need to include a question mark in writing, the standard period 「。」is always used regardless if the sentence is a question or a statement.
学生ですか。- Are (you) a student?
これはコンピューターじゃないですか。- Is this not a computer?
For an informal question, first make sure to remove だ from your sentence if it is in the affirmative, and then simply use a rising intonation without the use of か. In informal writing, it is okay to use a question mark.
学生？- Are (you) a student?
これはコンピューターじゃない？- Is this not a computer?
Putting It All Together
So now that we’ve covered how to negate statements, ask questions and use the word “also”, we can try out more complicated sentences:
私も学生じゃないですか。 – Am I also not a student?
これもりんごですか。いいえ、りんごじゃないです。みかんです。- Is this also an apple? No it’s not an apple. It’s a mikan.
Try translating the following sentences yourself for practice:
- “Are you also a student?” “Yes, I am also a student.”
- “This is also a mikan”
- “A computer is not an apple.”
- “A pencil is not a pen.”