皆様、こんにちにゃあぁぁ！Welcome to Kiki+Koko: Let’s NihonGO!! Online. Night has fallen, and you’re alone with nothing to guide you but your torch and the dim glow of the moon. Trekking out into the night, the inky shadows stretch along the road ahead. You didn’t end up on this journey by chance. You’ve thrown yourself into the thick of it, but for what reason? All along, you were simply in search of answers. The only obstacle veiling your way is a method of finding said answers. But, suddenly, you stop as a brick wall lay between you and your destiny. You can’t make out any way to pass, do you turn back? Before you simply turn away, you hear the groaning creak of a door. You don’t need us to tell you who it is helping you open that door, giving you a way to find those answers! It’s us, Kiki+Koko, your guides to Japanese language and culture, bringing you the latest essential in Japanese language learning. How can you find answers without knowing how to ask questions? Well, this lesson, we’re giving you the ‘how to’ on making basic Japanese questions, or as the scholars call it, interrogative sentences.
However, we’re going to teach you how to REALLY create basic Japanese questions. And, what do we mean by that? Well, if you’re given an old Japanese language textbook and look for the basic way to ask a question in Japanese, you may not get the whole story. We’re here not only to teach you the いろは, iroha, or ABCs, of Japanese, but we’re here to give you the full story that will give you answers. Of course, we wouldn’t want to overwhelm with too much at once, or it’ll be too much to absorb, and that’s no good. So, this time, we’re guiding you step by step to help you get answers.
So, if you’re looking to ask a question in Japanese, it’s not always as simple as in English. But, before we jump into this, we definitely recommend taking a look at the previous ‘essentials’ lessons concerning particles as it sort of builds upon previous knowledge and may leave out some important concepts that would be important, but would bog down the lesson and impede on proper learning. But, no worries, we’ll be right here when you’re finished!
When you think of interrogative sentences, you probably think of: who, what, where, when, why, and how? Well, in Japanese, this is only scratching the surface. There are quite a few set words that cover various ideas that span outside of this, more than simply combining words to create the concept in English, but set words on their own. But, luckily, you don’t have to worry about words like who versus whom. But, we’re going to step back from that for a moment as there’s an extra step that isn’t present in English… Well, at least not American English or standard British English.
In Japanese, when you create an interrogative sentence, there are a few ways to differentiate it from a regular declarative sentence or statement, other than using a ‘question word’ such as who, what, where, etc. And, for this, you’ll be introduced to a special particle. Now, if you haven’t become familiar with the concept of a Japanese particle, we definitely suggest you take a quick look at our previous ‘essentials’ lessons concerning them. But, for now, we just want to mention that this particle, like many particles, has multiple uses, so you will definitely find this multi-faceted tool accomplishing a different task in another instance. And, this useful particle is: 「か」
火星の 生命が 存在しますか。
かせいの せいめいが そんざい しますか。
kasei no seimei ga sonzai shimasu ka?
Is there life on Mars?
So, 「か」, ka, is the ubiquitous question marker in Japanese. This is placed at the end of the sentence in order to indicate that it is, in fact, a question. Many languages have this feature, and though English doesn’t have this system built into it inherently, there is one available that we have to admit we may use quite often. It’s innit. Now, 「か」is used formally as innit isn’t. Innit, for those unfamiliar, is a shortening of the phrase isn’t it, made into almost its own word as a tag at the end. Though innit can be used just for confirmation, as can 「か」, it can help you sort of wrap your head around the usage. (Though, there is another closer equivalent if you want to express the same feeling, but we’ll delve into that eventually.)
It adds the need for information at the end of it which makes it feel like it’s either seeking confirmation or information. Whilst「か」actually serves as the formal and polite way of asking a question in Japanese, you can add it to dictionary forms of verbs for an entirely different reason. If you do want to use this informally at the end of a sentence with an informal verb, casually, then there is a bit of an extra buffer you’ll need. Otherwise, it might sound sharp and strange. It’s not necessarily masculine, but it’s definitely something you would hear in casual masculine speech, but also feminine speech. Here’s an example of what NOT to do:
nani wo shiteiru ka?
What are you doing?
Instead, you can use no particle at the end or one of the particles we’re going to introduce. This doesn’t apply to every instance, but it can sometimes help: if you hear a dolphin, いるか, iruka, at the end of your sentence, then you need some special help from another particle… Yeah, this only applies to progressive forms of verbs, but just have a good think any time you’re going to use a dictionary form verb with「か」 as a full sentence because this indicates a different part of speech and another function within sentences we’ll be sure to discuss.
That’s why there’s a softer informal way that works for both feminine and masculine casual speech. Now, this is a particle you’ve seen multiple times and should be a frequently used tool in your Japanese Language Survival Kit. It has so many uses, it’s like the Swiss multi-tool! It’s our trusty 「の」, no! The following usage is going to be added before the 「か」to soften it a little:
寿司を 食べたこと なかったのか？
すしを たべたこと なかったのか？
sushi wo tabeta koto nakatta no ka?
Have you never eaten sushi before?
But, 「の」can actually be used alone as a much softer version of this. But, before you slap this on the end of any sentence, we have to mention something else very important to questions, and that’s tone.
So, formally, especially when using formal verbs, it’s best to stick with 「か」, but there is a way to informally ask a question just by raising your tone at the end. If you’re writing, you’ll want to use a question mark, but if you’re using 「か」, you don’t actually have to use a question mark, as it acts as its own question mark. Instead, you simply use a Japanese full stop, period, or 句点, kuten. There are many cases where you may not use a full stop at all, but you don’t need to worry about that, for now. In casual speech it would be equally acceptable to say:
このえいがを みたこと ある？
kono eiga wo mita koto aru?
Have you seen this film?
このえいがを みたこと あるの？
kono eiga wo mita koto aru no?
Have you seen this film?
However, it may sound a bit less formal somehow. In Japanese, our rule is usually the more indirect the better, so having that extra particle adds a little something more meandering that feels more polite even in casualness. But, if it’s already informal speech, it’s not much of a problem, and it may simply feel more natural to at least add 「の」especially after a verb. Any textbooks we know of don’t mention this very important usage, but we assume it’s to avoid any confusion for 「の」‘s main usages, as question sentences are taught extremely early on. This is still quite early on, but we think you’re ready.
And, there are other less basic ways of creating Japanese questions sentences, but we think you should celebrate in this first step before jumping into anything more advanced. Taking more than one step at a time may seem impressive, but it may just trip you or leave you worn out in the end.
But, this should give you a good overall feeling of a basic Japanese question, there’s a bit more we have to teach you before you can proficiently go out there and ask all of the basic questions you desire. Though we’ve covered a few of them indirectly, we think it’s best to focus on these in a separate lesson as to allow you to properly memorise and grasp these concepts. Overall, we’ve learnt about three ways to create an interrogatory sentence. This includes: two particles you can use to add to the end of sentences to make them interrogatory, one both formal and informal with a more blunt tone and the other informal with a softer tone. We’ve learnt that you can omit these particles in some cases by using tone and that tone is important to the second particle’s usage.
So, if you’ve heard anyone using these, you’ll be able to recognise that they’re asking a question rather than making a statement. And, we’ll be sure to continue this lesson in the next one so you’ll be able to get out there and get answers. We hope this helped you understand the basics of an interrogatory Japanese sentence. But, maybe it was a bit difficult with the hiragana used, or maybe you weren’t sure how to pronounce the particles. Well, we’ve got you covered! Just take a look at our Reading and Writing sections to revise / review / study. It will help your pronunciation, and it’s essential to learning any language. If you want to make sure your Japanese language survival kit is stocked with the latest tools, you can make sure you stay up to date by subscribing to the Electronic Mailing List of Tomorrow, today, found usually at the bottom of the site page or the sidebar on desktop. You’ll get the latest tools and resources to surviving in Japanese language in straight to your inbox. That’s articles, videos, podcasts, and more.
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