Ask Me Why | Basic Japanese Question Words (and Grammar)| 基本的な疑問詞 | PART 3 || How + Why + Which| Kiki+Koko: Let’s NihonGO!! Japanese Language Learning Essentials

Kiki Koko and Quizbo Survival Photo Making Questions part 2

We go further down the rabbit hole, looking for questions, helping you get answers! Be sure to take a look at the previous part.

 皆様みんなさま、こんにちにゃあぁ!Welcome to Kiki+Koko: Let’s NihonGO!! Online! Your journey continues down the rabbit hole, gathering information, trying to eventually hop back into reality. But, what led you to this place? Well, it was your search for answers, of course! And, with your journey into the night in the previous instalments, you came across two helpful guides to Japanese language and culture—that’s us, Kiki+Koko—and were led to what seemed like the method for answers, but as with many things, the more answers you received, the more questions arose. But, this proved vital to the understanding of how to get answers in Japanese language, by which we mean, asking questions. We have to admit, in day-to-day use, it doesn’t seem so complicated, but similar to the Centipede’s Dilemma, it seems as though as soon as you explain something so automatic as walking, or as in this case, question words, it becomes much more complex, causing one to trip, or rather in this case, it makes us realise how many legs this thing really has! This will certainly be a recurring theme throughout your study of Japanese language, if you’re looking to delve into the depths of it. The inner machinations of Japanese language aren’t exactly an enigma, though. We hope that with a bit more explanation, the basics will make much more sense. As always, we want to make sure to lead you down the path to pick up the proper tools and clues to get a grasp on the concepts we present. And with that, we continue onto our main topic, 疑問詞, gimonshi, otherwise known as question words! 

Kiki Koko and Quizbo Survival Photo Making Questions 何Oh yes, before you learnt the basics about what, who, where, when, and particles that would assist you in your inquisitive sentence creation. However, there are a couple of other main question words that we should take a closer look at before we get into the ones that are more grammatically Japanese, if that makes sense. We’ve been attempting to shift your point of view a bit to get into the grammatical perspective of a basic Japanese question. Once you can connect the simpler question words that feel closer to English, it’s out hope that it will make the next step to the other less familiar concepts much easier to grasp. While it may create a fun cinematic diversion, we’re not the Mr. Miyagi of teaching, we’ll tell you ahead of time that the things your doing are building up to the bigger goal, and not just seeming as though they’re a ploy to get you to do our chores. We don’t have a car to give you at the end, but we hope the knowledge we impart and the time we spend is enriching. It will definitely work out in your favour in the end.

kiki koko nihongo essentials - basic questions ka + noBut, before we get back into this, we want to make sure you have a grasp on the previous lessons, as this won’t be useful otherwise…Well, unless you only want bits and pieces of information, but we’re here to give you the whole story~! The proverbial origin story of the Japanese sentence as well as the particles and grammar that go into it can be found in our ‘Essentials’ section. If you’re short on time, you can just focus on the nail-biting cliff hanger of a two-parter, the magical 「です」and the sequel concerning copula. Then, you’ll at least get how to create the very most basic of sentences. From there, it would be useful to have a good look at the ones concerning particles. And, of course, we’ve linked the important particles you need to create a basic question sentence in the photo above (It has us standing in an alleyway, looking like we’re definitely solving an intense mystery, getting the scoop. Ice cream scoop… Sorry, there’s no ice cream, but there are walkie-talkies and lanterns.) But, any road, you can have a proper look at that, and we’ll be right here for you, mate~! Then, we’ll jump right into the lesson, when you’re ready, of course.

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Quick Introduction

So, in this lesson, it will become a bit more apparent, if it hadn’t already, that Japanese isn’t quite like English. Sure, there are many parallels that we try to use, but there are some phrases that even as we stick with the basics, simply don’t follow what you may expect. When learning new Japanese words and phrases, always try to keep a clean slate, following the rules of Japanese rather than what may feel more natural in English.

That may be obvious, but this will explain why we won’t be able to give EVERY way of saying why and how in this lesson. We want to keep things a bit simpler, as this is meant to cover just the basics, and in future, we’ll build upon that. We want to stress that this is grammatically the  疑問詞, gimonshi, or question words, why and how which are not the same as when you may say phrases like, how lovely or what a luxurious car! or in the interjection, why!— And, normally, we would go through these, here, but it’s truly an entirely different grammatical series of events and will muddy the waters of learning. We’ll do our best to keep this as simple as possible whilst giving enough information for it to be viable and absorbable.. like.. an organic vitamin—of knowledge!

But, without further ado, we should get started with these new vocabulary words.
Let’s NihonGO!!

Basic Question Words| 基本的な疑問詞


(usually written in hiragana)

‘Why’ (one way to say it)

桜は なぜ 日本に 重要なのですか。
さくらは なぜ にっぽんに じゅうようなのですか。
sakura wa naze nippon ni jyuuyou nano desuka?
Why are cherry blossoms important to Japan?

何故 作文を 書き終えなかったの!?
なぜ さくぶんを かきおえなかったの!?
naze sakubun wo kaki oenakatta no!?
Why didn’t you finish your essay!?

映画を いつも引用してるのは なぜですか。
えいがを いつも いんよう してるのは なぜですか。
eiga wo itsumo inyou shiteru no wa naze desuka.
Why are you always quoting films?

We’re starting off with a question word in the same format as the other question words. This should hopefully give a good example of the fluidity of the sentence placement of these question words. They still follow the proper grammatical parts of speech, though. It’s not as though you can literally place it anywhere within the other sentences because they weren’t formulated that way. It’s important to know your grammar and particles in order to form the sentence around where you’re going to emphasise your sentence when speaking, or what comes more naturally. All in all, we’re just focused on the word itself, and this should serve as a good quick reference for when we get a little further into more grammar like this. But, for now, you can use the grammar you’ve already learnt in previous lessons just as easily.

如何【どう】dou / 【いかが】ikaga /【いか】ika

(usually written in hiragana)

‘Why ‘

どうして その帽子を 被っているの?
どうして そのぼうしを かぶっているの?
doushite sono boushi wo kabutteiruno?
Why are you wearing that hat?


どうして こんなに キラキラしていますか。
どうして こんなに きらきら していますか。
doushite konna ni kira kira shiteimasuka?
Howare you so sparkly?
*(Can also translate as ‘why’
This is because of the verb ‘to do’ attached, so it can also be thought of as ‘how did you do’)

旅行は いかが/どうでしたか。
りょこうは いかが/どうでしたか。
ryokou wa ikaga/dou deshita ka?
How was your trip?
(either reading is usable in this case, but ikaga is more polite)

dou shiteru?
How‘s it going?
(It can also mean ‘what’s wrong’ in context.)

ジュース もう一本は どう
じゅーす もういっぽんは どう
jyuusu mou ippon wa dou?
How about another juice?
(This could also be translated as ‘How is another juice’ kind of like saying ‘how does another (unit) of juice (sound)’? So it functions similarly to English’s ‘how’)

This gets very not-basic very quickly, but we’re going to simplify this a bit. So, this acts as a 副詞fukushi, or an adverb, which is also true to words like how in English, but this may not actually be as important as it is in Japanese, as you’ll usually see this paired with adverbial particles as well as being attached to a verb.

This can be used in a similar purpose as なぜ、nazewhy, but also as how and by what means as 何で, nande. Alone as 如何,(いかん), ikan, it can mean circumstances (which isn’t a typographical error above, it’s simply a different usage).  Normally, this may seem like it would confuse things, but this actually may help you with the usage in your mind… the fact that it’s actually very transient. In どうして, doushite, it can be translated as anything from for what reason to in what way. But, even in the transience of translation, it’s still expressing the same idea. So, again, when we mentioned keeping a clean slate earlier, it’s about learning words as concepts rather than always as direct translations. This will ultimately help you in fluency rather than always translating exact phrases you want to use in your head.

Many of these in future lessons will have very specific almost directional and direct answers back to them, and we think this is a good introduction into this concept. They’re more of an expression in this sense, but it should give the general beat of it. And, this also reveals another translation:

dou shitara ii no?
What* should I do?

(this can be thought of as ‘how’ or ‘by what means’ but in translation, is often written as ‘what’)

kou shitara ii yo.
(You) should do (like) this

sou shitara ii yo.
(You) should do (like) that.

So, this this and that only work in this case, and there are specific pronoun cases that you’ll want to memorise. But, this works well in an answer that directly corresponds adverbially. You would probably say this if you’re demonstrating something, otherwise, you would probably simply spell it out step-by-step, but the point of all of this shows that there is a lot of order to Japanese language that makes sense once you get the hang of it. There’s a lot of very normalised ways of saying things that feel like they make sense. That’s not to say English doesn’t have some things like this, but these just feel very categorical, and when you eventually have all of the vocabulary together, it will make sense and fit into the puzzle in your mind.

何の【どの】dono / 【なんの】nanno

(usually written in hiragana) (These definitions are also not comprehensive just as above, but stick to the context of question)


どのコンピューターが ほしいの?
どの こんぴゅーたーが ほしいの?
donna konpyuutaa ga hoshii no?
Which computer do you want?


どのぐらい 速く 走れますか。
どのぐらい はやく はしれますか。
dono gurai hayaku hashiremasuka?
How fast can you run?


何の 秘密を 隠してるのか?
なんの ひみつを かくしてるのか?
nanno himitsu wo kakushiteru no ka?
What (kinds of) secrets are you hiding?

Would you look at that? It looks like there’s even more ways to say ‘how’. Like we mentioned in the beginning, it’s very difficult to include everything in a digestible bite-sized biscuit of a lesson, but we simply had to include this and its cousin that will be very important in future.

So, you may be wondering why there’s another type of how, and that’s oddly simple in this case. This is adjectival. It’s meant as an adjective and functions before a noun. This has so many other functions and translations depending on the surrounding particles, but for now, you can think of this as ‘which’ overall, but be mindful that this is not the only way to use it.


(usually written in hiragana) (This is used when there’s three or more objects to choose from)


どれが 一番 優雅なのですか。
どれが いちばん ゆうがなの ですか。
dore ga ichiban yuuga nano desuka?
Which is the most elegant?

見たい映画は どれですか。
みたいえいがは どれですか。
mitai eiga wa dore desuka?
Which film do you want to see?

Well, this is actually more-so like a fraternal twin than a cousin to どの. This is the 不定称の代名詞, futeishou no daimeshi, indefinite pronoun version. This is important grammatically despite having many crossovers with どの, but it functions similarly to the previous inanimate pronoun functioning question words we’ve encountered, but it also, again, has some crossover…. So, for now, in order to keep this within the realm of basic question words, you can simply think of this as the pronoun version of ‘which’ and go from there. We’ll go indepth in future, but explaining this too much this early on may cause more confusion than assistance. And that’s no good~

And, with that, you’re even closer to getting a better grasp on basic Japanese question words. As we mentioned in the beginning, this is just warming up for the special combination question words, the two-in-one and three-in-one word specials that luckily do fit together quite well in context. As we continue with you on this journey, we’ll be sure to lead you down the correct path, and at times, it’s best if you focus on each step at a time rather than taking on the memorisation of the entire map. If you’re to properly get the answers you so desperately need in Japanese, it’s best to take it one page at a time.

We hope this further assisted you in your quest for answers!! This covered quite a lot of materials on grammar and usage. So, be sure to take it easy, you can return to this as many times as you need. But, maybe going through this was a bit difficult to suss out the pronunciations with the hiragana used. 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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Thank you for joining us! We hope that you continue with us on this adventure, and we appreciate that you’ve chosen us to assist you on your Japanese learning journey!

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