LearnJapanese Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese





Explanations and expectations

Posted by Tae Kim

In English, changing the order of words in the sentence can often change the tone as well. For example, asking "Is he a student?" sounds very different from "He's a student?" While the former is a very neutral question simply seeking a yes or no answer, the latter expresses surprise that the person is in fact a student and is seeking confirmation of that fact.

In Japanese, we saw that sentence order is very flexible due to how particles clearly define the grammatical role of each word. So in order to express this kind of biased question or answer, we add 「の」 to the end of the sentence to show that we are seeking or providing an explanation.

For nouns and na-adjectives, you also need to add 「な」 before 「の」.

Example

  1. 彼 【かれ】 - he
  2. 学生 【がく・せい】 - student
  1. 彼は、学生?
    Is he (a) student?
  2. 彼は、学生なの
    He's a student? (Seeking explanation why he's a student)

In the second sentence, because the person is implicitly seeking an explanation for why he's a student, it gives the impression that the speaker is surprised or considers the fact that he may be a student to be unexpected.

Health is important too

  1. ところで - by the way
  2. どうして - why
  3. 忙しい 【いそが・しい】 - busy
  4. 僕 【ぼく】 - me, myself (polite, masculine)
  5. 水泳部 【すい・えい・ぶ】 - swim club
  6. え - eh, huh
  7. そう - so
  8. でも - but
  9. 趣味 【しゅ・み】 - hobby; interests
  10. パソコン - computer; PC
  11. ゲーム - game
  12. 健康 【けん・こう】 - health
  13. 大事 【だい・じ】 (na-adj) - important
  14. なるほど - I see

スミス: ところで、リー君はどうして忙しい
Smith: By the way, Lee-kun, why are you busy?

リー: 僕は水泳部だから。
Lee: Because (I'm in) swim club.

スミス: え?そうなの
Smith: Eh? Is that so?

リー: そうだけど?
Lee: That's so but?

スミス: でも、趣味はパソコンとゲームじゃない
Smith: But isn't (your) hobby computers and games?

リー: そうだけど、健康も大事だから。
Lee: That's so but health is also important so.

スミス: なるほど。
Smith: I see.

Explanation for 「だ」 and 「です」

When the sentence has additional things following the 「の」 such as 「だ」 or 「です」, the 「の」 is replaced with 「ん」 to make pronunciation easier. While 「の」 can still be used, it is considered to be old-fashioned.

What's the problem?

  1. オタク - otaku; geek; enthusiast
  2. あのう - um, er, excuse me
  3. あまり - not very (when used with negative)
  4. いい (i-adj) - good; fine
  5. 言葉 【こと・ば】 - word; language
  6. はい - yes (polite)
  7. いいえ - no (polite)

スミス: 山本先生、リーさんは、水泳部だから、オタクじゃないですよ!
Smith: Yamamoto-sensei, Lee-san is not an otaku because (he's in) swim club.

山本: あのう、スミスさん、オタクはあまりいい言葉じゃないんですよ。
Yamamoto: Um, Smith-san, Otaku is not a very good word, you know.

スミス: そうなんですか?でも、リーさんはオタクじゃないから、いいんじゃないですか?
Smith: Is that so? But Lee-san is not an otaku so isn't it fine?

山本: スミスさん・・・。
Yamamoto: Smith-san...

スミス: はい?
Smith: Yes?

山本: いいえ、いいです。
Yamamoto: No, never mind (lit: (it's) fine).

The phrase 「いいんじゃないですか?」 shows a very important way setting expectations can enhance your abilities to express certain things. By setting the expectation that it should be good and asking the opposite allows you to ask questions like, "isn't it?". You can compare the difference in meaning by looking at the different variations below. This is only to give you the general idea as you'll naturally get the hang of it through the regular course of exposure to the language.

  1. いいですか? - Is it good? (neutral yes/no question)
  2. よくないですか? - Is it not good? (neutral yes/no question)
  3. いいですか? - It's good? (seeking explanation as to why it's good)
  4. よくないですか? - It's not good? (seeking explanation as to why it's not good)
  5. いいじゃないですか? - It's good, isn't it?
  6. よくないじゃないですか? - It's not good, isn't it?

Various degrees of explanation and expectation

It's important to note that this way of seeking explanation or expectation is not explicit and can be more of a subtle nuance as opposed to directly asking for an explanation. It's common to use 「の」 for just about anything that's not completely neutral in tone especially in casual speech. How strong the explanation or expectation is will depend on the context and tone.

Example 1

A: ごめん、今日はだめだ。
B: じゃ、明日は忙しい?

A: Sorry, today is no good.
B: Ok then, is tomorrow busy? (neutral yes/no question)

Example 2

A: ごめん、明日はだめだ。
B: 明日は忙しいの

A: Sorry, tomorrow is no good.
B: Is tomorrow busy? (mild curiosity, low level of seeking explanation)

Example 3

A: 明日はテストだね。
B: え?明日はテストなの??

A: Tomorrow is test, isn't it?
B: What? There's a test tomorrow?? (surprised expectation of no test and high level of seeking explanation)

Example 4

A: ごめん、明日は絶対だめだ。
B: 明日は、いったいどうしてだめなのよ?!

A: Sorry, tomorrow is no good for certain.
B: Just why in the world is tomorrow no good?! (explicit demand for explanation)