Akemi's Anime World

Questions and Answers Japanese Lesson

Before we start having fun with new verbs and other sentence patterns, let's learn how to ask questions, which is cool and highly useful.

Asking Questions

Let's get right to the point and check out the basic way to ask a question in Japanese. Compare these two sentences:

"Kore wa juu desu." ("This is a gun")
"Kore wa juu desu ka?" ("Is this a gun?")

Notice the little "ka" at the end of the second one. That's a new particle, and it marks any sentence as a question. That's right, all you have to do to turn any sentence into a question is add "ka" to the end. Is that easy or what? Better yet, as I mentioned in lesson one, questions sound the same in Japanese as English--your voice goes up at the end of the sentence.

Although there are ways to ask questions with more complicated answers (which we'll get to), and all of them are marked as questions by sticking a good ol' "ka" on the end, simple yes or no questions are so easy to make it's not even funny. As in the example above, just take any statement and stick "ka" on the end. Bingo! Question city! A couple more examples using statement patterns from previous lessons:

"Kore wa uchuusen desu ka?" ("Is this a spaceship?")
"Sore wa boku no tamashi desu ka?" ("Is that my soul?")
"Anata wa Oni desu ka?" ("Are you an Ogre?")
"Tiima wa ningen desu ka?" ("Is Tima human?")

Again, in every one of those cases, the only difference between the statement and question is the "ka" on the end. Note that, as we studied in this kind of sentence before, the subject and noun in the middle can be just about anything and the form doesn't change, even though the English sentence might use "a" "an" or "the".

Yes and No

Ok, now for some answers. You probably already know how to say "yes" in Japanese ("hai"), and maybe even "no" ("iie"), but let's do a couple of full-sentence examples. Remember, by the way, that even though "iie" is spelled funny, it's pronounced with a long "eee" sound, and a short, clipped "eh" at the end: "ee-eh". Lotta vowels in there.

These conversations involve Mirai and Ryuu, whom you'll be seeing more of in future examples. Mirai and Ryuu are making hot dogs:

Mirai: "Kore wa masutaado desu ka?" ("Is this mustard?")
Ryuu: "Hai. Masutaado desu." ("Yes. It's mustard.")

Ryuu: "Sore wa kechappu desu ka?" ("Is that ketchup?")
Mirai: "Iie, kore wa chi desu. Atashi no chi desu." ("No, this is blood. My blood.")

Ryuu: "Daijoubu?!" ("Are you OK?!")
Mirai: "Un! Daijoubu!" ("Yep! I'm fine!")

It would be possible to just answer "Hai" or "Iie" in all three cases, but that would be a little blunt. In the first example, you can see that it's not necessary to repeat the subject when you answer, since it's clear what you're talking about.

In the second exchange, Mirai fell victim to a freak hot dog preparation accident and has something red on her shirt. The subject is repeated in the answer to show the difference between "kore" and "sore"; Ryuu used "sore" because he's talking about something on Mirai; Mirai used "kore" when she answered, since it was on her. In the second answer sentence there is no subject, though, and the subject could have been left off of both. (If you're wondering how to say "It's not ketchup.", you'll have to wait till lesson 4 for negatives.)

In the third section, Ryuu is making sure Mirai isn't bleeding to death. He uses "daijoubu", a very useful word meaning roughly "alright" or "OK". This illustrates the simplest and most abrupt (not polite, though) way to ask a question: leave off the subject and verb, and just blurt the important word in a way that sounds like a question. The answer, similarly, omits the subject and verb, which is informal but OK in the case of "daijoubu". "Un" (sounds like a short "ooh-n") is an informal "yes", similar to the English "yep" or "uh-huh".

Here's a more polite version of that last section, using complete sentences.

Polite Person 1: "Daijoubu desu ka?" ("Are you alright?")
Polite Person 2: "Hai. Daijoubu desu!" ("Yes. I'm fine!")

Since "Daijoubu desu." alone means "I'm OK.", adding "ka" of course makes it into a question. By the way, it's worth noting that Japanese people usually match the politeness level of an answer to the question, so "Daijoubu!" would be a more natural answer in the first case, and "Daijoubu desu." is more natural in the second.


So now that we can turn any statement into a question, you're probably just itching to learn some questions that don't have a yes or no answer. We'll get into some good ones soon, but since we'll have the most fun if we learn some adjectives first (which will happen in the next section), let's stick to noun answers for the moment.

You already know how to say "Kore wa [fill in blank] desu.", and "Kore wa [fill in blank] desu ka?", so let's ask what something is:

"Kore wa nan desu ka?" ("What is this?")

It's doesn't take a huge amount of mental effort to figure out that "nan" means "what". Just stick it in the place of a noun in our basic sentence, and Bingo! Instant question. Incidentally, "nani" is a longer version of the same word, but in this particular type of sentence "nan" sounds more natural. Here's an exchange:

Mirai: "Kore wa nan desu ka?" ("What is this?")
Ryuu: "Sore wa bakudan desu. Tasukete!" ("That is a bomb. Help!")

Yet again, since Mirai says "kore", she's talking about something she's holding, and Ryuu responds with "sore", since he's talking to her. "Tasukete" is another handy one-word-sentence, meaning "Help!" or "Help me!". It's the imperative form of the verb "to help", but we'll find out what that means in a future lesson.

Putting It All Together

Basic Question Forms:

"[Statement] ka?" ("Is [Statement]?"; "Is [Statement] [true]?")

"Kore wa [thing] desu ka?" ("Is this (a) [thing]?")

"[Thing 1] wa [thing 2] desu ka?" ("Is [thing 1] (a) [thing 2]?")

Yes and no:

"Hai" ("Yes")
"Iie" ("No")

Person 1: "[Thing 1] wa [thing 2] desu ka?" ("Is [thing 1] (a) [thing 2]?")
Person 2: "Hai. [thing 2] desu." ("Yes. It's (a) [thing 2].")

Let's try a relatively complicated version:

"Boku no okane wa anata no mono desu ka?"

Hint: this is from a previous lesson. Since "Boku no okane" means "my money", and "anata no mono" means "your thing", the whole sentence would mean... "Is my money yours?" Make sense? (A more natural translation would be "Does my money belong to you?" Here's a possible answer:

"Hai. Ore no mono desu."

As before, the subject is usually omitted in the answer, so our bully is saying "Yes. It's mine." Incidentally, there are hints in here as to who is speaking: since "boku" is used by men, but doesn't have a particularly masculine image, while "ore" does, you can sort of guess that the first guy is being intimidated by the more aggressive second.

More Examples

Several more question sentences, mostly using statements from past lessons:

  1. "Watashi wa baka desu ka?" ("Am I stupid?")
  2. "Anata wa baka desu ka?" ("Are you stupid?")
  3. "Anta, baka?" ("You stupid?")
  4. "Omae wa Shinigami desu ka?" ("Are you the God of Death?")
  5. "Anata wa atashi no tomodachi desu ka?" ("Are you my friend?")
  6. "Airi wa boku no tomodachi desu ka?" ("Are you my friend, Airi?")
  7. "Airi wa boku no tomodachi desu ka?" ("Is Airi my friend?")

This is all pretty straightforward. The first two sentences are versions of turning everybody's favorite word into a question. The third one is a very blunt way of asking the same question; "anta" is a reasonably impolite "you", and most of the sentence structure other than the question inflection has been left off.

In the last four sentences, we've got three different ways of asking similar questions. In number 4, since the subject is "omae", we can assume that the person asking isn't being particularly polite. In number 5, the speaker is a woman (see the "atashi?"), and is being reasonably polite.

In the 6th and 7th ones, the speaker is probably male ("boku"), and is talking about Airi. As was mentioned in a past lesson, from these sentences alone it's not clear whether Airi is being talked about, or whether she's being talked directly to--the English sentences are different, but in Japanese you can talk directly to someone using their name.

In Closing...

In part 2, we'll have some fun with adjectives.