Cheat Sheet

Japanese For Dummies

If you're learning Japanese, you need the basics — numbers, questions, and phrases—for meeting, greeting, and being polite. In Japanese, verbs change according to whether they're negative or affirmative but not according to the person who's the subject of the action. Japanese also has particles rather than the articles and prepositions of English — all of which adds up to a fascinating learning experience.

Numbers in Japanese

One of the most basic skills in picking up any new language, including Japanese, is learning to count. The following table shows Japanese numbers from 1 to 20 and selected higher numbers along with the pronunciations in parentheses.

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Polite Phrases in Japanese

The Japanese place a premium on politeness, so the Japanese language includes key phrases to keep conversation on a polite footing. The following list sets out common courteous Japanese phrases and questions:

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Japanese Phrases for Meeting and Greeting

The whole point of learning Japanese is to be able to converse, right? Knowing Japanese phrases for meeting, greeting, and saying good-bye are important parts of conversation. Here are some phrases you'll need when you're meeting and greeting in Japanese:

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How to Ask Questions in Japanese

As you travel in Japan and speak Japanese to everyone you meet, you need to ask questions. The standard who, what, when, where, and why are in the following list, along with a few other useful questions.

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Japanese Grammar: Particles

English grammar has articles and prepositions, but Japanese grammar has particles that follow a noun to show the noun's function. Japanese particles denote such things as the topic of the sentence; the start point, end point, and direction of the action; the tools and means of the action; and even the subject and direct object of the sentence. The following table shows the Japanese particles with pronunciations in parentheses, their English equivalents (if one exists), and their roles.

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Japanese Verb Forms

To understand any language, including Japanese, you need to know verbs — the words that convey action. Like English verbs, Japanese verbs have a few eccentricities, so you need to keep a few facts in mind when you're dealing with Japanese verbs:

  • Habitual actions and future actions use the same verb form, so taberu means I eat and I will eat. (You can think of it as the Japanese equivalent of present tense.)

  • You don't conjugate according to person. It doesn't matter who's eating — you use taberu for I eat, you eat, he/she/it eats, We eat, and they eat.

  • Use the stem form if you're adding a suffix to show politeness or another condition.

  • Use the te-form if you're adding another verb or an auxiliary verb to the main verb.

In Japanese, you don't conjugate verbs according to person; rather, you use different forms for present and past tenses, for affirmative and negative statements, for polite and informal speech, and to convey respect. The following table shows the various forms of taberu (to eat).

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