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How to speak Japanese

What to Know About Japanese Noun Cases

One of the most important parts of learning Japanese is understanding Japanese noun cases. Nouns are used to describe a person, place, or thing, but noun cases can get a little more complicated. Japanese nouns are much broader—there are several different types that are used for various reasons. Some things that aren’t usually known as nouns in English are actually classified as nouns in Japanese. Similarly, some nouns in English aren’t nouns in Japanese. Although this can make your head spin a bit, there are tools to help you understand the various types of noun cases and when to use them. In this article, we’ll go over all of these details and more.

Understanding Japanese Nouns

Before getting into the different Japanese noun cases, it’s important to understand one distinct difference between English nouns—Japanese nouns are never associated with a gender, number, or even an article (i.e., a or the). Whether you’re talking about one book (本) or several books (本), the Japanese noun remains the same. However, in certain instances, you may need to add additional words to indicate something is plural. This can include words like “many” or the number itself.

Some nouns are one symbol of the Japanese alphabet, while others are a mixture of a few symbols. This makes it a little easier for native English speakers to pick up, but there are still conjugations that need to be understood. Japanese noun cases are conjugated in a similar way that you conjugate verbs in Japanese.

Japanese noun cases

Different Types of Japanese Noun Cases

Japanese noun cases are used to clarify different functions of nouns, like whether they’re the subject or object of verbs and adjectives. When a Japanese noun is considered the nominative case (が) it means they are the subject of the sentence. Accusative Japanese noun cases (を) are used to refer to the object of a sentence. These are the two primary noun cases used in Japanese, but there are also a variety of others that you need to be aware of.

  • Dative Japanese noun case (に) are considered the recipient of an action.

  • Instrumental Japanese noun cases (で) are used to describe an instrument or method that’s used in order to perform a specific action.

  • Locative noun cases in Japanese (で and に) are used when you want to talk about a location where something is or a location where a specific action occurs.

  • Lative Japanese noun cases (へ and に) are used in order to talk about a direction that an action occurs in.

  • Ablative noun cases in Japanese (から) help describe the point from where an action occurs or begins. It describes an origin or source.

  • Comitative Japanese noun cases (と) are used to describe a person who accommodates the subject of a sentence.

  • Genitive Japanese noun cases (の) are used to create possessive adjectives in Japanese. They can also be used to describe a genitive subject.

Japanese Noun Conjugation

Japanese noun cases are conjugated based on the context and plurality. When you’re referring to people and you want to indicate that they’re plural, you will add the suffix たち. Although this can make Japanese seem like a difficult language to learn, speaking with a native on Tandem can help you improve your understanding and boost your pronunciation. In the meantime, consider how some Japanese noun cases are conjugated into a plural below:

  • Woman (女性) — Women (女性たち)
  • Child (子供) — Children (子供たち)

There are additional suffixes that you can use based on the situation. For instance, if you want to talk about a flower shop, the noun for flower (花) will receive the suffix や is added. If you want to talk about someone who is an expert in something, you would add the suffix か.

In situations where you want to join two nouns, you connect them with the the symbol の. For example,

  • Japanese — 日本語
  • Class — クラス
  • Japanese class — 日本語のクラス

This can be done in any situation where you’re connecting nouns to create compound Japanese nouns. If you want to express the number of items or objects in a sentence, you can use a Japanese counter. For example:

  • One piece — 一個
  • Three pieces — 三個

Japanese Short Form Conjugation

Japanese short form conjugation is only used in certain situations, especially during casual conversations, when expressing ideas, and when making negative requests. It can also be used during quoted speech. However, when using it during casual conversation, it should only be used if you are good friends with the other person or family.

Japanese noun cases

Some Commonly Used Japanese Nouns

There are hundreds of different Japanese noun cases that exist, but you can start working towards your fluency with a few of the most commonly used words.

  • Cell phone — 携帯電話
  • Computer — コンピューター
  • WiFi — ワイファイ
  • Airplane — 飛行機
  • Train — 電車
  • Bus — バス
  • Bicycle — 自転車
  • Menu — メニュー
  • Bill — 会計
  • Water — 水
  • Chopsticks — 箸箸
  • Teacher — 先生/教師
  • Homework — 宿題
  • Student — 生徒/学生
  • Exam — 試験
  • Doctor — 医師
  • Lawyer — 弁護士
  • Police Officer — 警察官
  • Mother — 母/お母さん
  • Father — 父/お父さん
  • Son — 息子
  • Daughter — 娘
  • Family — 家族
  • Body — 体
  • Face — 顔
  • Eye — 目
  • Mouth — 口
  • Head — 頭
  • Yesterday — 昨日
  • Today — 今日
  • Tomorrow — 明日
  • Day — 日
  • Week — 週
  • Month — 月
  • Year — 年

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