Conjunctions in Japanese: Learning how to build longer sentences

Learning to use conjuctions in Japanese is an important step for beginners. Once you have understood the basic sentence structure of Japanese, you may find yourself wondering how to make your sentences flow. The easiest way to do this is by making use of connecting words (or conjunctions) in Japanese to link two sentences or two clauses together.

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Being as Kotobites is in the midst of the Japanese Writing Challenge, I thought this would be a great time to post about the topic of conjunctions, known as 接続詞 in Japanese.

Types of conjunctions in Japanese

I’ve listed some common conjunctions across various categories to give you some ideas:

  • Showing a result or consequence (= therefore/ so in English): だから、それで、そのため
  • Giving a reason (= because): なぜなら、というのは
  • Showing a contradiction (= but/ however): が at the end of the clause; しかし、けれども
  • Providing additional information (= similarly, and then, furthermore): そして、それに、それから、しかも
  • Showing a contrast (= on the other hand): 一方、逆に
  • Rephrasing (= in other words): つまり、すなわち

I have shied away from using English where possible here. This is becuase a lot of these conjunctions do not work in exactly the same way as their English counterparts.

Other helpful resources

For further information on conjunctions in Japanese, I recommend checking out the following resources:

The Japan Society of New York’s Waku Waku Japanese series has an episode giving a brief introduction to how conjunctions work:

Wasabi’s articles on important Japanese Conjunctions as well as Reverse Conditionals (which covers conjunctions and grammar points that express a contrast).

For those who are a bit more advanced, check out this page (in Japanese) on a website called Pothos. This post gives an overview of the types of conjunctions you are likely to come across in Japanese. If you click on each word you get a definition and a few example sentences to show how it is used.

I hope you find this post useful – as always if you have any suggestions or feedback please let me know in the comments!

Kotobites November Writing Challenge: Week 1: 1st – 5th Nov

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Welcome to the Kotobites November Japanese Writing Challenge. In case you missed it, please take a look my intro post on what this is and why I’m doing it – you can do as little or as much as you can!

Here are the writing prompts for Week 1 (up to 5th November):

1st Nov (Wed) 1日(水曜日)

お化けを見たことがありますか。

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おばけをみたことがありますか。

Have you ever seen a ghost?

2nd Nov (Thur) 2日(木曜日)

得意な料理は何ですか。

とくいなりょうりはなんですか。

What food are you good at making?

3rd Nov (Fri) 3日(金曜日)

職業・専門はなんですか。

なんでその職業・専門を選びましたか。

しょくぎょう・せんもんはなんですか。

なんでそのしょくぎょう・せんもんをえらびましたか。

What is your occupation/major? Why did you choose that occupation/major?

4th Nov (Sat) 4日(土曜日)

「都会」と「田舎」、どっちに住みたいですか。

「とかい」と「いなか」、どっちにすみたいですか。

Where would you rather live, in the city or in the countryside?

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5th Nov (Sun) 5日(日曜日)

ストレス解消法は何ですか。

ストレスかいしょうほうはなんですか。

How do you relieve stress?

 

Hints for beginners

  • Looking to get your writing checked? I recommend Lang-8 (if you already have an account – unfortunately, they are no longer taking new registrations), HiNative or ask a friend/language partner.
  • Following the sentence structure of the question is the easiest way of constructing the answer. Feel free to expand on the questions as much as possible or adapting the question – whatever suits your stage of learning.

1st Nov:

〜ことがあります is a useful phrase for expressing something you have done before (as in ‘Have you ever been scuba diving?’).

2nd Nov:

得意 is similar in meaning to 上手(じょうず) meaning ‘to be good at (doing something)’.

You may prefer to use a different sentence structure such as ‘Xを作るのが得意です’.

3rd Nov:

Choose occupation or major depending on if you are working or studying.

When giving reasons for your answer you can use conjunctions such as 〜からです (verb before から is in plain form)

4th Nov:

You might want to use to show contrast between the city and the countryside by using a construction such as ‘XよりYのほうがZです’.

5th Nov:

In order to answer the question, you could change the sentence structure using the て form, such as 〜て、ストレスを解消します (I relieve stress by doing…).

Please let me know how you get on or if you have any suggestions for the 30 day challenge, otherwise I hope you enjoy 🙂

Using sentences to study Japanese (and other languages)

Studying using sentences is incredibly beneficial for studying any language for a couple of reasons:

  • It gets you used to sentence structure, which you can then adapt to use when speaking or writing
  • Helps you to learn vocabulary in context – important for words with similar meanings in your native language

This article from Fluent in 3 Months explains it better than I can, but the brain is good at spotting at remembering patterns. As we are learning to speak our first language, we hear sentences spoken by others around us and so we build up a bank of sentences for our native language(s) in our brains.

This is why it is very easy for us to spot when something sounds unnatural in our native language(s), even if we are not sure why. With learning a new language, we have to follow the same process of learning what phrases and sentences are natural or not.

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Sometimes, you just know when something has been put into Google Translate

Studying sentences alongside grammar rules will help the grammar to stick in your mind more effectively. Once you’ve understood a grammar point, you can then focus on making sure that you can implement in in your own speaking/writing – which is why I think keeping a journal in Japanese is such a good idea.
Let’s say for example that you are studying counters in Japanese, and come across the counter ‘hai’ which is the counter for glasses.

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If you also memorise the sentence [ビールを三杯ください/ ビールをさんばいください/bi-ru wo sanbai kudasai] meaning Please can I have three glasses of beer, you are not only memorising the counter ‘-杯/はい/hai’ but internalising several other Japanese grammar rules at the same time.

  • That after 三, -はい becomes ばい
  • That counters are used after the particle を
  • That ください can be used when making a request (especially when ordering food and drink)

You can then experiment with substituting in different vocabulary, for example using a different number with the same counter…

ビールを一杯 (いっぱい/ippai) ください

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Or you can change the counter itself…

ビールを三本 (さんぼん/sanbon) ください

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(Just like with -はい, the -ほん counter has a sound change to -ぼん when following 三).

Or you can change the drink to something else…

水 (みず/Mizu) を三杯ください

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(NB: probably a good idea if you’ve been ordering beer all evening)

… and this is all by changing just one word in the original phrase we learnt!

With Japanese, context is key to understanding grammar and vocabulary, so I believe that studying using sentences is more important coming from English. Adding Japanese audio in the mix is even better for learning to distinguish similar words, especially as Japanese has different pitch accents for similar words.

So how can I implement this into my language study?

With new grammar points, try writing out an example sentence you already know to be correct, then try changing different vocabulary as in the example above. You can always ask on an app like HiNative or a friend to check your new sentences to make sure they still make sense.

When learning across new vocab, look the word up in a dictionary or ask a friend to give you an example of how that word is used in a sentence and write it down for review later.

When making your own flashcards (real or online), make sure to write these sentences together with the vocabulary. If you are using Anki for vocabulary study, you’ll notice that a lot of decks introduce sentences at the same time.

I also highly recommend Delvin Language, which offers sentence and listening practice at the same time!

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You can learn new vocabulary via sentences taken from real life speech in dramas and documentaries, with all furigana and meanings provided for words and grammar points you may not know yet.

I hope the above post has helped – if you have any questions or suggestions please let me know in the comments!


Japanese sign image source: with attribution By Info2Learn (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons