First Aid in Japanese

Who what
Where When
Intersection A: General Nouns and Manners
How Why
Other General Nouns

1. Who, what:

The words for these are だれ and なに・なん, and they are asked like this:

『だれですか。』and『 なんですか。』
(なに is used when "what" points to a complete unknown.)


Who and what are pointed out with the following:

Using your finger to pointUsing your body's position to point
thisこのここright here
thatそのそこright there
that over thereあのあそこright over there

「このひとは、だれですか。」is "This person, who are they?"
「そこは、なんですか。」is "There, what is that?"

To which people can answer:

「さとうさん です。」meaning "Mr Satou."
「ぶどう です。」meaning "Grapes."

The part 「です。」is a way of confirming what you've said. Another way to see it is that it puts some completeness into the sentence.

The part 「は」(pronounced here as 'wa') confirms the thing you want to talk about. Another way to see it is that it sets up the topic of the sentence.

The part 「か」makes the sentence a question. Another way to see it is that it creates a feeling of openness for the listener to fill in.

2. Where, when

The words for these are どこ and いつ, and they are asked like this:

『どこですか。』and『 いつですか。

(いつ also refers to date as well as time, just like 'when' in English.)


They are pointed out with the words:

hereこちらいまnow, presently
thereそちらさきbefore, previously
over thereあちらあとafter, afterwards
なんじwhat time (o'clock)

「こちらは どこですか。」is "Here, is where?"
「いまは なんじですか。」is "Now, what time?"

To which people can answer:
「<Supermarket> です。」meaning "The supermarket."
「いま くじにじゅっぷんです。」meaning "Now, it is 9:20."


On time:

This material does not cover the names of the different times of the clock or dates.

However, to continue, to state a range of times or dates, you can use the following:

starting atから
ending atまで
earlierさき に
afterあと で
by the end of<deadline>まで に
before this<point in time>まえ に
still まだ
it's getting near to...そろそろ

To be a bit less specific about the time you want to talk about, you can use ぐらい after stating the time you want:
「じゅっぷんぐらいです。」means "Ten minutes, around about."

You can also use the verb かかります (or its past tense form かかりました) to talk about time spent:
「<だれか が>じゅっぷん かかりました。」means "Ten minutes spent <by someone>."

The part 「が」puts an emphasis on what comes after it. It is used as a way to put a focus on explanations, descriptions, and to clarify what the subject of the sentence means.

Intersection A: General nouns:

Like in the sentence above, sometimes it's not that you have a specific person, item, place or time you want to talk about. In this case, you can use the general nouns below:


In practice, you can use these nouns in all sorts of ways, from sarcasm all the way to preserving a sense of mystery. When using them alone to answer questions, it's easy to change what you want to convey with your body language.

If you pair your answer with a quizzical look and a bit of worried flapping, you can easily convey feeling lost about not knowing which exact person, item, place, or time you want to speak about, but if you answer with a cold tone and straight face, it may seem like you're purposely avoiding the question to dismiss the other person. If you are very excited when using them it will seem like you are very caught-up with whatever (haha!) it is that you are talking about.

Please keep this in mind when using them.


Intersection A: Manners

When meeting with others you don't know, manners can say a lot about your attitude towards sharing space with other people and how you think problems should be worked out. Simple greetings can help make the other party feel that you are treating them with respect and helps to diffuse any tension that may previously exist.

Some are more formal than others, but here are some greetings you can use in different circumstances.


Good morningおはようございます
Good afternoonこんにちは (は pronounced as 'wa')
Good eveningこんばんは (は pronounced as 'wa')
See you laterまた あと
For <reason> take care~に きをつけて <lit.: be alert>
Goodnight <before bedtime>おやすみなさい

Daily interactions:

Excuse meすみません
Sorry, excuse meしつれいします <lit.: being a bit rude here, yikes>
Thank you for this (after someone helps you)ありがとうございました
Thank you (while someone is helping you)ありがとうございます
Good work おつかれさまでした <lit.: You've really tired yourself out on this>
<noun> please ーください
<noun> if you please ーおねがいします

3. How, why

This section covers basic questions for how to do something, or to ask for an explanation. Remember that the way you ask them and when you ask them are important, manner-wise.

How? どう? (Ask with upward tone)
How should I proceed? どうしよう か。
How do I get there? どうやって? (Ask with upward tone)
Why/how come? なぜ? (Ask with upward tone)
Why is that? どうして? (Ask with upward tone)

If you want to be more polite, you can use some of the sentence patterns from the later chapters (particularly どうした ら いい?)

4. Other general nouns

So far, we have covered the different who-what-where-when-how-why words and how to make them using「 か」. We can also make general nouns out of adjectives and verbs. This will be repeated in the next few pages, but nevertheless, here is a short guide to making nouns with other words: