Lesson 1: ~ は ~ です ( ~ is ~ )
September 15, 2005
In this lesson I will lay out the basic rules for making one of the most simple statements you can in Japanese. It's also one of the most infinitely useful. Take a look at the dialogue.
Matt arrives at his Jr. High school a bit early to take care of some grading and finds something unexpected on his desk.
Yamamoto Sensei shows Matt how to figure out when and where all his classes are. He points to a large whiteboard that covers the entire back wall of the office.
何： なん (can also be なに under the right circumstances; in these dialogues it is always pronounced なん)
これ： this [thing near me]
それ： that [thing near you]
あれ： that [thing far from us both]
すみません： excuse me
か： sentence-final question particle (think of it as a verbal question mark)
みえます： able to see
こんしゅう： this week
そうなんです： Oh, I see.
あります： to have, to exist
ね： sentence-final particle that indicates the speaker's request for confirmation or agreement from the hearer about some shared knowledge (日本語基本文法辞典, pg. 286)
Matt: Yamamoto Sensei?
Yamamoto Sensei: Yes?
Matt: What are these?
Yamamoto Sensei: Those are papers.
Matt: Oh, are these the copies?
Yamamoto Sensei: Yes, those are the copies.
Yamamoto Sensei: Do you see that over there?
Matt: Yes, I see it. What is it?
Yamamoto Sensei: That is this week's schedule.
Matt: Oh, I see. We've got many classes [to teach], don't we?
The ~ は ~ です structure equates two items in Japanese the same way the word is does in English.
The two parts actually have independent functions. は marks anything it follows as the topic of the sentence. For now, know that a topic is like a subject, but the function is subtly different. Whole books have been written on the subject.
です is a standard conjugation suffix for any noun. Nouns, and even adjectives, conjugate for time just like verbs, though number and person are irrelivent for all three (nouns, verbs and adjectives). Formality and social status are important factors in conjugation instead. Don't worry though. The formality level you're learning is the one that's generally safe to use with any individual you might want to talk to. Not to mention, all nouns (and even most verbs) in Japanese are completely regular. There are no such things as stem changes among nouns. When used without a topic (an object marked with は), ~ です simply means He/She/It is ~. Pronouns exist, but are only used if you want to put emphasis on the person(s) in question.
Vocabulary that pops up very often in the dialogue are the words これ, それ and あれ. これ is your pretty standard this (n.). However, それ and あれ both translate as that (n.) in English. The difference lies in the proximity of the object in question to the person being spoken to.
For example, when Matt asks Yamamoto Sensei about the papers on his desk, Yamamoto Sensei refers to them as それ, since they are close to Matt (the person whom he is speaking to). When the two discuss the weekly schedule, however, a large whiteboard, far from both of them, both parties refer to the object as あれ, the thing far from both parties.
Nouns in Japanese have no special plural form. Sometimes plurality is indicated on pronouns, but those are infrequently used. You can also specify a specific number of items in question, but the form of the noun never changes.
Since there is no plural, これ, それ and あれ can also mean these, those and those respectively.
Ishikawa (surname): いしかわ
teacher (the profession): きょうし
A) Translate the following sentences into English.
B) Translate the following sentences into Japanese.
1. Is Yamamoto a student?
2. No, he is a teacher.
3. These are chopsticks.
4. Is that (over there) a textbook?
5. What are these?
6. Those (things near you) are copies.
7. That (over there) is a school.
8. This is the schedule.
Wow, that was a lot of work. I'll save kanji for tomorrow. じゃあ、また。
Studied Lots: Deutsch, 日本語
Current Obsession: Español