“Desu”「です」 is a tricky word.
It is one of the first words that most Japanese language students encounter, yet it is also one of the most misunderstood. Far too many people are mistakenly led to believe that it just makes a sentence polite, and although that is effectively all it does in some cases, it is so much more than that.
The truth is that much of the time, “desu”「です」 is actually a verb.
That alone doesn’t tell us the whole story, though, and ultimately, what we call it doesn’t really matter.
What matters is knowing what “desu”「です」 does in different situations.
Understanding the role of “desu”「です」 will make it much easier to determine when we should (and shouldn’t) use it, and in what form.
Perhaps more importantly, a proper understanding of “desu”「です」 will also give us a more complete picture of Japanese grammar as a whole.
In this article, I’m going to explore in depth the practical uses of “desu”「です」 and its underlying purpose in different situations.
By the end, you should have a fairly clear understanding of what “desu”「です」 is, when you should use it, and, perhaps most importantly, how it fits into the overall Japanese grammar system.
A very important (and often underrated) aspect of Japanese that will help you communicate effectively is good pronunciation.
Getting your tongue around a new language can be hard work, but the reality is that proper pronunciation is essential to speaking.
If you can speak clearly, you will be understood - even if your grammar and vocab aren't perfect.
The opposite is not true, however, as perfectly formed sentences mean nothing to a person if they can't understand the sounds coming out of your mouth.
Good pronunciation can also greatly improve your confidence, which means you’ll be more willing to put yourself out there and speak as often as possible.
Like all physical skills, the key to good pronunciation is simple...
You can't train your tongue to shape the right sounds by reading about it. The muscles need to be developed, and your ears need to be trained to identify the subtle differences too.
Although this does generally get harder with age (part of the reason immigrant kids usually have much better pronunciation than their parents), with practice, it can still be learnt.
Quite simply, the more you do it, the easier it gets, and the more natural you will sound.
Below is my detailed guide to Japanese pronunciation. It includes a thorough explanation of all the different sounds in the language, as well as audio for each sound and a few useful words to practice with.
Learning Japanese can be a bit overwhelming at times, but it ultimately boils down to a few simple rules.
Remembering and internalising those rules will give you the biggest boost on your path to fluency, because you only need to learn them once and you can then apply them every single time you speak, read, write or listen to Japanese.
It can be hard to bring yourself to study the same things over and over again, so I’ve made a handy little cheat sheet to make it easy.
Well, really, I’ve made two – one with romaji and one with hiragana. Here’s a zoomed-out look at the hiragana version:
The best part? I’m giving these cheat sheets away for free.
Just click below to get your copy of these printable PDFs, which are available in both A4 and A3 sizes.Click here to download the cheat sheet
Want more details before you download?
Read on for a quick breakdown of what’s included on the cheat sheet.
Once you have a solid understanding of Japanese sentence structure, one of the easiest ways to add a bit more description to your sentences is with the use of adverbs.
In case you’re not entirely sure, adverbs are words like “quickly”, “always” and “very” that are used to add further description to verbs, adjectives and other adverbs. They are very much like adjectives, except instead of being used to describe things (nouns), they describe actions (verbs), or add greater description to other descriptions (adjectives and other adverbs):
In this article, I’ll go over the various aspects of Japanese adverbs, including types of adverbs, how to form them, and perhaps most importantly, how to use them in a sentence. Let’s get to it.
Whether you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced speaker of Japanese, there is probably one question that keeps coming back to haunt you:
What is the difference between “wa” and “ga”「は」 and 「が」?
You’ve probably asked about it, maybe even compared a whole range of sentences trying to figure it out, but with no satisfying conclusion.
And do you know why you can never get a simple, straightforward answer?
Because it’s the wrong question to ask.
It does have an answer, but it doesn’t really tell the whole story.
Of course, there’s no way you could have known this. I certainly didn’t, and for a long time had the same trouble finding an answer that really made sense to me.
One day, however, when I was studying at a university in Japan, one of my teachers started talking about these things called “kaku joshi”「格助詞」, or “case-marking particles”. These are a specific subset of particles that, for the most part, are the main particles we use in everyday Japanese – “de”「で」, “wo”「を」, “ni”「に」, and a few others.
But not “wa”「は」.
As she explained more, it became obvious why I could never get a clear answer. The problem was that instead of trying to figure out the difference between “wa” and “ga”「は」 and 「が」, I should have been asking…
What is the true purpose of “wa”「は」?
We know it defines the topic, but what exactly is that? And why do we use it in some situations but not others?
Understand this, and the choice between “wa” and “ga”「は」 and 「が」 becomes considerably easier, while also giving you a deeper understanding of the mindset behind the Japanese language as a whole.
Hopefully this article will help you see “wa”「は」 for what it really is, and as a result, be better equipped to choose between “wa” and “ga”「は」 and 「が」.