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How To Correctly Omit Words in Japanese


How to correctly omit words in Japanese

Welcome back to our “Video & Article” series with tutor Miki. In this article and video Miki will show you how to omit certain words in your Japanese sentence to make your spoken Japanese sound more natural. Stop learning how Japanese is spoken in theory, and learn how Japanese people actually talk!

Table of Contents

[Removing the subject]

[Removing possessive determinators]


As in most any language, if you speak Japanese too perfectly, you will sound like a textbook, but not like an actual Japanese person speaking Japanese. Of course learning the correct sentence structure and grammar in the beginning is important, but if you reach an intermediate level you might start playing around with making your Japanese more natural.
You may have noticed that most Japanese sentences completely omit words like “I” or “You”, as well as some particles. Today we will take a look at how to omit words correctly from Japanese sentences to make it sound more casual and natural.

[Removing the subject]

One of the most common omissions in the Japanese language is removing the subject, especially when it is used to indicate the first person.
A correct sentence often does not require a subject in Japanese, since the subject is usually implied in the context of the conversation.

For example:

A: I have a stomach ache.

The literal translation would be:

A: わたしはお(なか)(いた)い。。

However, “わたしはお(なか)(いた)い。” sounds unnatural, because the subject is usually omitted in Japanese, and defining it here with “は” makes it sound like you are contrasting your stomach ache (check out this article about “は” and “が” to find out more about these two particles) to somebody else.

So if you say “わたしはお(なか)(いた)い。”, it implies the meaning “I for one (as compared to others) have a stomach ache”.

In the following sentence, using the subject with “は” is correct:

A: I (for one) have a headache.
B: I (for one) injured my knee, so my knee hurts.
C: I (for one) have a stomach ache.

A: わたしは(あたま)がいたい。
B: (ぼく)(ひざ)をけがしたから、(ひざ)(いた)い。
C: わたしはお(なか)(いた)い。。

In this case, everyone compares their maladies with one another, so using “は” with the subject makes sense.

If you do not want to contrast or emphasise anything, omitting the subject and the particle “は” leads to the most natural sentence:

My stomach hurts.

Don’t worry to much about being overly precise. If the subject is really unclear and the other person wants to know what you are talking about, they will ask.

B: (だれ)が?
B: Who?

And then you can emphasise and say “わたしです” or “わたしはお(なか)(いた)い。”.

[Removing possessive determinators]

Possessive determinators like “わたしの”/my, mine, “あなたの”/your, yours, “(かれ)の”/his and “彼女(かのじょ)の”/hers can also be omitted in most cases.

For example:

A: He took out his wallet from his bag and he paid for an expensive piece of jewelry for his crush.

… literally translates to:

A: (かれ)(かれ)財布(さいふ)(かれ)のカバンから()し、(かれ)(かれ)()きな()のために(たか)宝石(ほうせき)支払(しはら)いをした。

However, all these possessive determinators which are necessary in English just make the sentence convoluted and overly long in Japanese, and sounds very unnatural. All elements of “(かれ)は” and “(かれ)の” can be omitted as long as they are clear in context.

The above Japanese sentence can be cleaned up to:

A: 財布(さいふ)をカバンから()し、()きな()のために(たか)宝石(ほうせき)支払(しはら)いをした。

So the next time someone asks you, “Can you please introduce yourself?”, you can say:

I’m Gabriel from the United States.

Instead of “わたしは((くに)出身(しゅっしん)の(名前(なまえ))です。”

Also you say say:

I came to Japan for travel.

… rather than “わたしは日本(にっぽん)旅行(りょこう)()ました”.

Omitting specific elements from your speech which might be a necessary part in your mother language may be confusing at first. Japanese sentences can be vague because of all these omissions. This is why Japanese language as a unique characteristic which is sometimes referred to as “阿吽(あうん)呼吸(こきゅう)交流(こうりゅう)する言語(げんご)”, which means that means that the language is communicating through balancing out and perceiving nuances and subtle hints.

That is all for today’s lesson! If you have any questions about this topic, don’t forget that you can always book a lesson with our qualified Japanese tutors.

単語たんごリスト(Vocabulary list)
文法(ぶんぽう) Grammar
(ただ)しい Right, correct
きっちり Precisely, punctually
常用(じょうよう)する To use habitually, to use daily
文法的(ぶんぽうてき) Grammatical
親近感(しんきんかん) Affinity
財布(さいふ) Wallet
宝石(ほうせき) Jewel, gem

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