In spoken Japanese, 何 can be pronounced as 「なに」 and 「なん」. The official reading is なに, but this sometimes changes from なに to なん. If you have ever been confused with the usage, don’t worry! There is a certain rule to follow and that is what you will learn in this article.
Ultimate Explanation for なに vs. なん
Basic Idea of 何 (なに and なん)
|何 + particle or
|What||あれは何ですか (What is that)?
何の話ですか(What are you talking about)?
何が原因ですか (What is the cause)?
|何 + noun||Which||何駅で降りますか (Which station will you get off)?
何色が好きですか (Which color do you like)?
何味がお薦めですか (Which flavor do you recommend)?
|何 + counter||How many/much||リンゴは何個ありますか (How many apples are there)?
オレンジは何円ですか (How much is the orange)?
As you can see from the table above, 何 has very important functions when it comes to asking a question. However, it’s easy to identify the meaning by looking at the following word.
How to Use なに and なん in Place
何 + particle or auxiliary verb
It’s also easy to identify whether 何 should be pronounced as なに or なん by looking at the following word. It’s always pronounced as なん if the letter after 何 is part of the Ta line (た ち つ て と), Da line (だ ぢ づ で ど), and Na line (な に ぬ ね の). Otherwise, you always pronounce 何 as なに. That’s easy, isn’t it? Let’s check some example sentences below.
|何(なに)をしていますか？||What are you doing?|
|名前は何(なん)ですか？||What is your name?|
|専攻は何(なん)なの？||What is your major?|
何 + noun
This is easier than above. 何 + noun is usually pronounced as なに except for a few exceptions. However, from the view of a native speaker, we think 何 + 曜日(day of the week) is the major exception. Therefore, you can consider the pronunciation as なに apart from 曜日.
|何(なに)空港に着きますか？||At which airport will you arrive?|
|何(なに)大学に行っていたの？||Which university did you go to?|
|何(なに)県が好きですか？||Which prefecture do you like?|
|それは何(なん)曜日ですか？||Which day (of the week) is it?|
何 + counter
This is actually much easier than above. 何 + counter is always pronounced なん. There is no exception.
|何(なん)冊、本を持っていますか？||How many books do you have?|
|お皿が何(なん)枚ありますか？||How many dishes are there?|
|何(なん)人いますか？||How many people are there?|
|何(なん)円ですか？||How much is it?|
|何（なに）||何 + noun, 何 + particle or auxiliary (general)|
|何（なん）||何 + counter, 何 + particle or auxiliary before Ta, Da, Na lines (exceptional)|
This is the summary. One important thing here is that the meaning will change depending on the pronunciation. This question; 何駅ですか？ can be either “Which station is it?” or “How many stations are there?”. If you want to ask “which”, you need to pronounce なに and if you want to ask “how many”, you need to pronounce なん. Let’s give this a try.