Japanese Kanji

なに vs. なん, How to Identify the Proper Pronunciation of 何

what-which-how-many

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)

  Meaning(s) Examples
何 + particle or
auxiliary verb
What あれはなにですか (What is that)?
なんはなしですか(What are you talking about)?
なに原因げんいんですか (What is the cause)?
何 + noun Which なにえきりますか (Which station will you get off)?
何色なにいろきですか (Which color do you like)?
何味なにあじがおすすめですか (Which flavor do you recommend)?
何 + counter How many/much  リンゴはなんありますか (How many apples are there)?
オレンジは何円なんえんですか (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)があったの? What happened?
何(なに)をしていますか? What are you doing?
まえは何(なん)ですか? What is your name?
専攻せんこうは何(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 + よう(day of the week) is the major exception. Therefore, you can consider the pronunciation as なに apart from よう.

何(なに)空港くうこうきますか? At which airport will you arrive?
何(なに)大学だいがくっていたの? Which university did you go to?
何(なに)けんきですか? Which prefecture do you like?
それは何(なん)ようですか? 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)さつほんっていますか? How many books do you have?
さらが何(なん)まいありますか? How many dishes are there?
何(なん)にんいますか? How many people are there?
何(なん)えんですか? How much is it?

 

 Conclusion

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; 何えきですか? 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.

Recommended Links

は vs. が: Five Points You Need to Know

Japanese Grammar: Proper Particles with the Causative Form

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