Basic conversation

In this lesson you will learn to communicate with basic sentences and learn how they are built in Japanese. You will learn about the present, past and future as well as negative and interrogative.

You are expected to be fluent in hiragana and katakana before going at this lesson, otherwise please review them thoroughly.

Sentence structure

A sentence in Japanese has the subject first, then the object(s) and finally the verb. The subject can be omitted and it will be implied from context, and the verb can be omitted as well and it'll mean "to be". For this English sentence:

I am Francisco.

In Japanese it'd be translated as:


This is the decomposition of that sentence:

  • わたし(私): the pronoun "I"
  • は: particle that indicates the preceding thing is the subject
  • フランシスコ: "Francisco" in katakana
  • です: formal particle in the end; no need for "to be", it is implied.

Personal pronouns in Japanese are a complex topic, so we will use 私(わたし) for "I", and for "you" and "he/she" we will omit them or use the name or last name of the person instead. This is the common way of addressing people in Japanese.

The general structure for "I am __" is:


Let's see some examples.

I am Spanish:


You (Tanaka) are Japanese:


He is a man


This & that

In Japanese there are three positional pronouns where in English there is only "this and that":

  • これ: this
  • それ: that (near the listener)
  • あれ: that (far away from both speakers)

This is a book:


However, when you want to speak about "this ___" the form changes:

  • この〜
  • その〜
  • あの〜

I like that bag:


This book is old:



When we want to say the opposite, "I am not __", then we use:


Sentence parts follow the same pattern, first the word and then a particle that affects that word. These particles are really varied and a particle can have different meanings. Some examples:

  • わたしは: "は" for the subject
  • わたしが: "が" for the object, similar to "to me" or "for me"
  • わたしの: "の" possesive "my" or more literally "of mine"
  • レストランへ: "へ" similar to "to", for a place you are moving towards
  • レストランで: "で" for a place you are in

If I wanted to say "my dog is really cute" I could say it this way:


Exercise: say 3 different things that you are and 3 things that you are not in Japanese. Use a Google translate to search for the adjectives and/or nouns. Example: "I am an engineer".

Exercise: describe 3 things that you have. Example: "My book is easy".

Asking questions

To ask a question add "か" to the end of the sentence. This is the equivalent of "?" in Japanese. You can build simple sentences with this, for instance asking "am I Francisco?":


However, soon we want to start to ask more elaborate, open-ended questions.  For this we will also need interrogation particles. Let's ask "what is your name?":


  • なまえ(名前): "name"
  • は: subject particle
  • なん(何): "what"
  • ですか: polite question termination

In this sentence, "you" should be implied by the context.

Past verbs

To say something that has already happened, you would change the termination of the verb:

すしをたべます => すしをたべました

I eat sushi => I ate sushi