So you don't know any Japanese, but you like listening to the original Japanese
dialogue more than English when watching anime. Even without knowing the language,
if you listen to the last syllable of a sentence, you can often get a very good
feel for the character's personality and tone.
Japanese has these things called sentence-final particles. They aren't words,
and many of them don't have any real grammatical purpose. They're single syllables
that are tacked on to the end of sentences to set the tone and show personality.
There is no equivalent in English, and they are impossible to translate. Translators
simply drop them when changing the sentence to English, and you lose all the
information that comes with them.
So here are the major ones. Even if you think you know one, (everyone thinks
they know "ne"), read it anyway. You might be suprised.
The first particle anyone ever learns in Japanese class. "Who
are you?" (Dare desu ka?) Ka is a question
mark. It's that simple. In polite textbook Japanese you use it like
However, in informal Japanese, ka is often dropped. The
"who" in the above implies a question. There's no need for
ka, so it's natural to drop it. In informal speech, therefore,
keeping ka anyway is a statement that you're being
purposely direct. "I'm not dancing around, I'm asking you directly."
This feeling of directness makes it mildly masculine.
There is also kai, which is a very very strong, very
male, yes/no version of ka.
Yo is an exclamation point. Also simple. There is however
one major difference between the English exclamation point and the Japanese
In English, you can say "Good morning!" or "No!"
with an explanation point. In Japanese, yo can only be
used if you're making a sentence and conveying information. "I
am not a crook!" "I like little girls!" "Your mom's
a cow!" can all use yo, but you can't use it like
"konnichiwa yo!" to mean "Good afternoon!" in Japanese.
Argh, the most widely misused particle ever, especially
among the American anime fan crowd. Ne is a tag question,
similar to sticking "...right?" or "...isn't it?"
at the end of a sentence in English. Just like English, it can be used
both as a question ("It is, isn't it?") and a statement ("It
is, isn't it.") In polite textbook Japanese, which is what's taught
in Japanese classes, there's no problem with this.
Here's the problem. Ne is a sentence softener,
like adding Snugglesoft dryer sheets to what you're trying to say. In
informal Japanese, softening your sentence is the same as feminizing
it. Men and women speak very differently in informal Japanese. Constantly
tacking "ne?" to the end of your sentences as
a guy, unless you're speaking in polite classroom Japanese, is going
to make people start to think you swing "that way." If you
ever hear a guy saying ne informally, because they don't
want to sound too male, it's going to be da ne, which
is a way of conveying informal male directness counterbalanced with
the softening effect of ne.
Why do American anime fans overuse this? Because almost every cute
little girl in anime (and there's always one) drops ne
every other sentence in a bubbly display of hyper feminine cuteness,
and Americans don't realize men and women speak informal Japanese differently.
So now we have an entire continent of swishy-sounding anime fans. It's
really pretty embarassing.
Na is the male ne. It is mildly male and
seldom used by women unless they're trying to sound a little gruff.
You use it exactly the same way as ne. You can tack it
to the end of a sentence as a question ("...isn't it?") or
as a statement ("...isn't it.") You can even use it alone.
Sometimes you'll hear Japanese guys talking, and after they say something,
it'll be "Na?" "Na!"
You can drag it out to really convey additional emotion. "Daaamn
that girl's cute, isn't she..." (aitsu sugge- bijin da naaa...)
No is also a sentence softener. It's not really a sentence
final particle, but explaining the grammar behind it would take too
long. For now, realize that it's just a way of softening a sentence
or question, and therefore it has strong feminine undertones. Women
will often end question sentences with no. Men who want
to use it to soften a question without sounding too swishy will counterbalance
it, "no ka?" similar to the counterbalancing
effect of "da ne?"
You can either use it as a question particle, or a statement particle,
similar to ne.
Finally, something for women. Wa is the ultimate sentence
softener - the ultimate feminine particle, like the female counterpart
to zo, (which is coming next.) Guys, stay the hell
away from this particle, because there is no way to use it without
sounding like a spectacular flamer.
(Sort of. In Osaka dialect, men and women both use wa,
but this is rare to hear in anime outside of the token comic relief
character from Osaka. Sometimes they won't use it anyway, because it
just sounds too feminine to the rest of the country.)
Sa is the hardest particle to explain. Because of this,
it's practically impossible to find any website or book that really
explains it well. But here goes anyway.
The best way to explain sa is with an example from English.
What does it mean to start a sentence with "Well..." in English?
The word "well" itself has no real meaning, so you can't define
it. What's the difference between "I'll be going now" and
"Well, I'll be going now?"
In English, "well" indicates that you have given a situation
some thought, and the sentence that follows is some kind of conclusion
that you've come to. The "well" in "Well, I should be
going" means you've thought about what's going on, you've realized
it's late, and you gotta get up early tomorrow, and your conclusion
is you need to go.
Sa in Japanese has this same meaning. The person has
thought about the situation, and has come to some sort of conclusion.
Of course sa comes at the end of a sentence, not the beginning,
so it's in the opposite place from "well." In the final bit
of wackyness, you can also tack on no and make no
sa? which now carries the "I thought about it" meaning
of sa but puts it in a question. The closest English equivalent
would be "So I guess ....... ?" or what have you. You can
also use sa alone as an answer to a question, which is
a completely noncommittal response. "What should we do now?"
"Saaa..." "So do you think she's over 18?"
"Saaa..." both come across sounding like "I
dunno," "Who cares?"
It typically takes people quite awhile to wrap their brains around
how sa works, and beginners to the language are better
off not trying to use it.
Zo is harsh. Very harsh. There is no other particle
more strongly male and abrasive. It is used exactly the same as yo,
except only when you want to say something in the strongest
possible terms, like right before you kick someone in the face, or
smash them to tiny pieces with a giant robot.
Women, stay far, far away from this particle unless you want to sound
like a major tomboy.
Guys who use zo constantly are trying to sound extremely
tough. So much, that you will rarely hear it used all that much outside
of manga or anime.
Ze is a little harder to explain. It's weaker than zo
in terms of sheer abrasiveness, and is almost like a combination of
zo and ne. It is strongly male, so
stay away from it ladies, but it's not as rude as zo.
Anime example. Super dangerous mission, hero dude likely won't come
back alive. Someone asks "Who will do it?" "Ore yaru
ze." ("I'll do it.") It's stronger, more male, and
cooler sounding than yo, but if you said "Ore
yaru zo!" you'd probably get peoples' eyebrows climbing up
through their foreheads. ("Well, you don't have to be that
Ze used to be all the rage in Japan, but it was overused
and has recently started to fall out of popularity. Still used constantly
in manga and anime though.
Q: Then what's with the way you sometimes hear more
than one of these things at the end of a sentence?
A: You can mix and match.
Women will often stick wa before other particles, like
wa ne to make an even more feminine version of ne,
or wa yo (see left picture) to emphasize something but still
You'll hear yo ne a lot, which is basically ne
with an explanation point. "...isn't it!" Again, men will usually
counterbalance the softness of this with da yo ne or just
use yo na instead.
ka yo is a question, with an explanation point. This isn't the
equivalent of "?!?!" like you would expect. Instead, it makes a rhetorical
question, or a really snide sarcastic question.
ka na is used so often it's almost it's own grammar construct.
It's a question, but with the "...isn't it?" feeling of na.
The best way to translate it is "I wonder if..." Note that women use
it too. For some obscure reason, you can't say ka ne, so in this
instance women will use ka na too.
Q: So what the hell is up with Naruto's wierd habit
of ending sentences with " ttebayo " ?
A: This is a new one. The author simply made it up. However, almost
all new words like this come from manga, end up being used by kids who read
it, and then it becomes a standard word a few years later. We'll see what happens
In normal Japanese, 'tte is an informal way of marking a quote,
almost like a verbal version of "" . 'tteba is used
when you're emphasizing something you've previously said:
|"Want some cookies?"
"Are you sure?"
"(I said) No thanks!" <- This would have 'tteba at the end of it
Naruto then adds yo to it, to make it even more emphasized.
He's not quoting something he previously said, but he's using the 'ttebayo
construct anyway to super over-emphasize all of his sentences, even ones
that don't need emphasis.
Q: What about "degozaru" then? Kenshin uses
it, and I hear it a lot.
A: degozaru isn't a sentence final particle really, as much as
it is old Japanese. These days people use "desu," "da,"
or "de gozaimasu," but years and years ago samurai used degozaru.
It's not translatable, because it basically only means "is," but you
could express the same meaning by having the character speak with "doth"
and "thou" etc. If a character is using degozaru, they're
likely using sessha to refer to themselves and onushi
to refer to others.