Introduction to Japanese: Volume 1

Chapter 16


We now reach the last chapter of our series! This time, we will learn how use both direct speech and indirect speech, that is, how to report something you heard or read to someone else, as well as how to state thoughts and ideas, and will learn the basics of using subordinate clauses in Japanese.

Direct speech

Direct or quoted speech is used when you report the exact words as spoken or written. You are basically repeating the words you heard or read somewhere verbatim to someone else, as in the example (English only) below:

Tanaka-sensei: Tomorrow we will have an exam.
Hiroki: What did the professor say?
Doudou: She said “Tomorrow, we will have an exam”.

We can apply the same idea and basic structure of the Direct speech in English in Japanese. To do so, simply 1) enclose the message or sentence between Japanese quotation marks, 2) add the quoting particle と, and 3) follow it with an appropriate verb (a verb such as 言います, “to say”, or 聞きます, “to ask”), normally in the past tense. The basic structure of the Direct Speech, therefore, is as follows:

Speaker は 「Sentence」 と Verb

Let’s check the example above again, now written in Japanese:


Note that in Japanese, instead of the “quotation marks” we use in English and other Western languages, we use 「かぎかっこ」, that is, these L-shaped bars enclosing the statement being quoted. If you are curious, this is because the “quotation marks” you are accustomed with could be mistaken for the だくてん, that is, that symbol that is used to change は into ば or か into が.

彼女は “明日雨が降りますよ” と言った。

She said “Tomorrow it will rain”.

And if you are still curious, the Japanese equivalent to the single quotation marks used when quoting text within text are the 『しろかっこ』.

Further examples:

彼は彼女に「君の瞳に乾杯」と言った。 (He told her “here’s looking at you, kid”.)

彼らは「フォースと共にあらんことを」と言いました。(They said “May the force be with you”.)

Indirect or Reported speech

As in English, however, direct speech is more often used for literary works or otherwise written language rather than spoken Japanese. When speaking, we more commonly resort to reported or indirect speech, that is, without quoting the sentences or utterances as explicitly as is done in direct speech. Our first example would become therefore as below:

Tanaka-sensei: Tomorrow we will have an exam.
Hiroki: What did the professor say?
Doudou: She said that we will have an exam tomorrow.

In Japanese, the main difference between Direct speech and Indirect speech is that the indirect speech is always reported in the plain form; leave the quoting verb to indicate the politeness of the sentence.

Speaker は Sentence (in Plain Form) と Verb


Another thing you have to bear in mind when using indirect speech is to make appropriate changes to the sentence being reported, such as changing verb tenses or pronouns. I know I am repeating myself a lot, but it is worth reminding you that this is just as you would do in English.

Hiroki: I cannot go to the party tomorrow.

Doudou: Hiroki said he could not go to the party.

Basically, in the indirect speech sentence above, we changed the verb 行けます from the polite form to the plain form; substituted the pronoun “I” from the original sentence for “Hiroki”; and omitted the time-referencing word “tomorrow” (perhaps because Doudou was speaking in a different day than the original sentence, or even after the part had happened).

Remember that if the sentence you are quoting ends with a noun or a な-adjective, you need to use だ and its equivalents ではない、だった and ではなかった to put it into the plain form. Also, remember that when indirectly quoting someone, you may use polite language markers when applicable.

Midori: My birthday is Thursday.

Kayoko: Midori said that her birthday was Thursday.

Further examples:

He told me he sees dead people.

They told Houston they had a problem.

She told me I had her at hello.

Stating thoughts and ideas

If you use the same formula above but use the verb “to think” instead of “to say”, “to inform” or “to ask”, you can express thoughts, feelings, opinions and guesses in Japanese.


Midori: What do you think about this restaurant?
Kayoko: I think (this restaurant) is nice.


Doudou: Are you going to class today?
Hiroki: I do not think I am going. I think I am not well.


Hiroki: Do you think it is going to rain today?
Kayoko: Hm, I do not think it will rain.

Note that, in all above examples, the negation is placed within the quoted sentence and the verb 思います is used in the affirmative tense (while it is possible to use 思わない, it is used more often to convey doubt or uncertainty). Also, note that the subject (私は) is commonly omitted, as と思う is understood to refer to the speaker’s own thoughts.

Doudou: (I) do not think I will meet Tanaka-sensei today.

Hiroki: (I) think Sapporo is cold.

Midori: (I) do not think that I will have time to have lunch today.

Toto, I think we are not in Kansas anymore.

Using Subordinate clauses in Japanese

One of the great things about learning languages is that as you learn new things and acquire more knowledge, you end up learning things without noticing. In this case we can build upon our studies on quoting to learn how to use subordinate clauses in Japanese.

You see, the cool thing about sentences such as “He said he could not go to the party” and “I think this restaurant is nice” all use subordinate clauses, that is, a clause that complements or provides another clause with additional information, but which cannot stand alone on its own. In the English sentence “I think this restaurant is nice”, “this restaurant is nice” serves as the object of the main clause verb “think”. The same logic applies to Japanese! In ヒロキはパーティーに行けないと言った, the bolded part works as the direct object of the verb 言う.

In Japanese, you can connect clauses directly to nouns to modify them as if they were adjectives. This is similar to what we did with the verb above, except that we do not add the particle と this time as we are not quoting someone.

People who smoke have high cancer rates.

In the sentence above, たばこを吸う means, by itself, “smoke tobacco”. By connecting it directly to the noun 人, we have “People who smoke”.

The book I read yesterday was very interesting.

People who go to Brazil have a lot of fun.

A day without Japanese lessons is a sad day, isn’t it?

I think that students who do not study properly cannot enter university.

As you can see, by modifying nouns through connecting clauses, you can make more complex sentences and better express yourself. Just remember that, in order to connect verb clauses to nouns, the connecting verb must be in the plain form; politeness, once again, is shown by the last verb. The following sentences therefore are all ungrammatical.





This is it, our final Kanji section in this initial series! Slowly but surely, you have built an impressive mount of vocabulary and knowledge of the Chinese characters throughout these articles. By my count, with the four Kanji we are learning today, we complete a total of 100 characters learned!

This beautiful Kanji means, quite tellingly in my opinion, “rain”. The 訓読み (Japanese reading) of this verb is あめ, and appear in words such as 大雨おおあめ (heavy rain) and the pair 雨女あめおんな (woman who always rain when she appears) and 雨男あめおとこ (man who always rain when he appears) – some people are just unlucky!

The 音読み (Chinese reading) is う, appearing in compounds such as 豪雨ごうう (torrential rain), 雷雨らいう (thunderstorm) and 雨林うりん (rain forest). There are also some words with exceptional readings, such as 小雨こさめ (light rain) and 梅雨つゆ (rainy season).

Finally, note that this Kanji also works as a radical for many, many rain and weather related-characters, such as 雲 (cloud), 雷 (thunder), 雪 (snow) and 霧 (mist).

Sample sentence: 明日、雨がるととおもう. (I think that tomorrow it will rain.)

This Kanji means “fall”. The 訓読み are ふ and お, appearing in words such as りる (to descend, to get off) and る (to precipitate, to rainfall). The 音読み is こう, appearing in words such as 以降いこう (hereafter) and 降雪こうせつ (snowfall).

Sample sentence: 次の駅に地下鉄ちかてつからります. (I get off the subway in the next station.)

Sample sentence: 明日、雨がるとおもう. (I think that tomorrow it will rain.)

This Kanji means “thought”. The 訓読み is おも, appearing on the verb おもう (to think) and the nouns おもいやり (consideration, sympathy), おも (memories), 思惑おもわく (expectation, prediction) and the adverb おもわず (unintentionally, instinctively).

The 音読み is し, and is also used in many words, as seen in 意思いし (intention, purpose), 思考しこう (thought) and 思想しそう (idea, ideology).

Sample sentence: かれは思いやりがない. (He has no consideration for others.)

Sample sentence: 明日、雨が降ると思う. (I think that tomorrow it will rain.)

This Kanji means “letter”, “literature”, or “art”. You can safely ignore the 訓読み, ふみ or あや, and concentrate on the 音読み ぶん and もん, which appear in a lot of words, including 文化ぶんか (culture), 文学ぶんがく (literature), 文明ぶんめい (civilisation), 文書ぶんしょ (document, writing), 文章ぶんしょう (sentence), 文句もんく (complaint), 文法ぶんぽう (grammar) and the slightly exceptional 文字もじ (letter of the alphabet).

And with such a scholarly character, we leave you and wish you all the best in your future studies in Japanese!

Sample sentence: 文法ぶんぽうをぜひ勉強してくださいね!(Please do not forget to study grammar!)

Sample sentence: 文書ぶんしょもよく読んでください!(Also read a lot of materials, please!)