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Are you ready to start speaking Japanese, right now?
Even if you just thought about learning Japanese today, you can start speaking from Day 1!
Whether you are learning Japanese to prepare for travel to Japan, or for a language exchange, it’s a good idea to learn Japanese essential words and phrases to get the ball rolling. I’ve got your back with this list to help you get started!
Japanese Words for Beginners: An Essential List
- Yes: はい (hai)
- No: いいえ (iie)
- Hello: こんにちは (konnichiwa)
- Goodbye: じゃね (ja ne)
- Thank you: ありがとう (arigatou)
- I’m Sorry: ごめんなさい (gomen nasai)
- Excuse me: すみません (sumimasen)
Learn more: Japanese Greetings: 17 Ways to Say “Hello” in Japanese
- I: 私 (watashi)
- You: あなた (anata)
- This: これ (kore)
- That: それ (sore)
- He: 彼 (kare)
- She: 彼女 (kanojo)
- They: 彼ら (karera)
Learn more: Japanese Honorifics: How to Show Respect in Japanese
- One: いち (ichi)
- Two: に (ni)
- Three: さん (san)
- Four: し (shi) or よん (yon)
- Five: ご (go)
- Six: ろく (roku)
- Seven: なな (nana) or しち (shichi)
- Eight: はち (hachi)
- Nine: く (ku) or きゅう (kyuu)
- Ten: じゅう (juu)
Learn more: Japanese Numbers: Counting in Japanese from 1 – 100+
Time in Japanese:
- Today: 今日 (kyou)
- Tomorrow: 明日 (ashita)
- Yesterday: 昨日 (kinou)
- Now: 今 (ima)
- Before: 前に (mae ni)
- Later: 後で (ato de)
Learn more: The Ultimate Guide to Japanese Particles (with Examples)
- Home: 家 (ie or uchi)
- Shop: 店 (mise)
- Movie: 映画 (eiga)
- School: 学校 (gakkou)
- Car: 車 (kuruma)
- Town: 町 (machi)
- Music: 音楽 (ongaku)
- Family: 家族 (kazoku)
- Hometown: 出身 (shusshin)
- Bathroom: トイレ (toire)
*Learn more: 101 Core Japanese Words: The Most Commonly Used Words in Japanese
- To do: する (suru)
- To be: です (desu)
- To become: なる (naru)
- There is (inanimate): ある (aru)
- There is (living): いる (iru)
- To go: 行く (iku)
- To say: 言う (iu)
- To see: 見る (miru)
- To come: 来る (kuru)
- To eat: 食べる (taberu)
*Learn more: Japanese Grammar Made Easy: A Step-by-Step Guide
Getting Started Speaking Japanese
Even though I speak often now with Japanese language exchange partners, it wasn’t always that way. I found it hard to speak Japanese at first, too.
It can be a bit intimidating to know where to begin. Any time you learn a new language, especially one where the writing system is very different, it can become difficult to make the connections between grammar, memorized words, and creating sentences.
Don’t get too stressed about it, though. These basic Japanese words and phrases helped me start to get to know others in Japanese.
And that’s the whole point, isn’t it?
Learning some stock phrases and words to fall back on to keep the conversation going or ask questions is the key to relaxing a bit when speaking.
So, of course you must know your essential 挨拶 (aisatsu: “greetings”) and basic Japanese words.
By the way, if you’re wondering “How do you say ‘words’ in Japanese,” it’s 単語 (tango) or 言葉 (kotoba). The only difference is kotoba is used to express the plural form “words” and can also mean “phrases.” Tango is used mainly for the singular form, “word.”
Below, I’ll also go over questions, cool Japanese words, and cute Japanese words and expressions to go far in your speaking.
Once you've learned these Japanese words, you’ll sound めっちゃかっこい (meccha kakkoi: “very cool”).
Editor's note: before we get started, if you’re looking for an online Japanese course, here’s the course I actually recommend: Japanese Uncovered – Learn Japanese Through the Power of Story, a course with a fascinating new method.
Japanese Words and Phrases for Beginners:
Want to hear how these words and phrases sound, plus some bonus tips? Watch this video:
Japanese Greetings for Everyday
おはようございます！ (Ohayou gozaimasu: “Good morning!”)
A formal way to greet someone in the morning, you’ll use this with co-workers, strangers, or superiors. With friends and family, you can shorten it by saying おはよう！(Ohayou, “‘Morning!”)
こんにちは (Konnichiwa: “Hello” or “Good afternoon”)
This is a formal greeting, and not usually how you greet friends and family. It’s used for strangers or formal situations. But it’s the most standard greeting for hello.
あー、＿＿＿さん。(Ahh, _-san: “Ah, Mr./Mrs. _”)
Although it may sound strange to speakers in English, greeting someone with “Ah!” like you’re surprised to see someone is most common.
You greet them with this exclamation and their name, followed by the appropriate suffix (“-san” is standard and good to use for most people). You follow it with a question, like asking about the weather.
Speaking of which…
いい天気ですね！(Ii tenki desu ne: “Good weather, huh!”)
いい (ii) means “good” and 天気 (tenki) means weather. So you can change いい to whatever word fits the day, but this is the common greeting.
元気ですか (Genki desu ka: “How are you?”)
Although it’s instinct to always greet everyone with “How are you?” in English, it’s not the case in Japanese.
Greeting your friends and family with this phrase every time you see them is a bit strange. And it’s awkward when said to strangers (often strangers barely nod and say nothing, anyway).
This phrase is actually only used when it’s been quite some time since you’ve seen the person.
久しぶり！(Hisashiburi: “Long time, no see!”)
If you haven’t seen someone for about 3 weeks or longer, then you’ll often be greeted with 久しぶり (hisashiburi)! This is when it’s good to follow up with, 元気ですか (genki desu ka).
こんばんは (Konbanwa: “Good evening”)
This is said in the evening around dinner time. It’s a formal greeting.
おやすみなさい (Oyasumi nasai: “Goodnight”)
When you say goodnight to someone you’re close to, you can shorten it by saying おやすみ (oyasumi: “‘night!”)
じゃまた (Ja Mata: “See you later” or “Goodbye”)
Although you probably know さようなら (sayounara) is “goodbye,” it has a very strong sense of finality, almost like you may not see that person again.
So it’s often better to say じゃまた (ja mata).
Other variations are じゃね (ja ne: “see you”), バイバイ (baibai: “bye-bye”), and お元気で (o-genki de: “take care”).
Other Aisatsu (Greetings) in Daily Life
ただいまー (Tadaima-: “I’m home”)
When someone comes home, or you arrive home, you announce it with this phrase. Then, whoever is home replies…
おかえりなさい (Okaeri nasai: “Welcome home” or “Welcome back”)
You can also use these two phrases to greet a coworker if they’ve returned back to work from somewhere else, like a business meeting or trip.
失礼します (Shitsurei shimasu: “Please excuse me (for leaving)”)
When you leave ahead of someone else, you say this as an apology for leaving before them.
Especially at work, you always want to say this before leaving because you’re leaving them to finish the work for the day.
お疲れ様でした (Otsukaresama deshita: “Thanks for your hard work”)
You say this in reply to 失礼します (“please excuse me for leaving”) as a thank you for their hard work that day, but it can be used in many other situations.
Any time anyone works hard, you can say this to acknowledge their hard work — like a child who did well and finished their homework. You can also use it as a greeting when someone returns from a hard task.
行ってきます (Ittekimasu: “I’m going”)
Say this to family at home, friends, or co-workers to announce you’re heading out.
行ってらっしゃい (Itterasshai: “Go and come back”)
In reply to 行ってきます (ittekimasu, “I’m going”), you say this — it's kind of like saying, “Be careful!” or “Okay, take care” and lets them know you’ll see them when they get back.
Basic Japanese Words and Phrases for All Situations
- ありがとうございます (arigatou gozaimasu): “Thank you”
- ごめんなさい (gomen nasai): “I’m sorry”
- はい or うん (Hhai or un): “Yes” (formal and informal)
- いいえ or ううん (iie or uun): “No” (formal and informal)
- 名前は_ (namae wa _): “My name is _”
- _ です。(desu): “I am” (*See note below)
- いいですよ。(ii desu yo): “It’s good.”
- だめです。(dame desu): “It’s bad.”
- もう一度お願いします。(mou ichido onegai shimasu): “Again, please.”
- ゆっくりお願いします (yukkuri onegai shimasu): “More slowly, please”
- わかりません (wakarimasen): “I don’t understand”
- 良かった (yokatta): “Great!” or “I’m glad!”
- すみません (sumimasen): “Excuse me”
- どういたしまして (Dou itashimashite): “You’re welcome”
- 少し日本語を話します (Sukoshi nihongo wo hanashimasu): “I speak a little Japanese”
- また会いましょう (Mata aimashou): “Let’s meet again!”
Please in Japanese: どうぞ、お願いします、ください (Douzo, Onegai Shimasu, Kudasai)
The word for “please” changes with intent.
どうぞ (douzo) is the most straight forward. You use this word when you are offering something to someone else. Like, “お先にどうぞ” (osaki ni douzo: “Please, you first” or “Please, after you”).
お願いします (onegai shimasu) and ください (kudasai) are almost interchangeable but have different formality.
お願いします is used to ask a request of someone with higher status than you, or for a service (because those offering services are usually considered to have higher status). So if you make a request of your boss, or take a taxi ride, you would use お願いします.
ください is used when you ask a request of someone close to you, like a friend, or when what you ask for is expected, like when ordering at a restaurant.
You also use ください whenever the verb it follows is in て-form, like ちょっと待ってください (chotto matte kudasai: “please wait”), no matter the formality.
About Desu in Japanese
If you’ve listened to Japanese at all, you probably have wondered “what means desu?” Because you hear the word “desu” ALL the time.
That’s because です (desu) means “is, to be.” It’s often used at the end of sentences, and can complete a sentence by adding a noun.
You can add anything to describe yourself before です.
You could say 二十七歳です (ni juu nana sai desu: “I am 27 years old”), アメリカ人です (amerikajin desu: “I am American”), or 作家です (sakka desu: “I am a writer”).
You could also use it to describe other things, like いいほんです (ii hon desu: “A good book”).
Japanese Questions to Boost Your Conversation
With any question word, you can use a raised inflection at the last syllable to express that it’s a question. But, more formally, you can add the Japanese equivalent of a question mark: ですか (desu ka).
Let’s start with the basics:
- 誰 (dare): “Who?”
- 何 (nani or nan): “What?”
- いつ (itsu): “When?”
- どこ (doko): “Where?”
- どうして (doushite): “Why?”
- どう (dou): “How?”
- どちら? (dochira): “Which?”
Learn more: Japanese Question Words: “What”, “Where”, “When”, “Who”, “How” and “Why” in Japanese
And more helpful Japanese questions:
- お名前は何ですか (o-namae wa nan desu ka): “What’s your name?”
- いくらですか (ikura desu ka): “How much Is It?”
- わかりますか (wakarimasu ka): “Do you understand?”
- はどこですか (__ wa doko desu ka): “Where is the _?”
- これは何ですか (kore wa nan desu ka): “What’s this?”
- これは何意味ですか (kore wa nan imi desu ka): “What does this mean?”
- 日本語で_は何ですか (nihongo de _ wa nan desu ka): “What is _ in Japanese?”
- 英語を話せますか (eigo wo hanasemasu ka): “Can you speak English?”
- 何って言ったの (nani tte itta no): “What did you say?”
- _ がありますか (_ ga arimasu ka): “Do you have __?”
- 大丈夫ですか (daijoubu desu ka): “Are you okay?”
- どうしたんだ (doushitanda): “What happened?”
- E-メール／電話番号を教えてもらえますか (e-meru/denwa bango wo oshiete moraemasu ka): “Could I have your email address/phone number?”
- _ を利用しますか (* wo riyou shimasu ka*): “Do you use _?”
- いつは会えますか (Itsu wa aemasu ka): “When can we meet?”
Bonus: Some Cute and Cool Japanese Words to Level Up Your Speech
What are some cool Japanese words? I’m glad you asked! Use these Japanese slang words to sound cool in Japanese.
かわいい (Kawaii: “Cute”)
You probably know this one, as it’s become a staple of otaku in America, but it’s very common in Japan too. Everything is “kawaii.”
かっこいい (Kakkoii: “Cool”)
Also, “handsome.” It’s mostly used to describe dreamy guys or cool objects.
すごい！(Sugoi: “Wow!” or “Amazing!”)
I promise you, if you reply すごい (sugoi) to most everything that has a positive tone and body language, you'll sound like a native.
This is hands down the most overused word in Japanese, and it’s a reply to everything. In fact, you’ll probably hear “すごい!” in reply to your attempt to speak Japanese!
ヤバい (Yabai: “Uncool”)
The opposite of すごい, this means something is uncool or terrible.
ちょ、めっちゃ、とっても (Cho, Meccha, Tottemo: “Very,” “Super”)
Depending on the dialect, you’ll hear one of these three words to say something is “very __.” とっても (tottemo) is most standard, and the small つ (tsu) means it has extra emphasis.
マジで (Maji de: “Seriously,” “Really”)
Like ちょ (cho), マジ (maji) is used as an intensifier, but this one is more masculine.
うそ! (Uso!: “No way!”)
It actually means “a lie,” but it’s used as “no way!” in casual conversation when you hear something unbelievable.
ばか！ (Baka!: “Idiot!”)
Is “baka” a bad word? Well… It certainly isn’t nice. ばか (baka) in Japanese means “idiot”, but it’s pretty strong.
Japanese don’t use cuss words as freely as other countries, so calling someone this to their face is a big insult.
Similarly, if you’re wondering how do you say “asshole” in Japanese? Well, you can say あほ (aho, “stupid”) which is an even stronger form of ばか and has a nuance of meaning a “dumbass” or “asshole.”
But there’s also 下衆野郎 (gesu yarou) which means exactly that: “asshole.”
So, in case you felt like offending someone in Japanese today, now you’re prepared. (But please don’t!)
よし (Yoshi: “OK!”)
A common question is: “What is OK in Japanese?” Because there are a few versions, and it’s a bit confusing!
First, there’s よし (yoshi), pronounced more like “yosh” than “Yoshi” the video game character.
It’s used as an exclamation, like “Okay, let’s do this!”
Then there’s オーケー (o-ke-). It’s used to respond to someone, just like in English. You’ll often hear “オーケーです” (o-ke- desu), which means “OK / Got it / It’s okay.”
Last, there’s まあまあ (maamaa). This means “okay” but in the sense that you’re “so-so.”
Learn more: 63 Must-Know Japanese Slang Words (to Sound like a Local)
Japanese Words and Phrases to Speak NOW!
How will you use these phrases to start speaking Japanese now? If you’re looking for a Japanese language exchange partner, learn how you can find one in your area or check out Preply (our review is here). And finally… One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.