どう & か

Translated literally, どう means "how." Like this:


 A: 
どう?美味しい?
どう? おいしい?
How is it? Is it good?
Literally: "how? + tasty?"



 B: 
うん、すんごい美味しい。
うん、 すんごい おいしい。
Yeah, it's delicious.
Literally: "yeah, + very / amazing + tasty."


 



Tangent

Wondering why I put すんごい here instead of すごい or すごく?

Part of the answer is review. We've already seen the adjective すごい, which can mean all kinds of things like "superb; fantastic; marvelous; wonderful; terrific; amazing; great." When used as an adverb, however, we'll often translate it as "very."

The adverbial form of this i-adjective is すごく. In other words, when すごい is followed by a verb or another adjective, then it technically should change to すごく.

I say "technically" because you'll often hear people saying sentences like this:


すごい面白かった!
すごい おもしろかった!
It was so interesting! // It was so good!
Literally: "very / amazing + was interesting."
Note: 面白い (おもしろい // interesting; fun; good) is an extremely common word that is difficult to translate. It might help to imagine that the speaker here is talking about a movie that she saw recently which she enjoyed a great deal.



面白い is an i-adjective. So, technically the word before it should be the adverb すごく and not the adjective すごい... right?! I asked my editor in Tokyo about this one time, and he said that technically I was right, but people still say things like すごい面白かった all the time.

Translation: A lot of Japanese people suck at Japanese grammar. But I suppose I can't say that, because saying what everyone else says might be considered correct even if the hoity-toity grammar police don't like it. That's why people get annoyed if you start correcting them for saying "I could care less."

Anyway, the reason I wanted to write this tangential note in the first place is that our sentence uses the spelling すんごい (with an ん) and not すごい. Adding the ん, either in speech or writing, makes the word sound more emphatic.

Something similar happens with すっごい. These would also be common answers to the above question:

うん、すっごい美味しい。
うん、 すっごい おいしい。
Yeah, it's delicious.
Literally: "yeah, + very / amazing + tasty."



うん、すっごく美味しい。
うん、 すっごく おいしい。
Yeah, it's delicious.
Literally: "yeah, + very / amazingly + tasty."



While perhaps not common, this is acceptable, too:

うん、すごく美味しい。
うん、 すごく おいしい。
Yeah, it's delicious.
Literally: "yeah, + very / amazingly + tasty."



By the way, this little っ in すっごい and すっごく marks a point of gemination (=consonant elongation). So instead of sugoi or sugoku, we're saying suggoi and suggoku.

This changes the nuance of the words. すっごい has a stronger emphasis than すごい, and すっごく has a stronger emphasis than just すごく.

At the risk of getting carried away, I'll mention that little changes to words are a common method of emphasizing in Japanese. Consider how we use っ, ん, and drop the final い in the second and third versions of the sentence below:

これうまい!
これ うまい!
This is good!
Literally: "this + tasty / delicious!"
Note: The word うまい can have various meanings, but when it means the same thing as 美味しい (おいしい), we (interestingly) can use the same kanji: 美味い (うまい). Writing it without kanji is very common, though. One difference between these two words is that you would not normally use うまい in formal sentences.



これうっま!
これ うっま!
This is really good!
Literally: "this + tasty / delicious!"



これうんま!
これ うんま!
This is really good!
Literally: "this + tasty / delicious!"



Perhaps I shouldn't be spending so much time on topics like this, but I remain a bit annoyed that I didn't know any of this until several years into my Japanese studies. My books and teachers never taught me! I mean, it's not that complicated, is it?

 



Back to talking about どう.

It can mean "how," as it did in our first sentence above. Or sometimes it means something closer to "what."

Take these two sentences:


どうする?
どう する?
What should we do?
Literally: "how + do?"



どうしよう...
どう しよう...
What should I do... // I don't know what to do...
Literally: "how + let's do..."



More verbs! Agh. We're not supposed to be looking at verbs yet. (I'm kind of dreading looking at verbs because verb conjugation makes me want to take a nap.) In any case, you should memorize those two phrases above as is because they are extremely common.

The point: Sometimes we translate どう at "how," and other times we translate it as "what."

 



Note that all of the questions showing up in this lesson so far are informal.

But what if we want to form a more formal question?

Well, here's a formal example:


 A: 
旅行はどうでしたか?
りょこう は どう でした か?
How was your trip?
Literally: "trip / traveling + は + how + でした + か?"



 B: 
楽しかったです。
たのしかった です。
It was fun.
Literally: "was fun + です."



If you've been keeping up with our lessons, these sentences should not be difficult for you. We have seen the past-tense i-adjectives (like 楽しかった); we have seen how でした is the past tense of です; and we have seen how か comes at the end of formal questions.


旅行はどうでした
りょこう は どう でした か?
How was your trip?
Literally: "trip / traveling + は + how + でした + か?"



か is a particle that comes at the end of polite/formal questions.

Technically, we do not need to use a question mark at the end of questions ending with か, and chances are you won't see question marks in your textbooks or JLPT tests. Like this:


旅行はどうでしたか。
りょこう は どう でした か。
How was your trip?
Literally: "trip / traveling + は + how + でした + か."



But Japanese people use question marks after か all the time. And so do I. Because I want to use Japanese like Japanese people, not Japanese textbooks.

When forming casual/informal questions, we do not need to add か:


旅行どうだった?
りょこう どう だった?
How was your trip?
Literally: "trip / traveling + how + だった?"
Note: We are dropping the は that should technically come after 旅行... because dropping particles simply sounds natural in Japanese.



Casual sentence. No か!

This is not to say that か will never come at the end of a casual sentence. We actually have a lesson about か at the end of casual questions. It's just not the norm to use か for casual questions.

I hope you recall that we can also put の at the end of our "genuine questions" (a somewhat complex concept).

 



We'll be seeing A LOT more of どう, ~か, and ~の throughout our studies. So no pressure to master them right away.

Since this uber-common stuff shows up so frequently, it can be mastered in the background while we focus on all kinds of new things. ^^



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