Give Me だ Power!

To express a state of being in Japanese, just snap だ or です onto the end of a noun or na-adjective* (nothing else).

*I’ll talk about what a na-adjective is later.

For example, let's take two nouns: ビール and 日本人 (にほんじん)…

ビール = “beer”
ビール + です = “is beer”

日本人 = “Japanese (person)”
日本人 + です = “is Japanese”

Remember how I said that we can remove words that are clear from context? Because of that, the two phrases above are actually complete sentences:

ビール です。
It's a beer.
Literally: "beer + です."

にほんじん です。
She's Japanese. // He's Japanese. // I'm Japanese.
Literally: "Japanese (person) + です."

That second sentence is a great example of how the meanings of sentences can change based on context.

Easy, yeah?

Speaking of "easy," while the words ビール and 日本人 are nouns, the word for easy, 簡単 (かんたん), is a na-adjective.

How, then, do you think that we would say "It's easy"...?

That would be...

かんたん です。
It's easy.
Literally: "easy + です."

What about ?

At the beginning of this lesson, I wrote that we can express state-of-being by snapping だ or です onto the end of a noun or na-adjective. But we only saw examples with です. Why?

First, here's the version that I was taught in my early days of Japanese-learning:

だ is the casual version of です. When speaking formally, use です. When speaking casually, use だ.

↑ That explanation got me into a lot of trouble. Based on that information, we should be able to conclude that these are casual sentences, because they're using だ and not です:

ビール だ。
It's a beer.
Literally: "beer + だ."

にほんじん だ。
She's Japanese. // He's Japanese. // I'm Japanese.
Literally: "Japanese (person) + だ."

かんたん だ。
It's easy.
Literally: "easy + だ."

I was making sentences like the ones you see here for years because I thought that these were accurate examples of casual sentences, and I saw them being used as casual sentences in all of my learning materials. But Japanese people don't talk this way.

In most cases, native Japanese speakers will put nothing after nouns and na-adjectives when speaking casually. So, they'll say:

It's a beer.
Literally: "beer."

She's Japanese. // He's Japanese. // I'm Japanese.
Literally: "Japanese (person)."

It's easy.
Literally: "easy."

Keeping all of that stuff about casual sentences in mind, note that you still need to know that だ is the plain-form version of です. We'll talk a lot about the plain form as we progress through this course. For now, just know that the plain form is used (1) in casual language and (2) when working with a lot of complex sentence structures.

For example ー and note that we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves here ー you would put a word in the plain-form before the sentence-ending phrase ~と思う (とおもう // [I] think ):

〇 簡単と思う。
〇 かんたん だ と おもう。
〇 I think it's easy. // I think it'll be easy.
〇 Literally: "easy + だ + と + think."

× 簡単ですと思う。
× かんたん です と おもう。
× I think it's easy. // I think it'll be easy.
× Literally: "easy + です + と + think."

We'll have an entire lecture on ~と思う later in this course. So don't worry about memorizing it just yet.

Bonus Note a symbol meaning "correct" or "acceptable" in Japanese. 〇 is pronounced まる.
× a symbol meaning "incorrect" or "not allowed" in Japanese. × is pronounced ばつ.

If everything on this page is confusing you, just try to remember the following: だ and です express state-of-being (i.e. are similar to the English verb "to be"). They attach to the end of nouns and na-adjectives.

With this single construction, you can already form thousands of sentences in Japanese.

↑ That is not an exaggeration.

I'll show you how in a little bit, but first I'd like to dismantle a simple, common Japanese sentence formation. This next lecture might make our heads spin for a bit, but bear with me, please…

Course Note: You've probably noticed (maybe lamented) that I have not been writing kana breakdowns for kanji-containing words after they've been introduced.

For example, we saw 日本人 (にほんじん) and ~と思う (とおもう), but then later on I just wrote 日本人 and ~と思う without the hiragana readings in parentheses. This is intentional.

When a Japanese person writes 日本人, they write 日本人. When a Japanese person sees 日本人, they know what it means and how to pronounce it. I'm not a very argumentative person, and in general I question everything, including what I think, so I rarely make definitive, unyielding arguments. But I will definitively say this: The idea that Japanese people learn to read kanji by writing them is false.

Japanese people learn to read kanji by seeing them thousands and thousands of times throughout their journey to adulthood. It took a few years for me to really feel this happening with my own understanding of Japanese. Aside from relying less and less on various mnemonics and inspecting each kanji ー each kanji stroke! ー in a word, I was just seeing a word and knowing what it meant instantaneously (though often forgetting its pronunciation).

There are very few kanji that I can write from memory. If you ask me what the kanji are in a word like 単刀直入 (たんとうちょくにゅう // getting right to the point; not beating around the bush), I can tell you that the word is made up the kanji 単 (simple) 刀 (blade) 直 (direct) 入 (enter)... but it might take me a minute to recall each character. However, if I see 単刀直入 written down somewhere, I immediately know what it means because I've seen it written so many times in books, posts, flashcards, and messages. In short, this word has become part of my "sight vocabulary." (For more on this concept, see our article on Kanji as Sight Words.)

It stands to reason, then, that all literate Japanese adults have a sight vocabulary containing thousands of words and the kanji that compose them, and that they obtained it through massive exposure to the language. Why, then, do Japanese learning materials not write kanji as they are written in the real world?! These materials are robbing you of the chance to improve your comprehension of written Japanese. It drives me crazy!

Anyway, yeah, that's why I often write the words with just kanji after we've already seen the reading. It might slow you down a bit. You might have to scroll up a few times to remind yourself what the reading or meaning of a word is. But if you keep welcoming kanji into your study materials like this long-term, then your ability to read Japanese will improve much more quickly.

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