387 - けれど(も)(content marker)

The grammar point we're looking at today is one of my favorite in the entire Japanese language.

JLPT N3: けれど(も)(content marker)

Specifically, we're looking at when the Japanese equivalents of the word "but" act as "content markers."

Before we get into the explanations, let's drive right into an example:

Wait, scratch that.

I want to you really understand this first example, so here is every word that will appear in it with the appropriate definitions in this situation (the particles' meaning can change quite a bit in other contexts):

漢字(かんじ // kanji
勉強(べんきょう // studies; studying
勉強法(べんきょうほう // study method

いい(good

したい(want to do
です(is; to be [technically, a "copula"]
あります(is; to be; to have

を(an object-marking particle
ん(a somewhat complicated particle for explaining and insinuating information
けれども(but
は(a particle for bringing up new topics
か(a question-marking particle

OK, OK. Now we can dive into our first example of けれど (も) acting as a "content marker:"

漢字を勉強したいんですけれども、いい勉強法はありますか。
かんじ を べんきょう したい んです けれども、 いい べんきょうほう は ありますか。
So, I want to study kanji. Do you know of a good study method?
Literally: "kanji + を + studying + want to do + ん + です + けれども, + good + study method + は + is there + か."

To simplify, let's divide this example into two separate phrases:

漢字を勉強したいです。
かんじ を べんきょう したい です。
I want to study kanji.
Literally: "kanji + を + studying + want to do + です."
Note: I have removed the ん before です.

いい勉強法はありますか。
いい べんきょうほう は ありますか。
Do you know of a good study method?
Literally: "good + study method + は + is there + か."

Now, it seems kind of weird to combine those two sentences with "but," right?

But that's exactly what we're doing:

漢字を勉強したいんですけれども、いい勉強法はありますか。
かんじ を べんきょう したい んです けれども、 いい べんきょうほう は ありますか。
So, I want to study kanji. Do you know of a good study method?
Semi-Literally: I want to study kanji, BUT do you know of a good study method?
Literally: "kanji + を + studying + want to do + ん + です + けれども, + good + study method + は + is there + か."

The thing is, the Japanese けれども being used in this sentence does not mean "but." It just means that I am not finished saying what I want to say. In a way, it provides us with a soft, smooth segue-way into the second half of the sentence.

It is extremely common for "but" words in Japanese to combine with んだ、んです、and のです in order to smoothly transition into a phrase. I have an entire article about this on the NihongoShark blog: How to Say “So I was thinking…” in Japanese.

The けれど in our sentence above doesn't really mean anything. It's just allowing us to move onto what we really want to say: Do you know of a good study method?

I tried to convey this sense of transition by using the word "so" in the English translation:

So, I want to study kanji. Do you know of a good study method?

Sadly, few translations can ever completely capture the nuance of another language. So our best for understanding this, as is often the case, is to look at lots of examples...


Here we have a business phone call...

もしもし、シャーク出版の木下ですけれど、本田さんはいらっしゃいますか。
もしもし、 シャーク しゅっぱん の きのした です けれど、 ほんだ さん は いらっしゃいますか。
Hello, this is Kinoshita from Shark Publishing. Is Mr. Honda available?
Literally: "hello (for phone calls), + shark + publishing + の + Kinoshita + です + けれど, + Honda-san + は + is + か."
Note: いらっしゃいます is an honorific form of います. So Kinoshita is very politely asking if Honda-san is there.

Here our けれど is not being translated into the English at all. We simply divide our translation into two sentences. But in the Japanese, we glide from one sentence to the next with our けれど.

It may help to note that I have sometimes seen this けれど translated to things like "excuse me, but."


A:
千春さん、先月結婚したそうですよ。
ちはる さん、 せんげつ けっこん した そう です よ。
I heard that [Apparently] Chiharu-san got married last month.
Literally: "Chiharu-san, + last month + marriage + did + apparently [hearsay marker] + ですよ."

B:
ええ、このあいだ電話で話しましたけれども、幸せそうでしたよ。
ええ、 このあいだ でんわ で はなしました けれども、 しあわせ そう でした よ。
Yeah, I talked to her on the phone the other day, and she sounded really happy.
Literally: "yeah, + the other day (=this + period of time) + phone + で + talked + けれども, + happy + seemed + was + よ."


Perhaps I should have mentioned this earlier, but this practice of "content marking" can be done using a variety of particles that more or less get translated to "but" in English:


けれども
けれど
けど

が、けれども and けれど tend to be used in polite language.

The least formal of these (and the one I find myself using most often) is けど. That said, けど can still be used in moderately formal sentences. For example, our last sentence in this lesson uses けど, but it's still polite language. And all of the sentences we've seen so far are polite, too.


Now, my favorite way to use "content markers" like けれど is to put them at the end of a sentence.

Since they are usually used to introduce a second phrase, putting one of these at the end of what you say gives the nuance that you are sharing or thinking about some information that is not spoken explicitly.

For example:

そんなにたくさん頼んでも食べきれないと思いますけど.....
そんな に たくさん たのんでも たべきれない と おもいます けど.....
If you order that much, I don't think you'll be able to eat all of it.
Literally: "that much + a lot + even if requested / ordered + cannot eat all + と + think + けど..."

What do you think the unspoken sentence is here?

I'm guessing it's something like, "So maybe you shouldn't order so much food," or "So don't order so much food."

But Japanese people loath confrontation, so rather than say something like that, we can just mark an invisible sentence that says it with our けど.


That's it for this lesson.

It's a complicated concept, and I fear it might be a bit difficult to grasp using only a handful of examples.

What I'd like you to do instead is to listen for "but" words like けど、けれども、が、etc. and try to notice when they don't really mean "but" at all. Chances are, they're being used as "content markers" in such situations.




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