22 - Sentence Hacking 101: The 2-Word Sentence

This one time, I was talking to a Japanese Junior High School student, and she said something that may warm your heart:

"I don't understand the difference between は (wa) and が (ga)."


(↑ Did you know that each school in Japan has different uniforms?)

Bless you, young girl.

Here's the thing--that girl probably isn't making mad mistakes with particles in Japanese. She can use them, after all. She just doesn't understand how they work. Which is pretty much how I felt after 2-3 years of studying Japanese (it's much easier now). I want to point out the problem here:

The problem is not the usage of particles.

The problem is the way that she was being told to use them.

If you try to teach any middle school student grammar, they will hate you. Maybe start rumors about you. Laugh behind your back! Because grammar rules are confusing.

Luckily, though, we can get ペラペラ (pera pera, "fluent") without all that stuffy grammar stuff.

Well... as long as we're using casual Japanese.

One of my favorite grammar-free constructions in Japanese is this:

The 2-Word Sentence

Let's start with three English sentences:

1) That baby is cute. (4 words)
2) I ate something a little while ago. (7 words)
3) I will do it tomorrow. (5 words)

In Japanese, we can say each of those sentences in two words:

1) 赤ちゃん可愛い。
akachan kawaii.
That baby is cute.
(Literally: "baby + cute.")

2) さっき食べた。
sakki tabeta.
I ate something a little while ago.
(Literally: "a while ago + ate.")

3) 明日やる。
ashita yaru.
I'll do it tomorrow.
(Literally: "tomorrow + do.")

Can it be so easy?

Well... kind of. But it might get confusing when I explain it.

Formula #1

Our first formula is this:

"Noun + i-adjective."

Let's take three nouns:
1) a baby
2) today
3) coffee

Now let's take 3 adjective for modifying these nouns:
1) cute
2) busy
3) delicious

Making English sentence with these is mad complicated:
1) That baby is cute.
2) I'm busy today.
3) This coffee is delicious.

Why you using all them words, babe? Think simple.

Because in (casual) Japanese, we can remove ALL words that are understood from context. For example...

1) That is a cute baby.
Let's say you and I are looking at a baby, or a picture of a baby, like my nephew Greyson:

I don't need to say "that" because it's obvious what baby I'm talking about. I don't need to say "a" or "the," because languages work just fine without stupid articles. Also, if we're looking at a baby, and I say "cute baby," I think you can understand that the baby is cute. So no "is."

What's left is the nice, economical Japanese sentence:

赤ちゃん可愛い
akachan kawaii
Baby, cute.
(Note: You could even remove the word "baby" if it's obvious that the listener also sees the baby. Simplify *_*.)

2) I'm busy today.

(↑ I always think I'm busy... until I have to move... again. Rei and I moved 5 times 2015. That's 3 times too many for me. Also, few possessions are more important than the chair I sit in when writing these lessons.)

In casual Japanese, you should drop all words for "I" in 90% of cases. There are tricky rules for this. The complicated version is that we can leave out "I" anytime that it's already obvious from the context of the sentence. If you still don't understand that, though, I have a solution for you: ALWAYS drop "I."

Your Japanese will sound less strange than if you stick it in every sentence. Also, Japanese listeners will ask if you're talking about yourself when they don't understand who you're talking about. Over time, you'll get a knack for inserting it only when necessary... it takes time, though.

So, in casual sentences, i-adjectives swallow all verbs, so we can also delete "am." Without "I," either, we have:

今日忙しい
kyou isogashii
Today, busy.

3) This coffee is delicious.

(↑ I love Japan, but Saigon [Vietnam] is king of coffee shops. And the U.S. is king of breakfast restaurants... in my limited life experience thus far.)

This is virtually the same as Example #1. Delete "this." Delete "is:"

コーヒー美味い!・コーヒー美味しい!
koohii umai! / koohii oishii!
Coffee, delicious.
(Note: Said, for example, after taking a sip of delicious coffee.)
(Note #2: You could remove the word "coffee" if it's obvious I'm talking about a specific cup of coffee.)

Nuance Level-Up

Now let's get real jouzu. I mentioned that, in these previous examples, we could remove the words "baby" or "coffee," right? So why didn't I remove them? We remove all contextual information, right?

But I'm including contextual information. You know I'm talking about a baby, so why say "baby?" You know I'm talking about coffee, so why say "coffee?" The answer is that I'm not necessarily talking about this coffee. I'm not talking about this baby.

The best way to explain this might be to offer some slightly altered translations:

可愛い!
Kawaii
He's so cute!
(Note: "He" is the baby we're looking at when I say this.)

美味い!・美味しい!
umai! / oishii!
This coffee is delicious!
(Note: "This coffee" that I'm drinking right now.)

Context fills every part of these sentences, except for the words "cute" and "delicious," which we are adding to the world.

By adding nouns to this sentence, we are adding non-contextual information. In other words, the nuance of adding "baby" is actually that we're talking about "babies in general." Saying "coffee" sounds like we're saying "coffee in general."

Acceptable translations:

赤ちゃん可愛い
akachan kawaii
Babies are so cute.
(Note: The nuance is something like "He's so cute. I think babies are cute.")

コーヒー美味い!・コーヒー美味しい!
koohii umai! / koohii oishii!
Coffee is delicious.
(Note: The nuance is something like "This coffee is delicious. I love coffee.")

And all of this is happening with one or two words. That's crazy, right?!

I love Japanese.

This lesson is getting kind of long, so I'll explain the formula behind these sentences tomorrow:

2) さっき食べた。
sakki tabeta.
I ate something a little while ago.
(Literally: "a while ago + ate.")

3) 明日やる。
ashita yaru.
I'll do it tomorrow.
(Literally: "tomorrow + do.")

Have an extra-super-awesome day, please-please.


Bonus Phrase:

日本語ペラペラになりたい。
にほんご ペラペラ に なりたい。
I want to become fluent at Japanese.

Discussion

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