140 - You know, that thing, Whatchamacallit?

When learning Japanese, sometimes it seems like there will never be an end, or a "light at the end of the tunnel," so to speak. As soon as you think you have mastered one part of the language, another pops up to show you just how much you really don’t know. Sometimes, it can seem endless.

The good news is that there are a few things that have an end. Like grammar. Once you have mastered grammar up to an N1 level, there really isn’t much left for you to learn. Yeah, of course you will occasionally run into slang or something you forgot, but there will be a point in your studies where grammar isn’t so important anymore.

I also feel this way, a bit, about kanji. Of course, if you want to read old texts and know the meaning of the kanji used in the names of every city in Japan, it can be an endless process. But for the most part, once you know around 2000, you can easily go through a day in Japan and recognize every kanji you see.

Unfortunately, there is absolutely no end for vocabulary. Just like how you still run into English words you don’t know occasionally, Japanese vocabulary is absolutely endless.

But don’t get discouraged! Once you have a base vocabulary, there are ways to say pretty much anything you want to say with a few simple tricks. When you get tongue tied, when a word isn’t coming to you, or even when you simply don’t know a word at all, there is always a way to keep the conversation flowing.


The first way is to simply describe the word you are thinking of, using ~もの and ~こと.
~もの is used for nouns, and ~こと is used for verbs.
So, to start simple, if you can’t think of the word for “hat” 帽子(

If you want to be more casual, you can use 何だっけ(なんだっけ). This is used in casual conversation in two ways.
The first is asking your speaking partner for a word, name, or phrase, and the second is to say to yourself; the same way we use “whatchamacallit” or “thingamajig.”

あの人の名前何だっけ?
あの ひと の なまえ なんだっけ?
What is that person’s name, again?
Literally: “that + person + の + name + what is it?”

あれ何だっけ…ググるか
あれ なんだっけ… ググる か
What is that thingamajig...I should google it.
Literally: “that + thingamajig + ... + google + か”

Note: Yes, the Japanese do use ググる as a verb. It can be conjugated, too: ググってください (please Google it).

Even if you have a limited vocabulary, don’t give up when you run into a word you don’t know how to say. Try using some of these tricks to keep your conversation flowing. Those who rely on their Japanese skills, instead of giving up and saying the word in English, will go a lot further and be able to speak much more confidently. Try practicing a few sentences with these expressions so you can be ready when you run into vocabulary you don’t know.


This lesson was written by Cassy L., a guest contributor:

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