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I think being able to to specify who you are talking about and yourself is very crucial in a language so, how do they do it?

To clarify I know in French there is 6 ways to specify a person:

Je (I), tu (you (informal)), il/elle (he and she, respectively (can also mean it)), nous (we), vous (you guys/formal you), and ils/elles (the boys and the girls, respectively).

And in French the verb To be is specific to the type of person:

Je [suis] (I am), tu [es] (you are (informal)), il/elle [est] (he/she/it is), nous [sommes] (we are), vous [êtes] (you guys are/you are (formal)), and ils/elles sont (they are).

So my question is, how would that be done in in Japanese keeping in mind both genders?

For example: How would you say: I am happy. (In French it would be: Je suis content(e if you were a girl).

If Japanese is different, then what makes in different. What does it have that French/English don't and what is similar.

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Japanese does not have genders, and its nouns are indeclinable. Its verbs do not conjugate for grammatical person either. – Zhen Lin Jun 6 '13 at 23:02
Welcome to the beauty of the Japanese language... ^^ – summea Jun 6 '13 at 23:09
up vote 7 down vote accepted

These Romance language concepts simply do not apply to Japanese. In addition to the points made in a comment by Zhen Lin,

Japanese does not have genders, and its nouns are indeclinable. Its verbs do not conjugate for grammatical person either.

Japanese also does not have a grammatical requirement to supply subjects or pronouns with verbs.

The way to express "I am happy" in Japanese is... well let's take the more interesting answer first, which is:


Just the one word "happy"; no conjugation (this is in dictionary form); no "to be" (the meaning of "is" is folded into this adjective); not even a pronoun (the subject is inferred by expectation and context).

Another answer is

shiawase da or shiawase desu

where "shiawase" again means "happy" and "da" is a copula (to be). "desu" is another form of the copula, but the difference is nothing to do with subject gender or number, but determines the politeness level of the sentence.

If you want to supply the subject you can:

watashi (I) wa shiawase da
anata (you) wa shiawase da
kare (he) wa shiawase da
kanojo (she) wa shiawase da

but these pronouns are not like English pronouns -- overusing them is a great way to sound unnatural and maybe even rude, as you may be culturally expected to use a more polite form of address for the person you are speaking to (or about), such as their name or position plus a suitable honorific like san.

(Also, while English only has one "I" and one "you", Japanese has about a billion "I" and just as many "you"s. watashi, boku, ore, watakushi, atashi, wa, uchi, sessha, warawa, all mean "I" and appear in different contexts and usages, some limited to fiction.)

You can do away with the pronoun entirely and still infer the subject in the right context.

(having been told of someone who just come into a large amount of money, has quit work, and is travelling around the world)

shiawase da na... (He (inferred by context) must be happy...)

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First of all, welcome to this forum! This is a great question (yet, at the same time, is quite a broad question when this part is included: "What does it have that French/English don't and what is similar.") So, here is a brief attempt to explain at least a few of the differences (specifically having to do with gender, article, and verb conjugation,) between Japanese and other languages.

As @Zhen Lin described, Japanese is quite different than Romance languages (and possibly Near Eastern languages,) in terms of noun genders and subject-verb conjugations.

In Japanese:

  • nouns do not have genders or articles
  • verbs can be conjugated (but there is not usually a specific pronoun included in the conjugation (see note below) and the conjugation does not change depending on the neighboring pronoun or subject) ... and often pronouns or subjects can be left out of sentences completely, as @Hyperworm describes

As for genders and articles with nouns, Japanese is quite different than Romance languages (and possibly Near Eastern languages,) in the idea that definite articles with nouns are generally not used. (In other words, try to forget the idea of definite articles... when using Japanese.)

Now, looking at verbs, for the sake of example, the phrase "I am happy" in Japanese could be written as:

うれしいです。(ureshii desu.)

です (desu) is a copula (and, in basic terms, is somewhat like a verb,) (see also @Snailboat's comment about politeness,) but in this case, the adjective うれしい (ureshii) is actually the focus of conjugation in this example (as pointed out by @Darius Jahandarie,) which brings up another difference between Japanese and many other languages: adjectives can be conjugated. Fortunately adjective conjugation in Japanese, like verb conjugation, is relatively less complicated than the subject-verb conjugations of other languages.

Going back to the "happy" example from earlier, if instead of using "I am happy" one wanted to use "he is happy", the conjugations do not necessarily change:

かれはうれしいです。(kare wa ureshii desu.)

The general lack of complicated verb conjugations and definite articles are only some of the beautiful aspects of the Japanese language, but I'm sure you will continue to find other interesting differences as your studies progress!

note: 行{い}きましょう (ikimashou) actually seems somewhat similar to the Romance language idea of including a pronoun along with the verb conjugation... but in general, the verb conjugation itself does not change depending on the neighboring pronoun or subject, in Japanese.

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(I know this answer is intended to be introductory, but I don't think calling the です in うれしいです a verb is a great idea and it will be immensely confusing when anyone gets to the point of conjugating i-adjectives.) – Darius Jahandarie Jun 7 '13 at 3:07
@DariusJahandarie Thanks for the comment; I think I know what you mean about that... and that is why I included the word "basically"... but I can try to re-word that later on. It's kind of hard to compare the conjugation of adjectives with the conjugation of verbs in Romance languages, though... unless, for the sake of simplicity, we just pretend adjectives are verbs (in the Western language sense of a "verb".) – summea Jun 7 '13 at 3:11
I think that in うれしいです, the です can be explained as a politeness marker. – snailboat Jun 7 '13 at 10:28
@snailboat I guess my point is... I could have used しあわせ instead of うれしい and it would have avoided the more complicated explanations of adjectives in Japanese... but after I saw that Hyperworm had already used しあわせ (and うれしい) I thought that I would just be repeating something already discussed... thank you for your comment, though. – summea Jun 7 '13 at 16:00

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