Can someone give me some advice. In some text books I see N used and in some I see M used for ん and in a dictionary I see them using n with a line above it.

I assume this is because of the way the words appear in Romaji but would like some advice as I am getting a bit confused and in particular the dictionary where an n appears with a line above.

  • 2
    By the way, the word konbanwa is standardly spelled こんばんは rather than こんばんわ, although you might see the latter on the internet sometimes. – snailboat Oct 10 '16 at 13:53

There are multiple ways to romanize Japanese, and each one is based on different principles. Some try to represent the phonemes of the language; some try to represent the phonetics (actual pronunciation); others try to represent the way a word is written in Japanese orthography, or the way a word is typed into a Japanese computer.

One scheme, called Traditional Hepburn, changes the spelling of ん based on the following consonant. Why? Because the pronunciation of ん depends on the phonetic context it appears in, and James Curtis Hepburn wanted to convey some of these phonetic details in his romanization scheme. Because ん is pronounced [m] before /b/, こんばんは is spelled kombanwa in that scheme.

One problem that comes up in romanization is how to distinguish between んい and に. If you write ん as n, they'll both end up looking like ni, and you won't be able to distinguish words like かんい and かに. Different romanization schemes solve this problem in different ways. The dictionary you're looking at uses the line over n to distinguish the two, so かんい and かに are kan̄i and kani respectively. Another dictionary might write kan'i and kani to distinguish the two.

In any case, the word is the same and is pronounced the same way. These are just minor differences in how the word is romanized.

  • I'm not sure if the line over the 'n' in kan̄i will show up properly for everyone, but I hope the answer is still understandable even if it looks strange. – snailboat Oct 10 '16 at 14:07
  • For a word like good evening when pronounced in Japanese would you suggest I try to pronounce that as though there was a "m" or a "n" ? Thanks – Alan Oct 10 '16 at 16:50
  • Your line over the n did show up for me. I'm wondering, did you enter this using an English keyboard as I am not sure how to enter than when using an Apple keyboard – Alan Oct 10 '16 at 16:53
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    @Alan You would pronounce the first ん in こんばんは as an [m] sound: forvo.com/word/%E3%81%93%E3%82%93%E3%81%B0%E3%82%93%E3%81%AF/… – snailboat Oct 10 '16 at 23:04

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