From what I understand, the hiragana characters above should make the word jidoushiya, but for some reason it is actually jidōsha.

Why did the word change this way even though the characters are:

→ ji, → do, → u, → shi and → ya?

  • 2
    It's a small ゃ, not a large や.
    – Angelos
    Jul 11, 2017 at 22:50
  • fyi, those are hiragana, not kanji.
    – Andy
    Jul 12, 2017 at 0:11

2 Answers 2


The small ゃ is different to the larger や. When using the smaller ゃ after a character in the i-line, it modifies the sound before it;

So, しや='shiya' but しゃ='sha' Similarly, りや='riya' but りゃ='rya'

As for the ō, this is a notation which refers to an extended sound. Following お with う extends the sound to be twice as long, and this can be written either as 'ou' or 'ō' depending on personal preference.

Edit: this shows all the ways you can modify characters in this way in hiragana: enter image description here

You can also do similar things with katakana such as ティ='ti' because this isn't normally a sound you can make in Japanese. These can usually be guessed, though.

  • this explains things for publications since the end of WW2, but prior to that (and occasionally after) you would see しや for しゃ etc along with some other historical spellings.
    – A.Ellett
    Jul 12, 2017 at 5:21

The combined form is said as 拗音 (yō-on), as contracted form which special mora (syllable) formed by palatalized sound. Unlike chō-on (長音 = long sound) which counts as 2 moras, even written with 2 letters (the second one is smaller form of ya, yu or yo) it considered as single mora.

自動車 (jidōsha) as example word consists of 4 moras, all of them are on-readings from their respective kanji:

  • 自 (ジ/じ) => daku-on (濁音), 1 mora
  • 動 (ドウ/どう) => daku-on + chō-on, 2 moras
  • 車 (シャ/しゃ) => yō-on, 1 mora

NB: Katakana form "ティ" (ti) doesn't considered as yō-on even using similar construction, it is part of additional letters specially created to form English or foreign loanwords/gairaigo (外来語).


Hiragana chart

Katakana chart

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