So I'm in the beginning stages of learning Japanese, and I'm a little lost on combination characters such as kya, sho, ryo, or even the voiced characters such as gya, jo, and byu.

My question is: Are the combined characters representing a specific word in translation, or is it like a conjunction in English? (i.e. can not -> can't, do not -> don't, would not -> wouldn't) Or, is it something totally different? Any explanation on this would be much appreciated. thank you!


For the sake of the answer, I am assuming you are asking about characters like: きゃ、しょ、りょ, and voiced characters like ぎゃ、じょ、びゅ.

These combinations are simply phonetic sounds. This is the only way to write these sounds. These combinations are like English combination sounds like sh, ch, ph, etc.

These combinations in Japanese do not create words on their own, just like how their English counterparts do not create words. They only represent sounds you make when you speak, and as such do not carry any meaning.

If you are talking about kanji characters, my answer will be different. Please comment below and let me know if your question pertains specifically to kanji.

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  • oh my gosh you answered it perfectly! thank you so much! – Wagner125 Dec 20 '17 at 0:18

I would separate the notion that a phonetic sound in かな represents a word from the fact that かな is used to write the syllabic sounds used in Japanese. However, I think you mean to ask the question of whether the combination phonetic sounds generated by normal かな + small かな, e.g. きゃ、しゅ and so on, are considered a single syllabic mora. That answer would be yes, despite the fact that it takes 2 かな to write.

For extra background, a mora is a unit of syllabic weight, and is usually characterized by what feels like a syllable in pronunciation, unless the syllable contains long stress, in which case the value of the syllable is two.

So, in the case of きょ and such other sounds, this is considered one mora, because the pronunciation is a quick one, as the sound that is made is a combination of the sounds from both かな but is pronounced with a fluid non-stressed tone.

Finally, to answer your question directly: This is not like a contraction in English, because each かな cannot be considered a word on its own. This is closer to combination consonant sounds, as ajsmart answered previously, but is also not quite the same because of vowel sounds.

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  • thank you so much for your answer, both you and ajsmart have greatly helped! – Wagner125 Dec 20 '17 at 1:17

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