Informal and casual Japanese language

by Jake Hallows

If you’ve started learning Japanese, one thing you might have noticed is that the phrases you’re learning are pretty formal. Of course, a lot of language learning journeys start like that. You learn the polite, basic terms before you start moving on to the more relaxed language that you can use with friends and family. However, Japanese is a little different. Formality is a key pillar of Japanese society.

So, what about くだけた (Kudaketa – Casual) language? Surely you get to use it once in a while, right? Well rest assured; くだけた language absolutely has its place in Japan. Whether it’s talking with friends or family, even close colleagues, the more casual side of the Japanese language gets its time in the sun too. Today, I’ll be taking you through some of the more common ways to make your speech sound friendly and casual.

What exactly isくだけた Japanese?

To put it in simple terms, くだけた Japanese is the Japanese you use in informal situations, such as with friends, family or those younger than you. Generally, くだけた Japanese phrases are shorter and easier to say than their formal equivalents. Unlike 敬語 (Keigo – Formal language) and 丁寧語 (Teineigo – Polite language), くだけた Japanese uses the base form of verbs in their shorter conjugation forms. Confused? Let’s walk through some of the more common forms of verbs that come up in くだけた Japanese.

For this section, we’ll use the verb 行く (Iku – To go) as our example.

行く (I go)

This is the dictionary form of 行く, which also happens to be the form that verbs take in present tense くだけた Japanese. This one’s easy enough, right? You can use the base form of any verb and it will be くだけた language.

行った (Itta - I went)

This time we have the くだけた past tense form. Compared to the 丁寧語 version of the verb 行きました (Ikimashita), 行った is considerably shorter. This highlights one of the reasons people use くだけた Japanese; It’s easier to say!

行かない (Ikanai – I don’t go)

Here is the くだけた negative present tense form. In 丁寧語, this would be 行きません (Ikimasen). Once again, this shows how much time you can save using the more casual conjugations of verbs.

行かなかった (Ikanakatta – I didn’t go)

This is the くだけた negative past tense. The 丁寧語 for this would be 行きませんでした (Ikimasen deshita). As you can see, the くだけた version is definitely less of a mouthful.

You might be wondering why we haven’t covered the future tense. Well that’s because it doesn’t exist in the Japanese language! Of course, there are ways to discuss the future in the language, but generally the present tense can be used for the future tense as well (in the right context).

So, you just need to use shorter verbs for perfect くだけた Japanese?

If that’s what you’re thinking, then I’m sorry but I’ve got to inform you that that isn’t the case. Not only do the verbs get shorter, but other parts of the sentence can be removed altogether! What I’m talking about are ‘Particles’.

“What are particles?” I hear you ask. Well, particles in Japanese are characters that mark certain parts of the sentence to give you information about it. It’s easier to explain with an example, so here’s the vocab we’ll be using.

あなたは店に行きますか (Are you going to the shop?)

Here’s our example sentence. There are three particles being used here. The first is は (wa). This is used to mark the subject of a sentence. It’s very commonly used.

The second is に (Ni). This particle has many uses, and is often used to show the location of an action. In this context, it follows a location.

And the last is か (Ka). か is used to mark a question, or to show a lack of information. This normally comes at the end of the sentence, just like a question mark.

As I mentioned earlier, in くだけた Japanese we can get rid of most particles. So, what does our example sentence look like now?

あなた店いく?

That got a lot shorter, didn’t it? Not only is it quicker and easier to say, it’s also considerably easier to type or text this way. The benefits of using this kind of language are clear to see.

I’ve mastered it all now, right?

Again, I’m afraid to inform you that there’s still more to learn. Not only do you take words away in くだけた Japanese, but you can add words too! These phrases are used to emphasize your feelings about a certain topic.

なんて (Nante) is a term often used to express one’s surprise or emotion at something unexpected or that you just learnt about. Let’s look at an example.

試合に行くなんて嬉しい (Shiai ni iku nante ureshii - I’m so happy I get to go to the game!)

Here, なんて is used to emphasize just how happy the speaker is to be able to go to the game. Just adding this single word can make a big difference to what your Japanese sounds like!

The second is もんか (Monka – I won’t). It can be used in a few ways, but we’re going to look at how it’s used to show a strong determination. It’s normally used at the end of a sentence, following a verb in its plain form. Here’s an example:

負けるもんか (I won’t give in!)

Sounds pretty cool right? It’s a term that’s used a lot in ドラマ (Dorama – TV dramas) and アニメ (Anime).

Is there more…?

No need to worry, today’s lesson is over. Whilst there’s a lot to learn about くだけた Japanese, we covered a lot of the fundamentals today which will help you out a lot in the future, so make sure you don’t forget them! If you’re looking for opportunities to see some くだけた Japanese in action, my recommendation is to try read some 漫画 (Manga – Japanese comics) or watch a ドラマ. Best of luck!

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