文末 Nuggets

My March Japan Times Bilingual piece is up: “Avoiding the subject isn’t such a bad idea in Japanese.”

Inspired by a question on Twitter, I take a look at how to avoid using subjects in Japanese. (Hint: Just ignore them mostly.) Besides just leaving them out, there are a ton of phrases in the language that promote concision, notably a few handy 文末 phrases. I address そうだ and ようだ in the piece, but らしい and みたい are also very effective in similar roles.

They all have subtly different usages, so it can be helpful to look at Japanese definitions. These are all from the wonderful 日本語文型辞典.

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Do your best to ignore my awful translation.


…ようだ 〈推量〉




Expresses a speaker’s impression or estimation-like judgment about something. Presents the impression or external appearance (of something) according to the external appearance (of the thing) or the speaker’s senses and suggests “It kind of seems that way/It looks that way.” Used when a speaker gives an impression or condition (of something) taken from the speaker’s sense of touch, sight, hearing, smell, etc. and when making other observations like that to give the speaker’s general, estimation-like judgment.

The following patterns are used when responding to things that have already been mentioned: 「そのようだ」 and 「そんなようだ」



文末に付いて、話し手がその内容をかなり確実度の高いことがらであると思っていることを表す。その判断の根拠は外部からの情報や観察可能なことがらなど客観的なものであり、単なる想像ではない。 (632)


Appended to the end of sentences to express that the speaker believes the content has a very high level of certainty. The basis for that judgment is objective, such as outside information or something that is observable, not simply imagination.





Added on to 普通体 (direct style) clauses to express that (the clause) is not something you received directly but reported information that came from somewhere else. Does not form negative or past tense constructions.


…みたいだ 〈推量〉


これに対して、他の人から聞いた話など間接的な情報にもとづいた話し手の推量を表すときには「らしい」が使われ、聞いたことをそのまま報告する場合には「そうだ」が使われる。 (562)


Expresses a speaker’s estimation. Means “I can’t tell for certain, but that’s what I believe.” An expression used to give an estimation based on something the speaker directly experienced, such as they saw something, heard something, or smelled something.

Conversely, 「らしい」 is used when expressing the speaker’s estimation based on indirect information, such as something heard from another person. 「そうだ」 is used when reporting something exactly as it was heard.

I’ve been wanting to post something like this for a while. I actually drafted it way back in 2009 (typed out the sections from the 文型辞典) but lost the post to a hard-drive crash and have been too lazy to get it together since.

I think it’s helpful to look at things like this explained in Japanese. The book also has a ton of great example sentences. Definitely a must-own for any students of Japanese who make it beyond the intermediate level.

Still, it’s one thing to know the dictionary definition of these patterns and another thing entirely to put them into practice. The occasional reminder from texts like the 文型辞典 can help us be mindful of the usages. Now get out there and get reporting indirectly and judging subjectively!

Karaoke Kotoba – いとし

Back in the ‘90s and the early ‘00s when I first played through (parts of) FFVI, I had no idea how much the opera scene owed to karaoke culture, but now it’s totally clear. I mean, there’s a syllable for syllable midi voice of the Japanese lyrics.



Now I’m seriously surprised that I didn’t hear someone sing this at a karaoke box. Maybe I just didn’t karaoke with the right people.

At any rate, the first word of the song, いとし, is one of those classic karaoke words that you hear in countless songs. I’m never sure sure how reliable Chiebukuro is, but this post seems to suggest an evolution of the word.

Currently it means “beloved,” or something of that ilk, and it often gets attached to people’s names or pronouns. The Southern All-Stars have the best translation in their song いとしのエリー, which doesn’t even use the word いとし in the lyrics: Instead, the chorus is “Eri, my love, so sweet.” “X, my love” is a pretty nice rendering.

On a side note, after watching this video of サザン lead singer Keisuke Kuwata belt out the song, I can’t help but think he’s had a huge influence on Japanese rock vocals (even though I know next to nothing about Japanese rock).

His weird growl sounds similar to some imitations of “foreigner Japanese.” It also seems extremely ripe for parody…which I may have to attempt at karaoke soon.