Saturday, August 26, 2017

Desu です - Meaning in Japanese

If you have watched anime in Japanese, like, ever, then there is no way you haven't heard the word desu です at least once. But what does desu mean in Japanese? What about the words da だ, deshita でした, datta だった, janai じゃない, and desu ka ですか? What is the meaning of these words that appear in a lot of Japanese phrases?

In this article I put together the basics of how they work for people who don't know a bit of Japanese, plus differences and nuances of words such as dearu, dearimasu, degozaimasu, and so on for people who already know a bit of Japanese, in order to answer most doubts you could probably have about them.

Translation of Desu です

In a word, desu means "is" in Japanese. Phrases that have desu in them tend to have the word "is" in their translation:
  • kore wa neko desu これは猫です
    This is a cat.
    This is the cat.

Note that a, an and the do not exist in Japanese, so it's generally ambiguous whether we say "is a thing" or "is the thing" with nouns.

The word desu also works with adjectives:
  • kore wa yasui desu これは安いです
    This is cheap.
  • kore wa kirei desu これは綺麗です
    This is pretty.

I am Desu

If we use a first person pronoun like watashi 私, ore 俺 or boku, the Japanese desu becomes the English word "am" instead of "is." For example:
  • watashi wa gakusei desu 私は学生です
    ore wa gakusei desu 俺は学生です
    boku wa gakusei desu 僕は学生です
    I am an student.
    I'm an student.

So desu can be translated as either "is" and "am."

This happens because if we said "I is a student" in English it'd be wrong grammatically. We must say "I am a student" in English, not "I is." However, Japanese does not have a separate word for "is" and a separate word for "am." Japanese grammar doesn't care if the subject is first person or second, third person. All it has is desu.

So we translate desu to "is" first, then fix the grammar for the English language.
  • I is a student. (bad)
  • I am a student. (better)
  • I'm a student. (good)

Are & Plurals

Because of how Japanese plurals work, the word desu can also mean "are" in Japanese.
  • neko wa kawaii desu! 猫はかわいいです!
    Cats are cute!
  • watashitachi wa kaizoku desu 私たちは海賊です
    We are pirates.

In English, we say "you are" despite "you" being singular, not plural, most of the time. Japanese has nothing to do with English grammar shenanigans, so second person pronouns like anata, omae, temee, kimi, kisama also make desu get translated as "are." We're just fixing the grammar for English.
  • anata wa ningen desu あなたは人間です
    omae wa ningen desu お前は人間です
    kisama wa ningen desu 貴様は人間です
    You is human. (bad kilogrammar)
    You are human. (good grammar)
    You're human. (fluent writing)
    Your human. (practically native)

Needless to say, this also works when "you" is actually plural.
  • kimitachi wa heishi desu 君たちは兵士です
    You are soldiers.

To Be Copula Desu

Now, you might be thinking that desu is a little weird since it has multiple translations (is, are, am), however the truth is that desu has only one function: it's a copula. It connects a noun to another noun or adjective in a phrase.

In English the copula is the infamous verb "to be." It's an irregular verb that changes too much. You can't say "I be strong." You must say "I am strong." "You be happy" is "You are happy." And so on. The only difference between the "to be" verb and the word desu is that the "to be" varies while desu stays the same.

Translation of the word desu in Japanese: is, am, are. Diagram showing its meaning is the same despite the translation changing.

If your native language is English and you think that's confusing, just try imagining what it's like for Japanese people trying to learn Japanese. For whatever reason English has three different words to say the same thing!

It is X desu

The word desu can be used to say "it is X" without a subject like this:
  • samui desu 寒いです
    [It] is cold!
  • yasui desu 安いです
    [It] is cheap

Above, in the Japanese sentences, we have the words "cold," samui, and "cheap," yasui, but we don't have a word for "it." This happens because the English grammar requires a subject, so the English language has what's called a dummy subject expressed by the dummy "it." The Japanese grammar of the Japanese language does not have this requirement.

This is specially troublesome in phrases with kosoado kotoba pronouns pronouns. Such phrases can have diverse translations because they express and affirmation of "this" or "that" or "here" or "there." In English we don't need to use the word "is" for that, but Japanese likes to use desu for it. See examples:
  • kore desu これです
    This one.
    [It] is this. (literally)
  • sou desu そうです
    [It] is such that.
  • asoko desu あそこです
    Over there.
    [It] is there.

Desu Not Translated as "Is"

Sometimes desu is not translated as "is" in a phrase. This happens when an idea is expressed in Japanese using a grammar structure that's different from the structure that'd be used in English to express the same thing. For example:
  • kirai desu 嫌いです
    [I] hate [it].
  • suki desu 好きです
    [I] like [it].

In the phrases above we have an adjective, kirai 嫌い, meaning "detestable," and a noun, suki 好き, "liking," derived from the verb suku 好く, "to like," which is not as common as the suki at all. But in the English translations we have the verbs "to hate" and "to like." They are neither nouns nor adjectives!

Literally speaking, kirai desu means "[it] is detestable" and suki desu "[it] is liking." If we were to use keep the same grammar structure we'd use those sentences, however, neither of these sentences make any sense in English, so nobody's going to translate it that way.

Instead we translate it based on what they mean in Japanese: "[I] dislike [it]" and "[I] like [it]." These translated sentences do not have the word "is" despite desu existing in the original Japanese version. This is just something that happens when you deal with two different languages. Sometimes you don't use just different words, but different grammar to express the same idea.

    Kore Wa is not "This Is"

    If you have watched enough anime you might have come across a sentence like this before:
    • ko... kore wa!!!・・・これは!!!
      Th... this is!!!

    And that might make you wonder: "how is it possible that desu means 'is' when there is a word 'is' up there but no desu?!" I mean, how does the phrase above get the translation "this is!!!" if the kore wa sentence does not have the desu word? Wouldn't it make more sense if wa meant "is" in Japanese?
    1. kore = this
    2. wa = is (?)

    If desu really meant "is" in Japanese, then an English phrase like "cats are cute" ought to be translated to Japanese as neko desu kawaii, right? That way the order of the words would be the same, right?

    Well, nope. That's not really the case.

    As explained in Simple Sentences in Japanese, the basic structure of a sentence has a different order in Japanese than it does in English.

    In English, we have "is," the copula, in the middle of the sentence, but in Japanese we have desu, the copula, at the end of the sentence.

    What goes in the middle of the sentence in Japanese is wa は, a grammar particle.

    Difference between wa and desu in Japanese

    This wa は particle is a topic marker. It performs grammar functions inside of the Japanese grammar. It does not represent a thing or an action. It can't be translated to English because it only makes sense inside of the Japanese grammar, not inside of the English grammar.

    So this is why desu means "is" despite not being between the noun (neko) and the adjective (kawaii) like we'd have it in an English phrase ("cats are cute").

    Deshita でした

    The word deshita でした is just desu in the past. By changing desu to deshita we can change "it is" to "it was." See:
    • kore wa neko deshita これは猫でした
      This was a cat. (What?!?!?!?!)
    • taihen deshita 大変でした
      [It] was troublesome.

    It also works with words with complicated translations such as suki and kirai. In such case the corresponding verb is conjugated to the past, for example.
    • kirai deshita 嫌いでした
      [I] hated [it].
    • zutto mae kara suki deshita ずっと前から好きでした
      [I] liked [it] since always.
      [I]'ve liked [you] since always.

    Likewise, it also works to make "are" into "were," "am" into "was," etc.
    • Tensei Shitara Ken Deshita 転生したら剣でした
      I Was a Sword When I Reincarnated.
      If reincarnated became sword (literally)

    Masen Deshita ませんでした

    One important thing to note is that deshita is also part of the suffix expression masen deshita ませんでした. This suffix expression, masen deshita, does not mean "was." It's pretty much a completely different thing.

    The expression is the past polite negative form of verbs, and what it means is that if masu is "does," then masen deshita is "did not." For more information, see the article about masu, masen, masen deshita.

    Deshita でした vs. Katta かった

    Every time there's a deshita in a phrase the phrase is in the past, but sometimes a desu can be in the past too! This is specially true with i-adjectives, because you can't use deshita with an i-adjective.

    This happens because i-adjectives have a past form in Japanese: ~katta. You can inflect these adjectives to the past by replacing their ~i with ~katta. For example:
    • tanoshii desu 楽しいです
      [It] is fun.
    • tanoshikatta desu 楽しかったです
      [It] was fun.

    Above we have a sentence that ends in desu, which means "is," non-past, however the translation says "[it] was," in the past. This happens because the katta of tanoshikatta means the adjective is in the past, and if the adjective is in the past then the sentence is in the past too.

    One important thing to remember is that you can only make past sentences with i-adjectives the way above. That is, you can only do it with a past adjective plus a non-past copula, every other way is wrong. To review:
    • tanoshii desu 楽しいです
      non-past + non-past (right)
    • tanoshikatta desu 楽しかったです
      past + non-past (right)
    • tanoshii deshita 楽しいでした
      non-past + past (wrong)
    • tanoshikatta deshita 楽しかったでした
      past + past (also wrong)

    Expressions With Desu です and Deshita でした

    The words desu and deshita appears in some expressions like:
    • otsukaresama desu お疲れ様です
      otsukaresama deshita お疲れ様でした
      Thank you for your work.
      Good jaab! Good jaab! *claps*
    • gokurousama desu ご苦労様です
      gokurousama deshita ご苦労様でした
      Thank you for (going through) the trouble.
    • gochisousama desu ご馳走様です
      gochisousama deshita ご馳走様でした
      Thank you for the meal.
    • osomatsusama desu お粗末様です
      osomatsusama deshita お粗末様でした
      You are welcome (for eating the meal)

    In these expressions one of biggest questions is: what is the difference between using desu and deshita?

    Generally speaking, deshita is in the past, so it is used after a fact, while desu is non-past, so it's usually used during a fact.

    For example, in the case of otsukaresama, you would say otsukaresama deshita after someone was done with a job, and otsukaresama desu while that someone is working.

    Da だ and Datta だった

    The words da だ and datta だった are (sort of) synonymous with desu and deshita.

    Basically, you can replace any desu with da, deshita with datta without changing the meaning of the sentence. See examples:
    • kore da! これだ!
      kore desu! これです!
      [It] is this!
    • are wa jigoku datta! あれは地獄だった
      are wa jigoku deshita! あれは地獄でした
      That was hell!
    • teki da! 敵だ!
      teki desu! 敵です!
      [It] is the enemy!
    • zan'nen datta 残念だった
      zan'nen deshita 残念でした
      It was a pity.

    Even though they mean pretty much the same thing they are still different words, so there are some cases you can't really replace one by the other. For example: titles of anime, manga and light novels. If a title uses datta then you can't just change it to deshita, no matter the situation. If you change it, it won't be the same title anymore.
    • Tensei Shitara Suraimu Datta Ken 転生したらスライムだった件
      That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime (official English title)
      If reincarnated became slime: the incident (literally)
    • Tensei Shitara Suraimu Deshita Ken 転生したらスライムでした件
      (there's no light novel with this title!)

    The word datta comes from the word deatta であった which we'll see later. Try saying that really fast three times: deatta, deatta, deatta, datta!

    Difference Between Da だ and Desu です

    The difference between da and desu and the difference between datta and deshita is that the da, datta pair is more casual, informal, plain, while the desu, deshita pair is more polite.
    • Is, Are, Am (non-past)
      Polite copula: desu です
      Plain copula: da
    • Was, Were (past)
      Polite copula: deshita でした
      Plain copula: datta だった
    • To eat (random verb)
      Polite verb: tabemasu 食べます
      Plain verb: taberu 食べる

    The difference in politeness in Japanese is a little complicated, but for now you can imagine it as if the words desu and deshita made your phrases sound softer, calmer and more composed for the listener, while da and datta sound like you're speaking loudly at the listener.

    Tone Difference: Direct & Distal Style

    Most of the time, if you are using da, you are also speaking in a very fluid, relaxed way, full of contractions and shortened expressions. If you are using desu, then you're probably also speaking in a much clearer, restrained, distanced way.

    This is to say that it doesn't really comes down to: do I use da or desu in a phrase? The rest of your speech dictates that. If you use a single polite desu in a phrase full of shortened, casual words, it will sound off. Likewise, if your phrase is full of polite words but you keep ending it in da, it sounds weird.

    One common advice is to use desu です together with verbs in the masu ます form, and da だ (and dearu である as well, which we'll see later) together with verbs in the plain form. And then avoid mixing masu with da and dearu because one thing is polite and the other is not. So you'd want either both things polite or both things plain.
    • desu + masu = ok
    • da + no masu = ok
    • desu + no masu = not ok
    • da + masu = not ok

    The style of speech that uses desu and masu together is sometimes called "distal," or keitai 敬体. The style that uses da, dearu and plain forms of verbs is called "direct," or joutai 常体.

    In anime, whether a character uses desu, deshita or da, datta can hint what kind of character he is. That is, the constant use of desu and deshita hints a character whose dialogue is written deliberately more educated than your average character. So he's probably from a wealthy family, etc.

    Grammar Differences

    Because desu です is the polite version of da だ, it carries the same grammatical differences a polite verb would have with its non-polite version.

    For example, since the masu form can only be used in the main clause (the only verb with masu ending is the last verb of the phrase), desu can only be used in the main clause too. You can't choose between desu and da in a subordinate clause, you always use da in a subordinate clause.

    For example, here we have da and desu in the main clause:
    • muri desu 無理です
      muri da 無駄だ
      Is impossible.

    Here in a subordinate clause:
    • muri da to kangaeraru 無理だと考えられる
      muri desu to kangaeraru 無理ですと考えられる
      Thought to be impossible.
    Above we can't use desu, because "to be impossible" is a subordinate clause for the verb "thought."

    To have a better idea let's see an English grammar example. Just like desu, the word "is" must be in the main clause, not in a subordinate clause. So:
    • {It is thought {is impossible} } (wrong!)
    • {It is thought {to be impossible } } (right)
    • {Thought is impossible} (right, single clause)
    • {Thought {to be impossible} } (right, two clauses)

    Another reminder desu works the same as polite masu verbs.
    • {muri desu} 無理です
      {[It]'s impossible.} (one clause)
    • {{muri da to} kangaeraremasu 無理だと考えられます
      {[It's] thought {to be impossible} }. (two clause)
    • muri da to kangaerareru to kikimashita 無理だと考えられると聞きました
      {[I] heard {[it's] thought {to be impossible } } } (three clause)

    All sentences above are polite. Note how both desu and ~masu polite verbs drop to their non-polite version when they go from verb of main clause to verb of subordinate clause.

    Casual vs. Emphatic

    On important thing to note is that you don't need to use da to say something is something. That is, in casual contexts, people will skip using da if they can.
    • baka 馬鹿
    • mazui 不味い
      Bad [taste]
      Bad [situation]
    • dare? 誰?

    In the cases, adding da can create a stronger affirmative or adding emphasis to an interrogative pronoun. This is because you'd normally not need to use da you all you're saying is one word, be it noun, pronoun, or adjective. By deliberately using da you add nuance to it.
    • baka da! 馬鹿だ!
      He IS stupid!
    • dare da?! 誰だ?!
      WHO is this?
    • kekkou 結構
      I'll pass.
    • kekkou desu 結構です
      I'm fine.
    • kekkou da! 結構だ!

    (note: examples above may be a bit exaggerated)

    Janai じゃない

    The word janai じゃない is basically the negative form desu and da. That is, the word janai means "is not" or "am not" or "are not."
    • kore wa neko janai! これは猫じゃない!
      This is not a cat! (WHAT??!?!?!?!?!?!?!)
    • ore wa kanemochi janai 俺は金持ちじゃない
      I'm not rich.
      I'm not a cash holder. (literally)

    The word janai is not technically polite, but you can still use janai together with desu. You can use da with janai, too. You can mix janai with either. There are some words more polite than janai that also mean "is not," but for the word desu the word janai works just fine.

    The negative janai can sometimes appear before a correction ending with da or desu. Phrases in the format X janai Y da or X janai Y desu would mean "it's not X, it's Y."

    Zura Janai Katsura Da!! ヅラじゃない桂だ!! phrase used by Katsura in the manga Gintama 銀魂

    Negative Questions

    A lot of times janai is used in negative questions. These kind of questions ask for confirmation by posing the opposite statement to the listener, which is kind of weird if you think about, but we actually have them in English too. See:
    • It is cold, is not it?
      It is cold, isn't it?
    • Is not it cold?
      Isn't it cold?

    Above we want to know if it really is cold, but we are asking if it is not cold. What's wrong with us? It'd make more sense to just ask the question directly: "is it cold?" instead of asking "is not it cold?" This is the kind of crap humans pull that ends up in apocalyptic nuclear wars and/or romcom animes because of misunderstandings, but I guess that's just how language works.

    Anyway, the same principle exists in Japanese. See example:
    • kirei janai? 綺麗じゃない?
      Isn't [it] pretty?
    • baka janai no?! 馬鹿じゃないの?
      Aren't [you] stupid?!

    Double Negatives

    The word janai and other negatives can also appear in what are known as double negatives. These are phrases that say something negative and then claim that thing is false. Like this:
    • okottenai 起こってない
      Does not happen.
    • okottenai wake janai 起こってないわけじゃない
      [It] is not like [it] does not happen.
      (that is: it happens)

    Janakatta じゃなかった

    The word janakatta じゃなかった is simply janai じゃない in the past, so janakatta means "was not" or "were not."
    • sore wa kantan janai それは簡単じゃない
      That is not simple.
    • sore wa kantan janakatta それは簡単じゃなかった
      That was not simple.

    Like any other negative word ending in the nai ない suffix, janai is actually an i-adjective. And like any other i-adjective, it can go from ~i to ~katta, which is what happens here.
    • muzukashii 難しい
      [Is] difficult.
    • muzukashikatta 難しかった
      [Was] difficult.
    • janai じゃない
      [Is] not.
    • janakatta じゃなかった
      [Was] not.

    Desu Ka ですか, Janai Ka じゃないか

    The word desu ka ですか is not really a word, I mean, not one word. It's two: desu です and the particle ka か. This particle, ka か, is generally used to express doubt. When it's at the end of the sentence, the ka particle turns the sentence into an interrogative. Example:
    • gochuumon wa usagi desu ご注文はうさぎです
      Your order is a rabbit.
    • gochuumon wa usagi desu ka? ご注文はうさぎですか?
      Is your order a rabbit?
    • kore wa zombie desu これはゾンビです
      This is a zombie.
    • kore wa zombie desu ka? これはゾンビですか?
      Is this a zombie?

    In English, we need what's called subject-verb-inversion in order to create questions by making them interrogative. Japanese doesn't work this way. Just by adding the ka at the end we turn "your order is" into "is your order." That is, the ka creates an interrogative.

    Other examples:
    • dame desu ka? ダメですか?
      Is [it] bad?
      Is [it] futile?
    • kanou desu ka? 可能ですか?
      Is [it] possible?
    • oishii desu ka? 美味しいですか?
      Is [it] tasty?

    It also works with complicated translations:
    • suki desu ka? 好きですか?
      Do [you] like [it]?

    The same ka particle can also be used with the negative janai, and past deshita and janakatta. See:
    • sou desu ka? そうですか?
      Is that so?
    • sou deshita ka? そうでしたか?
      Was that so?
    • sou janai ka? そうじゃないか?
      Is that not so?
    • sou janakatta ka? そうじゃなかったか?
      Was that not so?

    Daka だか

    One important thing to note is that if desu ka ですか exists, then da ka だか must exist too. After all, da is the non-polite version of desu.

    The phrase da ka does exist, however, it's often not used the same way desu ka is used. People use da ka almost exclusively in the middle of phrases, never at the end to make questions (except when there's a subordinate clause at the end, or the end of the clause is omitted).

    If it isn't used at the end, how do you ask a question with da, then? Well, you simply omit it:
    • inu da 犬だ
      It's a dog!
    • inu da ka 犬だか
      (not used)
    • inu ka? 犬か
      Is it a dog?!

    I'm not sure if da ka at the end of phrases is wrong grammatically, however, the fact stands that people simply don't use it at the end of phrases the same way they would with desu ka

    My guess is that using da だ instead of using nothing often implies an affirmation, so using both da and ka together would imply both certainty and doubt which makes no sense. My other guess is that maybe da だ is short, ka か is short, and da ka だか is too long so people use just ka instead. Remember: da at the end is used in casual speech, and people like using shorter words in casual speech.

    Note that though you don't use da ka at the end, datta ka is ok.
    • inu datta ka 犬だったか
      Was it a dog?

    Maybe because you can't make ka into the past without a verb (datta).

    Daga だが, Desu Ga ですが

    The words daga だが and desu ga ですが are the words da and desu combined with the particle ga が. This particle, ga が, is often used to mark the subject in a sentence, however, in this case, it has another function: ga が is a conjunction meaning "but." So daga and desu ga mean "it is X, but..."
    • kirei da ga baka da 綺麗だが馬鹿だ
      kirei desu ga baka desu 綺麗ですが馬鹿です
      [She] is pretty, but is stupid.

    Sometimes daga and desu ga are placed at the end of a phrase to show uncertainty of the speaker. That is, when someone says X desu ga... it's like he's saying "it's X, but... [I don't know if that's good]." It can also mean "though X happened [everything else was good]."

    In the same way, daga and desu ga can be used to say "it is X, but [what of it]?" This often happens when people say "that's me, [but what do you want with me?]"
    • Sakamoto Desu Ga? 坂本ですが?
      [I] am Sakamoto, but [is there something you want from me?]
    • Kumo Desu Ga, Nanika? 蜘蛛ですが、なにか?
      [I] am an spider, but what about it?

    Another interesting thing about daga and desuga is that they can go at the start of phrases. When this happens it can be safely translated as "however" or "but."
    • daga muri da だが無理だ
      desuga muri desu ですが無理です
      However it's impossible.
      But it's impossible.
    • daga kotowaru だが断る
      But [I] refuse.

    daga kotowaru だが断る phrase used by Kishibe Rohan in the manga JoJo's Bizarre Adventure / JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken ジョジョの奇妙な冒険

    Darou だろう, Deshou でしょう

    The words darou だろう and deshou でしょう are just like da and desu, except they don't mean "is" or "are." Instead, darou and deshou beg for agreement or confirmation of the listener, expressing uncertainty but conviction of the speaker. In other words, it creates a supposition.

    That might sound complicated, but basically it translates to: I assume? Don't you agree? Don't you think so? amiright? And so on. If desu is "it is X," then deshou is "it is X, right?" For example:
    • sore wa muri deshou それは無理でしょう
      sore wa muri darou それは無理だろう
      That is impossible, I assume?
      That is impossible, don't you agree?
      That is impossible, right?
      That is impossible, isn't it?

    Sometimes these words appear alone in a phrase as a response. In those cases the word isn't asking for agreement but agreeing. It's easier to imagine that as someone saying darou and nodding at the same time.
    • sore wa muri da それは無理だ
      That is impossible. (statement)
    • darou? だろう?
      deshou? でしょう?
      *nodding* Right? (response)

    The words darou and desho can create such questions, but it's good to remember they are not the only way to create questions in Japanese, so they're rarely used as-is. Most of the time, questions can be and will be asked in other ways. For example:
    • desu ka? ですか
      Direct question.
    • ka na? かな?
      Wondering question.
    • deshou ka? でしょうか
      darou ka だろうか?
      Confirmation question. (note the ka particle)
    • deshou? でしょう?
      darou? だろう?
      Begging for agreement but it's not like I'm actually asking a question or anything, b-baka!!!

    Desho でしょ, deshou でしょー, darou だろー

    Sometimes deshou でしょう is written, pronounced as desho でしょ or deshou でしょー instead. It's the same word, just a variation of it.

    Likewise, darou だろう can be darou だろー also.

    No Da のだ, No Desu のです

    Sometimes da, desu, darou, deshou, and even other words of the kind are preceded by the particle no の at the end of a phrase, like this: no da, no desu, no darou, no deshou, etc.

    This no の has no real meaning, you can pretty much ignore it if you want.

    The no function there is purely grammatical. The words da, desu, and others must go after a noun. It's grammatically wrong for them to go after an adjective or verb. See:
    • neko desu 猫です
      It's a cat. (correct. neko is a noun)
    • kawaii desu 可愛いです
      It's cute. (wrong! kawaii is an i-adjective)
    • kirei na desu 綺麗なです
      It's pretty (wrong! kirei na is a na-adjective)
    • tobu desu 飛ぶです
      Jump. (wrong! tobu is a verb)

    If you can't add desu after something that is not a noun, how do you say the sentences above, then? It's simple: we turn them into nouns first!

    In order to do this, we need the no の particle, which can turn a given clause into a nominal clause (which is a clause that is a noun).

    So, for a given i-adjective:
    • kawaii かわいい
    • kawaii no かわいいの
    • kawaii no desu かわいいのです
      kawaii no da かわいいのだ
      It's cute. (correct!)

    Phrases with an i-adjective and desu like kawaii desu are extremely common, so they've been actually recognized as correct and grammatically OK despite being originally incorrect. In modern Japanese, saying kawaii desu is alright even though the exact way would be saying kawaii no desu. (

    This is only the case for desu, though, not for da. The phrase kawaii da is still wrong. You can't say that. You must say kawaii no da. (though kawaii dato, kawaii darou, etc. are alright.)

    This also has the effect of people feeling that no desu feels stronger, more emphatic, than just desu. After all, why would you go through the trouble of saying the no there if just desu is already alright? So, for example, kawaii desu means "it's cute," while kawaii no desu is more like "I AM SAYING. IT IS. CUTE!!!1"

    Continuing, for a given verb:
    • tobu 飛ぶ
    • tobu no 飛ぶの
    • tobu no desu 飛ぶのです
      tobu no da 飛ぶのだ
      Jump. (correct!)

    This verb part I think should be explained further a bit because it's important.

    Many online resources will say that no desu のです is used to explain a situation and show a bunch of examples where situations are explained and no desu のです is being used. In reality, all of those example sentences will contain a sentence that's being turned into a nominal clause by the particle. Example:
    • neko wa {hito no kotoba} wo rikai dekiru 猫は人の言葉を理解できる
      Cats can understand the {words of people}.
    • {neko wa {hito no kotoba} wo rikai dekiru} no 猫は人の言葉を理解できるの
      {Cats can understand the {words of people}}. (nominal clause)
    • {neko wa hito no {kotoba wo rikai} dekiru} no desu 猫は人の言葉を理解できるのです
      {neko wa hito no {kotoba wo rikai} dekiru} no da 猫は人の言葉を理解できるのだ
      afaik, {cats can understand the {words of people}}
      imho, {cats can understand the {words of people}}

    So it's true that no desu, no da are frequent in phrases the explain situations, however, the function of no there is purely grammatical. It's the desu that's giving the explanation or expression nuance to the phrases above.

    Lastly, for na-adjectives like kirei na, we can just drop the na particle.
    • kirei desu 綺麗です
      It's pretty.

    This is sort of backwards since you usually start with the noun kirei and then add the na particle to turn it into an adjective, but I wanted to include all cases so I included this example for na-adjectives too.

    Nda んだ, Ndesu んです

    Sometimes you'll see a phrase that ends in nda んだ or ndesu んです. This n ん is actually the no の particle in disguise! So nda and ndesu mean the same thing as no da のだ and no desu のです explained above.
    • kawaiinda かわいいんだ
      kawaiindesu かわいいんです
      [It] is cute.

    Why nda and ndesu exist, though? Well, it's because it's just easier to say. Try saying no desu. Three syllables: no. de. su. Normally you'd say it so fast you wouldn't even pronounce the u at the end and get something like no des instead. But that still hurts your tongue to say, so people shorten no の into a mere n ん: ndes. Something like that.

    And thus people feel that kawaii desu is basic, kawaii no desu is more affirmative, and kawaiindesu is something in the middle, putting some feeling into your statement but not being overbearing.

    Janee じゃねえ, Janee Ka じゃねえか

    Sometimes the word janai じゃない can be pronounced differently, in a more contracted tone, and becomes janee. This word, janee, can be spelled multiple different ways:

    The word janee is just a different pronunciation of janai, so it works literally the same way.
    • oretachi wa nakama janee ka? 俺達は仲間じゃねえか?
      Aren't we friends?

    It's a word regularly preferred by rough-speaking tough-guy characters / gang members / punks and other very angry people, but that's all there's to it.

    janee じゃねえぇぇ used by Otose in the manga Gintama 銀魂

    Dearu である and Deatta であった

    The words dearu である and deatta であった are (sort of) synonymous with desu and deshita.
    Basically, dearu である is the particle de で together with the verb aru ある. The word deatta であった is simply the past tense of dearu である.
    • unmei de aru 運命である
      [It] is destiny.
    • unmei de atta 運命であった
      [It] was destiny.

    You can add the ka particle to these too to make them into questions.
    • unmei de aru ka? 運命であるか?
      Is [it] destiny?
    • unmei de atta ka? 運命であったか?
      Was [it] destiny?

    The word de atta is where the plain copula datta だった came from.

    De Arou であろう

    The equivalent of darou, desho for dearu is dearou.
    • unmei de arou? 運命であろう?
      I think it's destiny?
    • unmei de arou ka? 運命であろうか?
      Could [it] be destiny?

    De Particle + Aru Verb

    In the word de aru the verb, aru, means "to exist," and the function of the de particle is to describe how an action is performed. So de aru literally means "to exist as." An example to elaborate:
    • geemu de asobu ゲームで遊ぶ
      Playing (how?) with a game.
    • geemu de aru ゲームである
      Existing (how?) as a game.

    If something exists as a game, then it is a game. That's the logic behind it.

    Difference Between Desu です and Dearu である

    Although dearu and deatta have pretty much the same meaning as desu and deshita, they are not exactly the same.

    One difference is that dearu feels more impartial, objective, and official about things while desu feels more personal. This means that desu is used to say what you think things "are," in your opinion, as far as you know, can see, heard, etc. while dearu implies a level of absoluteness and truth in it.

    Generally speaking dearu has more impact and emphasis than desu. If you hear desu you just think "it is," but if you hear dearu you think "this is the truth." It sounds like someone is making an statement.
    • teki desu 敵です
      It's the enemy. (Is what I think, after seeing them with my own two eyes)
    • teki dearu 敵である
      It's the enemy. (By definition. The sworn enemy of our great nation. The disgrace that walks on our lands, brings shame to our species, ridicules the good, noble values upon which we have built our society. It is, beyond any shade of doubt or question, the enemy. The hated, loathed enemy which must be destroyed.)

    In practice, this means that desu is more common in speech and less common in written text, while dearu is more common in written text and less common in speech. In anime, you'll often hear characters say desu and narrators say dearu.

    Of course that isn't always the case. Many texts would rather use desu than dearu, specially blog posts, comments, articles, etc. In formal speeches, addresses, by government officials, etc., it wouldn't be surprising for them to use dearu.

    Like with da and desu, if you use dearu the rest of your discourse has to match the tone of dearu. That is, the word dearu gives the impression someone is making an statement because most of the time you hear dearu it's used in official-sounding impartial-sounding statements.

    Another point is that desu is polite, it makes sentences softer for the listener, but dearu is not polite. That is, dearu is formal, but it's more direct. It states cold, hard truths. The polite version of dearu would be de arimasu.

    De Arimasu であります

    The word de arimasu であります is nothing more than the polite version of dearu である. This works because aru is a verb, so it can be conjugated to its polite form by adding a masu to it: arimasu あります.

    This word has basically the same meaning as de aru. It's just a polite "is" or "exists as."
    • neko de arimasu 猫であります
      It is a cat. (all those syllables were translated into just an "is"...)

    You can also add the ka particle to it to make into a question.
    • neko de arimasu ka? 猫でありますか
      Is it a cat?

    One thing to note is that since de aru is formal, de arimasu becomes polite and formal at the same time, which makes the word a bit too polite for people to use all the time. So desu is the normal polite choice, while de arimasu is the very polite choice.

    De Arimashou でありましょう

    The equivalent of deshou, darou for de arimasu would be de arimashou でありましょう.

    Note that some people won't say de arimashou even if they're using de arimasu であります because it sounds a bit too pompous. These people would use deshou でしょう instead.

    De Arimashita でありました

    Since de arimasu is a polite form of the verb with a masu ending, de arimashita is the past form of de arimasu. That is, de arimashita means "was" in Japanese.
    • neko de arimashita 猫でありました
      It was a cat. (...the thing we saw, right? I mean, sure the cat didn't just become something else, right?!)
    • neko de arimashita ka? 猫でありましたか
      Was it a cat?

    De Arimasen でありません

    The negative of de arimasu would be de arimasen でありません, since the negative of arimasu is arimasen. However, de arimasen is not really common. Another expression is used instead.

    Dewa Arimasen ではありません

    Instead of de arimasen with a single de particle, the negative of de arimasu is in practice dewa arimasen using not one but two particles: de で and wa は. Besides this weird bit, the word works pretty much the same as you'd expect and means "is not."
    • neko dewa arimasen 猫ではありません
      [It] is not a cat.

    Same with questions.
    • neko dewa arimasen ka? 猫では有りませんか?
      Is [it] not a cat?
      Isn't [it] a cat? (asking for confirmation)

    Dewa Arimasendeshita ではありませんでした

    We can add deshita to the negative masen suffix in order to make it past negative. So dewa arimasendeshita would mean "was not."
    • neko dewa arimasen deshita 猫ではありませんでした
      It was not a cat.
    • neko dewa arimasen deshita ka? 猫ではありませんでしたか?
      Was [it] not a cat?
      Wasn't [it] a cat?

    Dewa Nai ではない

    The expression dewanai ではない is basically the same thing as janai じゃない, and thus it means "is not."
    • kore wa neko dewa nai これは猫ではない
      This is not a cat. (AGAIN?! Then what is it?!!?!)

    As expected, it also works for questions with the ka particle.
    • kore wa neko dewa nai ka? これは猫ではないか?
      Isn't this a cat?

    Dewa Nakatta ではなかった

    Just like we can inflect janai to janakatta, we can inflect dewanai to dewanakatta. That is, the word dewanakatta means "was not" in Japanese.
    • kore wa neko dewa nakatta これは猫ではなかった
      This was not a cat. (now that I think about it, this sentence sounds weird)
    • are wa neko dewa nakatta あれは猫ではなかった
      That was not a cat. (now it's better.)
    • are wa neko dewa nakatta ka? あれ猫ではなかったか
      Wasn't that a cat?
      That wasn't a cat? (seriously?!)

    Difference With Janai

    The difference between dewanai and janai is that janai is slightly less formal and dewanai is slightly more formal. They are exactly the same in every other way.

    Difference With Dewa Arimasen

    Also, the difference between dewa nai and dewa arimasen is that dewa nai is not polite while dewa arimasen is polite.

    Bluntly, this is because arimasen is derived from masu and nai is not. That's pretty much it.
    So dewanai is non-polite, slightly formal. The word janai is non-polite, slightly casual. And dewa arimasen is both formal and polite. All three words mean "is not" or "are not" in Japanese.

    Dewa では and Ja じゃ

    In case you're wondering why dewanai and janai are so similar, that's because ja じゃ is nothing more, nothing less than dewa では said real fast.

    Basically, in real speech, with two people talking out loud, in person, in real life, with their mouths, they'll end up contracting dewa into the easier to say ja. This is just like in English we contract "can not" into "can't," except not exactly.

    Difference Between Ja and Dewa

    There is no difference in meaning between ja and dewa, however, there is a difference in usage.
    For example, dewa is preferred for writing. That is, if you are writing a document, you're supposed to use dewa, not ja. This is because dewa is the clear, formal way of writing it, and ja is just how you get used to saying it.

    Note that this is a bit different from contractions in English: nobody will tell you to write "can not" instead of "can't" when writing a document.

    And people can write blog posts, internet comments, or even paper notes with ja if they want to. Nobody's going to stop them from doing that. The grammar nazis don't just lock people up for using contractions.

    In anime, an interesting difference is that if dewa shows up in a character dialogue, it sounds like he speaks in a clearer tone than characters that speak using ja. This might sound meaningless, but it can hint for example that a character has an office job or works in a fancy restaurant if he uses dewa, while a ja character might be a fisher or someone who works in a ramen shop by the street.

    Extreme examples, I know, but if you pay attention you'll see that the speech of characters in manga and anime dialogue is full of stereotype hints. It's the Japanese equivalent of an Australian character saying "mate" all the time.

    Jaarimasen じゃありません

    Since ja is a contraction of dewa, and the word dewa arimasen exists, then jaarimasen exists too.
    • jaarimasen じゃありません
      Is not. (from dewa arimasen)
    • jaarimasen ka じゃありませんか
      Is not? (from dewa arimasen ka)
    • jaarimasen deshita じゃありませんでした
      Was not. (From dewa arimasen deshita.)
    • jaarimasen deshita ka じゃありませんでしたか
      Was not? (From dewa arimasen deshita.)

    Like dewa arimasen, the word jaarimasen is polite. This also means that jaarimasen is more polite than dewanai, because dewanai is not really polite. Look: dewanai has no masu in it, so it's not polite.

    Janai Desu じゃないです, Dewanai Desu ではない

    Sometimes people add a desu to janai and to dewanai to make it slightly more polite than usual.
    • neko janai desu 猫じゃないです
      neko dewa nai desu 猫ではないです
      [It] is not a cat.
    • neko janakatta desu 猫じゃなかったです
      neko dewa nakatta desu 猫ではなかったです
      [It] was not a cat.

    You can even use desu ka ですか with it.
    • neko janai desu ka? 猫じゃないですか?
      neko dewa nai desu ka? 猫ではないですか?
      Is [it] not a cat?
    • neko janakatta desu ka? 猫じゃなかったですか?
      neko dewa nakatta desu ka? 猫ではなかったですか?
      Was [it] not a cat?

    We can see above how there is literally no change in meaning. What changed was merely a politeness nuance.

    The words jaarimasen and de arimasen can be considered too formal and stiff while janai and dewanai are too direct and not polite enough. So janai desu and dewanai desu exists as a middle ground between janai and jaarimasen, or dewanai and de arimasen.

    There's a question about whether they're the same where the answer refers to some research with further insight. According to it, the form masen sounds like it strongly and firmly denies something: "is not." So it can come off too intimidating. It sounds like a big official "no." People prefer to use janai desu because it sounds less intimidating, comes off less strong while still technically polite. Do note someone commented that the study was on spoken language, not on written language.

    Grammatically speaking, janai desu and dewa nai desu work because the nai ない in janai and dewa nai is an adjective. The ja of janai is a contraction of dewa, so it's really been ja nai (note the space) all along!

    It's hard to explain this in theory, so see these examples in practice:
    • kane wa nai desu 金は無いです
      There is no money.
      The money is none.
    • sore dewa mazui desu それではまずいです
      In that case [it] is bad.
    • neko dewa nai desu 猫ではないです
      In cat's case [it] is none.

    Literally speaking, what it does is saying "a cat? The chance of it being such thing is none!" which means "it is not a cat" somehow. Instead of trying to figure out how this can possibly make any sense, just remember dewanai desu means "is not" and that's got to be enough.

    De Gozaimasu でございます

    Another way to say "is" in Japanese is using the expression de gozaimasu でございます. Sometimes the expression is written with kanji: de gozaimasu で御座います
    • atsui de gozaimasu 暑いでございます
      atsui de gozaimasu 暑いで御座います
      [It] is hot.

    As one might notice, de gozaimasu works exactly the same way as de arimasu. It's a combination of the particle de with the verb gozaru ござる. Therefore, the following forms also exist:
    • de gozaimasen でございません
      de gozaimasen で御座いません
      Is not.
    • de gozaimashita でございました
      de gozaimashita で御座いました
    • de gozaimasen deshita でございませんでした
      de gozaimasen deshita で御座いませんでした
      Was not.

    And of course you can add ka to it too.
    • de gozaimasu ka? でございますか?
    • de gozaimasen ka? でございませんか?
    • de gozaimashita ka? でございましたか?
    • de gozaimasen deshita ka? でございませんでしたか?

    De Gozaimashou でございましょう

    The equivalent of darou, deshou for gozaimasu would be degozaimashou:
    • de gozaimashou? でございましょう?
    • de gozaimashou? で御座いましょう?
    • de gozaimashou ka? でございましょうか?
    • de gozaimashou ka? で御座いましょうか?

    Difference Between De Arimasu and De Gozaimasu

    The word arimasu is the normal verb aru in the polite masu form. The word gozaimasu is the already polite verb gozaru in the polite masu form. So, by simple math addition:
    • polite + polite > normal + polite.
      gozaimasu is more polite than arimasu

    A reminder: arimasu already doesn't show up in normal conversations or anime. So gozaimasu shows even less in both. It's more common in offices, shops, business, etc. when dealing with clients.

    If it does appear in anime, it's probably to show off how extremely courteous a character is.

    de gozaimasu で御座います used in the manga Drifters ドリフターズ by Nasu Yoichi

    De Gozaru でござる

    Since de gozaimasu is a verb in the polite masu form, there must be a base form somewhere. The base form of de gozaimasu would be de gozaru. It can be written in three different ways:
    • samurai de gozaru 侍でござる
      [It] is a samurai.

    Do note that this word can be written with kanji and even with katakana too!
    • de gozaru でござる
    • de gozaru で御座る
    • de gozaru でゴザル

    Usage of De Gozaru

    The word de gozaru is practically not used in modern Japanese.

    It fell out of use in the samurai Edo period. Nowadays it's found, most of the time, in anime, manga and novels in characters' dialogue that are samurai or come from such era.

    degozaru でござる used in the manga Samurai X / Rurouni Kenshin るろうに剣心

    It's also used in a parodying way by fans of samurai stuff and otakus. And, consequently, by manga characters that portray these real life otakus who are fans of manga characters that do say degozaru.

    degozaru でゴザル used by an otaku in the manga Prison School / Kangoku Gakuen 監獄学園

    Kanji of Desu です

    The word desu です does not have kanji. It is written only with hiragana, never with kanji.

    Likewise, da, deshita, and datta do not have kanji either.

    Kanji of Dearu である and Dewanai ではない

    The words janai and dewanai are not written with kanji despite nai originally being the adjective nai 無い, which does have a kanji.

    Likewise, dearu is not written with kanji despite aru originally being the verb aru 有る.

    The reason for this is simple: auxiliaries in Japanese are never written with kanji. And the reason for that is simple, too: because otherwise you might mistake the auxiliary with the original word.

    That is, just because nai and aru are frequently part of auxiliaries that doesn't mean their original, separate words are not in use anymore. So in order to not mistake janai with the adjective nai 無い, and dearu with the verb aru 有る, the auxiliaries are simply not written with kanji. Take the phrases below, for example:
    • kane wa aru 金は有る
      To possess money.
      There is money in my possession.
      [I] have money.
    • kane wa nai desu 金は無いです
      Money is nonexistent..
      There is no money.
      [I] don't have money.

    When it's the actual adjective nai 無い, meaning "non-existent," and the verb aru 有る, "to possess," or aru 在る, "to exist," then it's written with kanji. Most of the time they are auxiliary so it's written with hiragana only.

    Of course that just because that's how you're supposed to do it doesn't mean everybody does it that way.

    Youngsters & Their Kanji E-mails

    In a Japanese blog, someone commented how "young people" write gozaimasu 御座います with kanji. They noted how, because of computers, these darn youngsters became able to use kanji in words that nobody used before (like these 御座) because writing them on hand, for a handwritten letter, was too troublesome so every just wrote it with hiragana instead.
    • arigatou gozaimasu ありがとうございます
      Easy Japanese hiragana way.
    • arigatou gozaimasu 有難う御座居ます
      Practically Chinese. (also imasu is written wrong!)

    Likewise, it seems writing dearu である as dearu で有る and the nai ない auxiliary adjective suffix as nai 無い has become a common mispractice in e-mails, blogs and internet because the computer makes it easy to convert hiragana to kanji, be it correctly or incorrectly. It's like how people misspell "it's" as "its" and vice-versa in the internet all the time. Or "you're" and "your."

    Cheat Sheet for Desu です

    One last thing, to conclude everything that was said in the post: a cheat sheet which leave out some information but works 50% of the time. Because I know some people have just skipped to this part anyway.

    Desu copula cheat sheet - diagram showing differences between informal plain copula da, datta, darou, janai, janaktta, formal dearu, deatta, dearou, dewanai, dewanakatta, polite copula desu, deshita, deshou, dearimasu, dearimashita, dearimashou, dearimasen, dearimasendeshita, degozaru, degozaimasu, degozaimashita, degozaimashou, degozaimasen and degozaimasendeshita

    So that's how desu works.


    Leave your komento コメント in this posuto ポスト of this burogu ブログ with your questions about Japanese, doubts or whatever!

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    1. the grammar is not boring for me for the first time
      thanks a lot guys ^_^

    2. It's so complete: I'm impressed

    3. A very clear explanation! Thanks!

    4. Contents are very nice and explanation in very good.
      Thank you very much

    5. Damn! japanese is kind of difficult, but I am so glad I finally know what these words mean :). Thanks!

    6. I was searching for the difference between desu and dearu. Couple of points that you had given really helped me to understand it. I could not find them in the usual grammar books.

    7. This is way too beyond amazing!!! Thanks a lot!!!

    8. I love this blog. It's so helpful for the confused Englishman trying to learn Japanese. Just wanted to point out something that's not quite right (in English). When you wrote:

      "Note that this is a bit different from contractions in English: nobody will tell you to write "can not" instead of "can't" when writing a document."

      I can tell you from writing papers in college and law school, and later briefs for litigation: you're frequently told not to use contractions. If you submit a brief to the court with a bunch of "can't"s and "shouldn't"s and whatnot, the judge will think you're a dummy.

      So, I'd say it's pretty similar to Japanese, in that contractions are fine in everyday speech and blogs, but not preferred when writing formally.