When to omit (leave out) words in Japanese?

Posted by on September 14, 2020 – Japanese Study

In Japanese conversation certain parts of Japanese sentences can be left out.

Just like English – certain situations will change the way that you communicate.

If you are speaking with friends – you would take on a less formal tone – and often you would leave certain parts of speech out of your sentences.

The same is true in Japanese. In Japanese there are several common omissions.

Subject Omissions in Japanese

One of the biggest mistakes that new learners to Japanese make in Japanese conversation is the overuse of subjects when speaking.

For example – (Watashi wa) Samu Desu. I am Sam.

In Japanese conversation – this can be seen as unnatural or weird.

In English – the equivalent might be saying something like “I am the one who is Sam.” Versus “I am sam”.

So in this case – we can omit the (Watashi wa) and simply say – “Sam desu.”

This can also be used for describing your occupation and where you are from.

Let’s look at some examples. (Everything in parenthesis can be omitted)

(Watashi wa) Samu Desu. <— I am Sam.
(Watashi wa) Kaishain Desu. <—- I am a company employee.
(Watashi wa) Amerika kara kimashita <—- I am from the United States.


Omitting subjects isn’t just limited to when you are speaking about yourself. You can also omit subjects when you are speaking to others.

Interrogative Omission (Asking questions)

In the same way that words can be seen as “clunky” or “weird” when we talk about ourselves; we can also leave out words when talking to others.

This is normally due to us being able to infer from context.

Just like in English – it can be seen as rude or weird to point out things that are already obvious.

If I asked you a question and said “You – what is your work?”, that would be a bit weird – wouldn’t it.

Because you and I both know that I am asking you the question – I don’t need to include the subject.

In addition to this – you can also omit the question marker.

Here are some examples of interrogative omission:

(Anata no) O-shigoto wa (nan desu ka?) —-> What do you do?
(Anata no) O-namae wa (nan desu ka?) —-> What is your job?
(Anata wa) ? —–> Do you like it?

Generally anata and anata no (posessive particle) are omitted if they can be easily discerned from context.

(Anata wa) Amerikajin desu ka? <—- Are you an American?
(Anata no) Kodomo wa nansai desu ka? <—- how many years old is your child?


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