Pronunciation in Japan: Long Vowels and Double Consonants in Japanese

In the world of languages, Japanese is often said to be one of the easiest to pronounce. After all, its words are made up of easily discernible syllables with sounds most familiar to English speakers. But, like all languages, not everything is as simple as it may look on the surface; Japanese also has its fair share of auditory quirks! Today, we’ll walk you through two things – long vowels and double consonants. What are they? Where are they found? Why are they significant? And, most importantly, how can they help you seem like a native Japanese speaker? Your skills are sure to become twice as nice once you master these elements!

Before you continue, make sure you know how to write and read hiragana and katakana — both are really related to today’s article! Besides that, make sure to check out in-person and online courses at Coto Academy to help fast-track your Japanese learning progress!

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What are Long Vowels in Japanese?

In short (see what I did there?), long vowels, also known as chouon (長音) are vowels with a pronunciation twice as long as a normal vowel. To put this a different way, when you pronounce a word with a long vowel, you would “hold” the vowel sound for double the time you would a normal vowel. So, the long version of the “ah” sound is pronounced “aa”, the long version of the  “ee” sound is “ee”, and so on. All of the vowels in Japanese — あ, い, う, え, and お — can be long. The length of these vowels is important in Japanese, as lengths can sometimes change the meaning of the word.

Let’s see an example of long vowels in action!

  • おばさん(obasan) “o-ba-san” = aunt
  • おばあさん (obaasan) “o-baaa-san” = grandma 

Do you see the difference? In aunt, the “ah” sound is normal length, while in grandma, the “ah” sound is longer and pronounced “aaahh”. So, grandma has a long vowel, and this long vowel is what differentiates grandma from aunt! Not too bad, right?

 Let’s see another example. 

  • おじさん (ojisan) “oh-gee-san” = uncle
  • おじいさん (ojiisan) “oh-geeee-san” = grandpa

Did you spot the difference quicker that time? In uncle, the “gee” sound is normal length, while the “gee” sound in grandpa is longer and is thus pronounced, “geee.” So, grandpa has a long vowel that separates it from uncle. This isn’t so hard after all — just be careful not to call a young aunt a grandma and risk offending her!

How to Pronounce Long Vowels in Japanese

Japanese vowels always sound the same, making them unruly compared to the English language. As mentioned before, Japanese only has five vowels (boi, 母音), transcribed into the English alphabet as a, i, u, e and o. In other words, あ (a) will always sounds the same, no matter the context or spelling.

Trying to pronounce long vowels can be easy if you remember a few key rules. Long vowels are just an extension of their shorter bowels, so there can only be five Japanese long vowels, too. For example, when we come across the word お母さん (okaasan, mother), we simply think of saying the prolonged “a” (ah) vowel. Think of it as saying “aa”, or saying two short “a” sounds put together without a break.  

Writing Long Vowels in Hiragana

As you might have already noticed, these long vowels are also reflected in Japanese writing systems. In Hiragana, for あ,い, and う sounds, you simply add the same kana after the sound that is being made long. For example: 

  • ま [ma] becomes まあ [maa]
  • き [ki] becomes きい [kii]
  • ぬ [nu] becomes ぬう[nuu]

For え [e] and お [o] sounds, it’s a little bit more complicated. Most of the time for え[e], you will actually add an い [i] afterward to signify a long vowel. This looks like:

  • へ [he] turning into へい [hei]
  • せ [se] turning into せい [sei]

We can also see this in the word for movie えいが (eiga), for example. The え[e] sound is long, so an い [i] is added instead of the expected え[e]. It might be tempting to pronounce this い [i] when saying the word, but just remember that the い [i] extends the え[e]! 

There are a few cases where え[e] is indeed written instead of い [i], but using い [i] is by far the most common way of writing this.

For お [o] sounds, you will usually add an う[u] to make the vowel longer. So, for example: 

  • ろ [ro] becomes ろう [rou]
  • と [to] becomes とう [tou]

To demonstrate with an actual word, law is ほうりつ (houritsu), with the ほ [ho] sound being lengthened by the う[u]. Of course, it might be confusing to pronounce the う[u]. 

Side Note!

For beginner learners, pay particular attention to long vowels on “e” and “o” when you are reading something. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

先生 (sensei; teacher) is pronounced sen-see. We may have the tendency to say sen-se-i. 

方法 (houhou; method) is pronounced hoo-hoo, and not ho-u-ho-u. 

There are also a few exceptions when the long vowels on え (e) and お (o) use the same corresponding character in spelling. The word おねえさん (oneesan), which means older sister, uses both “e” vowels, instead of being spelled as おねいさん (oneisan). The Japanese adjective おおきい (ookii), which means big, is spelled with a double ‘o’ instead ‘ou’. 

Reading these long vowels might be easier, but when you are writing long vowels in Japanese, double-check that it’s the correct spelling!

Writing Long Vowels in Katakana

The good news is that writing long vowels in katakana is simpler than in hiragana! In Katakana, all long vowels are simply written with a long dash “―” (or  an | if you are writing vertically), placed after the vowel being extended. You can see this in words such as カー (kaa, car) and ボール (booru, ball)! For example:

  • ケース (keesu): case
  • キャラクター (kyarakutaa): character
  • コーヒー (koohii): coffee

Before we move on, it’s also important to note that long vowels can happen at the beginning of words and at the end – not just in the middle! Additionally, if a syllable ends with a contracted sound like using the small y-sounds, such as きょ(cha) or ちゃ(cha) the vowel will lengthen following the vowel in the y-sounds.

In this case, きょ(kyo) might become きょう (kyou) and ちゃ (cha) might become ちゃあ (chaa).

And there you have it – that’s long vowels in a nutshell! That wasn’t too bad, right? You’ve already learned half of the auditory oddities for today; let’s keep going and learn the other one!

Double Consonants in Japanese

Much like long vowels, double consonants, or 促音 (sokuon), are simply consonant sounds that have been doubled. This is easiest to see when the word is written in romaji.

When you pronounce a double consonant, you actually make a pause or a clipped sound before you say the following kana. It’s like you are saying one syllable, pausing, and then saying the next one! So, if the “p” sound in “tapa” was doubled, you would say it like “tap-pa.” Pretty easy, right! 

Kana beginning with t, s, k, p, or n (or any of these consonants with a diacritical mark) can be doubled (Konomi). As with long vowels, understanding double consonants is important, as they can also change the meaning of a word.

Let’s look at an example to make this a bit easier to understand. 

  • さか (saka) “saka” = slope 
  • さっか (sakka) “sak-ka” = writer 

See the difference? In slope, the “k” sound in “ka” is pronounced normally, but in writer, the sound is doubled; so, it is said with a pause before the “ka”. Again, this double consonant is what differentiates slope from writer

Take a look at another example. 

  • かた (kata) “kata” = shoulder
  • かった (katta) “kat-ta” = to win (short form, past-tense) 

Could you tell which one was doubled? In to win, the “t” sound in “ta” is the one that is doubled, so it is said with a pause before the “ta.” Pretty simple, right?

How Do I Write Double Consonants?

Again, this difference in pronunciation is also reflected in Japanese writing systems. For the most part, you simply place a small つ (tsu) before the consonant that is double

Since Japanese uses syllables as the basis for its writing systems, you have to write a whole syllable – you can’t just write a consonant As you might have noticed in the examples, a small つ [tsu] is simply a smaller version of this kana; it’s written as っ in hiragana and as ッ for katakana words. 

So, in hiragana, this would look like: 

  • ぴ [pi] becomes っぴ [ppi]
  • そ [so] becomes っそ [sso]
Double consonants in hiragana
Double consonants in hiragana

In katakana, you would write it as:

  • グ [gu] turns into ッグ [ggu]
  • ぺ [pe] turns into ッぺ [ppe]
Double consonants in katakana
Double consonants in katakana

The only exception to this rule is if you are doubling the ん (n) sound. In that case, you would write the ん (n) hiragana in front of one of the kana that starts with n: な(na), に (ni), ぬ[nu], ね[ne], or の[no]). (Note that you only write in hiragana in this situation!) Thus, it would look like:

  • な [na] becoming んな [nna]
  • の [no] becoming んの [nno]
Double consonants in hiragana
Double consonants in hiragana

You can also see this in words such as: 

  • さんねん (sannen, three years
  • あんない (annai, guide)

This isn’t too hard either! 

Here are some more examples of words that have double consonants in Japanese:

切ってKittePost stamp
ちょっとChottoA little bit
残念ZannenRegretable, disappointing (that’s too bad)

Before we wrap up this section, it’s also important to note that you can’t start a word with a double consonant. (After all, how do you start a word with a pause?) Double consonants can only be found in the middle or toward the end of words. As long as you remember these things, you won’t have to pause for long when reading and speaking double consonants!

Why Are Learning Sokuon and Chouon Important?

So, you just finished learning about long vowels and double consonants. Why though? Why are these aspects a key factor in being able to improve your Japanese skills? Why did we take the time to write this whole article? For one thing, as mentioned above, these elements can change the meanings of words. If you don’t know how to tell when long vowels and double consonants are being said, you won’t be able to tell the difference between these words – and you might accidentally say the wrong thing! These aspects are commonly found in Japanese, so you are not going to be able to simply avoid words that have them! 

Another reason is that knowing how to accurately articulate long vowels and double consonants is a key part of pronouncing Japanese correctly. It might be tempting to just skip over these aspects or think that they don’t make much of a difference, but they absolutely do!

Aside from changing the meaning of words, these elements also pop up in grammar (such as the informal って [tte] after quoting someone) and colloquial expressions (such as “えええ?” [eee?] to express surprise). You also don’t want to create a habit of pronouncing these words incorrectly; it’s much easier to learn the right way in the beginning, instead of trying to correct improper pronunciation later on. It might take a little while to get used to, but once you do, it will come naturally afterward (sort of like riding a bike)!

Finally, long vowels and double consonants are imperative if you want to be able to read and write well. You’re not going to be able to read words with long vowels and double consonants if you don’t know what they mean, and you certainly won’t be able to spell them! Worse yet, you won’t be able to look these words up in a dictionary without knowing what they are! Not to fear though – now that you’ve read this article, this is one thing you won’t have to worry about!

Practice, Practice, Practice

That said, it won’t hurt to have a little extra practice just to make sure you’ve really got these ideas firmly cemented in your head. For writing practice, check out this short quiz by MIT OpenCourseWare. It’s just 16 questions long, so it’s perfect for a quick review session! For both listening and writing practice, check out this page based on the Genki 1 workbook. It also helps you learn how to type in Japanese if you don’t already know how!


Some parts of the Japanese language are easier than others. Many find learning kanji to be hard while remembering katakana words to be simple. Japanese pronunciation tends to be one of the easier parts, but as we’ve seen today, sometimes there can be a few wrenches thrown into a generally straightforward process. Long vowels and double consonants, while initially confusing, aren’t too bad once you take the time to really understand them. Now that you’ve got them under your belt, you are well on your way to gathering all of the tools you need to become a Japanese language master!

 If you want to become fluent in double the time, however, you can also check out some of our classes here at Coto Academy! By offering intensive, part-time, JLPT-focused, and online classes, you are sure to find the option that fits you the best!

Start learning Japanese and master Japanese pronunciation today!

What is a double consonant in Japanese?

Double consonants, or 促音 (sokuon), are consonant sounds that have been doubled. When you pronounce a double consonant, you actually make a pause or a clipped sound before you say the following kana.

What is a long vowels in Japanese?

Long vowels, also known as chouon (長音) are vowels with a pronunciation twice as long as a normal vowel. There are five long vowels in Japanese: /aa/, /ii/, /uu/, /ee/, and /oo/.

How many vowels are there in Japanese?

There are five vowels in Japanese — あ, い, う, え, and お. Each vowel are pronounced the same, regardless of context.

Banno, Eri, et. al. Genki I: An integrated course in elementary Japanese. 2nd ed., The Japan Times, 2011.
Konomi, Emiko. Beginning Japanese for professionals: Book 1. E-book, Portland State University Library,

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