Why けど (Kedo) and が (Ga) Doesn’t Just Mean “But”

Last Updated on 03.08.2022 by Coto Japanese Language School

The conjunctive particle けど is interchangeable with the particle が and has a similar meaning to the English word “but”, “even though” or “although”. Basically, it’s used to connect two clauses that are contradictory. For example:

ケーキがいいけど、お腹がいっぱいだった。
Keeki ga ii kedo, onaka ga ippai datta.
A cake sounds good, but my stomach is full.

However, unlike the English language’s “but”, the word けど can be put at the end of the sentence. You’ll usually hear this in real-life conversations with a Japanese speaker. Take a look at the scenario below, where someone is trying to make a reservation at a restaurant. 

予約したいけど…
Yoyaku shitai kedo… 

If we translate this literally, that person is saying, “I want to make a reservation, but…” In English, is an incomplete sentence and literally goes against one of the basic rules of conjunctions. After all, their purpose is to join two phrases, not to end one. The basic Japanese sentence pattern has an order which informs the relationship between certain words, too.

So why do Japanese people like to end their sentences with けど, even when it’s grammatically wrong? The reason is simple: けど is also used in social situations and a variety of colloquial contexts.

At this point, you might even feel more baffled, but we’ll get to the bottom of this conundrum. In this article, we’ll discuss all the social, unwritten uses of けど, including its variation.

Jump to:
The Basics of が and けど: “But”
Variations of けど
Using が and けど to Give Context and Bring Up a Topic
Using が and けど At the End of a Sentence 
1. けど makes a sentence sound softer and less confrontational
2. けど expresses emotions and uncertainty
3. けど to subtly express criticism or say no
4. けど to emphasize or make a point 
5. けど to ask a favor, request permission or invitation
Here’s The Conclusion, But…

The Basics of が and けど: “But”

Let’s start off by learning the difference between が and けど. In terms of usage, が and けど work in pretty much the same way, but the difference is that が feels more formal, while けど feels more colloquial.  With that said, that doesn’t necessarily mean けど (and its variations) is super-casual. Sometimes, when you’re talking to Japanese customer service, you’ll hear them slip off using けど — but that doesn’t mean they’re being impolite.

Basically,  が is more formal, yes, but the biggest difference is that it’s used for writing, while けど is used more in conversations. When you use が as conjunction, you have to consistently use polite forms, like です and ます. This isn’t always the case for けど.

先週は暇でしたが、今週は忙しそうです。
Senshuu wa hima deshita ga, konshuu wa isogashisou desu.
Last week wasn’t busy, but it seems to be this week. 

先週は暇だったけど、今週は忙しそうだ。
Senshuu wa hima datta kedo, konshuu wa isogashisou da.

The two sentences above show that when you replace が with けど, you will not change the meaning. However, you will shift the nuance of the conversation, with the latter sounding more casual. 

Let’s move on to other basic examples for けど as “but”. 

吉田さんは美人だけど、私のタイプじゃない。
Yoshida-san wa bijin da kedo, watashi no taipu ja nai.
Yoshida-san is a pretty woman, but she’s not my type. 

このカレーはちょっと辛いけど、美味しいよ!
Kono karee wa chotto karai kedo, oishii yo!
This curry is a bit spicy, but it’s delicious!

When we say that けど is used to show contrast, we don’t just mean literal antonyms of action or description: pretty and ugly; boring and busy; spicy and sweet. For example, when you invite your friends over to your house — which you haven’t cleaned in a month. けど can be used to highlight contrasting ideas: My house is dirty, (but) please come in. 

散らかっているけど、どうぞ、入って。
Chirakatte iru kedo, douzo, haitte.
It is messy but please come in. 

Variations of けど

In conversations, you’ve probably heard けど (kedo) the most, but there are other variations to this. All of けれども, けれど, けども, けど are used and retain the same meaning. 

けど is the short form of けれども, which could be written け(れ)ど(も). The ど or ども part in this expression is the part that expresses the contradiction (“but” or “however”).

けど is the most casual because it’s the shortest form. Think of it as being “too lazy” to say the full conjugation that you have to cut a few characters.  The shortening is analogous to contractions in English, like “can’t” and “cannot” — the first being more casual. As such, this changes the formality and politeness of the expression.

けども, on the other hand, is often used in a half-formal, half-informal setting. It is more refined than けど, but not quite as stiff as けれども.

The politeness of けれども gradually degrades in the following order from more to least polite: けれども → けれど → けども → けど

Using が and けど to Give Context and Bring Up a Topic

Unlike the English “but”, both が and けど have a more versatile, colloquial use. When you’re around the intermediate level and have decent opportunities to speak Japanese in real life, you’ll naturally adopt the habit of using けど in the middle of the sentence, even if you’re not trying to say “but”. 

Why? Because in addition to connecting contrasting ideas, が and けど are often used to add context to what you’re about to say.

For example, you bought a bus ticket to go to the airport. Just when you’re about to give the driver your ticket, you realized that you had actually lost it. In this case, you don’t know what to do and wanted to ask them, “What should I do?” You might say:

チケット無くしてしまったけど、どうしたらいいですか?
Chiketto nakushie shimatta kedo, dou shitara ii desu ka?

This sentence would sound weird if you translate it the same way we translated our previous examples: “I lost my ticket, but what should I do?” In English, the more appropriate conjunction would be “so” or “and”.

So why do Japanese people still use けど? It’s important to remember that Japanese society adopts high-context communication. People communicate based on an inherent understanding of what the speaker says, even if they’re not talking explicitly. The US, on the other hand, is considered a low-context culture, relying largely on direct verbal explanations to keep everyone on the same page.

In other words, Japanese people avoid talking straight to the point or asking outright as a thoughtful gesture. It’s considered polite, especially if you’re in the position of asking a favor. 

So in this situation, you don’t want to sound too straightforward asking, “What do I need to do if I lost my ticket?” Instead, you’re hinting at the context before your question or making an introductory remark about something: “I lost my ticket…. (but can you help me?)”

Think of けど in this case as “regarding~” or “as for~” to better understand it. 

明日なんだけど、一緒に行きましょうか
Ashita nan desu kedo, issho ni ikimashouka?
As for tomorrow, should we go together?

母の誕生日のことなんだけど、ケーキもう買ったの?
Haha no tanjoubi no koto nan da kedo, keeki mou katta no?
As for Mom’s birthday, have you bought the cake?

Using が and けど At the End of a Sentence 

Remember the high-context communication in the Japanese culture we mentioned before? Japanese people tend to avoid straight expressions and leave a sentence unfinished on purpose. 

This is why you’ll see a lot of Japanese speakers finish a sentence with a けど even though it can’t technically stand alone. Using が or けど at the end of a sentence gives the listener flexibility to respond in a way that’s convenient for them, or make what you’ve said sound like an afterthought, sounding less confrontational, and expressing uncertainty. The listeners should read between the lines — and take a hint. 

Of course, this means there’s no one way to use けど at the end of a sentence. While the easiest answer to why people like to use けど is because “it sounds more polite”, knowing the right social context to use it is important. After all, you can’t say kedo at the end of every sentence (unless you’re trying to act kawaii). Take a look at some common ways to leave a sentence unfinished with けど on purpose. 

Note: Even though the focus of this article was on けど, anything you learned in this article also applies to が. 

1. けど makes a sentence sound softer and less confrontational

The first function of けど — and probably its most important feature — is its softening effect. Using kedo (or ga) at the end of the sentence gives listeners a hint about what you want to say without being explicit. 

For example, when you see a call from an unknown number, you will socially distance yourself from the caller. In Japanese, the further your relationship with someone is, the more you will use polite forms. In this case, you can use けど to sound less confrontational. (Who knows saying this is me can be too straightforward?)

はい、コトですけど。どちら様ですか?
Hai, koto desu kedo. Dochira sama desu ka?
Yes, this is Coto. Who am I speaking to?

Another example is when you’re going to a fancy restaurant that you’ve made reservations at. Upon entering, a hostess might greet you with something like this:

いらっしゃいませ。ご予約ございますか?
Irasshaimase. Goyoyaku gozaimasuka?
Welcome. Do you have a reservation?

今日の6時に予約した田中ですけど。
Kyou no rokuji ni yoyaku shita tanaka desu kedo.
I have a reservation at 6 under the name Tanaka. 

2. けど expresses emotions and uncertainty

けど at the end of a sentence gives off a softer nuance because it’s as if you’re uncertain about something and, therefore, less confrontational — something that is considered polite. However, there would be cases where you are actually uncertain about something. This lack of confidence can be expressed by saying kedo at the end. Think of it as “but I’m not sure” in English. 

Bu doing this, you’re distancing yourself from the source of information — or even downplaying it. Unless you are genuinely unsure about something that you’re required to know, don’t use this. 

For example, you’re having a high school reunion, and one of your former classmates ask what time is the event. You only read the invite once, and although you think it’s at 6 pm, you don’t want to bear the responsibility of giving inaccurate information. You can say:

6時だと思うんですけど…
Rokuji da to omoun desu kedo…
I think it’s at 6 pm, but (I’m not sure). 

When you’re unsure, you can also use Japanese filler words like ano and eto to converse less awkwardly without abrupt pauses.

3. けど to subtly express criticism or say no

As said, けど gives the listener the flexibility to respond and interpret the message. Japanese people tend to be indirect making disagreements and criticism or giving rejections. Social cues like saying けど can help you understand what they’re trying to say. 

For example:

テーブルが汚いんだけど。
Teiburu ga kitanainda kedo.
The table is dirty, you know.

Here, it’s clear the speaker is hinting that, because the table is dirty, you should clean it. By adding the kedo, it helps to make the complaint less aggressive: “The table is dirty, but…”

So how do you subtly say “no” with けど? Say you’re in a fast food restaurant where you usually like to eat in person. However, the restaurant has a policy of prohibiting eat-ins after a certain time — something you didn’t know about. You go about the usual order and mention, “イートインでお願いします (eat in, please).”

At this, the staff might say:

お客様、申し訳ありませんが、20時以下 イートインができますけど…
Okyakusama, moushi wake arimasen ga, nijuuji ika iitoin ga dekimasu kedo,..
Customer, I’m so sorry, eat in is available before 8 pm, but… (you can’t now). 

A colleague might also invite you for a nomikai (飲み会), or a drinking party, after work, but truthfully, you don’t want to. This is when けど comes in handy in finessing the tricky situation.

本当に行きたいけど…
Hontou ni ikitai kedo…
I really want to go but (I can’t)…

Leaving your answer a bit open-ended gives the listener the opportunity to take a hint. By not refusing outright, you avoid sounding abrupt; you’re not saying you can’t go, but you’re not saying you can either. 

4. けど to emphasize or make a point 

Remember the first use of kedo as a “copula” to make to avoid something confrontational? What happens when you have a conflicting opinion and want to make a point? While it’s normal to say “I don’t agree with you” in most cultures, Japanese society are typically conformist. In other words, when you do want to emphasize something, you still try to leave things as vague as possible. You do this by adding something like, “… but yeah.”

Keep in mind that even when you use けど to make a point, the intonation is still strong. When you use this to make a point, you’re basically saying, “… you know?”

For example, you’re training for a sports competition, but your performance doesn’t match your coach’s expectations. They constantly criticize you and say that you should work harder. 

もっと頑張ってください!
Motto ganbatte kudasai!
Please work harder!

Annoyed, you finally snap. 

私だってがんばっているんですけど。
Watashi datte ganbatte irun desu kedo.
I am doing my very best, you know. 

On another day, you are talking to your friend who rants about how dogs are smarter than cat. He says:

猫より犬頭いいでしょう?
Neko yori inu atama ii deshou?*
Dogs are smarter than cat, right?

Disagreeing, you can say:

そう 思おもわないけど…
Sou omowanai kedo…
I don’t think so, but…. 

The けど here is used to acknowledge their opinion, like saying, “but yeah, sure,” while at the same time making a point that you don’t necessarily agree. In the end, you make your statement less argumentative. 

Speaking of argumentative, let’s compare two sentences. 

そんなことどうでもいい。
Sonna koto doudemo ii.
I don’t care. 

そんなことどうでもいいんだけど。
Sonna koto doudemo iin da kedo.
I don’t care, but… 

In both statements, you’re basically saying, “I don’t care.” The second sentence, however, sounds softer because you’re giving more flexibility to the listener to interpret your point. 

*Note: Wonder why we’re omitting the particle は and が? Head here for the answer: When can you skip Wa, O, Ga, E in Japanese?

5. けど to ask a favor, request permission or invitation

Finally, the last function of けど that’s particularly important for someone who doesn’t like to take a hint. Because putting けど at the end of a sentence opens up the possibility for listeners to respond however they want (or however they need to), this is used for people to ask someone a favor, permission or invitation in a subtle way. 

For example, you’re hanging out in a restaurant despite the fact that it’s well past the shop’s closing hour. In the spirit of omotenashi service, the staff is less likely to tell you, “Please leave.”

Instead, they may hint that you need to leave by saying:

すみません。もう閉店時間なんですけど….
Sumimasen. Mou heiten jikan nan desu kedo…
Excuse me. I’m sorry but it is already closing time, but…

The “but” here is supposedly followers by an indirect, somewhat polite request: “But would you leave now?”

In another instance, your friend visited you when you were sick and bedridden. You’re feeling a bit chilly, and you want to ask your friend to turn up the air conditioner. You can say:

ちょっと寒いんだけど。
Chotto samuin da kedo.
It’s a bit cold.. (so would you turn the heat up?)

By making this sentence grammatically incomplete, it allows you to be vague so listeners can respond without feeling pushed. 

For example, you’re buying three pieces of bread from a display in a bakery. 

塩パン3つ、欲しいんですけど…
Shiopan mittsu, hoshiin desu kedo…
I would like three salt bread…

In this case, by pausing at けど, you’re not specifying what you’re asking for, allowing the baker to interpret your “request”. In other words, you’re giving the staff the flexibility to decide their response: whether or not the bread is on sale, if there are three pieces of bread, or if you can buy all of them.  

In response to this, the baker has the freedom to choose their next answer. They can say, “かしこまりました! (Understood)” or ask, “以上でよろしいですか? (Is that all?)” 

Check out: Why Ha (は) Is Pronounced as Wa (わ)

Here’s The Conclusion, But…

Remember that が works almost the same as けど, even though it’s more formal. You can put them at the end of sentences to sound less confrontational. The use of けど is sort of a safety net when communicating in Japanese. In a culture where taking hints and social cues are valued, you might want to avoid talking too directly to sound more polite. 

Keep in mind that although が and けど can be applied in many situations, you still want to use them sparingly. Otherwise, you’ll sound too indecisive — a common Japanese language mistake learners often overlook. 

How do you use けど or だけど (Kedo or dakedo) in Japanese?

けど (kedo) and its variations can be a formal and casual way to say “but” or “however” in Japanese. It’s used in the middle, but when put at the end of the sentence, it can soften the message and give room for the listener to interpret what you say.

What is the difference between けど (Kedo) and が (Ga)?

けれども (keredomo) and が (ga) are both “paradoxical conjunction.” It connects sentences with the meaning of “but.” けど (kedo) is a more casual version of けれども (keredomo). が (ga) has a more formal nuance and is usually found in written Japanese.

What is the difference between けれども (keredomo), けれど (keredo), けども (kedomo), けど (kedo)?

けれども (keredomo), けれど (keredo), けども (kedomo), けど (kedo) are used and retain the same meaning and use: to subtly ask for a favor, sound more polite and contradict the previous phrase. The politeness of けれども gradually degrades in the following order from more to least polite: けれども → けれど → けども → けど.

Can けど (Kedo) and が (Ga) used at the end of a sentence?

In spoken Japanese, using が or けど at the end of a sentence gives the listener flexibility to respond in a way that’s convenient for them, or make what you’ve said sound like an afterthought, sounding less confrontational, and expressing uncertainty.

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