Fluency-Building Phrases in Japanese

Updated on May 6, 2016

Some Hygiene-Conscious Japanese Monkeys

The monkey being groomed would exclaim "(Doh-mo)", which is #7 on my useful phrase list.
The monkey being groomed would exclaim "(Doh-mo)", which is #7 on my useful phrase list. | Source

Japanese Phrases that You Can Actually Use Every Day

In this Hub I'll be delivering a bunch of words (with audio examples for pronunciation) in Japanese that I literally use everyday. Although they don't necessarily have any common theme like "Words used for Japanese Pizza toppings", all of the words you'll be learning are excellent for filling in those gaps in conversations. Japanese is big on making little noises and comments while listening to someone else talking, and hopefully these words will help you on your path to true fluency (i.e. not blankly staring while your partner gives a monologue).

The Word List

Here's a list of the words plus their brief translations, in case you want to quickly scroll down to a certain number or phrase along with its more in depth description.

#1. まじで!? (Maji de?) - For REALZ? (I've included a sound bite down below for the proper "super surprised" intonation.

#2. ありえない! (Ari-eh-nai) - Impossible!/No way!

#3. うっそ (Ussoh) - Lie/You've gotta be kidding me, used almost interchangeably with #2, but this is probably used more for positive things.

#4. 具合が悪い/悪かった(Guai ga warui/warukatta) - I'm not feeling well / I didn't feel well

#5. 大丈夫(です) (Daijyoubu (desu)) - I'm alright / It's alright

#6 すごい/すげぇ (Sugoi/ Suge) - Amazing/Awesome

#7 どうも (Doh-mo) - A very curt "thank you" (also like in the infamous song).

#8 へぇー (Heeh~ check below for actual pronunciation) - More of a sound than an actual word, this implies "neat", "oh really?" or "is that so?".

#9 えー(Eh~ also check below for pronunciation) - Same as #8, this one is also more of a sound, and implies "what, really?" or "c'mon, no way".

#10 ふーん ( Foo~n ditto with 8 and 9) - Another sound to finish off the list, but a very important one. Although it depends on the intonation, it generally means "cool, but so what?". If said more forcibly, it can mean "that's genuinely interesting".

Now in case you spot any here that you're not too familiar with, go ahead and scroll down to find a more in depth explanation of each, along with a sweet audio pronunciation from your local Japanese speaker.

Audio Example for #1

#1 まじで? (Maji de?) - For realz?

The 'z' on the end of "real" is completely on purpose, because although this is a phrase that people actually use, it does have kind of a juvenile ring to it. You hear it once in a while from truly excited and emphatic adults, but it's more or less limited to people in their 20s. If you want to be more conservative yet still retain same effect, go with 本当?(ほんとう, Hontoh?), which means "truthfully?".

When To Use It

If your friend tells you that she ran over a platypus on her Segway on her way to work, that would be an appropriate time to drop Maji De.

If your friend tells you he saw two earthworms and both of them were pink but only one of them was wriggling, then you would NOT use Maji De. Save it for the situations that really call for a "wtf really?" moment, and try not to use it if you don't want to have a tinge of excited high schooler added to your voice.

Audio Example for #2

#2 ありえない (Ari-eh-nai) No way/impossible

Basically, if your conversation partner is telling you something about their day and they bring up some negative event that's kind of unusual, you're safe to say this. However, keep this to people you know kind of well. Anyway, on to its usage:

When to Use It

ありえない(Ari-eh-nai) is quite similar to "Maji De" in its usage, but in my experience is used more for negative things (Maji De can also be used for negative things though).

If you board a plane for a 18 hour flight and the stewardess tells you that there are no bathrooms on board, then you would say "ありえない (ari-eh-nai)".

When Not to Use It

If you drive for 5 hours on a racetrack going 90 MPH and your friend tells you that you need gas, you would not use "ありえない (ari-eh-nai)".

Audio Example for #3

#3 うっそ (Ussoh) - A lie/You've gotta be kidding me

To finish up the segment on phrases to use when stating disbelief, I present you with うっそ(Uso), which is pronounced like "Uno", the card game, with an 's' instead of an 'n'. For a general rule of thumb, うっそ(Uso) and #2, ありえない(ari-eh-nai) can be used almost interchangeably, but limit うっそ(uso) to situations where things are more in the plausible department. Here are some examples:

When to Use It

If your cousin says, "I got five filet-o' fishes today at McDonald's for 300 Yen!", you could reply with うそ (Uso)!.

If your niece tells you that she saw a sparrow fend off a cat in a battle over a piece of cheese, you could also say うそ(Uso)!

P.S.

Not to be confused with うそ (Usoh), which doesn't not have that sharp break and simply means "a lie".

Audio Example for #4

#4 具合が悪い/具合が悪かった (Gu-ai ga warui/ Gu-ai ga warukatta) I'm not feeling well/ I wasn't feeling well

Gu-ai ga warui is great because it doesn't specify any illnesses and makes it so you don't have to explain yourself too much. If you want to stave off your friends from bugging you over participating in something or eating something, you can just drop this while making a pained face.

When to Use It

This is the classic vague excuse to get out of going to the gross fish flavored Ramen shop that your friend loves to eat at. Also great for bailing out on Backstreet Boy or Justin Bieber themed parties.

Audio Example for #5

#5 大丈夫 (Dai-jyou-bu) I'm OK/I'm set

Dai-jyou-bu is nice because it's a versatile all-arounder phrase which can be used anywhere from saying you don't need a bag from the grocery store to after you get hit in the face with a tennis ball and want to say you aren't hurt. Furthermore, you can just slap a questioning tone on the end of it to ask someone else is OK. If you want to make it past-tense to ask if someone or something was OK (like if your friend was telling you that he ate moldy bread), you would say "Dai-jyou-bu datta?", which basically means "Were you alright?". The audio clip to the right has the regular statement first, followed by the question form.

When to Use It

Dai-jyou-bu can be used for whenever you want to ask if someone else is OK, good, fine, etc. or if you want to express the same for yourself. It's also great for after you get hurt.

if someone is offering to help carry your cats that you have in 4 separate carriers, or if someone is asking if the shrimp they made is too spicy.

If someone says something to you that you completely don't understand, you can always play it safe and just say "Dai-jyou-bu", and chances are they'll leave you alone.

Audio Example for #6

#6 すごい/すげぇ (Sugoi/Sugeh) Awesome/Awesome(slangier)

Generally speaking, すごい(sugoi) means awesome, but it can also mean cool or neat. It's used whenever you see something pretty impressive, but can also be used for more humble things like a purple tomato. すげぇ(Sugeh) means exactly the same thing, but is more slangy and perhaps crass sounding. The audio example has the standard form first, with the slangier version second. Here are some examples of when to use すごい(Sugoi), and notice how its usage can be very broad over different levels of awesomeness:

When to Use It

If you're playing a game of basketball with 10 year olds, and one of them makes a buzzer beater shot from half court to win the game.

If you drop your computer in the toilet, take it for dead, but then turn it on to find that it still works.

If it's been raining pretty strong all day.


Audio Example for #7

#7 どうも (Doh-Moh) Thanks

どうも (Doh-Moh) is incredibly versatile and can be used in any number of situations. It's good for when you don't want to go all out and say Arigato Gozaimasu, but don't want to simply walk away without saying anything after getting your chicken twister from the nice Kentucky Fried Chicken staff. Here are some short examples of how and when to use it:

When to Use It:

If you order something from a fast food joint, buy something at the grocery store, or pay for your room at karaoke, you'd say this after you received your food, or completed your transaction.

If you're on the phone with a fairly close Japanese friend, you could say this as you hang up (Japanese people love to say a million things right before they hang up).

Audio Example for #8

#8 へぇー (Heeh) Is that so?/ Oh really?/ Neat

Out of all of the previous entries, this one and the next two are used the most as conversation gap fillers. When people tell stories in Japanese, the listener is expected to contribute regularly throughout the conversation, and these sounds work the best.

When to Use It:

If your co-worker tells you that he saw his wife playing poker on local TV. (If he said that he saw her playing strip-poker, you'd use まじで(Maji De)?!)

If your close buddy tells you that water can actually cause mild obesity.

If your father tells you that Coca-Cola and Pepsi are merging to form one corporation.

Audio Example for #9

#9 えー(E~h) What, really? or C'mon, no way

If you've ever taught children in Japan, this sound is probably branded into your memory as an anthem to be recited by students whenever certain tasks are announced. That being said, it's still perfectly acceptable for an adult to use, but if I had to choose, I'd say it's more often used by the younger generations.

When to Use It:

If you're on a road trip to see a private VIP circus show at the White House, and someone absolutely insists on taking a detour to a rocking chair museum, you could moan えー.

If you're in class and your professor says there's a surprise 20 page research paper due in 2 weeks, AND he wants the page margins to be .5" wider.

If you just generally want to complain about some minor inconvenience in your daily life, like seeing that gas is up $.10 a gallon.

Audio Example for #10

#10 ふーん (Foo-N) "Cool, but so what?" or "That's genuinely interesting"

This is a neat sound to bleat out when someone is giving a neat little talk to you on some cool thing they've heard in the news. It also can be used in the same exact scenario if you are disinterested in whatever they're talking about. The only difference is how you say it. The voice clip provided has the "Cool, but so what?" sound first, and the "That's genuinely interesting" sound second. Here are some examples to read while listening:

When to Use It:

If someone is telling you about how their 2 year old tried to spell dinosaur the other day but ultimately failed. (uninterested)

If someone says that macaroni and cheese (but only the orange kind) helps to prevent prostate cancer later in life. (interested)

If someone tells you that they have a special nose that requires aloe-vera tissues, but how 70% of everyone considered a genius also shares his special nose condition. (uninterested)

If someone says that watching 4 hours of reality TV everyday actually has no real effect on your intelligence. (interested)

Sum Up

Even though the entries weren't grouped on a micro level, all of them, one through 10, are extremely useful for everyday conversation and conversation gap fillers. One of the biggest problems that people who ask me questions about Japanese have is how to add that flair to the conversation that would make them sound less like a textbook, and more like an actual speaker. If you master these you'll find yourself sounding much more fluent, and also able to surprise your Japanese speaking listener and probably have them burst out into laughter when you drop an emphatic うっそ!(UssOh) after they finish telling you something mildly surprising.

Questions & Answers

    Comments

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      • Kristen Howe profile image

        Kristen Howe 

        2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        Congrats on HOTD! This is a very useful and resourceful hub on how to speak Japanese with those phrases. Thanks for sharing!

      • Akbok profile imageAUTHOR

        Akbok 

        7 years ago from Aomori prefecture, Japan

        Susan NG: Hah, I don't think I ever saw that episode :

      • Susan Ng profile image

        Susan Ng Yu 

        7 years ago

        Sugoi! I really, really enjoyed this hub! :D Rock Musical Bleach popped right into my head when I got to the "uso" part. ^_^ (For those who don't know, there was an uso contest in one of the shows where the characters took turns making jokes. It was so funny. Hehe.)

      • Ruthcurley profile image

        Ruthcurley 

        7 years ago from Bozrah, CT

        Really like this one! The recordings are really useful!

      • Akbok profile imageAUTHOR

        Akbok 

        7 years ago from Aomori prefecture, Japan

        Gotcha. "Uso" is definitely OK for a girl to use. Regarding the lovely "foon", you're more or less correct about the second one (the super emphatic one), but the first recording isn't too manly sounding for a girl to use. If you want to use the second one and still retain femininity, just tone it down and make it less gravely. I've definitely heard ladies use it (the second recording).

      • FeathersOfArtemis profile image

        FeathersOfArtemis 

        7 years ago

        oh haha.

        yeah I was comparing domo to uso. That "foon" sound doesn't sound exactly feminine either.

      • Akbok profile imageAUTHOR

        Akbok 

        7 years ago from Aomori prefecture, Japan

        Feathers: For some reason the Japanese script isn't showing up in the comments section so if you could give me a # I'll give you an answer ASAP!

      • FeathersOfArtemis profile image

        FeathersOfArtemis 

        7 years ago

        Nice picture of the monkeys. haha

        I was wondering which phrases were appropriate for women and which weren't. I always had trouble figuring out which "exclamations" would be appropriate for me and wouldn't make me sound like some butch dude. I know that ??? is fine, but what about something like?????

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