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Learn Japanese : Hiragana Alphabet (Kanas & Moras)

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Hiragana

  • Hiragana is a basic component of the 3 Japanese scripts along with Katakana & Kanji.
  • Most of the Japanese sentences are written in Hiragana, Katakana & Kanji, all three.
  • Hiragana is a syllabary in which each symbol is a phonetic representation of sound and represents a particular spoken syllable.
  • Hiragana is used widely to form a sentence linking the Kanji ideograms with the grammatical particles and endings of verbs.
  • The Hiragana script has a Kanji equivalent (except the endings of verbs and the particles).
  • A sentence in Japanese can be written in Hiragana and Katakana only (without Kanji). 
  • Hiragana letters are more curved compared to their Katakana equivalents.
  • Both Hiragana and Katakana represent exactly the same set of sounds.

Kanas & Moras

Kanas refer to the Japanese syllabic writing in Hiragana and Katakana. Kanas are used in order to write the Japanese language according to the pronunciation.

The Hiragana Alphabets tables below show the coloumn of kanas from K to P.

 

Moras are units of sound in Japanese. One kana letter (ex. ka) or one kana letter accompanied by a small kana letter (ex. kya) basically corresponds to one mora.


Hiragana Vowels & Semi-Vowels

The Japanese language is based on 5 vowel sounds : (a), (i),(u), (e) and (o), in this order.

They are pronounced : a as in ask ; i as in weu as in soon ; e as in get and o as in oh.

All spoken sounds are derived from these vowels. They are used alone or are either attached

to a consonant (ex. k + a = ka か) or a consonant plus a semi-vowel w or y (ex. k + y + a = kya きゃ).

The exception to this is a special mora (n) which is not followed by vowels. ex. ほん hon (book).

 

Vowels

a

 

i

 

u

 

e

 お

o

 

 

Hiragana Long Vowels :

A long vowel is pronounced twice as long as the ordinary vowels : a, i, u, e and o become ā, ī, ū, ē and ō

The long vowel mark '__' is called chōon in Japanese.

This means that an extra of that particular vowel has to be added to the word.

ex. grandfather is ojīsan or ojiisan = おじさん

Exception : For the long vowel ō, (u), not ' お (o)' is added. ex. school is gakkō or gakkou = がっこ

 

Whether a vowel is long or not can change the meaning of the word.

ex. aunt is obasan = おばさん and grandmother is obāsan or obaasan = おばさん. Note the additional あ (a).

 

Hiragana Alphabets (Consonants) Table

In the table below, the roman letters in blue indicate how the alphabets (consonants) are pronounced.

The highlighted ones are exceptions to the pattern.

 

Observe the similarity between rows K & G ; S & Z ; T & D and H, B & P

 

Note : (n) is a consonant and can form a a syllable on its own without a vowel

 

The alphabets (di / dji) et (du / dzu) may also be pronounced as 'ji' and 'zu  respectively. 

 

Letters and represent the same sound [o].

 

(o) is prefixed to some japanese words to express politeness.
ex. money in japanese is kane or (o)kane when polite, written in Hiragana : () かね

Likewise, (o)cha, (o)kuni, (o)namae, etc..

 

を(o) is used as the particle in a sentence to indicate the direct object of a transitive verb.

を(o) is always used after the object and before the verb.

ex. kōhī o ippai nomimashō. (Let's have a cup of coffee). コーヒーいっぱい のみましょう。

Here, を(o) comes after the object kōhī コーヒー (coffee) and before the verb nomimashō (drink).

 

(ha) is read (wa) only when it is used as the particle attached to the noun or the subject of a sentence.

In other words, one writes not for the particle wa.

(wa) is always used after the subject.

ex. Watashi wa tenpura ga suki desu. (I like tempura). わたしてんぷらがすきです。

Here, (wa) comes after the subject watashi わたし (I) .

 

(he) is read (e as in get) only when it is used as the particle in a sentence where a verb indicates movement to a certain place.

In other words, one writes  not for the particle e

(e) comes after the place noun to show the direction of the move. 

ex. Watashi wa kyō e ikimasu. (I am going to Tokyo) わたしはとうきょういきます。

Here,  (e) comes after the place noun Tōkyō とうきょう .

 

In Japanese scripts, syllables are organized in the form of a table (5 x 10), called gojūon-zu (literally means table of 50 sounds). In addition to the gojūon, there are modified forms to describe more sounds: 

20 dakuon, 5 handakuon, 36 yōon and 1 sokuon (the small kana tsu) explained below under small scripts.

 

 Gojūon
Kanas

moras

a

moras

i

moras

u

moras

e

moras

o

K

ka

ki

ku

ke

ko

S

sa

shi

su

se

so

T

ta

chi

tsu

te

to

H

ha

hi

fu

he

ho

N

na

ni

nu


ne

no

M

ma

mi

mu

me

mo

R

ra

ri

ru

re

ro

Y

ya

 

yu


yo

 W

wa

       

o (wo)

 

n

       
 Dakuon
G

ga

gi

gu

ge

go

Z

za

ji

zu

ze

zo

D

da

dji

dzu

de

do

B

ba

bi

bu

be

bo

 Handakuon
P

pa

pi

pu

pe

po

 

Hiragana Small Scripts:

One kana letter (ex. ka) or one kana letter accompanied by a small kana letter (ex. kya) corresponds to one mora.

This combination is called yōon in Japanese.

The four small scripts in Hiragana are (ya), (yu), (yo) and (tsu) .

 

The small script (tsu) (called sokuon) is used to denote pause between two letters when a particular letter is doubled, as these singular letters do not exist.

ex.Otto (husband) has a doubled consonant t and since its singular form does not exist, the small is used. 

It will hence be written in Hiragana as : と. 

Note that the small is used before the doubled letter, in this case, t.

This small kana has no sound and hence will not be pronounced 'tsu'. It is only a graphical indication to denote the doubling of the consonant.

 

Exception (tsu) cannot be used to double the na, ni, nu, ne, no syllables.

The singular n () letter which already exists, is added in front of the syllable to double it.

ex. sannin (three people) sa-n-ni-n = さにん not  さにん.

 

The small scripts (ya), (yu) and (yo may be added to Hiragana kanas ending in i

ex. ki き + small ya ゃ = kya きゃ ; shi し + small yo ゃ = sho 

 

Word examplesshokudō (canteen) = しょくどう ; hyaku (hundred) = ひゃ

 

(ki), (gi), (shi) (ji), (chi), (ni), (hi), (bi), (pi), (mi) and (ri) can combine with

small (ya), (yu) and (yo) to form moras as shown in the table below.


 

 Yōon
Kanas

moras

ya

moras

yu

moras

yo

K

きゃ

kya

きゅ

kyu

きょ

kyo

S

しゃ

sha

しゅ

shu

しょ

sho

C

ちゃ

cha

ちゅ

chu

ちょ

cho

N

にゃ

nya

にゅ

nyu

にょ

nyo

H

ひゃ

hya

ひゅ

hyu

ひょ

hyo

M

みゃ

mya

みゅ

myu

みょ

myo

R

りゃ

rya

りゅ

ryu

りょ

ryo


G

ぎゃ

gya

ぎゅ

gyu

ぎょ

gyo

Z (J)

じゃ

ja

じゅ

ju

じょ

jo

B

びゃ

bya

びゅ

byu

びょ

byo

P

ぴゃ

pya

ぴゅ

pyu

ぴょ

pyo

 


Exercises to Practice Hiragana Alphabets   Exercises to Practice Katakana Alphabets

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