Learn Japanese : Hiragana Alphabet (Kanas & Moras)
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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 : ぁ(a), ぃ(i),ぅ(u), ぇ(e) and ぉ (o), in this order.
They are pronounced : a as in ask ; i as in we ; u 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 ん (n) which is not followed by vowels. ex. ほん hon (book).
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 = おじいさん
Exception : For the long vowel ō, う(u), not ' お (o)' is added. ex. school is gakkō or gakkou = がっこう
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 = おばあさん. 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 : ん (n) is a consonant and can form a a syllable on its own without a vowel
The alphabets ぢ (di / dji) et づ(du / dzu) may also be pronounced as 'ji' and 'zu respectively.
Letters お and を represent the same sound [o].
お (o) is prefixed to some japanese words to express politeness.
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). コーヒーをいっぱい 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).
は (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 は not わ for the particle wa.
は (wa) is always used after the subject.
ex. Watashi wa tenpura ga suki desu. (I like tempura). わたしはてんぷらがすきです。
Here, は (wa) comes after the subject watashi わたし (I) .
へ (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 へ not え for the particle e.
へ (e) comes after the place noun to show the direction of the move.
ex. Watashi wa Tōkyō e ikimasu. (I am going to Tokyo) わたしはとうきょうへいきます。
Here, へ (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 っtsu) explained below under small scripts.
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 ゃ(ya), ゅ(yu), ょ(yo) and っ (tsu) .
The small script っ (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 っ is used.
It will hence be written in Hiragana as : おっと.
Note that the small っ is used before the doubled letter, in this case, t.
This small kana っ has no sound and hence will not be pronounced 'tsu'. It is only a graphical indication to denote the doubling of the consonant.
Exception : っ (tsu) cannot be used to double the na, ni, nu, ne, no syllables.
The singular n (ん) letter which already exists, is added in front of the syllable to double it.
ex. sannin (three people) sa-n-ni-n = さんにん not さっにん.
The small scripts ゃ(ya), ゅ(yu) and ょ(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 しょ
Word examples : shokudō (canteen) = しょくどう ; hyaku (hundred) = ひゃく
き(ki), ぎ(gi), し(shi) じ (ji), ち(chi), に(ni), ひ (hi), び (bi), ぴ (pi), み (mi) and り(ri) can combine with
small ゃ(ya), ゅ(yu) and ょ(yo) to form moras as shown in the table below.