Hanashi – Meaning In Japanese (話、話し、はなし)

Today I wanted to talk about the word “hanashi” and its meaning in Japanese. There are a couple of ways that it is spelled, such as the earlier example written in roman letters.

There is also the hiragana version of it はなし and the kanji (most common version) which is 話し or sometimes just 話.

This is a common word with a couple of different meanings, so let’s take a look at them now so that we can better understand them.

Isn’t It Just The Verb “To Speak”?

Well, yes and no.

The Japanese verb 話す (hanasu) means “to talk; to speak” and it is commonly used in the mass-form so that it looks like the word 話します (hanashimasu).

The fact that this is a super common verb just adds to the fact that it can be hard to understand when you encounter the other version of that kanji: the noun.

So for the rest of this post we are going to focus on how “hanashi” gets used as a noun in Japanese.

While there are 17 different English translations listed in a JP-EN dictionary (yep, I counted!) based on my own observations and experiences with this word there are really just three broad uses of it.

We are going to dive into each one of those three overall understandings, along with each ones multiple meanings, to get a pretty good understanding of this word.

What Is The First Meaning?

There are actually quite a few common ways that the noun 話 gets used, so let’s talk a look at the first one here and then we will continue on to the others after that.

The first way that 話 gets used can be as any of the following English words:

  • talk
  • speech
  • chat
  • conversation

Yes, these are each different words, but they are basically all referring to the same thing.

Knowing this, we can use the phrase なんの話 (nan no hanashi) to ask a person, or several people, “what are you talking about?” in Japanese.

That’s a good one to remember, so be sure to go over it a few times.

In this case we are literally asking “what talk” but the overall meaning is generally understood by people since this is a pretty common thing to ask.

There are also a couple more good examples of this word I pulled from tatoeba below.

hanashi example sentences

The first one uses the kanji + hiragana version of the word and adds on the polite te-form of the word 続く (tsuzuku) which means “to continue” in order to ask the listener to continue talking.

The second example is interesting because it could be understood as this first meaning, or the third one we will get to soon enough in today’s lesson.

Keep that in mind as you continue through, but for here it could be like asking “is that all you wanted to say?”

A Second Way To Use It

Another way that it can be used is as “topic; subject” which is something that is more likely to come up when you are listening to a teacher during class or a lecturer during a presentation.

I don’t know if you’re currently in school, or if it’s been a while, but I’m sure you know what it’s like to have them come in and begin the day by talking about the lesson that they are about to present.

  • 今日の話は
  • kyou no hanashi wa
  • Today’s topic is…

Something that I haven’t mentioned yet, but you might have picked up on is that this word nearly always uses the kanji or the kanji + hiragana form. It is rarely ever written in just hiragana, so keep that in mind for when you want to write it yourself.

Getting back to the topic at hand (heh), another thing you might hear is a person going from one subject to another with a transitional phrase such as this next one.

  • 次の話は
  • tsugi no hanashi wa
  • The next subject is…

Again, this is something that a facilitator would use and not so much something that would come up organically in a chat with your friends.

I think that out of the three main meanings I’m going over today, this one is used the least. That being said, it is still common enough to mention it.

The Third Meaning

The third way that this word gets used is as “tale; story; fable” and the like.

  • それは古い話なのだ。
  • sore wa furui hanashi na no da.
  • That is an old story.

But just because it has those English translations, doesn’t mean it can’t have some different uses in Japanese.

What I mean is that there is a very common phrase which is 話しがある (hanashi ga aru) and it is literally saying “there is a story” but what it really means is “there’s something I need to tell you.”

That particular form is a casual one that gets used between friends, but there is also an other version that might be used by doctors, lawyers, or other professionals in the working class.

That more polite version is is お話しがあります (o-hanashi ga arimasu). As you can see, the noun gets a polite prefix added onto it and then the verb takes on its mass-form.

Not all that complicated, but worth noting just in case.

Understanding This Word More

The word “hanashi” is one of those that has so many possible uses that you really have to pay attention to the surrounding context in order to get a good grasp on it.

I know that for me personally, I had to look it up a lot when I would hear or read it being used in a sentence that I had never encountered before.

Then I would go down the list of potential meanings and see which one made the most sense.

This method is a little time consuming for words that are really fluid like this one, but eventually you get to the point where you pretty much have a feel for it and no longer need to look it up.

It can also help to have a full English translation of the sentence so that you can get a “big picture” understanding of how it’s being used and what the overall meaning is.

So hopefully this article has helped make this word a little clearer for you.

I would encourage you to continue learning and studying, and then come back any time you feel that you need a refresher.

Until then!

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