There seems to be a normal progression for most people when they learn Japanese. Normally they start with learning a lot of individual words like “hello, yes, no, etc.”
Then as the student gets more comfortable with the pronunciation, they tend to take on a full sentence such as “I like red cars.”
Then it’s time to get serious and start creating and using complex sentences. Two of the best ways to do that are:
- Connecting sentences with the word “and”
- Connection sentences with the word “but”
I wrote an earlier post about the different ways to say “and” in Japanese.
You can click here to read it.
Today I’ll go over the different ways you can use and say “but” in Japanese. After you’re done reading this, you should be feeling pretty confident with your Japanese skills!
Demo and Shikashi
The first Japanese word to learn for “but” is でも (demo). You will hear and see this word a lot, as it is widely used. Put it at the beginning of a sentence to connect it with the preceding one.
I understand a little Japanese. But I’m not good yet.
(nihongo ga sukoshi wakarimasu. demo mada jouzu ja arimasen.)
As I’m sure you know, the Japanese language and the English language were not created side by side. In other words, there is not always a “one for one” translation of each word. In addition to being translated as the word for “but”, the word でも can also be translated and used in the same way as the English word “however.”
Take a look at the example sentence above a second time and mentally substitute the word “but” for “however” and it should function just the same.
The word しかし (shikashi) works exactly the same way as でも does, but しかし is primarily used for formal situations or in writing. Not just any written material (manga would still use でも) but more for things such as a legal document, a written letter to someone, a school paper, etc.
Ga, Kedo, and Dakedo
As you saw earlier, でも and しかし go at the beginning of the sentence and are used to let you know that the information you are about to tell someone is related to the information that you just finished telling them.
The word が (ga), however, goes at the end of a sentence. And it can also be used to connect two thoughts together.
I saw the movie, but my brother didn’t.
(watashi wa eiga o mimashita ga, otouto wa mimasen deshita.)
Sometimes you will hear が at the end of a sentence and it will only be followed by silence. This is one of those situations that is unique to the Japanese language and its culture.
The Japanese people are often times indirect in the way that they communicate. They do this so they don’t appear too brash when doing things such as stating one’s own desires, or making a request.
It can be a little hard to understand abstractly, so here’s an example that shows it:
I’d like to eat lunch now, but… (it’s okay if you don’t feel like it)
(ima, hirugohan o tabetai n desu ga.)
As you can see, this final が softens the whole sentence and gives the person listening a “free way out” if they don’t feel like doing whatever is suggested at the moment.
What’s interesting is that if a person actually does want to turn down a person’s request, they also tend to do it in an indirect way!
This kind of communication can sometimes be frustrating depending on what your native culture is like. For example, Americans are usually pretty direct, so it can take us a little bit of practice to communicate in a similar manner as native Japanese people do.
The full word is actually けれども (keredomo), but it is most often shortened to just けど (kedo) since it’s a lot easier to say. It can be used exactly like が can in both of the above examples.
So what’s the difference between them?
が is more polite than けど and should be used in formal conversations. Still, I hear けど used a lot more often than が when people are being interviewed on Japanese TV or radio. So you’ll probably be fine with using either of them.
And for the last one in this group, we’ve got だけど (dakedo). This one is also a contraction of a longer, much less often used word: だけれども (dakeredomo). This one would be translated more along the lines of “though” which can often be substituted in English for the word “but”.
One final note on だけど , is that it is a more colloquial version of the two words ですけど (desu kedo).
It is delicious, though not cheap.
(oishii dakedo, yasukunai desu.)
Other ways to say “but” ?
All of the above ways to say “but” in Japanese are known as conjunctions. That’s a fancy name for it, but basically they are grammar tools that connect clauses or sentences together. It’s just like what you’ve been reading in the examples above.
However, there are some other ways that “but” can be used. It could either be used as a preposition or as an adverb.
Yeah, I know… Grammar-talk. (ಠ_ಠ)
I didn’t really want to write about them in this post since the conjunction versions are used 2-3 times more often. I figured that for now, I’d just focus on what the majority of people are looking for.
But I did want to do one more!
In English, the word “but” sounds just like “butt”. So if you’re looking for a way to talk about someone’s butt, then you’re going to want to use the word 尻 (shiri).
Of course, we want to be sure to add the お (o) in front of it for politeness when talking about someone else’s butt!
That person has a nice butt!
(sono hito ni wa, oshiri ga suteki desu ne!)
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