There are a lot of Japanese words that can be used to say left, and picking the right one (pun intended!) really depends on understanding the context of the situation. Today I’ll share how to say left in Japanese.
First I’ll go over the direction left, and then I’ll move on to others such as “remaining” or when a person has left a particular place.
Let’s hop in now and learn some new vocabulary!
The Direction Left
When most people hear the word left, they are probably thinking of the direction left, which is the opposite of right. This particular word is 左 (hidari) in Japanese and can be used on its own or as a part of compound words, such as 左利き (hidari kiki) for “left-handedness” where it brings the meaning of left.
- hidari ni magatte kudasai.
- Please turn left.
What’s interesting about the kanji 左 is the parts that its composed of. According to the explanation in The World of Kanji which uses the origins of the radicals meaning to help learn the kanji, the two lines in the top left represent a human hand (although an abbreviated one at that) and the upper-case-I-looking thing in the bottom right represents a farmer’s hoe.
The idea of a “hand helping with work” is representative of a person’s left hand, and therefore the left side of things.
At any rate, something that I thought was pretty interesting about this kanji is that it is actually used in the one of the most common ways to say goodbye in Japanese which is さようなら (sayounara).
That word is normally spelled in all hiragana, but you can also spell it as 左様なら and it means the same thing. I wonder why the word for “left” is included. Could it be that people used to wave goodbye to one another with their left hands?
Food for thought.
When Left Means “Remaining”
Another way that we use “left” in English is when we want to say that something is remaining. Phrases such as, “how many beans are left?” and the like will require a different word when said in Japanese since 左 can only be used with direction.
So, which Japanese word do we want? The answer is 残る (nokoru) which means “to remain; to be left” and is a pretty common one to run into.
- nokoru wa anata to sun hakase dake desu.
- You and Soong are the only ones left.
This word will get used in other related situation such as there being left-overs after dinner with the word 残った分 (nokotta bun) which means “the remaining portion” or simply 残り (nokori) which means “remaining” or “left-overs”
If you look at the kanji 残 the left radical represents bones and the right radical represents a dagger-axe fight (according to The World of Kanji). When these two items are put together we get the overall meaning of “leftover” since the bones remain after the fight.
If you find it useful to learn kanji by tracing each part’s original meaning helpful, then be sure to check out that book. If not, then there are plenty of other ways to learn. I’ll leave the word etymology there for today and just focus on the rest of the words we’re going to cover.
He Went, He’s Gone, He Left
In English we also use the word “left” as the past-tense form of the word “to go” so I thought that it would be a good idea to include that here in case that’s what you’re looking for.
In Japanese, the word 行く (iku) is used to say “go” so all we have to do is conjugated this verb into the correct form. The casual way to say it is 行った (itta) and the polite way to say it is 行きました (ikimashita).
- jon wa ikimashita ka?
- Has John left?
There is also a super polite way to say this that falls into the Japanese that is typically used by people who are serving customers or people of high status.
The word is いらっしゃる (irassharu) which is a pretty versatile word because it can mean “to go” or “to come” or even “to stay.”
This is one of those words that really requires context to understand, but for our purposes we can just use the first meaning that I covered. We can say いらっしゃいました (irasshaimashita) for “he left” when we need to be super polite.
Finally, its also common for Japanese people to use the word 出かける (dekakeru) when they want to say that a person is going “to go out (e.g. on an excursion or outing)” such as when they are out of the office visiting a customer.
So yet another way that we can say that a person has left, especially when we want to say that they left a particular place such as work, is 出かけました (dekakemashita).
Sometimes we say that something was “left alone” and we didn’t interact with it in any way.
In Japanese, the expression 放っておく (houtte oku) means “to leave alone; to leave as is; to ignore; to neglect” which is pretty much the same meaning.
Again, we’ll need to change this verb into the past-tense in order to fit the topic of this post.
- kare wa shigoto o yarikakete houtte oita.
- He left his work unfinished.
You might run into the verb 置く (oku) in other places with the meaning of “to put; to place; to leave (behind)” and it will have a similar meaning to the expression that we just covered, so keep that in mind if you run into another situation where two verbs are combined together and one of them is おく (oku).
Are You Left Speechless?
Hopefully not because I’d love to hear from you!
If you have any questions about the words and phrases that we covered in this post, then please let me know what they are.
Or if you would just like to add your on thoughts to the conversation, you can do so by entering them into the comments section below. Thanks for reading!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: