Learning how to say yes in Japanese should be one of the first “to-dos” on your list when you are a beginner and are opening up your Japanese phrase book or textbook for the first time.
But as it turns out, there are many different words you can use for yes, and the differences between them are sometimes the formality level, sometimes the gender of the speaker, and sometimes just a matter of personal preference.
So let’s go over the most common words first, and then move on to some other options that are available to you in case you find yourself in a situation where they are more appropriate than the standard choice.
The “Big Three” Ways To Say Yes In Japanese
Alright, so there are three primary ways to say yes that I would like to go over first. These words get used on a day to day basis, but there are differences between each that you should be aware of.
Let’s start with the most common one first, which also happens to be the first word many people learn when they begin studying Japanese.
- はい (hai) = Yes
This word sounds almost identical to the English greeting “hi” so it should be super easy for you to begin using right away.
Just be sure that you don’t confuse it with the Japanese word for “hello” which is something else entirely.
Now there are a few things that you should know about はい (hai) before we move on to the next word. The first thing is that はい is a formal way to say “yes” in Japanese.
In fact, many times in shows it will be translated as “Yes sir” in the subtitles.
So this is the form that you’ll most often use when you are talking to your boss or teacher. It is still used with friends in a casual way, but any of the next words would also work well for casual situations.
The other thing to know about はい is that it is used to confirm negative questions. In English, this would be like saying “correct” when someone asks something like, “You don’t like apples?”
Let me talk just a little more about this since it is confusing at first for English native speakers.
In English, when someone asks a negative question like “You don’t have a dog?” you will typically respond in a negative way to confirm what the question is asking, or you will use a positive answer to answer conversely.
- You don’t have a dog?”
- No, I don’t. (Negative answer that confirms the questions).
- Yes, I do. (Positive question that denies the question).
Like I said earlier, the word はい for “yes” in Japanese always confirms the question.
- Can you see me?
- はい。(Yes, I can see you).
But it also works the other way.
- You can’t see me right now?
- はい。(Correct, I cannot see you right now.)
Keep that aspect of it in mind, and you things should make a lot more sense when you encounter questions and answers that utilize はい.
Now we can move on to the other two primary ways that Japanese people used for affirmative answers.
- ええ (ee) = Yes
This second way to say yes is different from はい in two primary ways.
The first way is that it is a much more casual word, and therefore something that you shouldn’t use too often with your superiors.
However, it gives everything a more comfortable feeling when used with friends since it reflects your comfort levels when you are spending time with them chatting.
The other thing is that this word is used much more often by females than by males. So if your a dude, then it might actually be better to stick with はい when your with a buddy, rather than use ええ.
Now having said that, I don’t actually hear a lot people use ええ when they are talking in real life. However, I do hear it a lot in anime.
Alright, let’s get to the final one of the “big three” (And yes, I took that naming convention from My Hero Academia [>.<] )
This final one is the more common than ええ, and so it’s probably more benificial to learn.
- うん (un) = Yeah
This is a super simple word that is often accompanied with a sharp nod of the head, and a smile. In this way, the message is congruent between both words and body language.
This word is casual, so be sure to use it with friends and such, but try to refer to はい when you need to be polite.
Now the interesting thing about うん is that even though the rominized spelling of it is “un” there is actually rarely ever a “u” vowel used for it.
Generally speaking, it sounds more like “mm!” in to the English ear.
Now full disclosure, I have heard it both ways, but the “mm!” sounding version is much more common than an “un!” version.
All that being said, you actually will want to keep the sound of it short, because if you hold on to it for too long, it runs the risk of sounding like ううん (uun) which is actually the casual way to say “no” in Japanese. But I’ll leave that for another time.
How To Say “Exactly” In Japanese
The first three ways that I explained will serve you well for 90% of the situations where you need to agree with someone.
But life would be pretty dull if you only knew a couple of words, so I’m going to expand on that by going over some additional words that can be used in place of yes for many occasions.
You will definitely hear these words, so if nothing else, it’s worth learning them now so that you know what the other person is saying when they use it.
The two words I’ll go over in this section can be used to say “exactly” in Japanese when someone else says something and you want to agree with the thing that they said.
- そのとおり (sono tōri) = Exactly!
This word is used with emotion when spoken, and goes beyond just a simple yes to the point where you are agreeing with what the other person said 100%.
- Hey man, you said you wanted a blue hat with a red stripe on it, correct?
- そのとおり！(Exactly! Yes!)
There is also a way to spell this word with a kanji, and it is その通り which has 通 in it, which is usually used for things such as “traffic” or “commuting to school or work” and the like.
I don’t know why, so don’t read too much into it. Instead, just get used to it.
The other word I wanted to go over in this section is closer to the English words surely; certainly; or for sure and can be seen both below and also in the example sentence included.
- 確かに (tashika ni) = Surely (that is the case / that is true).
Surely I put it in the drawer…
tashika ni hikidashi ni ireta kedo…
One thing to keep in mind is that this word is very close to the word 確か (tashika), but is still a different word.
For one thing, 確か is a noun whereas 確かに is an adverb.
For another thing, when 確か actually is used as an adverb, its meaning is different. It can mean “If I’m not mistaken” of “If I remember correctly” and so on.
In other words, try to keep 確かに and 確か seperated in your mind as two different words, even though the only difference is the に at the end of the former.
Not mixing these two words up was tough for me at first, so I just wanted to give you a fair warning about them.
How To Say “That’s Right” In Japanese
Now we are going to go over what is perhaps the most common phrase in all of Japanese when two people are having a conversation.
It literally means “That’s right, isn’t it?” and is often considered a “filler word” which simple means that it is something you say to let the other person know you are listening attentively.
そうですね。(sō desu ne) = That’s so, isn’t it?
This phrase can also be used in many other situations. Like when you are stalling for time so that you can think of an answer to somebody’s question.
- Do you know what you’d like to order?
- そうですね (Hmm, let me see…)
The version above is the polite one, but there are informal versions as well. Usually a guy will replace です (desu) with だ (da), and girls will just just drop it all together.
- そうだね (sō da ne) = Sure, I know that. (guy speaking)
- そうね (sō ne) = Yeah! (girl speaking)
If you keep your focus on the person speaking, and throw in one of these phrases every so often, you should be able to get through most conversations just fine.
The other way that you can say “yeah” or “that’s right” is with this next phrase, that I’ve really only heard guys say.
- はあ (haa) = Indeed
Again, this word is really only used in reply to a person’s question and it shows agreement with what they’ve said.
Be sure to start high and drop the intonation in a nice an easy manner. If you were to start low and then raise the pitch, it would sound like you’re asking a question.
Repeating The Verb That Was Asked
Something that often happens in Japanese, that I don’t think we do a lot in English, is to repeat the verb that was asked in order to affirm the answer.
Let’s take a look at this example to see what I mean.
Did you like the movie? — Yes!
映画が好きですか？ — 好きですよ！
eiga ga suki desu ka? — suki desu yo!
It might seem a little weird in English if a person asked something like “Did you run this morning?” and you replied with “I ran!” rather than a “yes” but you’ll have to kind of get used to it since it’s pretty common in Japanese.
Have you ever played football? — Yes, I have.
フットボールをしたことがありますか？ — ありますよ。
futtobōru o shita koto ga arimasu ka? — arimasu yo.
Just In Case You’re Curious
I once read an interview with a Japanese translator who was in the process of translating classical English literary works into Japanese and she said that “15% of Japanese is just English loan words.”
I thought it was crazy at the time, but as I continue to learn more and more words through reading and watching shows, I am beginning to realize just how true her statement was.
There is of course the English word yes, turned directly into a loan word for Japanese.
- イェス (iesu) = Yes
I hope you enjoy that last one, because it doesn’t get any easier than this!
What other words for yes do you know? Do any of these ways seem kind of weird to use?