Japanese Contractions – The Secret To Speaking

Today’s lesson is about Japanese contractions – what they are, why they happen, and how you can learning to spot them when you encounter them so that you can then trace them back to their original meaning.

These are two types that I want to focus on, so that’s what we will go over first.

Something that is special about this lesson is that it it a new addition to the course!

I am putting it out in the 2020 version which means that you are getting information that people didn’t get two years ago. Of course, it also means that there are no audio examples in this section – Sorry!

To make up for it, I will provide you with a link so that you can download all of the example words that we’ve covered so far throughout these lessons. The best part is that it’s totally free!

Abbreviations In Japanese

Technically speaking, abbreviations are not the same thing as contractions in a language. I think it can be easy to mix them up, so I wanted to take a little bit of time to talk about each of them separately.

An abbreviation in Japanese (called a りゃく) is when a word or phrase is made shorter. This is usually done to make it easier and quicker to say or write.

A good example would include the phrase “Happy New Year” which gets reduced from あけましておめでとうございます to simply あけおめ in Japanese.

Quite a difference!

If you are familiar with some Japanese already, then you probably know that the phrase あけましておめでとうございます can be broken down into the three words:

  1. あけまして
  2. おめでとう
  3. ございます

Since the last word is really more of a grammatical construction, it is left out entirely and just the first two mora from the other words are used to create the abbreviation あけおめ.

As you can see from just the written part, this abbreviation is much easier to use.

This is also pretty common with the names of official offices such as the Immigration Bureau. The full Japanese name is にゅうこくかんりきょく which gets shorted down to just にゅうかん in most day to day conversations.

How they came to this shortening probably makes more sense when you look at the kanji. The full name is 入国管理局 and the abbreviation is 入管.

  • 入国 [nyuukoku] = entry into a country
  • 管理局 [kanrikyoku] = administration bureau

Here they just took the first character from each word and made a new one.

This kind of situation also happens with a ton of loan words that come from English, so once you start learning those you will encounter them a lot.

Perhaps the most common one is コンビニ [konbini] which means “convenience store” and comes from コンビニエンスストア [konbiniensu sutoa].

As you can see, that last word was written in katakana which is typical for words that come from other languages.

These examples have been phrases and nouns which is a common feature of abbreviations in Japanese. It’s a little bit different when we get to contractions.

Contractions In Japanese

So how is what we just learned different from a contraction (called a たんしゅく)? Well, the definition of a contraction when it comes to languages is “the process of shortening a word by combination or elision.”

Sounds kind of like the same thing, right?

I think the key word from that explanation is “elision” which means “the omission of a sound or syllable when speaking.”

I apologize for all the definitions!

But that’s really the key thing that I want to highlight when it comes to this part. Namely, that these contractions are like the normal version of the words except that there is an omission of a sound.

Also remember that this primarily has to do with speaking, and not writing.

One common example is when the word です gets changed to just っす during conversation.

  • たなかです。 I am Tanaka.
  • たなかっす。 I’m Takana.

I find that contractions are most common with grammar patterns and generally modifies them to make them more fluid in spoken conversations.

One that is super common is changing ている to just てる. You will see this a lot with verbs in this “te-iru” form when people are talking casually to one another.

  • なにをしている? What are you doing?
  • なにしてる? Wha’cha doin?

By the way, I know that I’m delving into some topics in this lesson that I haven’t touched on before in this course on Japanese sounds.

I’m mentioning things on grammar, some kanji, katakana, and the like. Most of which we haven’t discussed in previous lessons.

The reason why I’m doing this here is because it helps to understand contractions.

If you already know a little bit about Japanese grammar, then this lesson will probably make sense and be useful to you.

If you are brand new to Japanese and haven’t started learning about grammar yet, then go ahead and continue reading through this lesson, but you might find it beneficial to bookmark this page and then revisit it later on once you’ve learned more.

Moving on, I also find that a common contraction made by men is when they change それは into そりゃ.

You might try saying both of these back to back and then slowly increase your speed to see how it feels. That will also lead us into this next part on why Japanese people do this.

The point is that there are a lot of contractions in Japanese, but they usually come from the grammar side of the language.

Why Do They Do This?

When you’re learning Japanese, it can be easy to feel like the Japanese language is picking on you.

Not only is the grammar totally different.

Not only are there an incredible amount of new words to learn.

But then they go and do things like make shorted versions of everything!

As it turns out, the Japanese language is very fond of making both abbreviations and contractions of commonly used words. I don’t have any studies that I can cite, but I believe that one of the main reasons why they do it is because it makes speaking a lot easier.

It’s just like in English where we typically use contractions instead of their full versions.

  • can’t instead of “cannot”
  • I’ll instead of “I will”
  • you’re instead of “you are”

There are a couple of tips that can help you to know when something is a contraction, even if it’s the first time that you run into it.

The first thing to keep in mind is that contractions usually occur in natural speech. If you are reading a book, then you might see a contraction when a character is speaking, but the narration will almost always opt for the full version of the word.

Another clue is that they are much more common in casual conversation. That means you are more likely to hear them when speaking with friends and family. It is not as likely that someone would use them with their boss.

Another clue is that contractions always follow standard grammar patterns, they just shorten or omit some of the sounds.

Here’s an example of a common phrase and the contraction version:

  • それはそうだ
  • そりゃそうだ

The reason why this is clue is useful is because you can often understand the meaning of a contraction, even if it’s the first time you run into it, when you are familiar with the standard phrase.

This is nice for people studying the language who get a lot of education through textbooks, courses, or conversations with tutors.

If you are pretty solid with the normal way that a phrase works, then when you hear the contraction it should sound very close to full version and your awareness can help you notice that you just heard a contracted version of it.

All Example Words (File Download)

Like I mentioned earlier, today’s lesson was something that I felt I missed when I first created this course on sounds. That’s why I added it in here.

Again, I apologize for not having audio files that I can provide to help you listen to these contractions. Try saying them yourself a couple of times to get a feel for it.

Now that you are aware of it, you will probably begin to notice it.

Keep in mind that I have only introduced you to it with a couple of common examples, but there are many more that get used by natives.

At any rate, I promised you that I would give you a file of the example words that we’ve covered in this course so that you can listen to it whenever you would like.

I’ve put a link to just the audio file right below these words:

Once you’ve click on the link you can either press the button on the right-hand side to download it, or if you don’t see one try right-clicking on the audio file and see if there’s an option to download or save the file.

On To Part Three

You have now completed the second part of this free course on the sounds of Japanese.

It went by pretty quickly, didn’t it?

The first part was where most of the ground work was done since there are so many individual sounds in the language. Having said that, I think that the other two sections are much more interesting since we get to explore some unique phonetic situations.

This final section coming up will focus on how Japanese sounds when people speak in complete sentences.

It is very similar to the concepts that we have covered so far, just on a much grander scale.

Whenever you are ready, go ahead and get started!


Any questions or comments on Part Two of this course? Let me know down below!

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