Today I wanted to go over the 100 most common Japanese words and provide some explanations and example sentences for them.
The thing is, you have to learn a lot of words in order to comprehend the Japanese language. That being said, not all words are created equal. Some of them appear a lot more often than others in books, shows, and daily life.
So, one of the ways to learn a language quickly is to focus your attention on learning the highest frequency words first. That way you get the most bang for you buck when it comes to time spent studying and your ability to comprehend what you see and hear.
Where Do These Words Come From?
Frequency lists can be formed in many ways. I’ve seen lists that are based off of novels, lists that come from a wide variety of sources, and lists that had no explanation at all.
Fortunately no matter what the source was, the top hundred words were basically the same in each case. This makes a lot of sense when you think about it, since the differences would be more likely to appear towards the middle and end of the lists.
For today’s purposes I’ll be using the Japanese Wikipedia as my source. What they did was take all the words written on it and ran them through a program that found and organized words based on how often they appeared.
You can get the full list of words 1-10,000 on the Wiktionary:Frequency lists/Japanese page if you would like, but the one drawback with it is that they only provide the Japanese words.
There are no explanations or example sentences to help you understand them!
The 100 Most Common Japanese Words
Alright, before we jump into this list there are a couple of things I need to make clear.
The first is that I’m only going to provide one meaning for each word, even though some of them have multiple meanings depending on the context that they’re used in.
Furthermore, to make things easier to navigate, I’m going to be organizing these words into groups based on what part of speech they belong to (nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.).
Finally, I’m only going to present them in their dictionary form during this part, but in the next section when I give example sentences, I may or may not inflect or conjugation them depending on the situation.
Alright, without further ado, here is the list of the top one hundred Japanese words!
|indicates direct object of action
|indicates sentence subject
|such things as …
|indicates direction or goal
|indicates a question
|… or something
3. Pre-Noun Adjectivals
|to be (Copula)
|to be due to
|to carry out
|to be able to do
|to compare with
|to be attached
9. Adverbial/Temporal Nouns
|at that time
|work of art
Example Sentences That Use These Words
Here are some example sentences that use words from the frequency list provided above. Please note that some of the verbs will be conjugated in order to have a more natural sounding sentence.
I won’t provide an example for every single word, since that would become very repetitive due to the interchangeability of many of these words.
That being said, if you do want an example sentence of every single word, I’ll provide you with a really good resource at the end of this post.
Also, if a non-top-100-word was used in any of the sentences below in order them make it work, I will explain the word afterwards so that you know it’s not in the top 100. You can then decide if you’d like to spend the time to learn it or not.
- kare wa terebi o miteimasu.
- He is watching TV.
Here is one example sentence where you could easily swap out words. For example, the word テレビ could be replaced with the word 映画 in order to say “He is watching a movie” instead.
- kono machi ni wa hito yori kuruma no hou ga ooi.
- There are more cars than there are people in this town.
In this last example the new word 方 (hou) is part of a grammatical pattern that states one noun has more of an adjective than another. In this example, the cars have more numbers than the amount of people.
- sono bangumi wa ima housou chuu desu.
- That program is now in the middle of broadcasting
In the above example, we see a couple of things. One is the new word 今 (ima) for “now” and the other is the final word です (desu) which is a more polite form of the verb だ (da) from our list.
The verbs だ and です are called “copula” which simply means that they are a form of the verb “to be.” In Japanese, they are handled a little differently from how we use that verb in English, but for now there’s no need to worry about it.
- nihon kara amerika e ikimasu ka?
- Are you going from Japan to America?
I’m only going to do one more example sentence since this section of the article is becoming a little too long.
- toukyou ni wa daigaku ya gakkou nado ga aru.
- There are universities and schools in Tokyo.
I find it a little interesting that 有る (aru) appears in its kanji form on the list of top 100 since I generally see it written in hiragana only as ある.
Does Studying Frequency Lists Really Work?
Out of the five example sentences written above, about thirty of the top 100 words were used. So as you can see, only knowing 100 words doesn’t actually get you very far into reading native materials.
In fact, if you’re a fan of Steve Kaufmann like me, and you watch his videos on YouTube, then you’ve probably heard him talk about whether or not using frequency lists to learn a new language makes that big of a difference.
He says that if you read and listen to a lot of native material, you will naturally encounter the highest frequency words without even trying. I think that makes a lot of sense, because by definition these are the words you’re going to run into the most.
Another point that he makes is that even if you learn the top 1,000 most used words, all it takes is one or two unknown words in a new sentence to throw you back to square one where you have to stop and look it up. Again, I’d have to agree with him as this has been my experience as well.
But I think that there are two situations where using a high frequency list actually does make a lot of sense from a language learner’s point of view.
The first one is if you’re in a hurry. Let’s say that you’re moving to Japan in six months and you want to be able to communicate as quickly as possible.
That’s a situation where spending your time on words that get used everyday by people is more valuable than spending it on random words that appear in a native book or show that you might study.
Another situation where it’s a good idea is when you’re using a flash card program (like Anki) to learn new words and review old ones.
If you have a frequency list that provides example sentences for each word, you can turn those sentences into cards which you can then later review.
I provided you with a free frequency list earlier in this post that pulled the words from the Japanese Wikipedia.
But when I used a frequency to learn the most common Japanese words myself, I actually used something different. I got a book off Amazon that contains the top 5,000 words in Japanese.
The one that I learned from got its words from a variety of sources, so it was a better representation of the Japanese language.
It also provided me with an example sentence for each word so that I was better able to understand how it’s used.
I spent the time to turn each sentence into a flash card and it really made a difference in how quickly I learned Japanese.
The other thing you might have noticed is that a lot of the words from the particles list got used in the examples I provided above.
That’s not surprising considering how many particles exist and how often they show up in sentences.
In fact, getting a good understanding of how particles work and what their various meanings are helped me stop feeling frustrated and start feeling like I could actually learn this language.
There is one book I own that goes really deep into understanding particles, and it provides the best explanations I’ve ever seen.
If you have any questions or comments, please let me know by leaving them down below. Thanks for reading!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: