What Is “n” In Japanese? [na, ni, nu, ne, no]

Today is going to be a nice little change from the last couple of consonant groups. That’s because the [n] category is actually quite simple when it comes to the actual sounds. What is “n” in Japanese?

Truth be told, you already know them!

There really isn’t anything special about these sounds since the Japanese [n] sound for these five vowels is pretty much the same as the English [n] sound. Combine that with our five trusty friends, and you are good to go!

That being said, I’ve still laid out this lesson in such a way as to provide a lot of value and (hopefully) insight into these kana.

The 5 [n] Sounds In Japanese

You know, I have always thought that the [n] group was the best in Japanese. But then again, it’s probably because I’m so biased… My name starts with N!

The [n] sound combined with each of the five vowels creates the following:

な = na

に = ni

ぬ = nu

ね = ne

の = no

Although I think you’ll have picked up all of these sounds super quickly, there is still a trick that I want to share with you concerning the particular hiragana in this group.

Let’s go over them individually in the next section first, and then after that I will share with you the one secret that I use 99% of the time with these little guys.

Get Your Pen And Paper Ready

Or you could get a pencil. Or if you’re outside you could try writing in the dirt I guess…

Actually, that brings up something that I learned a while ago. Did you know that a lot of Japanese kids practice writing out these characters on their left hand with their right index finger for practice?

To be more precise, they practice writing out kanji (Chinese characters) this way, but the same thing can be applied to hiragana for the purposes of this course.

So if you find yourself in a position where you can’t write with pen and paper, try practicing by writing them on the palm of one of your hands with one of your fingers.

I’m not telling you which finger to use, but you know… be nice!

You will have to imagine that the ink is on your hand until the character is complete and then “see” the complete picture, but it is a pretty cool method nonetheless.

な = na

に = ni

ぬ = nu

ね = ne

の = no

Alright, so did you notice how close ぬ and ね were to one another when you wrote them out?

Wait… what?

You didn’t actually write them out?!

I’m just playing with you. 🙂 But no really, let’s tackle this similar-looking kana problem right now.

Telling ぬ And ね Apart

Of course, one of the problems with having a lot of symbols in your writing system is that some of them are going to look nearly identical which causes confusion.

What I tend to do when this happens to me, is to first bring both characters up next to one another.

Then I look for the parts of the symbols that look the same. This is the primary factor that is causing the problem, so I feel that it is best to solidly identify it so that you know exactly what you’re dealing with.

The next step is to see where they are different. This is also important because it is this “differentiating factor” that will allow us to tell them apart.

In this case, we’ve got ぬ and ね which both start off by drawing a short line. Then we finish off the character by drawing a second line that ends up creating a shape that looks similar to a cursive number 2.

That’s what they have in common. But what do they do differently?

Well, the [nu] kana has a curved line initially and the [ne] kana has a straight line at the beginning.

If we look into it a little deeper, we can see that overall the ぬ [nu] kana is more curvy or loopy, whereas the ね [ne] kana is more angular and straight.

The trick that I always use (that I learned from Tofugu) is that ぬ [nu] is limp and curvy like a noodle!

Think about that. When you cook noodles they get all curvy which is the unique feature of ぬ. Also, the word noodle sounds exactly like [nu] which helps identify the correct one.

That’s the trick that has always worked for me.

Maybe it’s a little cheesy, but if you ever find yourself in a situation where you can’t remember if [nu] is ぬ or ね then think about a cooked noodle that you’re about to eat (yum), and you should be able to match it to the right kana.

Time For Example Words

Now that we are up to a total of 25 sounds and hiragana, we can start looking at more and more Japanese words to see how they sound together.

I know I’ve said this before, but I really don’t want you to worry too much about memorizing the meanings of these words.

I originally thought about providing just the audio and hiragana with no English translation, but I figured that it would bother people to practice words that they didn’t understand, so I ended up giving the English definitions as well.

It’s totally fine if you want to work on learning the words in addition to the sounds, but if you’re only going to do one thing, then I would encourage you to put your focus on the phonetics since that is the purpose of this particular course.

たぬき = A “Tanuki” is a Japanese mythical creature that looks kind of like a raccoon

さかな = Fish

つな = Rope

たちのき = Eviction

て = Hand

This last word て is interesting because it is another one of those single mora (character) words.

Something that I found interesting about the Japanese phonetic system is that it is actually very limited when it comes to the number of different sounds.

Think about it, there are only 5 vowel phonemes in Japanese whereas English has about 20!

Because of that, there are a lot of super short words like this. There are also a lot of homophones – words that share the same pronunciation, but have different meanings.

Unlock The Following Achievement

Do you play video games? I play them all the time and I really love them.

I’ve always enjoyed accomplishing something in the game (even minor things) and getting an achievement for it. So now it’s your turn to earn an achievement in this course by doing the following:

  • Listen to and repeat each sound 3x or more.
  • Write out each hiragana 5x or more.
  • Listen to and repeat the example words 3x or more.

Here’s your achievement badge: 🔥

You’re on fire, baby! Let’s keep it going with the next lesson!


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