A very useful word to know is “something” in Japanese. This will allow you to talk about items without having to specifically identify them. In other words, it’s commonly used in casual conversations when you’re just enjoying a chat.
It can also help to know this word when you aren’t sure what the item you’re talking about is called in the language!
Of course, nothing is straightforward in Japanese and there are several ways that you can say this word. Let’s take a look at each one now and see some example uses of them.
Something In Japanese
Let’s take a look at it in a simple example next.
- nani ka kai tai
- I want to buy something
This can be a really useful phrase to remember since you can replace the “want to buy” part with anything else like “want to eat” and such.
On the other hand, perhaps you walk into a new room and get the feeling that something isn’t quite right. Perhaps your intuition is trying to tell you something, but you just can’t put your finger on it.
You might want to make a comment to your pal that you are suspicious of this room.
- nani ka okashii yo
- Something is strange / wrong (here)
Although I have been using the kanji for it in all of the examples above, it is also pretty common to see this word written in all hiragana, especially in manga.
In those cases, you will see it written as なにか.
Variations Of The Word
Of course there are a lot of slight variations for this word that you will encounter, and I wanted to go over them here.
The first one is なんか (nanka) which changes the に into the contracted form of the sound, which is ん. The meaning is exactly the same, but this gives it a more casual feel to it.
Another word is 何とか (nan toka) which usually gets used to mean “one way or another” in Japanese, but every now and then gets used more in line with our word of the day.
- nan toka shina!
- Do something!
Alright, moving on to the next word.
If you look up the word “something” in an English to Japanese dictionary, then one of the results will be 何やら (nani yara).
When I see this word used, it is more often in line with “for some reason” rather than “something” like in the explanation below.
I couldn’t really find any examples of 何やら that fit in line with the topic of this post, so I will just leave this little part as it is so that you can be aware of it.
Something I should mention about it is that this word is more common in written form. You are much more likely to encounter it while reading a book rather than during a conversation with someone.
How To Use 少し
Now we are going to change things over for a little, because that’s what this new word means: a little.
The word in question is 少し (sukoshi) and translates into English as “small quantity; little; few; something.”
As you can see from the list, that last possibility is right in line with everything else we’ve been talking about. The way you can think about this is very similar to how we use the words “a little” and “something” in English.
- sukoshi tabete miru?
- Won’t you try eating something / a little?
I think the above example sentence does a fairly good job at showing a situation where we could say either of the two meanings and it wouldn’t change what you’re trying to say.
All that being said, it is definitely more common to see 少し used for “a small quantity” when it is written or spoken, so if you aren’t entirely sure how to use it for “something” then one of the other choices might be a safer bet.
What Is 何物?
Now we are going to get to an interesting word. It is created by taking 何 which was covered earlier and the adding onto it the word 物 (mono) which means “thing.”
This new word 何物 (nani mono) then becomes “something” or it can also be used to mean “nothing” when it is combined with a negative verb.
Thinking about this word, I can say with confidence that I see it used in negative sentences much more often than positive ones, but since this post is all about the latter I will stay focused on that.
The example sentence from dictionary.goo.ne.jp is 健康は何物にも代えがたい (kenkou wa nani mono ni mo kae gatai).
A natural translation of this sentence would be something along the lines of “Health is irreplaceable” but if we break it down word by word for a literal explanation we can see how this word fits in.
First we have 健康 for “health” and it is marked as the topic by the は particle.
Then we have our word for this section 何物 for “something” and it is followed by にも which is an expression with several possible meanings, but here it is “even.”
Then we have the stem of 代える which means “to substitute; to replace” combined with the suffix がたい which adds on to verbs to mean “difficult to …; hard to …” whatever the verb was.
So a clunky, more literal translation could be “As for health, even with something else, it is hard to replace.”
A Final Note On 何物
I included that last section of 何物 for the sake of completeness, but I noticed how hard it was to find natural examples of it being used in Japanese, so it’s probably not a big deal if you forget this one.
The others in this post are much more common and useful.
If you have any questions or comments at all about the topic of this article, then please feel free to share them down below by leaving a comment.
Until next time!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: