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101 Core Japanese Words — The Most Commonly Used Words in Japanese

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Ready to understand about half of Japanese everyday conversations?

Yes, you read that right. With only about 100 words under your belt, you can understand about 50% of all Japanese you hear or read – if you choose the right words!

Starting off by learning the core Japanese words can be an incredible tool to reach fluency faster. Based on the analysis of either newspapers, novels, or even Wikipedia pages, the core 100 words in a language can make up between 50% and 60% of what you hear or read.

This isn’t your general beginner’s word list. It’s a list of the most common words to start with if you’re studying by the word-frequency method.

But you can also pair what you learn here with essential Japanese words and phrases for beginners, like greetings. Combining the two will help make sure you know all the words and phrases you’ll hear most often, and all the words you want to say to make basic sentences.

You’ll be way ahead of the game!

These 101 core Japanese words are the words you should learn now, whether you’re a beginner or intermediate Japanese learner. They include pronouns, nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and conjugations.

One more tip: If you haven’t yet, learn how to read and understand Hiragana and Katakana. It will help you learn how to pronounce Japanese words properly and will make reading easier.

頑張ってね!(Ganbatte ne, “Good luck!”)

10 Basic Japanese Words to Get You Started

If you’re only going to learn 10 words from this article, walk away with these:

  • はい (hai) – “yes”
  • いいえ (iie) – “no”
  • こんにちは (konnichiwa) – “hello”
  • じゃね (ja ne) – “goodbye”
  • すみません (sumimasen) – “excuse me”
  • おねがいします(o-negai shimasu) – “please”
  • ありがとう (arigatou) – “thank you”
  • どういたしまして (dōitashimashite) – “you’re welcome”
  • わかりません (wakarimasen) – “I don’t understand”
  • 家 (ie or uchi) – “home”

Keep on reading for more vocabulary!

The 8 Core Japanese Pronouns

Japanese pronouns are important to know, although even though they are core words, you will often only hear and use the top three on this list. In Japanese, pronouns are usually understood from context and not said unless they’re necessary for clarification.

You’ll also notice I didn’t include “you” (あなた, “anata”) in this list. That’s because it’s almost never used unless in a context where the person has no name (like in a song or a textbook example).

Any time you would say “you” in English, you’ll use the person’s name followed by “-san” (-さん), such as “Tanaka-san” (田中さん).

  • これ / この (Kore / Kono) – “This” or “This ___ (thing/person)”
  • それ / その (Sore / Sono) – “That / It” or “That ___ (thing/person)”
  • あれ / あの (Are / Ano) – “That over there” or “That ___ (thing/person) over there”
  • 私 / 僕 (Watashi / Boku) – “I” (私 is gender neutral, while 僕 is masculine.)
  • 彼 (Kare) – “He”
  • 彼女 (Kanojo) – “She”
  • 私たち (Watashitachi) – “We”
  • 彼ら (Karera) – “They”

The 42 Core Japanese Nouns

Which nouns are most helpful to learn?

Everyone has different words they say the most based on daily life. You should definitely take time to create your own script and list of words you often say, so you can memorize them.

Based on frequency lists, these are the words you’ll most likely hear or use. Of course, nouns for time, transportation, and general words for location and people top the list for usefulness in getting by.

Pro tip: Most single kanji have multiple readings, especially when combined with other kanji. Their English word meaning stays the same, though. I’ve included the most common way or ways to read them in Romaji (English characters to spell Japanese words).

Don’t worry about that for now, but just know there may be – and usually are – more ways, once you get farther in your studies.

  • 年 (Toshi or Nen) – “Year”
  • 月 (Getsu or Tsuki) – “Month” and “Moon”
  • 日 (Nichi or Hi) – “Day” and “Sun”
  • 週 (Shuu) – “Week”
  • 今日 (Kyou) – “Today”
  • 明日 (Ashita) – “Tomorrow”
  • 昨日 (Kinou) – “Yesterday”
  • 時間 (Jikan) – “Time” (As in, a time frame.)
  • 分 (Fun or Bun) – “Minute”
  • 時 (Ji or Toki) – “Hour” or “Time”
  • こと (Koto) – “About (this thing)”
  • 日本 (Nihon) – “Japan”
  • ため (Tame) – “For” or “In regards to”
  • 人 (Hito or Nin) – “Person”
  • 物 (Mono) – “Thing”
  • 国 (Kuni or Koku) – “Country”
  • 大学 (Daigaku) – “College”
  • 今 (Ima) – “Now”
  • 前 (Mae) – “Before”
  • 後 (Ato) – “After”
  • 駅 (Eki) – “(Train) Station”
  • 線 (Sen) – “Line”
  • 電車 (Densha) – “Train”
  • 車 (Kuruma) – “Car”
  • 部屋 (Heya) – “Room”
  • 名前 (Namae) – “Name”
  • 所 / 場所 (Tokoro / Basho) – “Place”
  • 地下鉄 (Chikatetsu) – “Subway”
  • 中 (Naka or Chuu) – “Middle,” “Inside,” or “During”
  • 外 (Soto or Gai) – “Outside”
  • 学校 (Gakkou) – “School”
  • 語 (Go) – “Language” (Combine it with other words like: 言語 (gengo, “language”), 単語 (tango, “words”), 日本語 (Nihongo, “Japanese”), 英語 (Eigo, “English”), スペイン語 (Supeingo, “Spanish”).)
  • 水 (Mizu) – “Water”
  • 映画 (Eiga) – “Movie”
  • テレビ (Terebi) – “TV”
  • 家族 (Kazoku) – “Family”
  • 町 (Machi) – “Town”
  • 他の (Hoka no) – “Other”
  • 出身 (Shusshin) – “Hometown”
  • トイレ / お手洗い (Toire / Otearai) – “Bathroom”
  • 家 (Uchi or Ie) – “Home” or “House”
  • 店 (Mise or Ya) – “Shop”

The 23 Core Japanese Verbs

You can get by saying a lot with a few verbs, especially the first one on this list: する (suru). This verb means “to do” on its own. But, it also combines with nouns to mean “to do ____.”

For example, you can combine する with nouns like 勉強 (benkyou, “study”) to create 勉強する (benkyou suru, “to study”). It’s a super helpful and versatile verb, even if it’s one of the two irregular verbs for conjugation.

But isn’t that nice? Japanese only has 2 irregular verbs – する and 来る (kuru, “to come”).

  • する (Suru) – “To do”
  • です (Desu) – “To be” or “it is”
  • なる (Naru) – “To become”
  • ある (Aru) – “There is” for inanimate objects and plants.
  • いる (Iru) – “There is” for living things, like humans and animals.
  • 言う (Iu) – “To say”
  • 行く (Iku) – “To go”
  • 出来る (Dekiru) – “To be able to do” or “can do”
  • 見る (Miru) – “To see”
  • 送る (Okuru) – “To send”
  • 持つ (Motsu) – “To have” or “to hold”
  • 待つ (Matsu) – “To wait”
  • 会う (Au) – “To meet”
  • 呼ぶ (Yobu) – “To call”
  • 置く (Oku) – “To put”
  • 受ける (Ukeru) – “To receive”
  • 作る (Tsukuru) – “To make”
  • 着く (Tsuku) – “To arrive”
  • 使う (Tsukau) – “To use”
  • 学ぶ (Manabu) – “To learn”
  • 食べる (Taberu) – “To eat”
  • 飲む (Nomu) – “To drink”
  • 帰る (Kaeru) – “To return home”

The 20 Core Japanese Adjectives and Adverbs

Add more description and color to your Japanese! Here are the most common Japanese adjectives and adverbs.

Take note of すごい (sugoi) – “amazing.” It’s so commonly used, it means many things. “Cool,” “wow,” “that’s crazy,” etc. It’s a catch-all exclamation and is often used in reply to stories or when shown something (like yummy food, beautiful scenery, or a cool picture).

  • 多い (Ooi) – “Many”
  • たくさん (Takusan) – “Lots of”
  • 少し (Sukoshi) – “Few”
  • 遠い (Tooi) – “Far”
  • 近い (Chikai) – “Near”
  • 小さい (Chiisai) – “Small”
  • 大きい (Ookii) – “Big”
  • 良い (Yoi) – “Good”
  • 悪い (Warui) – “Bad”
  • きれいな (Kirei na) – “Clean” and “Pretty”
  • 醜い (Minikui) – “Ugly”
  • 難しい (Muzukashii) – “Difficult”
  • 簡単な (Kantan na) – “Easy”
  • うまい (Umai) – “Nice”
  • 美味しい (Oishii) – “Delicious”
  • まずい (Mazui) – “Disgusting”
  • 大丈夫 (Daijoubu) – “All right”
  • すごい (Sugoi) – “Amazing”
  • 楽しい (Tanoshii) – “Enjoyable” or “Pleasant”
  • とても (Totemo) – “Very”

It’s easier to learn to use these when you get exposed to Japanese. You can listen about how I used Netflix to pick up most of my colloquial vocabulary in this episode of the Language Hacking Podcast:

The 8 Core Japanese Conjunctions and Connectors

It’s always helpful to know how to connect your sentences with conjunctions.

As in English, there are tons of conjunctions and connectors to start a sentence, but these are most common.

Here’s one to note: その時 (Sono toki). It means “at that time” in Japanese, but doesn’t really translate properly into English. It’s closer to saying “when that happened,” “while that was going on,” “and then,” or “meanwhile” in English while explaining what happens next in a story.

  • しかし (Shikashi) – “However”
  • また (Mata) – “Also”
  • その後 (Sono ato) – “After that”
  • その時 (Sono toki) – “At that time”
  • 場合は (Baai wa) – “If you” or “If this happens”
  • 例えば (Tatoeba) – “For example”
  • それから (Sorekara) – “Then”
  • だから (Dakara) – “So”

Strengthen Your Japanese Core with the Most Common Japanese Words

Now that you know the 111 core Japanese words to help you get started, put them to use and master them!

You can start applying them with Japanese language exchange partners.

Or, you could try taking the Add1Challenge (now the Fluent in 3 Months Challenge) to level up your Japanese in 90 days.

You could even add more color to your speech by learning about Japanese onomatopoeia, and learn your Japanese numbers!

The directions you can take for learning Japanese are endless. But now that you’ve got your core words, you can figure out what’s best for you and start applying it.

From here, start learning words that are most relevant to your own personal daily speech. If you’re looking for other resources to check out, head over to our Japanese resources page, or give these articles a read:

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Caitlin Sacasas

Content Writer, Fluent in 3 Months

Caitlin is a copywriter, content strategist, and language learner. Besides languages, her passions are fitness, books, and Star Wars. Connect with her: Twitter | LinkedIn

Speaks: English, Japanese, Korean, Spanish

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