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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 all Japanese words?

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.

Think about that a moment. With only 100 words, you could understand 50% of written Japanese. With 1000 words, you understand about 70%, while 10,000 words equal about 92%. You have to learn 10 times the amount of words to increase your understanding by only 20%!

Why do these words show up so much? Some of these 100 words are constantly used. For example, は, が,を, に, etc., are in almost every sentence in Japanese, in the same way that “a,” “the,” or “and” are in most English sentences. These words are called particles, and while they’re good to know, they’re not the focus of this article. Japanese particles are the most popular Japanese words by frequency because they’re used to connect all other words. Without particles, a sentence would sound like Tarzan-style speech. Each particle tells the listener how the word before it relates to the word after it, so they’re crucial to know and understand.

The thing is, particles are not very helpful as “core words” because they’re more about grammar than the content of the sentence. That’s why I’ll stick to the other core words you should know for now. The rest of the core words are simple Japanese words that are easy to remember because you’ll see them so often, in different contexts.

I should point out 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!

With that in mind, 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. Once you master these first 101, you can work on building up to 1,000 or even 10,000! 頑張ってね!(Ganbatte ne, “Good luck!”)

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.

The 8 Core Japanese Pronouns

Japanese pronouns are important to know. But in all honesty, even though these are core words, in many situations you will only hear and use the top three on this list. That’s because in Japanese, pronouns are usually understood from context and not said unless they’re necessary for clarification.

You’ll also notice I didn’t put “you” (あなた, “anata”) on 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. But, 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.

One last thing. 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

Here are the most common Japanese adjectives and adverbs to add more description and color to your Japanese. 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”

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. One to note: その時 (Sono toki). This 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 101 core Japanese words to help you get started, you can start applying them with Japanese language exchange partners. Put them to use and master them! 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.

What words do you use most often in English, and do you know them in Japanese? What common Japanese words do you use? I’d love to know!

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Caitlin Sacasas

Content Writer, Fluent in 3 Months

Caitlin is a content creator, fitness trainer, zero waster, language lover, and Star Wars nerd. She blogs about fitness and sustainability at Rebel Heart Beauty.

Speaks: English, Japanese, Korean, Spanish

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