Japanese/Elementary Japanese/Lesson 2

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In this lesson, we are going to learn how to say something is something else:
  • ~は ~です。



You can check out the translation here

山田: 鈴木さん, それは何ですか。
鈴木: これは辞書です。
山田: ああ、そうですか。

やまだ:すずきさん, それはなんですか。


です copula Is
これ pron. This
それ pron. That
何(なに) pron. What
辞書 (じしょ) n. Dictionary


What is a copula?Edit

In English, the verb 'to be' serves two purposes: It acts as the copula, and it acts as the verb for existence. However, in many languages, including Japanese, these two verbs are separate—so it helps to have an understanding of the difference between the two usages.

A copula can be thought of as an equals sign: it equates two things to each other. In the sentence "That is a dog," 'is' is the copula. In the sentence "The dog is inside," you don't mean that 'the dog' and 'inside' are the same thing; you mean that the dog exists inside.

These two usages have different verbs in Japanese, so it'd be good to get used to it now. Here are some examples:

Using 'to be' as a copula:

  • That man is the president.
  • Joe is a salesman.
  • The dog is a golden retriever.
  • This paper is my report.

Using 'to be' to mean existence:

  • Sara is outside.
  • The plate is on the table.
  • The watch is on my wrist
  • They are at the mall.
  • There is John.

The Japanese CopulaEdit

In Japanese, です is the copula. It is used to equate two things. Let's look into translating the sentence, "This is a dictionary," into Japanese.

Since Japanese uses subject-object-verb word order, the copula (and all other verbs) come last in the sentence. If we were to form the English sentence in this way, it'd go like this: "This a dictionary is." If we directly translate the words to Japanese and throw in a particle to separate and denote the function of the words in the sentence, then we'll be done.

The word 'is', as I mentioned above, becomes です. We can use これ and じしょ for 'this' and 'dictionary', respectively. In this instance, これ is our subject (actually our topic), so we add the topic particle は after it (the direct-object, dictionary, does not need a particle when used with the copula.) Now, our sentence is "これはじしょです。", which is a complete, understandable Japanese sentence.


  • AはBです。- A is B, A is a B.


Further readingEdit

Useful phrasesEdit

Translation for the textEdit

Sentences breakdown English translation



Yamada: Mr. Suzuki, What is that?
Suzuki: This is a dictionary.
Yamada: Ah, I see.

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