What does “kore wa nan desu ka” mean in Japanese?
Native speakers say “kore wa nan desu ka” to mean ‘what is this?’ in Japanese. Perhaps, some Japanese learners know this phrase well as it is sometimes used in Japanese movies, novels, textbooks, daily conversations, and the like. In this blog post, however, I will explain it in detail based on its grammatical components. And also, I will explain how to use it through example sentences. My explanations would help Japanese learners to understand this useful phrase more clearly. Then, let’s get started!
- Definition and meaning of “kore wa nan desu ka”
- Grammatical components of the phrase
Definition and meaning of “kore wa nan desu ka”
Let me start with the definition and meaning as follows:
- kore wa nan desu ka – これは何ですか (これはなんですか) : a Japanese phrase meaning ‘what is this?’
Native speakers use this phrase to ask what a thing physically close to them is in Japanese. So, its usage is very similar to that of the English phrase above, I think.
The definition and meaning are simple and clear. To understand this phrase more clearly, however, let me explain its grammatical components in detail, one by one.
Grammatical components of the phrase
The phrase consists of the following five components:
- kore – これ : a demonstrative pronoun used to refer to something close to the speaker. This is often translated into English as “this”.
- wa – は : a binding particle working as a case marker or topic marker. In the phrase, this works after “kore” to make the subject word.
- nan – 何 (なん) : the shortened version of “nani” which is an indefinite demonstrative pronoun meaning ‘what’ in Japanese. For the better connection with the following word, its pronunciation has been simplified. This is widely used in Japanese what questions. Actually, we can find this in other phrases like “onamae wa nan desu ka“.
- desu – です : an auxiliary verb used after a noun or adjective to make it polite. Probably, this is well known as a part of Japanese desu form. In the phrase, this is used after “nan” to make it sound polite.
- ka – か : a sentence-ending particle used to make a question. This is often used with the pitch raised. As the definition suggests, this is used at the end of the phrase to make the question.
From these five components, we can understand that “kore wa nan desu ka” is a Japanese polite what question. Word orders in Japanese and English are different, but its meaning can literally be interpreted as ‘what is this?’
When we meet new Japanese phrases, we should check their grammatical components in detail to understand their meanings clearly and deeply. In many cases, components tell us a lot about the meanings of the phrases they form. Actually, here, we could get the better understanding of “kore wa nan desu ka” through the detailed check above. Then, let me explain how to use it through the example sentences below.
Example #1: how to say “what is this?” in Japanese
Below are the new words used in the example sentence.
- sumimasen – すみません : a Japanese phrase meaning ‘excuse me’, ‘sorry’, or such.
- ga – が : a conjunction used to join two sentences or phrases which have different or opposite meanings. This is often translated into English as “but”, “however”, or such. In the example, this follows “sumimasen” to say “excuse me, but” in Japanese.
This is a typical usage of the Japanese what question. In this example, it works after “sumimasen ga” to say “excuse me, but what is this?” in Japanese. This example sentence would be very helpful for Japanese learners, I think. When they want to start the what question with saying “excuse me”, this sentence is a very good option.
The auxiliary verb, “desu”, helps the phrase to sound polite. So, this Japanese what question is very acceptable and understandable even in formal situations. Still, we need to be a bit careful with its use. Sometimes, directly saying “what is this?” can be a bit rude in Japan. We can find the same or similar manner in other countries as well, I guess though.
Example #2: another usage of “kore wa nan desu ka”
Below are the new words used in the example sentence.
- boku – 僕 (ぼく) : a pronoun meaning ‘I’ in Japanese. This is used mainly by boys and young males.
- shira – 知ら (しら) : one conjugation of the verb, “shiru”, which means ‘to know’ in Japanese. In the example, it has been conjugated for the better connection with its following word.
- nai – ない : an auxiliary verb used after a verb, adjective, or auxiliary verb to deny its meaning. Probably, this is well known as a part of Japanese nai form. In the example, this is used after “shira” to deny its meaning, ‘to know’.
This is another typical usage of the phrase. Again, it works to mean ‘what is this?’ in Japanese. When we want to ask what a thing physically close to us is in Japanese, anyway, this phrase is a very good option.
In this blog post, I’ve explained the definition and meaning of “kore wa nan desu ka” in detail based on its grammatical components. And also, I’ve explained how to use it through the example sentences. Let me summarize them as follows.
- kore wa nan desu ka – これは何ですか (これはなんですか) : a Japanese phrase meaning ‘what is this?’ Native speakers use this to ask what a thing physically close to them is in Japanese. So, the usage of this phrase is very similar to that of the English one above. From the grammatical components, we can understand that this phrase is literally the Japanese polite question which means ‘what is this?’
Hope my explanations are understandable and helpful for Japanese learners.
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