Basic Japanese: Answering Questions

Tips to answer a question in Japanese: Finding out the WH word

While at the beginner level of a language, it often happens to us where we don’t know what we are asked. Sometimes, we meet new people, and they try to ask basic questions, however, they’re not aware of our personal level so sometimes the line of questions gets difficult. At some point, we are left with awkward silence in the conversation and wonder ‘I wish I could understand what he/she said!’

For such happenings, there are some small observations that can help us comprehend the situation. Let’s think about WH words. In English, while meeting a new person, from the WH word, we can somewhat imagine what the person will ask, even before he completes his sentence, right? It’s the same for Japanese. They also have their own WH words, luckily they use them in the first part of the sentence as well.

  1. いつ(when): When in a sentence someone mentions いつ, you can have a basic idea of what they are asking. It can be something like this,

When did you come to Japan?


Itsu nihon ni kimashitaka?

  • いくら(how much): When asking the price where there is no price tag/list availability, this phrase is very helpful. It can be used like,

How much is this watermelon?


Kono suica wa ikura desuka?

  • どうして(why): When conversing with someone, if you hear どうして, you can imagine that it’s most likely a followup question asking why for your previous answer. Or, it can be some starter question like this,

Why did you come to Japan?


Doushita nihon e kimashitaka?

  • なに(what): If you hear the phrase【 なんですか】, you can imagine what the other person wants to know from their gaze or they might point it out with their hand. It is normally a basic question like ‘what is this/that?’. An example is given below,

 [imagine you have a different language book in your hand]

What is that book?


Sono hon wa nan desuka?

  • どこ(doko): If you can pick the word どこ from someone’s question, it means they’re asking for a location. It can be about you, or something around you or related to you. Additionally, you can also use this to ask location in times of need.

Where is your university?


Daigaku wa doko desuka?

            Just like these, from observing what the other person is saying we can detect the WH word and guess what they’re asking when we only know the meaning for some fragments of the sentence. However, it doesn’t mean we can always guess right, for that practicing sentence making, conversing, and learning new words are a must.

Thank you for reading!

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