Vocabulary Structure

The Structure of Japanese Phonics and Characters

The Basic 45 Phonetic Sounds Are Easy to Acquire

In Japanese there are 45 basic phonetic sounds as well as additional derivative phonics (such as myu). They consist of the five vowels sounds (a, i, u, e, o) combined with nine consonants (k, s, t, n, h, m, y, r, w). Vowels are also used on their own. The special consonant “nn” is used differently.

Japanese is Easier to Pronounce than English

The sounds produced by letters in the English alphabet differ depending on the word itself. For instance, “ta” changes according to the word: “take” is pronounced as teik, “talk” as to-k. In Japanese, the pronunciation of a character never changes regardless of the word. The English word “take” would be pronounced as “ta ke” (bamboo). There is only one set way of pronouncing phonetic furigana (hiragana and katakana) Japanese script.

Basic phonics:
There are three different set of characters: alphabet (romaji ), hiragana and katakana

a

i

u

e

o

k ka

ki

ku

ke

ko

s sa

si(shi)

su

se

so

t ta

ti(chi)

tu(tsu)

te

to

n na

ni

nu

ne

no

h ha

hi

hu(fu)

he

ho

m ma

mi

mu

me

mo

y ya

yu

yo

r ra

ri

ru

re

ro

w wa

[w(h)i]
ウィ
[w(h)e]
ウェ
<wo>

nn

Notes for Basic Phonetic Sounds.

The syllables in parenthesis are the most commonly used way to write that sound in the Roman alphabet.

*The syllables in square brackets are mainly used for English words.

*“wo” in <> is pronounced as “o” but this spelling is only used on special occasions.

*“nn” is not used alone. It is used as a suffix for a syllable.

Letters of the Alphabet and Phonics that Are Not Used in Japanese

With English sounds that differ from Japanese sounds, the sound that most resembles the sound in Japanese is used, “r” instead of “l” and “b” instead of “v.”

Example: milk → miruku (ミルク) / visa→ biza (ビザ)

*The letters of the alphabet, c, q, and x, are replaced as below:
c → k, q → k, x → z

Peculiarities of Japanese Script and Pronunciation

Long Vowel
Example:
coffee → ko-hi
street→ sutori-to

Double consonant
Example; hat → hatto (ハット)
set → setto (セット)

Conjugation of basic phonics (characters) corresponding to English words

In Japanese phonics besides the 45 basic phonics and those 22 phonics with an added y or h, there are other phonics derived from the basic phonics. You can easily understand this by looking at the hiragana and katakana script below the alphabetic script.

Derivative phonics with “y” or “h” inserted between the basic characters

22 Sounds

a i u e o
k kya
きゃ
キャ
kyu
きゅ
キュ
kyo
きょ
キョ
s sya(sha)
しゃ
シャ
syu(shu)
しゅ
シュ
syo(sho)
しょ
ショ
t tya(cha)
ちゃ
チャ
tyu(chu)
ちゅ
チュ
tye(che)
ちぇ
チェ
tyo(cho)
ちょ
チョ
n nya
にゃ
ニャ
nyu
にゅ
ニュ
nyo
にょ
ニョ
h hya
ひゃ
ヒャ
hyu
ひゅ
ヒュ
hyo
ひょ
ヒョ
m mya
みゃ
ミャ
myu
みゅ
ミュ
myo
みょ
ミョ
y
r rya
りゃ
リャ
ryu
りゅ
リュ
ryo
りょ
リョ
w
nn

*The spellings in parenthesis are commonly used (in English spelling).

The scripts under the phonics are hiragana and katakana.

Examples of Usage 
China → Chaina ( チャイナ)
news → nyu-su ( ニュース)
shoes → shu-zu ( シューズ)

Exceptions: thi
This belongs to the basic phonic group of t and is mainly used for English words.

Example:
party → pa-thi- ( パーティー)
tea → thi- (ティー)

Derivatives of basic phonics

29 Sounds

a i u e o
k ka

ki

ku

ke

ko

g ga

gi

gu

ge

go

s sa

si(shi)

su

se

so

z za

zi(ji)

zu

ze

zo

t ta

ti(chi)

tu(tsu)

te

to

d da

dhi
でぃ
ディ
dhu
でゅ
デュ
de

do

h ha

hi

hu(fu)

he

ho

b ba

bi

bu

be

bo

p pa

pi

pu

pe

po

f fa
ふぁ
ファ
fi
ふぃ
フィ
fe
ふぇ
フェ
fo
ふぉ
フォ

*dhi, dhu are irregular alterations and not much used.

Y inserted in the above derivative phonics

12 Sounds

a i u e o
g gya
ぎゃ
ギャ
gyu
ぎゅ
ギュ
gyo
ぎょ
ギョ
z zya(ja)
じゃ
ジャ
zyu(ju)
じゅ
ジュ
zyo(jo)
じょ
ジョ
b bya
びゃ
ビャ
byu
びゅ
ビュ
byo
びょ
ビョ
p pya
ぴゃ
ピャ
pyu
ぴゅ
ピュ
pyo
ぴょ
ピョ