Intro to んだ

We've been looking at some pretty complicated stuff in these lessons. That is to say, we have been covering simple grammatical formations that are very difficult to master.

Aside from all of the は and が madness we saw in the previous section of the course, I think the concept we covered in the previous lesson is particularly tricky: situations in which we can use the feminine-sounding sentence-ending particle の.

In this lesson, we'll look at how to say the same sentences without sounding so feminine.

I'd like to say that this is always a simple, straightforward process, but sadly that rarely happens. I'll indicate areas that Rei and I had trouble with as we wrote these lessons.

For example, we saw this in the last lesson:

You wanna hang out with your beautiful Japanese girlfriend, so you text her asking her to come to your apartment. Sadly, her response is:

ごめん。 いま いそがしい の。
Sorry. I'm busy right now.
Literally: "sorry. + now + busy + の."

As a refresher, I'll also mention that the speaker here (probably) says の because she is explaining to you why she cannot hang out with you. We can think of this as the "の of explanation."

The girlfriend in the above example adds の because she is saying "I'm busy right now" in order to explain that she can't come over.

Important: In many cases, the feminine "の of explanation" can be changed to the unisex/masculine "んだ of explanation."

In other words, replace の with んだ to make the sentence sound less feminine.

So in a similar situation to the one described above, a male (or female) speaker might say:

ごめん。 いま いそがしい んだ。
Sorry. I'm busy right now.
Literally: "sorry. + now + busy + んだ."

Are we studying "masculine" language?

Gender is a sensitive topic. And there are a multitude of opinions floating around about what is or isn't (or should or shouldn't be) "masculine" and "feminine."

As such, it may not surprise you to learn that the division between male and female speech, though markedly more noticeable than in English, is not always so clear in Japanese.

There are times when some entirely "masculine" men will end declarative sentences with の. And pretty much everybody — both males and females — use んだ.

For instance, this still sounds quite natural for a male speaker to say (in Tokyo, as least; Rei and I cannot 100% vouch for other regions of Japan, as masculine and feminine speech can also vary a bit by region; for example, people in Kansai often say that people in Tokyo sound feminine):

これ おいしい の。
This is really good.
Literally: "this + delicious + の."

You may recall that the above sentence could be used in this situation:

You're friends with a tiny Japanese girl/guy, and you two go to ramen together. She/He's on her/his fourth bowl of noodles and shows no signs of stopping. Surprised, you ask, "How can you eat that much?" She/He smiles and replies: [see above].

The "の of explanation" is explaining that the speaker is eating so much because it tastes good.

To summarize: I wouldn't stress too much about masculinity and femininity for each individual sentence. Just know that, generally speaking, の will sound feminine and んだ will not.

What's much more important to learn and remember is that の and んだ carry this nuance of explaining something. The nuance of の and んだ is actually a bit more difficult to pin down than just saying "it's for explanations," but that is a good entry point for starting to become aware of this phenomenon.

Perhaps you recall the following situation:

Your female friend is buying a pair of men's gloves. You ask her why, and she says:

わたし、 て が おおきい の。
I have big hands.
Literally: "I, + hand + が + big + の."

But what if your male friend were buying a pair of women's gloves because he has small hands?

How would he explain that? (Hint: The word for "small" is 小さい [ちいさい].)

おれ、 て が ちいさい んだ。
I have small hands.
Literally: "I, + hand + が + small + んだ."

We also saw this next situation:

Your friend is reading a travel guide for Korea. You ask her why, and she says:

らいしゅう、 かんこく に いく の。
I'm going to Korea next week.
Literally: "next week, + Korea + に + go + の."

To give that sentence a slightly less feminine ring to it, we might say:

らいしゅう、 かんこく に いく んだ。
I'm going to Korea next week.
Literally: "next week, + Korea + に + go + んだ."

We also saw this sentence:

あのね、 らいしゅう かんこく に いく の。
Hey guess what, I'm going to Korea next week.
Literally: "hey, so, + next week + Korea + に + go + の."

To make it sound less feminine, we might say:

あのね、 らいしゅう かんこく に いく んだ。
Hey guess what, I'm going to Korea next week.
Literally: "hey, so, + next week + Korea + に + go + んだ."


Saying あのね, though acceptable for male speakers, can in certain situations sound a bit feminine. You don't really need to worry about this one, though. Just don't overuse it if you want to sound masculine.

As a bonus, note that sometimes あのね will get shortened to just あんね. Both of these are only used in casual speech.

What about formal language?

Did you notice that all of our sentences so far have been casual?

There are a few reasons for this.

First, gender differences are more pronounced in casual speech.

Second, casual speech tends to have simpler grammar, and we're still easing into the complicated stuff.

Third, I have a lot more fun teaching casual language because there are so many chances to use it if and when you develop some intimate relationships with Japanese speakers.

Though we're not going to look at full sentences here, note that the formal version of の and んだ is just んです.

In written language, it is common to see のです, but this is pretty stiff-sounding language, and you're less likely to hear it in everyday speech.

Stop right there.

...and congratulate yourself. Did you realize just how complicated the sentences above are?

We can already say things like "I'm busy right now" and "Hey guess what, I'm going to Korea next week" and we haven't even conjugated a single verb yet!

My number one goal when I set out to create this course was to share with fellow students the incredible breadth of sentences that can be formed with limited knowledge of Japanese grammar.

Of course, we'll still want to build up to the more complicated stuff in time. But we shouldn't belittle the progress we've made so far. In short, I just wanted to say: Props to you.

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