The Almighty Copula

I know what you’re thinking: “Copula? I know that word. It means sex!”

Sadly, no. You're thinking of “copulate.”

“Copula” is different.

Copula means (*googles “copula”*) the part of the sentence that connects the subject to the predicate. For example, in the sentence “Sushi is delicious,” the word “is” is the copula, because it connects the word “sushi” (the subject) to the word “delicious” (the predicate).”

I pretty much just copied that explanation from Wikipedia. Truth is, I don’t understand at all what a copula is. Apparently the verb “to be” is (usually) the copula in English, and in Japanese it’s だ (da) or です (desu).

Take this sentence, for example:

I’m Niko.
Literally: “Niko + です.”

In this sentence, I’ve left out the word “I” in Japanese (which could be anything from 私《わたし》 to 俺《おれ》 to 僕《ぼく》… a nightmare for another lesson). I left it out because, as I mentioned before, we can delete anything that we already have context for.

A semi-literal translation of ニコです would be “Niko am” or “Niko is.” In this strange, semi-literal sentence, “am” or “is” would be the “copula.”

So, to sum up:

In Japanese, the “copula” is だ (da) or です (desu).

Who cares? Nobody.

The only reason we even use horrid words like “copula” is because we’re trying to explain Japanese in terms of English, and that is a disaster. Maybe that’s why most books only look at だ (da) and です (desu) for a hot second before moving onto the more easily classified “Japanese verbs.”

Not so in this guide.

We are going to spend a lot of time with our homies だ (da) and です (desu) before we look at any Japanese verbs, because you can say almost anything in Japanese without using verbs.

You might not be able to express everything naturally without verbs, but you can say an incredible amount of things.

For the time being, all you need to know is that the words だ and です are kind of like verbs… but they’re not really verbs.

Why You Hating on Verbs, Bro?

Whoa. I am not hating on verbs. I have friends that are verbs.

All I’m saying is that we can express a ton of information in Japanese without using them. Once you get to any level past Absolute Beginner, you should definitely be using verbs. But before that you should fully grasp just how incredibly powerful だ (da) and です (desu) are.

From time to time, as a sort of challenge to myself, I'll have conversations in Japanese without using a single verb. Yeah, it pretty much melts my brain, but I can do it. And I can do it using sentences that, in grammatical terms, are accurate. Yeah, I sound like I have a brain deficiency, since my sentence constructions become so unnatural. But I can still communicate brain stuff into language stuff. For some reason, no one thinks it's cool but me.

You might be wondering why I want to focus so much on だ (da) and です (desu) before we even look at verbs. The main reason is that this section should give you a ninja-level comprehension of the simple structure of a (very basic) Japanese sentence… and the faster we understand those structures, the faster we will be able to manipulate them in order to express ourselves in natural—and, in particular, conversational—Japanese.

Okay, let’s get started. This is going to be awesome.

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