One gripe among Japanese learners is that they learn all these verb conjugations and honorifics and then when they actually spend time with Japanese friends the way of speaking is barely recognisable.

Many Japanese will adopt a very casual way of speaking when with friends that you won’t necessarily come across in textbooks. In this section we’ll take a look at some of the colloquialisms and slang used in common speech.

But first one caveat. Much of the slang and many of the colloquialisms are difficult to translate into English. The underlying hierarchy that inherent in the language—in terms of grammar and vocabulary—is entirely foreign to English. For example, we don’t have multiple pronouns for “I” and “you”—they are words that serve a purely grammatical function. In Japanese, addressing a stranger as おまえ or referring to yourself as おれ in a client meeting would truly shock any Japanese that were in earshot.

“Real” Japanese

い in the present participle is dropped.

I’m waiting for a friend to come.
I’m on the train at the moment so can I call you back in five minutes?

The particle と when used to phrase a clause is shortened to って.

James said it couldn’t make it today.

It can also be used in place of というのは.

What is that?

For the conditional, you will often hear the following structure:


The の is always abbreviated to ん.

If work finishes early I’ll join.

You will also hear the syllable さ very often. It means nothing. It’s used to fill in pauses between clauses and is added to the end of sentence because… well, just because. It’s closest English equivalent might been the teenage habit of adding “you know” or “it’s like” to every sentence; however, さ is used far more generally and across all age groups. Maybe it’s the elongated ああ sound, but once you start using it quickly becomes a habit.

Just to be clear, さ can come off as very condescending if the listener isn’t a close friend or a subordinate.

If someone suddenly tells you they like you you’d be stumped, right?

It is sometimes used in place of the topic particle at the beginning of the sentence.

You quickly get hooked on something, eh?
If you’re really gonna quit smoking then throw away your lighter, too.

The negative ending for verbs changes from ない to ねえ.

There’s no way I’d do that sort of thing.

For i-adjectives those ending where the penultimate syllable is an a-ending syllable (e.g. たかい, やばい, うるさい), the final two syllables change to an e-ending syllable and い.

This is such a damn pain.

Needless to say, none of the above is going to appear of the JLPT but it’s important to understand the transformations and abbreviations as you will undoubtedly hear them when hanging out with Japanese friends.

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