Japanese mistakes that beginners make? There are TONS. Should you be worried and give up? NO! Because making mistakes and SCREWING UP is a NECESSARY part of learning. Only after you make a mistake and get corrected is when you get better!
So here’s a big list of 52 Japanese Mistakes lesson for you. So that you get better at Japanese. Hope you enjoy!
Take this Japanese Mistakes Lesson:
- Print it out as physical review material (I like printing stuff)
- Review as much as possible
- Share it with offenders
- Make more Japanese mistakes!
- And I try to include solutions & fixes for them
For Learners: Top 52 Japanese Mistakes That Beginners Make
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1. Mistaking Particles Wa & Ga
This is one of the most common Japanese mistakes that learners make.
It is really hard to suggest a solution for this since even Japanese have moments where they doubt which one of these should be used. You really need to get used to it with time. But, let’s try anyway:
Solution: To put it simply:
- は identifies the topic of the sentence
- が identifies the subject of the sentence
2. Mistaking Particles Ni & De
Another common one. Both of these are connected with actions, but to make it a bit simpler let’s say that.
- に identifies and indicates “existence”, the location of the object.
- で on the other hand indicates the location where the action is taking place.
3. Adjectives ending with い in the past tense
Yet another common mistake which pops up even if you’re not a beginner. Let’s take the word 寒い (cold). You see many learners who use 「寒いでした。」It’s wrong.
- The correct and polite way of saying “It was cold” is 「寒かったです。」.
It is important to pay attention to what type of an adjective you are using な or い.
4. Saying “You” in Japanese
Unlike English, one doesn’t really use the word you while talking to Japanese people.
Instead we use the name of the certain person instead of saying you.「今日太郎に会えて良かった。」 is one example. Or, don’t say “you” at all. It’s kind of confrontational.
5. Saying “I” in Japanese
- 俺 – Ore (masculine)
- 僕 – Boku (masculine)
- 私 – Watashi (m/f)
- あたし – Atashi (feminine)
There is a large number of personal pronouns in Japanese and the usage also depends on the gender, age, context, and of course your relation and the position of the person you are talking to.
Just be careful to use the gender appropriate pronoun, otherwise you might be frowned at.
Say watashi for now. It’s safe and polite. Later, once you understand the full nuances, use them as you wish.
6.The Little Tsu
Stop! Another one of the common Japanese mistakes here!
Okay this tiny little thing changes the pronunciation of your word and along with it most likely even the meaning. It basically is used to double the sound of the consonant. If you pay attention to your pronunciation, this shouldn’t be a huge problem.
7. Long vowels
Yet another pronunciation mistake pretty similar to the one above. More often than not the meaning of the word will change depending on the length of the vowel, for example:
- おばさん (aunt)
- おばあさん (grandmother)
8. Iru & Aru in Japanese
Mixing these up is a very common Japanese mistake.
These are words indicating existence of living beings and things respectively. It is common to see learners use ある when talking about animals, but you should keep in your mind that with animals and birds, and everything else that can breathe you use いる.
- Living Beings: Use いる
- Inanimate Objects: Use ある
9. Katakana – カタカナ
For some reason many learners find it harder to remember katakana compared to hiragana and kanji. A
And yet another issue is we never seem to understand what the katakana words mean since they often do not match their English pronunciations. Hence, we too pronounce English words wrongly when we try to change them into katakana.
This would go on the “understandable” Japanese mistakes list. If you make it, I can sympathize.
10. The excessive usage of と
と is pretty much the equivalent of “and” in English. However it cannot be used in every situation. For example when you are connecting adjectives you can’t use と.
Instead you will have something like this: 「可愛くて、美しくて、素敵だった」. In other words the form of the word itself changes.
11. Apologizing in Japanese
There are a lot of words in Japanese that can be used for apologizing, and they vary from situation to situation. However let’s concentrate on 「ごめんなさい」 and 「すみません」. They are quite interchangeable but to make it easier for you:
Let’s say that:
- ごめんなさい is equivalent to “sorry”
- すみません is “excuse me”.
Keep it simple and use them like that.
12. Japanese Greeting Mistakes
The most common greeting in Japan is 「こんにちは」. However when meeting close friends it is better to avoid this phrase, since it is formal.
You’d have better chances of bonding with your friends if you use おっす/hello for bye orおつかれ/otsukare for bye.
13. Dakara and Kara
And again, learners tend to use だから even when から is supposed to be used. A simple example of this will be 「美味しいだから」.
だから is usually used with nouns and な type of adjectives, not with verbs or い adjectives.
14. Misusing Desu kara
We often use this when we are explaining something, or pointing reasons for this or that. However to most Japanese this will sound like you are trying to find an excuse for your actions.
15. Calling someone “san”
Now 「さん」 is a suffix that we add when we are talking to somebody, but a lot of Japanese learners seem to add this even to their own names when talking about themselves. Just DO NOT ever do this.
16. Thanking someone in Japanese
Well the main difference here is informal/formal.
However you should be careful when using the informal version. If you are talking to somebody who is clearly above you, be it age-wise or position-wise, no matter how close you are there are situations when it’s better to use the formal version. For example, when you have asked them for a favor.
17. Keigo – 敬語 (formal speech)
Now, this is the opposite of the above above. Do not talk to your close friends in 敬語 (unless you have to ask them to do a big favor to you), because this will make them think you are trying to distance yourself from them and all of this can get in the way of your friendship.
18. Sorea, Are, Soko, Asoko
- それ – Sore – That
- あれ – Are – That (over there – further than sore)
- そこ – Soko – Over there
- あそこ – Asoko – Way Over there (further than asoko)
These mean that and there if you look for the English equivalents. However as in everything else with Japanese, the nuances matter. To put it simply それ indicates closeness to the person you are talking to, while あれ suggests that the thing is not close to either of you.
19. Gender appropriate
Japanese is a very gender specific language, like it or not. It’s not like you will become a social outcast but people will point out that you sound girly, or that you have a very dirty and boyish vocabulary for a young girl.
20. The Overall Mess of Kanji
We can turn this article into 1,000 Japanese mistakes if we expanded on this.
If you have been learning Japanese for any period of time and do not have Chinese or Korean background, kanji has probably been a pain in the neck for you. You miss one tiny part and the meaning of the word changes. Not to mention there are hundreds and hundreds of them to memories.
21. Confusing words that have the exact same pronunciation
Okay, this might be a bit tricky, but you have to figure out the meaning out of the context or depending on the kanji and intonation. Not much else can be done.
Here are some examples:
- 地震・自身 – both are “jishin”
- 橋・箸・端 – all are “hashi”
They both basically mean “can i do this”, however the main difference is in the level of politeness. If you are talking to a senpai, teacher, professor, boss, somebody who is older than you, or somebody who is above you in any way, it is highly recommended to use the latter rather than the former.
23. Kawaiisou vs Kawaisou
- 可愛いそう – Kawaiisou
- 可哀そう – Kawaisou
When you try to describe something, you usually add ~そう at the end of your い adjective. To do this you cut the い and replace it with the ～そう. However, even though the difference is clear in written form thanks to kanji, a mistake in pronunciation will change the meaning from “cute” to “pitiful”.
24. Misusing Morau, Ageru, Kureru
I don’t know about you but learning the difference between these was a burning hell to me. もらう means to receive, while the other two mean to give.
However, depending on how you use these, the meaning can get pretty confusing, i.e. 「手伝ってくれてもいいですか。」 is offering your help to someone, so be sure to use もらう instead if you are looking for help!
This is one of those Japanese mistakes even the pros make at times.
25. The Particle No
A lot of people seem to misuse 「の」. For example, using a の in between an adjective and noun –「厳しいの先生」– Kibishii no sensei – strict teacher.
The 「の」here is redundant and there is no need to use it at all. Why? Because the adjective already modifies AND belongs to the noun. That’s the job of an adjective, to modify a noun. There’s no need to use の.
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26. Kimasu vs Ikimasu
The first one means to come, while the second one means to go. And while we can say “Can I also come with you” in English and many other languages, in Japanese that’s wrong so you should say 「私も一緒に行ってもいいですか。」.
27. No De vs Nano De
These mean because/since. However saying 「終わるなので」is wrong. You do not use な unless you are using nouns or な adjectives, e.i. 「綺麗なので」,「私の家なので」, etc.
28. Wo vs Ni
This mistake is also one of those that you come across quite often. Let’s take a look at an example: 「バスを乗っています」 is wrong, the correct version is 「バスに乗っています」.
29. N Da vs No Desu
The most common mistake with these two is mixing the formal with informal. Basically you see a lot of people say 「行きたいんです。」 while the correct version is 「行きたいのです。」
30. な with い adjectives
Yet another common mistake. You add な at the end of nouns or a certain group of adjectives to convey the meaning, however you cannot do this with い adjectives. For example 美しいな人・厳しいな先生 both are wrong and な is simply redundant here.
31. Koe Ga Takai vs Koe Ga Ookii – Telling Someone to Shut up
We make this mistake quite often. Even though 「声が高い」 might make more sense to us, just keep in mind that when you are trying to say “Don’t be loud!” in Japanese you say 「大声出すな！」.
32. Words which change the meaning with the different intonations
A good example for this is 雨・飴. Both are written as “ame.”
You might not even notice the difference in the intonation, but believe me it’s there. And it might really sound really strange to your Japanese friends that you like walking while it is candy-ing.
The solution? You will need to listen to a lot of audio to spot the differences. Most learners, despite high level, still make intonation-related Japanese mistakes.
33. Be Careful When Saying Kimochii
Okay, now you really need to be careful with this one. Even though this phrase means “It feels good” and can be applied to practically any context, it is mostly used in sexual context and you might get glared at if you start announcing to the world 気持ちいい when, say the weather is really nice.
This is one embarassing Japanese mistake!
34. Carrots vs. People
- 人間 – Ningen – People
- ニンジン – Ninjin – Carrot
These sound kind of the same but…
Apparently a pretty widespread mistake. Try not to tell your devastated friend who asked for advice that he is a really nice and great carrot!
35. The chicken and the molester
- チキン – chikin – chicken
- 痴漢 – chikan – molester
Another one of pronunciation Japanese mistakes!
Oh and be careful, so that you do not announce to the world that you like molesters! The pronunciations are quite similar to one another, so would be could to remember the difference of these two words!
36. Kawaii and Kowai
A lot of beginners fall for this one. かわいい and こわい are really close in pronunciation, but you certainly wouldn’t want to call your boss’ newborn baby scary, now would ya?
- 可愛い – Kawaii (pronounced: Ka-wa-ee) – Cute
- 怖い – Kowai (pronounced: Ko-why) – Scary
37. Soujiki vs osoushiki – mixing up these two words
- 掃除機 – soujiki – vacuum cleaner
- お葬式 – osoushiki – funeral
Mixing up somebody’s funeral with a vacuum cleaner might get you into a very tight situation, since these things are valued in Japan.
38. Mispronouncing Gochisou sama deshita
- ご馳走様でした: Gochisou sama deshita
- ご愁傷様です: Goshuushou sama deshita
This is even a more terrible mistake compared to the one that above. The first one means “thanks for the food”, while the second one means “my condolences”.
39. Okosu vs. Okasu – Mixing These Up. More Molestation.
- 起こす – Okosu – To wake someone up
- 犯す – Okasu – To Molest
A clear difference between waking somebody up and molesting them. Quite common, embarrassing and maybe even terrifying mistake for the person who was just told they will be molested in the morning!
40. Mixing Up “Sitting” vs “Touching.” The Molestation Doesn’t Stop.
- 座る – Suwaru – To Sit
- 触る – Sawaru – To Touch
Yet another pair of words that sound practically the same. But do think twice before inviting somebody to touch you! Jeez, so many molestation mistakes you can make in Japanese.
41. Mispronouncing beer and building
- ビル – Biru – Building
- ビール – Biiru – Beer
We have a pair here which is different only because one has a longer vowel. However if you mispronounce do not be surprised that people are starting at you for wanting to a drink cold building!
Solution? For Beer, stretch out the “ee” sound. Like “beee-ru.”
42. The Meaning of “Mansion” in Japanese
Well, since the word itself is in katakana no wonder most of us will assume that it has the exact same meaning as the word mansion in English. But that is a wrong assumption! Since the word マンション in Japanese means an apartment building.
It’s not a luxurious mansion where the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air lives.
43. Baba & Jiji
You might hear people calling others ババ or ジジ, but please make sure not to refer like this to the said person. You should also avoid calling them the above mentioned in front of people you don’t know too well.
The above two phrases are offensive and aren’t used unless while referring to a really close friend or behind somebody’s back.
44. Tissue & Napkin Meanings
There are katakana equivalents for both tissue and napkin, but they’re NOT the same.
- If you need something to clean your nose with after sneezing, or your mouth while eating, ask for a tissue — ティッシュ.
- ナプキン in Japan is understood as female period pads.
45. How warm is it?
A lot of learner miscount the number of た especially when saying the the word あたたかい in its past tense. Well folks, there are only two たs! Not one, not threw!
46. Baka and Aho
Both of these mean stupid, idiot and can be used both as insults as well as depending on situation as a joke. However be careful with the background of the person you are talking to, since アホ originates from Kansai region and is clearly an insult for somebody who lives in Tokyo, and the other way round.
47. Mada & Ima Da
This is a simple kanji mistake. 未だ/mada means still, yet. However, a lot of learners seem to write 今だ/ima da instead, not just because of the same pronunciation, but also because of similar meaning.
Let’s be fair, this is a mistake which is made not only by learners but even by Japanese, sometimes even deliberately. Clearly pronouncing ふんいき is quite hard, and no wonder everybody started saying ふいんき.
49. Difference Between ツ・シ、ン・ソ
Katakana is a tricky thing. If you are not careful with your handwriting you might end up spelling out a totally different word, or even something that makes no sense at all.
Solution: Okay, detail-oriented nerds will disagree with me but this helped me.
- シ(shi) ン (n) – write and see little marks as purely horizontal
- ツソ (tsu) (so) – write and see these little marks as purely vertical
- teachers will NOT mark you wrong for this.
Why? Obviously the slants are at an angle and NOT straight. But, if you see one as straight to the side, and the other as straight down, it’s EASIER to tell the difference. Then, it becomes second nature to you and you’ll get used to them.
This is a phrase that can be used in many situations. However try to use it at least when entering or exiting a room. This way you will make a good impression and will not seem rude. The phrase can also be used in past tense when you make a mistake, or bump into somebody.
51. Mispronouncing “Suki”
Suki or 好き means to like. For SOME reason, people pronounce it as “sookee.” The correct (and proper pronunciation that doesn’t make you sound like a poophead) way is to say:
Yes, drop the “u” here. It’s a similar thing with words like 助ける/tasukeru meaning “to save.” It’s NOT “tasookeru,” it’s pronounced as taskeru. Same thing with names. Yusuke is “Yooskay” and not “Yoosookay.”
One of the most cringe-worthy Japanese mistakes you’ll hear in classrooms.
But, if you correct yourself, you’re okay!
52. Mispronouncing “Desu”
How? By emphasizing the “U” and saying “desu” like “kazoo.” No, no, no dear junkies. Go light on the “U.” Say “dess” and you’ll be okay.
Now you now the top 52 Japanese mistakes. Yes, you’re right – there are TONS more.
So… here’s my question to you:
Do you know of any other common Japanese mistakes? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add them. Let’s make this a massive list!
– the Main Junkie
P.S. I highly recommend this for Japanese learners. If you REALLY want to learn to Japanese with effective lessons by real teachers – Sign up for free at JapanesePod101 (click here) and start learning!