How to Say WHAT in Japanese? 13+ Fun “Nani” Phrases You’ll Need

Say what?

You want to know how to say what in Japanese? Good! It’s one of the most common Japanese question words. It’s pretty easy. Just say “nani” or “何?”

In this quick Japanese guide, you’ll learn more about this Japanese question word… and all kinds of phrases using “what.”

So, “nani” are you waiting for? Read on.

say what in japanese

Want to learn how to write in Japanese? Download your free Japanese Alphabet worksheet here.

1. 何? What?

  • Nani
  • What?

Of course, we have to start this list with the most obvious word — nani. Fairly simple to remember, right?

say what in Japanese

2. 名前は何ですか?What’s your name?

  • Namae wa nan desu ka?
  • What’s your name?

This is a great question to know as you will hear it millions of times. In your cause, someone may ask you and you will have to introduce yourself in Japanese.

whats your name in japanese

By the way…

You should also listen and hear real Japanese. Press play below. Try this free lesson from JapanesePod101 on how to ask “What’s your name in Japanese?”


3. これはなんですか。 What’s this?

  • Kore wa nan desu ka?
  • What’s this?

This is one of the most common Japanese questions that you’ll learn in the first chapter of any textbook. By the way, using “desu” makes things polite. You can drop the “desu ka” and just say…

  • Kore wa nani?
  • Or
  • Nani kore?
  • Or
  • Kore nani?

Also, you should know these other simple “what” phrases.

  • Sore wa nan desu ka?
    • What’s that?
  • Are wa nan desu ka?
    • What’s that (over there)?
    • Use “are” for something way further than “sore.”

4. いま何時ですか?What time is it?

  • Ima nanji desu ka?
  • What time is it?

Again, if you drop the “desu ka,” you can make the phrase more casual. So, you could just say “ima nanji?”

What time is it in Japanese(1)

5. 何がお勧めですか? What do you recommend?

  • Nani ga o-susume desu ka.
  • What do you recommend?

This is one of the most useful Japanese restaurant phrases to know. “Osusume” means recommendation.  And of course, you already know what “nani” is. Or, rather I should say, you already know “nani” “nani” is. Get it? Oh, I’m hilarious. Anyway.

what do you recommend in japanese

6.  仕事は何ですか。 What’s your job?

  • Shigoto wa nan desu ka?
  • What’s your job?

Another good phrase to know and to use on friends and new acquaintances. Obviously, “shigoto” means job.

6. 仕事は何ですか。 What's your job

7. 何をしていますか。What are you doing?

  • Nani who shite imasu ka?
  • What are you doing?

7. 何をしていますか。What are you doing

Or, you can make this question more casual. Use “no” instead of “ka” and use “iru” instead of “imasu.” So, the phrase becomes:

  • 何してるの?
  • Nani shiteru no?
  • What are you doing? (Casual)

8. 何がほしい?What do you want?

  • Nani ga hoshii?
  • What do you want?

This can be a good conversational phrase to  use with friends. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to use it with anyone other than friends.

何がほしい?What do you want

9. なんだこれ? What the hell is this?

  • Nanda kore
  • What the hell is this?

The word “hell” (as well as the F word) isn’t used in Japanese the way we use it in English. But if you say certain phrases in a certain way, you give them different, ruder meanings.

what the hell in japanese

For example, the following slight variation can also be interpreted as “what the hell:”

  • 何だこりゃ?
  • Nanda korya?
  • What the hell is this?

10. 何を言うてんねん? What the hell are you saying?!

  • Nani wo iutennen!?
  • What the hell are you saying?!

I feel like this lesson in how to say “what” in Japanese has quickly turned into rude phrases. Oh, well. We covered more politer, necessary phrases up above, so it balances out.

何を言うてんねん What the hell are you saying !

Now, if you’re wondering how to say… what the hell in Japanese… take a look below.

11. え?What?/Huh?

  • Eh?
  • What? Huh?

This is another way to say what in Japanese. But, here you’re saying “what” as an interjection. Like a “huh!?” or a “eh!?” Something you’d use when you’re shocked or surprised.

say what in japanese(1)

12. は?  What the hell?

  • Ha?
  • What the hell?

This is a more aggressive version of “え?” that you learned above. Basically, it’s just like saying, “huh” except “ha” with question intonation. Like “え?”,  it’s also an interjection you make when you hear something you don’t like. And at which point, your face looks half angry and half confused. So, don’t “ha” around so freely in Japan. People will think you’re giving them attitude.

what the hell in japanese

13. だから何?So what?

  • だから何?
  • Dakara nani?

Wondering how to say so what in Japanese? Well, here it is. Another good angry phrase to use with friends only.

so what in japanese

Another way to say so what in Japanese is…

  • それで?
  • Sore de?

Or, you can just say…

  • で?
  • De?

What’s the difference Between Nani and Nan?

After seeing all those phrases above, you may be wondering, “What’s difference between nani and nan? And you might’ve heard “nani” and “nanda/nandarou/nan desu ka” in other places as well.

So, when is it “nani” and when is it “nan?” What’s the difference?

  • Both are the same word.
  • You just need to learn when is one used.
  • Nani can be used as a subject.
    •  Nani ga hoshii?
      • What do you want
  • Nan always has a suffix or is followed by a word. Like “nan desu ka?” or “nan no kuruma.”
  • Nan can also used as a subject but then, it’s a mix of 2 words  – “what <insert object>.”
    • For example:
      • What color is the best?- nan no iro ga ichiban desu ka?
      • What car do you like?- nan no kuruma ga suki desu ka?
      • What book will you read-  nan no hon wo yomimasu ka?
      • What time is it? – Nanji desu ka?
  • Nani can be used by itself. (Nan can’t be.)
    • Nani!?
      • What!?
  • If followed by a particle and an object, use nani. Again, here you’re using it as a subject. Here are some examples.
    • Nani wo
      • Nani wo tabemasu ka
      • What will you eat?
    • Nani ga
      • Nani ga ii desu ka?
      • What is good?

Awesome note about grammar rules: If this sounds like too much and you’re already confused, don’t worry. You get used to a lot of these nuanced grammar rules the more you learn Japanese. It’s just time, practice,  exposure, and more time. So, if you’re worrying about “oh my god, this is way over my head,” stop. Nothing comes immediately. You’ll get there. Breathe. Relax. Keep going. Only stupid beginners get frustrated that they don’t get everything right on the first try. Noone gets anything right on the first try.

This quick grammar explanation should help you understand all of the phrases above. And, you’ll be able to say what in Japanese…with correct grammar.

Conclusion – Now, Back to You.

Now you know how to say “nani” in English.

No, wait. I mean, now you know how to say “what” in Japanese.

So “nani” is stopping you from learning more Japanese? Nothing. Go ahead and learn some more.

And if you want more “nani” phrases, leave a comment. Tell me “nani” I’m missing and “nani” you think of this quick guide.

The Main Lingua Junkie

Click here to learn Japanese with

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

You cannot copy content of this page