Hiragana 平仮名

Hiragana Assignment
For your hiragana assignment points, you must complete the Student Activity Manual (SAM) pages and mail them in for grading. Go HERE for more information.

Hiragana characters are used for all native Japanese words (as opposed to words borrowed from foreign languages). Any word written in kanji can also be written in hiragana. However, many words that are spelled the same in hiragana have different meanings and are written with different kanji characters. So, you still have to learn kanji! The characters only have one sound, unlike English in which the letter "e" can be a long "e" or a short "e," hard "g" or soft "g," etc. That's good news!

Notice that all the hiragana except ん end in a vowel sound. The character ん can never begin a word. Also, the hiragana を (pronounced o or wo) is never used as a part of a word, but follows the direct object in a sentence. It is called particle o.

The chart on the right consists of basic hiragana. To make more sounds, you can add diacritic marks (two dots or little circles) to certain characters to change the consonant sounds. There is a separate chart below for that.

One very important thing to note is that typed hiragana and handwritten hiragana are different! When you write hiragana, please follow the charts below. The main difference is with characters ki and sa. If you draw them with only one stroke and connected, they will be marked wrong! Finally, hiragana そ (so) can be handwritten either as 2 strokes (the modern way) or one stroke (traditional).


Handwritten Hiragana
Here's how the characters look when they are written with a pencil. Notice the difference in the characters ki and sa from those in the chart above.

Hiragana Characters with Diacritic Marks

Combination Characters or "Glides"
Only small ya, yu, and yo are used to create combination characters. They must be drawn half the size of the first character, and placed on the bottom of the line on which you are writing. This is kya: きゃ but this is kiya: きや!

  Romanization Problems
Some textbooks written in roomaji (ローマ字) spell words with an m rather than with an n because that's sort of how it sounds. An example of this is the word for the battered and deep-fried dish called 天麩羅. Sanseido's Concise Japanese-English Dictionary has this word listed as tenpura, and its translation as "tempura." When you say it in Japanese it's more like "tempura" but if you spell it in hiragana it is te-n-pu-ra. There are also several systems of roomaji (see the link below): some based on spelling, and some based on pronunciation. If Nihongo Web uses roomaji, it will be the Hepburn System (based on phonetic pronunciation) exactly like in the charts above.

Read about Romanization systems

In the Diacritic Marks chart below left, notice that there are two versions of "ji" and "zu." The じ and ず alternatives are much more common.

The two dots change:

"k" sound to a hard "g" sound
" s" sound to a "z" or "j" sound
" t" sound to a "d" sound
" h" sound to a "b" sound

The circle changes:
"h" sound to a "p" sound

さとう (satou) sugar
さどう (sadou) tea ceremony

Double Consonants
When a word has a double consonant in the middle OTHER THAN the letter n, it is expressed using a small tsu. The first consonant is the small tsu. Compare the following words:
kissaten (ki s sa te n): きっさてん

tappuri (ta p pu ri): たっぷり

kekkon (ke k ko n): けっこん

ressha (re s sha): れっしゃ

CAUTION! When there is a double n in a word, you do not need small tsu. The ん is the only character that doesn't have a vowel in it. Some examples:

donna (do n na): どんな

kannan (ka n na n): かんなん 

tennin (te n ni n): てんにん

Spelling words with an "n" in them can be confusing. Many students try to write the word anata ("you") as あんあた, instead of the correct way あなた. It is best to pay close attention to the new word lists in this case! The word is pronounced a-na-ta, not as an-a-ta, but you can't tell that by looking at the word on a page! This is one reason why we try to get away from using English alphabet romanization, or roomaji (ローマ字), as soon as possible, and begin hiragana in Chapter 1!






Hiragana chart with audio (mouseover chart)
Animated hiragana with sound (see stroke orders and hear each hiragana)
Mnemonic Device to remember the hiragana
Hiragagana and Katakana Practice RealKana.com
Omoshiroi Hiragana Generator (type in alphabet and get hiragana)
Hiragana Reading Quiz (think you know them all?)
Hiragana Memory Games (Flash) (also has audio for the hiragana)