Posted by: gregisscottish | April 8, 2009

Lesson #1: Desu, Deshita, Ja arimasen


As I promised here is lesson #1. I know I said Wednesday, and it is Wednesday for me, it might not be Wednesday for you, quite possibly it could be Thursday for you right now due to timezones. I apologize for that.

Anyway, let’s begin shall we?

Usually, depending on who teaches you, introductions are the first thing you learn when it comes to learning a new language. I apologize if that is what you’re used to, however I shall not start with introductions as that is not how I was taught. We will do Introductions super-soon though don’t worry.


If you have an interest in the Japanese language and you have interest in things like; Japanese movies, music or anime. You will have heard ”です” (desu) on more than a few hundred occasions. Especially on anime message boards where you see people sign off their posts with it, not knowing what it means.

The reason I start with these 3 for you guys to learn. Is that, it will come in handy for introductions and extended sentences later on.

です(desu): This directly translates to “it is”. It also comes at the end of a sentence. I did write out a lot more to explain about です however, I think we will cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, please just look at です as “it is”.

です Can be typically used to say something is. For example, ”ペンです” (Pen desu). This translates to ” Pen it is”. It’s very simple, so if you have a Japanese friend who points to something on the table you can pick it up and say “____ です”

Therefore I will give you a little vocab list of things you might have on you or around you:

ペン (pen)

えんぴつ (enpitsu – pencil)

かぎ (kagi – keys)

さいふ (saifu – wallet)

とけい (tokei – clock)

けいたい でんわ (keitai denwa – mobile phone ie cellphone)

カメラ (Kamera – camera)

てちょう (techou – diary)

じしょ (jisho – dictionary)

いす (isu – chair)

ざっし (zasshi – magazine)

しんぶんし (shinbunshi – newspaper)

ほん (hon – book)

かばん (kaban – bag)

テレビ (terebi – TV)

つくえ (tsukue – desk)

Any of those + any noun in japanese can be put infront of です to say something is something. Keep a note of this vocab as this vocab list can apply to でした (deshita) and じゃありません (Ja arimasen).

でした: Deshita translates to “it was”. So for example, if you and your friend are walking down the street, and you both see a newspaper floating about. However, it is floating so quickly you both don’t get a good look at it and to the both of you think it’s a UFO or something.

This is a good time for some random person to say ”しんぶんし でした” (shinbunshi deshita) which will translate to “newspaper it was”. Just like です, でした comes at the end of the sentence and the noun goes at the beginning.

じゃあリません: This is the negative of です。Now remember です translates to “it is”. The negative (じゃありません) translates to “it is not”.

じゃありません can also be expressed as では ありません (dewa arimasen). じゃありません is said to be more casual than では ありません.  では ありません is said the more polite, so you can use any right now really, but know when talking to a higher position (eg teacher or boss). Use では ありません

Again like です、じゃありません comes at the end.  Therefore if you put any noun at the front it will become “it is not”. For example ほん じゃりません (Book it is not). Very simple.

Also,  じゃありません can be applied to でした to say “it was not”. Again it would go after the Noun. For example, If you have a pencil in your hand and you throw it away, and someone asks “was that a pen?” you would say:

”ペン じゃありません でした。 えんぴつ でした。”

I hope you understood the explanations of desu, deshita and Ja arimasen. Like above, you can mix and match what you learned to say something like “it was not this, it was that” or “it is not tis, it is that. Like above here are a few more examples.

Person 1: えんぴつ です か?(enpitsu desu ka? – is it a pencil? (ka: particle indicating sentence is a question – I will go over in more detail later with particles.))

Person 2: えんぴつ じゃありません、ペン です。 ( enpitsu ja arimasen, pen desu – it is not a pencil, it is a pen)


Person 1: ほん でしたか?(hon deshitaka? – was it a book?)

Person 2: ほん じゃありません でした、 てちょう でした。 (hon ja arimasen deshita, techou deshita – it was not a book, it was a diary)

I hope these examples helped with understanding my explanations. I understand this is very basic stuff however it is important to get these basics down and understanding their place in japanese before going any further. I am still new to this so if there is anything you don’t understand please email me, my email is at the right, below the links.

I hope to improve the way I teach things as time goes on, I will do grammar, vocab and sentences soon. I do not know how frequent lessons will be, but I will try get my next lesson up for this Friday.

I would like to thank danielG for picking up on the fact I messed up on じゃありません でした it has been fixed and I also fixed the final example regarding it.

Take care!



  1. a couple of things to add:
    -じゃありません is the more colloquial では ありません (dewa arimasen) is more neutral

    – you didn’t mention じゃありません でした or では ありません でした is the past in negative form.

  2. Ah I can’t believed I overlooked じゃありません でした . I’ll fix that immediately, how embarrassing.

    As for では ありません, yeah that does exist, however there is more than just that when expressing the negatives. However I will include this into the post during the explanation.

    Thank you, I appreciate it, truly. 🙂

  3. Ok, I’ve edited the post fixed the ja arimasen deshita part and put in a note about dewa arimasen.

    I also noticed one of my examples was completely messed up, I fixed that also. Thanks

  4. どいたしまして

    keep up the good work.

  5. I am happy to see that the blog has properly begun. Looks good so far and I look forward to what you have to share next time. Thank you for your hard work.

    (small spelling mistake near the start)
    “I did wirte out a lot more to explain”

  6. Ahh spelling mistake, thank you. 🙂

    Thanks for reading everyone.

  7. There’s a ひ in “ほん でしひたか?(hon deshitaka”.

    • So there is, good eyes. It has been removed. 🙂 Thank you.

  8. Nice beginner post on Jap.

    Japanese is quite hard for me. I’ve lived in Japan for 2 years but failed to speak fluently. Now, I’m in China, I’m having an easier time with Mandarin. I wrote a blog post about the difficulties I had learning Japanese over Chinese. TheShanghaiExpat. Please feel free to visit and let me know if you are interested with link exchange.


  9. wow…..kindda confusing because this my first time learning this language……tq very much…..
    by the way, how to read those jap’s writing?… it like alphabet or something….? tq again…..

  10. Hello, Greg! Thank you very much for your blog and for the lessons. They are very helpful for a complete beginner like me. 😉 Keep going!! Will be waiting for every new lesson. 😉

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