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Common Japanese Conjunctions: Proper Use and Mistakes to Avoid

The Japanese language has a lot of conjunction words! Luckily, the meanings tend to be similar to the English versions. 

However, the way you use them can vary a bit thanks to the different sentence order and construction of the Japanese language.

In this post, we’ll be looking at some basic Japanese conjunctions used in everyday situations.

We’ve provided plenty of examples for each conjunction, as well as some common mistakes to avoid.


(to), (ya) — and

Use these words as you would use “and” in English, to connect two or more nouns.

You might have noticed that there are two of these words, と and や.

The wordと is used for complete lists: 

(えんぴつ のおとをかいました。)
I bought a pencil and a notebook. [I bought nothing more.]

On the other hand, や is used for incomplete lists:

(えんぴつ のおとをかいました。)
I bought a pencil and a notebook. [I bought more but I didn’t mention the rest.]

Here are two more examples:

(ぼくは えいご どいつご にほんご が じょうずです。)
I’m good at English, German and Japanese languages.

(すいーつ なら、ちょこれえと ぱふぇ が すきです。)
When it comes to sweets, I like chocolate and parfait. [But I also like other sweets.]

There are a few mistakes to be aware of and avoid when using と and や. You can’t mix up a complete list and an incomplete one into the same list:

  • Wrong: タバコビールピーナッツをください。
    (たばこ びいる ぴいなっつ をください。)
    I’d like some cigarettes, beer and peanuts please.
  • Right: タバコビールピーナッツをください。
    (たばこ びいる ぴいなっつをください。)
    I’d like some cigarettes, beer and peanuts please.

Also, don’t use if you mentioned everyone or everything in the list:

  • Wrong: バスには、僕タケルしかいませんでした。
    (ばすには、ぼく たける しか いませんでした。)
    There was no one but me and Takeru on the bus.
  • Right: バスには、僕タケルしかいませんでした。
    (ばすには、ぼく たける しか いませんでした。)
    There was no one but me and Takeru on the bus.

くて  (-kute),で  (-de) — and

In English, we simply connect adjectives together by using “and.” In Japanese, however, connecting adjectives requires a special adjective ending.

To keep things simple, we’ll avoid an in-depth explanation of the grammatical construction. Instead, let’s check out the easiest way to connect two adjectives or adjectival nouns.

To connect regular adjectives (ones that end in 〜い), slice off that last syllable and smash 〜くて in its place:

美味しい (おいしい) — Tasty
美味しくて   (おいしくて) — Tasty (and)

凄い (すごい) — Amazing
くて   (すごくて) — Amazing (and)

For adjectival nouns (ones that end in 〜だ or 〜な, depending on their position in a sentence), remove the ending and place a 〜で in its place:

綺麗だ 綺麗な (きれいだ/きれいな) — Beautiful
綺麗で   (きれい) — Beautiful (and)

簡単だ 簡単な  (かんたんだ/かんたんな) — Simple
簡単で   (かんたん) — Simple (and)

Now that we know how to make this conjunctive construction, let’s have a look at some examples of using them properly.

(かのじょ の かみ は ながくて くろいです。)
Her hair is long and dark.

(あの えいが は きょうれつ、もうれつ、そうぜつでした。)
That movie was intense, violent and grand.

It’s very important to remember the correct use of adjectives in Japanese, and that if you simply put adjectives next to each other, they end up describing the adjective to their right until they reach the noun. In other words, they describe each other instead of the noun!

The following isn’t wrong if that’s what you really meant to say (what is “beautifully smart,” anyway?). But if you wanted to say “beautiful and smart,” you want to use the “right” version.

  • Wrong: 彩香さんは綺麗な賢いです。
    (あやかさん は きれいな かしこいです。)
    Ayaka is beautifully smart.
  • Right: 彩香さんは綺麗賢いです。
    (あやかさん は きれい かしこいです。)
    Ayaka is beautiful and smart.

Another important note: Don’t try to connect adjectives with と or や because you’ll end up making a list. And you don’t go grocery shopping with adjectives, right?

が  (ga), でも  (demo) — but

This one is fairly easy to understand and use. It means “but,” and it’s used almost exactly like “but” in English.

The first example below is my all-time favorite textbook example. Literally: It’s actually from the best Japanese textbook (in my humble opinion).

(ちち は なくなりました、はは は げんきです。)
My father died but my mother is great.

(この おみやげ は おもしろい。でも たかいです。)
This souvenir is interesting. But it’s expensive.

(にほん へ りょこうしたいが、おかねが ありません。)
I want to travel to Japan but I don’t have money.

One thing to remember is that でも is usually used at the beginning of a sentence while が can’t start a sentence. If you really want to put が at the beginning of a sentence, you’ll have to add だ and turn it into a だが.

か  (ka) — or

This one is also quite simple. It’s the same as “or” in English. Unlike its English counterpart, you put it twice in a sentence: between the choices and afterward.

Here are some examples:

(きみ の えんぴつ は これです、それです?)
Your pencil is this one or that one?

(ぼくは みかんをみっつ もっている、ふたつ もっている?)
Do I have three mandarins or two mandarins?

As you’ve probably already noticed, this conjunction usually appears only in questions.

から  (kara) — because, so

This conjunction means “because,” but it’s closer in meaning to “so.”

In English, you’d say:

“I am late because the train was delayed.”

In Japanese, though, you place the reason before the outcome:

“The train was delayed, so I was late.”

Here are some examples so you can see what I mean:

(きのう は いそがしかった から、れんらくできませんでした。)
I couldn’t contact you yesterday because I was busy.

(たかい から かいません。)
I won’t buy it because it’s expensive.

(かのじょ が すきだから、てれています。)
I’m shy because I like her.

Only one common mistake should worry you: In certain cases, this conjunction requires だ before から!

Add だ at the beginning of a sentence, after adjectival nouns, after nouns and after adverbial nouns. However, you don’t need だ before から if there’s a verb or a normal adjective before the conjunction:

  • Wrong: りんごが嫌いから食べません。
    (りんご が きらい から たべません。)
    I don’t like apples so I don’t eat them.
  • Right: りんごが嫌いだから食べません。
    (りんご が きらい だから たべません。)
    I don’t like apples so I don’t eat them.

If all of this seems like a lot to remember, you can get a better sense of the correct use of conjunctions and the nuanced difference between them by seeing them in use. Look for examples in conjunctions in the Japanese media and text that you consume.

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A Few More Common Japanese Conjunctions to Learn

も  (mo) — too, as well

This one can’t be used at the beginning of a sentence (which is also true of English, if you think about it).

(わたし いきます!)
I’ll go too!

し  (shi) — and

Use this one to list multiple things, like when you’re stringing together a list of excuses for not wanting to go out with someone:

私は 疲れた、忙しい、ちょっと。。。
(わたしは つかれた、いそがしい、ちょっと。。。)
I am tired and busy and it’s not a good time (literally: it’s a little…).

そして  (soshite) — thus, and then

(そして、にはい ぎゅうにゅうをたしてください。)
And then add two cups of milk please.

しかし  (shikashi) — however

This conjunction usually appears at the beginning of a sentence and refers back to the previous statement. It can also come after a comma to connect two separate sentences.

(しかし、だれも いませんでした。)
However, no one was around.

それから  (sorekara) — afterward

(それから、まえ に つづいてください。)
Afterward, proceed forward please.


You now have your very own Japanese linguistic monocle: conjunctions.

Go on now and form some more complex, natural-sounding sentences. How marvelous!

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