A tale of two Japanese “because” words: “node” (ので)vs “kara” (から)

By | October 29, 2015

Recently one of my readers asked about the difference between the Japanese expressions “node” (ので)and “kara” (から), so in this post I’ll go over that.

Both of these words are roughly equivalent to the English “because” when used in the following patterns:

  • [dictionary form verb/i-adjective] + から             (ex: 食べるから、寒いから)
  • [noun/na-adjective] + から    (ex: 男だから、りっぱから)
  • [dictionary form verb/i-adjective] + ので             (ex:食べるので、寒いので)
  • [noun/na-adjective] + ので    (ex: 男なので、りっぱので)

The way you use them grammatically is nearly identical, except for [noun/na-adjective] cases where you use “だ” with から and “な” with ので.  You can think of “な” as meaning “だ” here.

Let’s look at two more example sentences using these terms.

  • 僕は男だからそんなことしないよ。
  • 僕は男なのでそんなことしないよ。
  • Because I’m a guy, I’d never do that type of thing.  (I’m a guy so I’d never do that type of thing)

Even though all the above examples can be translated as “because” or “so” in English, there is a major difference in the nuance between “kara” and “node”. If you are speaking in a informal situation, “kara” would be more appropriate, whereas in an formal situation “node” would probably be better. Examples of when to use “node” are in a presentation at work or in a formal document. It has a cold, functional feeling to it.

Keep in mind that formal is not the same thing as polite, so “node” doesn’t always have to be used along with keigo (desu/masu form) even though it is commonly. Conversely, “kara” can be used with keigo in some situations.

There are some set expressions which use “kara” which just wouldn’t sound the same with “node”, for example:

  • いいから!
  • いいので!
  • Come on!

The first of these is natural and while it literally means “because it’s good”, it can be used to try and cajole someone into doing something, not unlike the English phrase “Come on”. Swapping out “kara” for “node” just sounds weird here.

Generally, the “no” in “node” can be abbreviated as a “n”, resulting in things like “寒いんで” or “男なんで”. The meaning here is technically the same, though it feels a bit more casual to me and slightly closer to “kara”.

Having said all that, regardless of which of these you use your meaning will likely get across, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much. If you are in doubt, I would recommend just going with “kara”.

We could leave it at that, but let’s look a bit deeper into these two words.

As you may already know, “kara” is also used to mean “from”, as in the below sentence:

  • ゲームは友達からもらった。
  • I got the game from a friend.

Notice that 友達 (tomodachi) is a noun, so for the above rules I gave you would use “友達から” if you want to express “because”. However, there is no “だ” used here, so it is clear “from” is the intended meaning.

Even though “from” and “because” have different meanings, if you think about those words you can see a connection. For example, in English we could say: “From his clothes I could tell he was homeless”, where “from” actually has a meaning similar to “because” (in this sentence it could be replaced by “Because of” and retain the overall meaning).

What about “node”? First, let’s remember the ~noda /~n’da pattern:

  • へ〜、新車を買っただ。
  • Wow, you really bought a car?

Here the ん is short for の, and the addition of this is a form of emphasis that feels a bit like “the fact is that ~”. You can read more about this pattern in my article here. Also, it’s good to remember that の after a verb turns it into a noun.

Putting these things together, you can see that the expression “node” is made from the same “no” plus a “de”. The word “de” has many uses, but can be used as the “-te” form of “da”, meaning “~ is and ~”, as in the following sentence.

  • あなたは日本人、僕はアメリカ人です。
  • You are a Japanese person and I am an American.

Things are getting a bit complex here, but if you understand the above you can see “node” in a new light, as meaning “the fact is ~ and”. For example,

  • 仕事が終わったので帰ります。
  • My work is done so I am going home.

Can be seen as:

  • The fact is “My work is done” and I am going home.

This explanation something I’ve come up with myself, but it is consistent and helps you connect various pieces of grammar in a logical way. One could argue that it also goes towards explaining why “node” is more formal.

Like “kara”, “node” also has a usage where it looses the meaning of “because”. If you remember, the particle “no” can also be used to express possession, as in “僕のゲーム” meaning “my game”. You can even say “僕の” which translates to “mine”.

Let’s remember one of the other meanings of the “de” particle, which is when we want to express the location of an action or something we are using to complete the action. For example:

  • 勉強しています。
  • I am studying with a book.

Now if we put this together with the possessive “no”, we can end up with “node”.

  • お父さんので勉強しています。
  • I’m studying with my dad’s.

This sentence is a bit contrived and by itself is a bit vague and would make more sense in a context where the object being discussed is known. Honestly I don’t see this pattern very often, but I wanted to show it is a grammatically correct example of using ので for a case other than because. Note that just like with the から example used to mean “from”, this example doesn’t follow the rules in the beginning of this post. To use “node” after a noun to mean because, we would use ”お父さんなので” instead of “お父さんので”, so it’s easy to distinguish these uses.

Another way you can see ので used is when の is used to refer to an object which a verb acted upon. For example,

  • 昨日買ったので遊ぼう。
  • Let’s play with the one we bought yesterday.

Here is more more case where ので is not used to mean “because”:

  • そんなことを言ったのではない。 (can be abbreviated as そんなことを言ったんじゃない)
  • I didn’t say such a thing.

Here, the “no” is used to turn the previous sentence into a noun, and the “de ha nai” is just negating that. Literally we end up with “It isn’t the fact that I said such a thing”.

Finally, in closing let’s look at an two expressions which use elements of both “node” and “kara”. Here is a an example using the first.

  • 子供なんだから寝なければいけないよ。
  • Because you’re a child you have to go to sleep.

Here “nan dakara” (short for “nano dakara”) contains the “nano” from “nanode”, plus “dakara”. This is a stronger version of “because”, and literally means something like “Because of the fact that ~”.

The second expression is the reverse of this, with the “dakara” before the “nano”, although an addition of “da” at the end allows shortening “nanoda” to “nanda”.

  • あ、だからなんだ
  • Oh, so thats why!

Literally, this expression means something like “It’s the fact that it’s because of ~”.

If you ever have any questions about Japanese grammar, feel free to ask! Articles based on readers’ requests are always the most enjoyable to write.

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