In the post I’d like to go over a common way of expressing an introductory idea in Japanese. We will begin with a basic form of this, んだけど (n da kedo) and then go over some variations.
First, let’s look at a simple example:
- 僕、ずっと日本語を勉強してるんだけど、まだペラペラじゃない (boku, zutto nihongo wo benkyou shiteru n da kedo, mada pera pera ja nai)
- I’ve been studying Japanese for along time, but I’m not fluent yet.
In this sentence, the “n da kedo” is used to mark the first phrase (僕、ずっと日本語を勉強してる) as introductory information that is built upon. You could simply use the “te” form of this phrase (。。。勉強してて。。。), but the flow doesn’t feel as natural to me, sort of like a run-on sentence.
In this sentence the “n da kedo” is used after a dictionary-form verb (する), but you can use it as-is after a past tense form of a verb (ex:した) or an i-adjective. If you want to use it after a noun or na-adjective, you would use “nan da kedo” (なんだけど) instead. For example,
- 彼の親は日本人なんだけど、日本に行ったことないらしい。 (kare no oya wa nihonjin nan da kedo, nihon ni itta koto nai rashii)
- His parent(s) are Japanese, but he has apparently never been to Japan.
I want to give another example of a common phrase that can be a little tricky to understand for Japanese learners:
- 思ったんだけど、今日映画館に行ってみる？ (omotta n da kedo, kyou eigakan ni itte miru?)
Can you guess what this introductory phrase means? The tricky part is knowing who the subject of the verb 思った (past tense of 思う, ‘to think’) is. In cases like this, it is a safe assumption that the subject is the speaker, in other words:
- I was thinking…Do you want to try going to the movie theater today?
Sometimes this phrase will be prefaced by a first person pronoun, like ぼく (boku) or おれ (ore), which will make explicit who the subject of “omotta” is.
By the way, that the second half of the sentence isn’t literally the same meaning as the Japanese, but I translated to sounds more natural (as opposed to the literal but awkward “Will you try and go to the movie theater”?)
As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, this phrase has a bunch of variations. You can understand them all by following this form:
- (na) [n / no] [form of the copula] [word of mild contrast/connection]
Or, using more specific words to fill out the categories:
- (na) [n / no] [da/desu] [ga/kedo/keredo/kedomo/keredomo]
As mentioned earlier, the “na” part is only needed when you are putting this phrase before a noun or na-adjective. The “n” is a shortening of “no” and sounds less formal. As you probably no, “desu” is more polite than “da”. Finally, “kedo”, “keredo”, “kedomo” and “keredomo”, and “ga” all mean basically the same thing (though “ga” and the longer variations of the “ke~” words feel a bit more formal/polite). “ga” is more often used with “desu”, and “da ga” sounds a little like an older man is speaking.
Here are few examples using the above pattern:
- 遅いんだけど。。。 （osoi n da kedo)
- 本なのですけれど。。。 (hon na no desu keredo)
- 素敵なんだが。。。 ( suteki nan da ga)
- 思ってたんですけれども。。。 (omotte ta n desu keredomo)
Also, if you want to add a bit more of a rough or informal feel to the expression, you can add a “sa” particle (さ) to the end of the introductory phrase (after the contrast word).
If you aren’t sure which of these forms to use, I would generally recommend these two:
- For polite speaking: (na) n desu keredomo
- For casual speech: (na) n da redo
In the last set of examples above (ex: 遅いんだけど。。。) I omitted the second phrase because it didn’t matter for the explanation. But there’s another important use of “~n da kedo”, which is when the second part is actually omitted. This is something we commonly see in the Japanese language, when there is some unsaid meaning lurking behind the words. For example:
- 僕、ずっと待ってるんだけど。。。 (boku, zutto matte ru n da kedo…)
- I’ve been waiting here for a long time and… (…implied meaning…)
The implied meaning depends the situation, but for the above phrase it is most likely something along the lines of “hurry up already!”
Taking a step back, the key word in all these phrases is the “no” or “n” particle, which has many meanings in Japanese but here is used for explanation. I like to think of it as meaning “the fact is…”. Another way to think of these phrases is like “you see, I have two brothers, and…”, since the phrase “you see” has a feeling of explanation.
Also, another important point is that the ga/kedo/keredo/kedomo/keredomo words can be used for a mild contrast (like “but”), however in this case they can be used more like a simple connecting word (like “and”).