Dreaming in Japanese

By | February 11, 2015

Often when learning a foreign language, one has to not only learn verbs and nouns, but also natural combinations of the two which make expressions.

For example, let’s take the following English sentence.

  • Yesterday I had a good dream.

If we were to translate this word-by-word to Japanese (shifting around words for correct word ordering), we would get the following sentence.

  • 僕は昨日、いい夢があった。 (boku wa kinou, ii yume ga atta)

While this sentence is for the most part grammatically correct, it has a completely different meaning than you might expect. In Japanese, the word “dream” is not only used for those mysterious visions we have while asleep, it is also used to mean “hope” or “aspiration”, just like in English.  Martin Luther King’s famous words “I have a dream”, which would be translated into Japanese as the following.

  • 僕には夢がある。 (boku ni wa yume ga aru)
  • “I have a dream”

Now back to our original sentence, “Yesterday I had a good dream”, which is clearly referring to the sleep-type of dream as opposed to the hope-type. To express this properly in Japanese, we need to learn the expression “夢を見る”. This literally means “See a dream”, but in this expression refers to a dream experienced during sleep.

Can you guess how to properly translate our original sentence? Here’s the answer.

  • (僕は)昨日、いい夢を見た。 ((boku wa) kinou, ii yume wo mita)

I’ve put the “僕は” in parenthesis since it’s implied by the sentence and hence is not necessary.

In order to talk about dreams in Japanese with others, there are few other expressions that are good to know.

Here is one such phrase with two Japanese equivalents.

  • What dream did you have (last night)?
  • 何の夢を見た? (nan no yume wo mita?)
  • どんな夢を見た? (donna yume wo mita?)

I’ve left out “昨夜” or “昨日の夜” (last night) since if you ask someone this question in the morning right after waking up, this is implied.

It’s also good to know how to answer this question in case you’re asked it. Generally in Japanese when you want to modify a noun using a clause, you simply put the clause (including the verb) right before the noun. This is how you describe what dream you saw.

  • 日本語がぺらぺらになった夢を見た。 (nihongo ga pera pera ni natta yume wo mita)
  • I had a dream where I became fluent in Japanese.

Grammatically, the entire part in bold above acts somewhat like an adjective that modifies the 夢 noun, and in my head I think of this phrase as if being contained in parenthesis.

To finish off this post I’d like to talk about dreams coming true in Japanese. This is accomplished by the verbs かなう(叶う) or かなえる(叶える). The former is intransitive, meaning you would use it after the dream plus “が” to indicate the dream just ‘came true’, and the latter is transitive, so you would use ”を” instead to indicate someone ‘made’ the dream come true. Here are a set of example sentences using these words.

  • 夢が叶うといいね。 (yume ga kanau to ii ne)
  • I hope your dream(s) come true.
  • 夢を叶えてあげる! (yume wo kanaete ageru!)
  • I’ll make your dream(s) come true!

By the way, the word 明晰夢 (meisekumu) is used to describe a dream where  you are aware you are dreaming, basically a lucid dream. You would use the pattern 〜を見る for dreams like this as well.

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