An important Japanese word that is good to master: “hoka” (ほか、外、他)

By | April 4, 2016

As anyone who has studied a foreign language can attest to, knowing what words to study is one of the more challenging things because there is so many words out there.

In this post I’m going to go over the word “ほか”(also written in Kanji as “他” or ”外”) and some of it’s uses. This was actually a request from one of my readers, but I think it’s a great word that is good to master regardless of your skill level, since it is used pretty commonly.

“ほか” has several different uses, but many of them revolve around the concept of an “other” in reference to something already stated or implied. It has strong connections with the word “以外” (“igai”), which I wrote a post about here, and 以外 is actually used in several of the definitions of ほか, for example “それ以外の人や物事”.

Let’s start with a simple example of how ほか can be used:

  • Person A: 旅行したいところはありますか?
  • Person B: 日本に行きたいです。
  • Person A: 他に行きたいところは?
  • Person B: 中国にも行きたいです。

And in English:

  • Person A: Is there anywhere you want to travel?
  • Person B: I’d like to go to Japan.
  • Person A: Any other place you want to go?
  • Person B: I’d also like to go to China.

Here we can see that 他に is used in the sense of some place other than Japan.

Person A could ask the same question using the following:

  • 他にはありますか?   [Are there any others?]

You could write this sentence without the “は”, but I feel it is more natural with it.

You can even abbreviate this as:

  • 他には? [Any others?]

“ほか” can also be used to modify a noun along with a connecting “の”. Imagine that someone asked you to read a certain book, you could respond with:

  • 僕は他の本を読みたい。   [I want to read another book]

You can also see “ほか” used with the modifier “その”  as the phrase “その他”, which you can think of as meaning “それのほか” or “the others” with respect to something that was said before. You can often see this as the last answer of a survey question, meaning some other answer which was not explicitly present above (usually expressed in English as just “other”).

There is also a reverse usage where ほか precedes の followed by a noun (ex:  “ゲームの他”). As opposed to the “他の~” pattern just discussed where you are looking for another instance of a certain category, in the “~の他” case you are looking for another instance of something besides the “~” part. For example:

  • ゲームの他に好きなものある? [Is there anything you like besides games?]

You can also use the “~の他” pattern to list one of more items, in the sense of “In addition to ~” or “Besides ~” (ex: “ゲームの他に漫画も好き”, “Besides games I also like Manga”)

In the above example sentences, ほか was used as a modifier to something else. However, it can be used as a noun on it’s own, as in the following sentence where it becomes the object of an action:

  • 他をあたってください。 [Please try somewhere else.]

This phrase can be used when you go somewhere in search of something (like a product in a store) and they don’t have what you are looking for.

After going through these example sentences, I think you’ll be able to pick up how to understand the meaning of this word in the sentences you come across. However, one of the tricker parts of using this word is deciding on what particle(s) to use with it: for example に、にも、には、は、も、or を.

I am not going to attempt to cover all of these cases because I feel mastering this requires reading through many different example sentences and learning to pick up the patterns yourself, along with a good fundamental understanding of each of these particles.

However, I’d like to look at one final example for a common case, “他に~” vs “他の~”. Let’s look at the below two sentences.

  • 他に質問はありますか?
  • 他の質問はありますか?

Both of these mean “Are there any other questions?” and are grammatically correct. However, the first of these (with “に”) is more common and sounds more natural. I am not sure if there is a clear reason why it is preferred, but just memorize this pattern and you will be one step closer to fluently using 他。

It is good to understand the grammatical difference of these two sentences, however. In the first one, ”他に” is being used more as an adverb and feels separate from the noun “質問”. I can’t think of a perfect English match, but maybe “additionally” is close. In the second, 他 is directly modifying “質問”, so that “他の質問” feels like a unit. I feel this is a bit closer to the English phrase “other question”, which is why for some time I had a habit of using “他の質問” until I realized that に is more natural in this case.

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11 thoughts on “An important Japanese word that is good to master: “hoka” (ほか、外、他)

  1. Mr X

    This is a great article, as always! Do you have any tips on how you know whether to read 他 as ほか or た?

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Thanks! Good question!

      My feeling on this is that ”ほか” is more common and safest to use in all cases.

      I did a search to confirm this and found a few links, for example:

      There are different opinions on this matter, but the summary is that in cases like “その他”, you can pronounce it as “ほか” or “た”, and in cases like “他の人”, you always pronounce it as “ほか”.

      In all the examples I have given, I believe “ほか” is safest, so I recommend always using this.

  2. Fran

    You wrote this lesson in such a short period of time. I’m really impressed!

    他に looks like a simple expression but it is challenging for a brain that thinks in the Indo-European way so it is good to read a lesson that helps you understand the expression.

    Thanks for the lesson.

  3. Uneu

    I might be wrong, but it looks to me like 他’s true meaning is “addition”, at least when trying to rationalize the word it kind of leads me to that meaning and, under context one can better get its sense as other/another…

  4. Francisco

    The English language makes a distinction with “other” meaning something different than/from a different kind, and “another” meaning (one) more of the same thing/kind. When reading a sentence like 僕は他の本を読みたい how does one tell if 他 means “other” or “another”?


    1. locksleyu Post author

      I think “an + other” is essentially the same meaning as “another”, I am not sure if there is a big difference between “another” and “other”.

      In the example sentence you gave, it simply means something like “a book that isn’t this one”.

      If that doesn’t answer your question, please give me another example sentence (:

    1. locksleyu Post author

      I didn’t know the answer, so I did a search and found this:

      Quick summary is that 他 as more of the nuance of meaning “something else” whereas 外 means more like “outside of a certain range”.

      There are some sample sentences on that page that may help.

      Hopefully this helps.

  5. hanhan

    Thank you for explaining. But while reading a catalog today, I saw an exception and I’m not sure about this case.
    It’s written like this:
    The word ほか in this case has the same meaning as など, doesn’t it?

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Literally ほか is not the same thing as など, however in the case you gave I agree it basically means the same things.


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