Talking about ways of doing things in Japanese with 〜かた (~kata)

By | February 14, 2019

When you first learn a foreign language, you might be frustrated (or at least challenged) by how it differs from your native language. But the more you study, the more you’ll find aspects unique to that language that allow you to express things in convenient ways.

In Japanese, by using the suffix かた (sometimes written in kanji as 方) after a verb in the pre-masu form, the method or way of performing some action can be expressed.

[verb in pre-masu form] + かた = way of performing that action

Let’s take the verb たべる (taberu, “to eat”) as a first example. Its pre-masu form is たべ (tabe), so using the above formula we get たべかた (tabekata), which means “way to eat”. Using kanji, this word can also be written as 食べ方, or even (less commonly) 食べかた.

If “way to eat” sounds awkward, it’s because there is no really perfect way to express this in English, at least out of context. Let’s look at an example:

  • クッキーの食べ方が上手だね。ぜんぜん食べ散らかさない (kukkii no tabekata ga jouzu da ne. zen zen tabechirakasanai)
  • (You) are really good at eating cookies. (You) don’t make a mess at all.

Note in my English translation above I didn’t use “way to eat” or “method of eating” because they would sound unnatural.

Here are a few other examples of commonly used ~kata forms:

  • 言い方 [iikata]: way of speaking, expression
  • 考え方 [kangaekata]: way of thinking
  • 見方 [mikata]: way of seeing things, a viewpoint, an opinion

When using a word with a ~kata suffix like this, you can combine it with ~suru and treat it like a verb. For example,

  • 彼は変な歩き方をしてるね  (kare wa hen na arukikata wo shite ru ne)
  • He is walking in a strange way, isn’t he?

(In case you didn’t know, the core verb above was 歩く[aruku], which means “to walk”).

Again, while the concept is simple, when translating words with ~kata, it’s often good to avoid literal translations. (In this case a literal translation would be the awkward “He is doing a strange way of walking, isn’t he?”)

While it’s used less commonly, you can actually use ~kata together with the pre-masu of a passive form of a verb. For example,

  • ああいう言われ方は不愉快だ (aa iu iwarekata wa fuyukai da)
  • That way of being spoken to is unpleasant.

Here, I’ve used the literal “way of being spoken to” because it sounds somewhat natural in English.

You can even use ~kata after verbs that already contain some other suffix. One example would be やりすぎ方 (“way of overdoing it”) and another 飲み込みかた (“way of swallowing”). However, since words like やりすぎる and 飲み込む are listed in the dictionary as verbs in their own right, using ~kata in this way is really the same as with the simpler verbs we talked about above.

As you probably know, in Japanese there is a whole class of words that be used as nouns by themselves, or as verbs with ~suru. For example 勉強 (benkyou) is a noun meaning “study” or “studies”, and 勉強する (benkyou suru) is the verb form (ex: “I will study”).

For cases like this you can use a few different patterns:

  • [noun form] + の + 仕方 (shikata)
    • 洗濯の仕方 [sentaku no shikata] => way of doing laundry
  • [noun form] + の + 方法 (houhou)
    • 演技の方法 [engi no houhou] => way of acting
  • [noun form] + 方法 (houhou)
    • 指導方法 [shidou houhou] => way of leading
  • [noun form] + 法 (hou)
    • 勉強法 [benkyouhou] => way of studying.

Depending on the specific word, one or more of the above patterns may sound more natural than the others. Generally, I would suggest the first pattern ( [noun form] + の + 仕方) if you are unsure, as it has broad applicability. Both the words 仕方 [shikata] and 方法 [houhou] mean “method”, “way” or “means”. By the way, the former of these is also used in the common expression “shikata nai”, which I wrote about here.

While I generally am not a big fan of introducing several meanings of a same-sounding word at one time (homynym), in case you found this article using the keyword “kata” used in a different way, here are a few other things it can mean (along with their respective kanji).

  • 方 (kata): polite way to refer to a person (人 [hito] would be less polite)
  • 肩 (kata): shoulder [part of the body]
  • 型 (kata): a mold or pattern (can also refer to a set sequence of actions, for example in a martial art like 空手 [karate] )

While these three usages have the same consonant and vowel sounds, the last one has a different intonation pattern from the others. The first two (方、肩) have a falling intonation and the last one (型) a rising intonation. See this for more details.

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