Something that every Japanese student has noticed. Why is は pronounced in two different ways and how do we spell Konnichiwa and Konbanwa?

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Overview –Ha, wa(は), or wa(わ)?

Similarly enough to English, the Japanese language has words that aren’t exactly read as how they are spelled. A few examples can be how we say “read” but then the past tense for that is “read(pronounced as red)”… or how there’s a silent “s” in “island”. For this blog, we will be focusing on why は is read two different ways and why there’s a わ as well. This blog can hopefully help you get a better understanding on は and how to properly use it. Good luck and 頑張ってください(Ganbatte kudasai: Do your best!)!

は(Ha) versus は(Wa)

So, is it こんにちは or is it こんにちわ? There is no fool-proof way to determine it but here are some tips that can hopefully help you tell the difference.

When it’s pronounced as “WA”

The particle は that modifies a noun

Let’s start with something that both beginners and intermediate level Japanese students have encountered before; the particle は(WA). The particle は(WA) is a particle used to mark a topic marker. When は is being used as a particle, it is read as “WA”. Here are a few sentence examples for you to take a look at:

Nihonjin wa totemo yasashii desu.
Japanese people are very nice.
Shiba inu wa kawaii desu.
Shiba inus(dogs) are cute.
Kanojyo wa eigo wo majime ni benkyoushiteimasu.
The woman/She studies English hard.

This one is probably the easiest one to spot as it usually comes after a noun or the main subject of the sentence. Automatically, this is to be read as “WA” but is written and typed as “は”. 

Learn Japanese online – Differences between は and が Particle は VS が

The particle は Combined with other particles

The above caption says it all, は as a particle can be used with other particles and in this case is still pronounced as “WA”. As it is not part of a word, this variation of “は” is pronounced as “WA” as it still has the function of being a particle. The usage of combined particles with “WA” varies. Please look at the sentences below to see some examples!

Kanojo ni wa neko ga imasu.
She has a pet.
Sawaide wa ikemasen.
Do not make a sound/noise.
San jikan wa matsu ni wa nagai jikan desu.
3 hours is a long time to wait.

Not all particles are compatible with は but the ones that are are treated as normal particles and are pronounced as “WA”.

When it is pronounced as “HA”

As a part of a word

If you see a は inside a word, it is pronounced as a “HA”. Like we mentioned in the previous part of this blog we already know that は is pronounced as “WA” only when it is used as a particle. If you see は not being used as a particle, then it is pronounced as how it is spelled, “HA”. Please look below for some words where you can find  は pronounced as “HA”.

ご飯 (ごはん: gohan: rice)灰皿(はいざら: haizara: ashtray)
花見(はなみ:hanami: flower viewing)箱(はこ: hako: box)
走る(はしる: hashiru: run)歯(は: ha: teeth)
春(はる: haru: spring)鼻(はな: hana: nose)
Asagohan wo tabete kudasai.
Please eat breakfast.
Sorosoro haru ni narimasu.
It will be spring soon.
Haizara ga arimasu ka?
Do you have an ashtray?

As you can see, the Japanese words above have は found within a word–basically found anywhere from the beginning, middle, or end of the word. These words containing “は(HA)” can be found in any part of a sentence or phrase and are also still pronounced as “HA”.

When to use wa(わ)

This is the easiest one as unlike “は”, “わ” is only written and read one way and that is “WA”. It can be found in words as it is not a particle. Of course, this is easier to tell when you can ready the word. In the case that you only hear “WA” in a sentence and want to determine if it is written as “は” or “わ”, just try and determine if it is part of a word or is used as a particle to mark a noun, in which case it would be written/spelled as ““は”. Please look below for a few examples.

Watashi wa Igirisu jin desu.
I am British.
Kawa ga kirei desu.
The river is clean.
Wakame ga daisuki desu.
I love seaweed.
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Summary: こんにちは or こんにちわ?

Let’s look at the word “Konnichiwa”. We can find out the right way it’s written by looking into what it actually means. It is actually an abbreviated version of “今日はご機嫌いかがですか?(Konnichi wa gokigen ikaga desu ka?)”.

You can also use “Konbanwa”  in this sentence, becoming, “今晩はご機嫌いかがですか?(Konban wa gokigen ikaga desu ka?)”. This will be translated into “How are you feeling today/tonight?”. There is no particular reason why it is abbreviated, it is mainly due to making a long sentence easier and faster to say. Based on what we have learned so far, we can now determine that “Konnichiwa” is spelled as こんにちは, and “Konbanwa” is spelled as こんばんは.

This is all due to the “WA” in its original sentences being used as a particle. As we have learned from this blog, は is pronounced as “WA” when used as a particle. Mystery solved! It took an entire blog for us to get to the answer to this question but it was all worth it.

See? It’s not that complicated at all! Hopefully this blog has given you a better idea to determine when は is pronounced as “WA” or “HA”. It may be a bit confusing and complicated in the beginning but I’m sure practice and application will help. Repetition will definitely help as well and always remember, 諦めないでください!(Akiramenaide kudasai: Please don’t give up).

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Expressing “in order to” and “for the sake of” in Japanese with Tame ni のために