How to Use Desu (です) in Japanese : As you’ve worked to learn Japanese, this might be the word you’ve heard the most. “Desu” (です) is a word that is absolutely essential to the Japanese language, especially if you plan on speaking with any sort of formality.

Forms of Desu (です)

“Desu” comes in a few levels of formality. In Japanese, you always need to be aware of what formality you should be using when you’re speaking, and that’s always based on the context of your conversation. 

To help you use “desu” in any situation, let’s cover the basic forms of it. “Desu” is pretty formal, but perfectly acceptable in pretty much any situation. “Da” (だ) is the less formal version, and “de gozaimasu” (でございます) is good if you want that extra level of formality (such as in a business conversation).

Some regions have their own colloquialism of “desu.” For example, in Kansai you might hear people say “ya” instead. These colloquialisms are almost always informal.

How to Translate Desu (です)

I’m going to be honest, there’s not really a good translation for “desu.” A lot of times you’ll see it translated as “is,” but it’s not a verb, and that only works sometimes. 

One thing that it does do is distinguish what level of formality you are using. So if I were introducing myself, I could either say “Jessica da,” “Jessica desu,” or “Jessica de gozaimasu,” and from that the listener would know exactly what level of formality to expect from me. These all mean “I am Jessica,” but they are weird sentences to think about in English because there is no verb, and the “I” is implied. 

So if we look at these examples, you can see that “desu” kind of has a meaning, but also kind of doesn’t. Luckily, you’ll be using it enough in everyday conversation that you’ll get the hang of it.


When to Not Use Desu (です)

You can put “desu” after nouns to end sentences. It works like a verb in that sense. So if you end a sentence in a verb, no matter how it is conjugated (formally or informally), you will not need “desu.” You can end a sentence with “taberu” or “tabemasu” without worrying about adding desu. But ending a sentence with a noun without “desu” will make it a fragment. That’s why “desu” is so often translated as the English verb “to be.” 

Adjectives get a little complicated with “desu.” Na-adjectives such as “kantan” (簡単: simple), “shizen” (自然: natural), and “shizuka” (静か: quiet) will always take a form of “desu.” You can say “It’s simple,” with “Kantan da na” (簡単だな) or “Kantan desu” (簡単です). These are different formalities, but they both require a form of “desu.”

With i-adjectives, it’s a bit different. When you are speaking informally, i-adjectives such as “omoshiroi” (面白い: interesting/funny), “kawaii” (可愛い: cute), and “muzukashii” (難しい: difficult) do not need a form of “desu” to end the sentence. “Omoshiroi” is a full sentence in Japanese that could mean “That’s funny.” If you add “da” after it, the sentence is grammatically incorrect. However, these adjectives still need “desu” in formal conversation. So if you wanted to make that sentence formal, you would need to say “Omoshiroi desu.”

Using Desu (です) For Emphasis

I’ve heard “desu” used for emphasis in a few different ways. The first is using “desu” (the formal version) in casual conversation to emphasize something. Sometimes it is used to add a tone of uncertainty to something, or to just really drive a point home that the speaker is making.

I’m not sure if it’s a region thing, but I’ve also heard “desu” pronounced with more emphasis on the “su” part to either make it a question (with an upward tone), or emphasize what the speaker is saying without using a sentence ending particles such as “ne” or “yo.” I heard a lot of women doing this, and it seemed to be softer than saying “yo” but added the same sort of emphasis.

Don’t be surprised if you hear different things like this, but be aware that it could be a regional thing. If you hear people in the area you live using “desu” or its other forms in different ways, it’s alright for you to use it like that. Just make sure you fit into the same demographic as whoever you hear saying it so you don’t accidentally end up talking like an old man when you don’t want to.

Again, you’re going to use “desu” in pretty much 100% of your Japanese conversations, whether it’s “desu,” “da,” or “de gozaimasu.” It’s definitely something you’ll pick up through listening and paying attention, but hopefully this article will give you a leg up as you learn how to use “desu.”

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