Join us and learn “What” “なん” ”なに” in Japanese to express the word “What”:Hi everyone and welcome to today’s online Japanese lesson.

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How to use “What” “なん” ”なに” in Japanese

Today we are going to learn how to “Nan” and “nani” in Japanese to make some “what” sentences. We have a whole series of these questions words too so make sure to check them out. We will start by looking at the differences between なに andなん following on with some example sentences so you can really understand and implement them within your own Japanese speech. What? You’re ready to get started? Okay let’s get to it.

Learn Japanese – 5W1H – Japanese Question Words – What,Where,When,Who,Why,How

The difference between なん and なに – A basic understanding 

So even though both of these words mean “what” they have different ways in which they are used in sentence structures. Firstly, なに can be used as a standalone word to mean “what?”. If someone says to you that you are going to jail, you could reply with “なに” to express your shock and confusion!  “What!?”. なん cannot be used in this way.

なん can also be used with ですか to form the sentence “what is it?” where as なに cannot be use with “ですか”.

のcan also be used after なん to create the phrase “what kind of”. For example:

Nan no nomimono ga hoshii?
What kind of drink do you want?

The last difference that we will mention is that you can use か and も after なに to make



So those are some of the basic differences that you need to know before we move on to the next segment of the article. Make sure you have internalised that information before moving onto the next section.  We are now going to look at some 何 なん sentences so you can see how to form them and understand how they work.

Using なん to make sentences

Let’s look at a really simple sentence to start with. This is a structure that you probably already know, but is important to understand.  

Sore wa nan desu ka
What is that?

This is a really simple yet essential sentence structure when you want to clarify what something is. You can use any noun before は何ですか to ask what something is. A really useful pattern to know for most situations. 

Nan no kuruma ga hoshii?
What kind of car do you want?

As we saw earlier, this construct with “nan no” creates the phrase “what kind of” you can add any noun after の here to create sentences like this. This is a really good sentence pattern to establish someone’s preference.

These are the two really common sentence patterns using なん in Japanese. With this you can ask “what something is” and also “what kind of something it is” Now we are going to look at some examples of なに sentences to. We are going to see how they are constructed in comparison to なんsentences and also how we can use them in every day situations.

Using なに to make sentences

Nani wo mimashita ka
What did you see?

In this sentence we are using なに as the sentence starter and adding を plus verb. With this sentence pattern you can ask questions such as “What did you say?” “What did you eat?” What did you do?” This is a really useful pattern to practice as it will be super common in everyday conversations and can be used with a lot of different verbs.

Kono kaban no naka ni nani ga arimasu ka
What is in this bag?

In this sentence structure you can see that we are using なにがありますか to ask “what is there?” You can use this question in various situations. For example “What’s in your pocket?” “What’s in Cuba?” “What’s next to the dog?” etc.   

We would suggest that you practice these 2 different sentence structures first so you can get proficient with using them as you can translate them into conversational Japanese pretty much straight away. The key is to make progress slow and steadily and prioritize quality over quantity. 

So guys that brings an end to today’s online Japanese lesson on using なに and なん aswell as there differences .

There are of course lots more sentence structures using these words but if you are just starting out with getting to grips with the differences between them, these basic sentence structures are the ones you will be able to use and implement practically from the get-go.

If you are wanting to learn how to use other words like, when, where, how, why, etc, we have covered all of the question words in our series so be sure to check them out as well. Thank you so much for reading today’s article everyone and if you have any questions or ideas for new blog topics, please get in touch. またね。

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