It’s summer now! Or is it the end of summer? Most of you have already come back from your vacation. I’m going to take mine after summer ends. I’ve chosen where I want to go, but haven’t planned anything yet, so I don’t know if I can actually go or not. If I make it there, I’ll let you know.
Today, I’m thinking about omissions in Japanese. We even leave out “watashi” or “anata” in Japanese sentences. You often wonder what’s hidden in these sentences when you hear or read Japanese, don’t you?
First of all, I’ll write about the omission of subjects. When you speak with another person, you know you are either talking about yourself or him/her even if there are no subjects in your sentences.
But, when you start talking about a third person, you definitely mention his or her name the first time they come up. Otherwise, you don't know who is being spoken about. And then you may keep talking about this person without mentioning their name again. This is probably not always the case, though.
However, why do the speakers know who they are talking about? The reason lies in verbs. There are some verbs with which it is obvious who the subject is.
Here are three examples.
1. ageru, morau and kureru: For example, if you use “kureru”, the subject can’t be yourself
2. keigo (polite Japanese): For example, if you use “irassharu”, the subject can’t be yourself.
3. iimashita and itteimashita (someone said): For example, if you use “itteta”, the subject generally can’t be yourself. (However, when it’s used to mean “I was saying”, the subject can be the speaker.)(I won’t discuss here why the subject can’t be the speaker when “kureru” and “irassharu” are used, but if you want to know, please ask me in the comments below.)
The point is that you can often guess who does the action from the verb even though the subject is omitted. Therefore, it is important to listen or read carefully to notice which verbs are used.
Next, I’ll introduce very short sentences. Some words are omitted from these. I am sure those living in Japan have heard this sort of thing many times.
1. watashi wa beer.
2. Nihon wa nagai n des ka?A literal English translation of “watashi wa beer” is “I am beer.” This doesn’t make any sense, but if you say this when you order beer at restaurant, it does make sense. The complete version of this sentence is
“Watashi wa beer ni shimas.”Here “shimas” means “choose” or “decide”, so the sentence means “I choose beer among the drinks on the menu.” The verb is omitted because you can guess what the speaker is trying to say from the situation even without the verb.
A literal English translation of the next example, “Nihon wa nagai n des ka?" is “Is Japan long?” Japan is long indeed from north to south, but the actual meaning of this question is “Have you been in Japan long?”
The complete version of this sentence is
“anata ga Nihon n iru no(jikan) wa nagai n des ka?”Half of the sentence was omitted, but if you ask this to someone whom you’ve met for the first time, it makes sense.
In the last example, nothing is left out grammatically, but there is no verb.
Q. mou Tanaka san ni aimashita ka? (Have you already met Tanaka san?)
A. mada des. (Not yet.)This “mada desu” implies “mada atteimasen” (I have not met). Although the actual meaning is “mada atteimasen”, which is a negative sentence, “mada desu” appears in an affirmative form. I think this is interesting.
Basically, “mada + desu” has the meaning of “mada … shiteimasen” (haven’t done yet). You can guess which verb is implied from the previous sentence.
This is a bit off-topic, but I heard a funny conversation when I went to dinner with my bilingual friend the other day. She was talking in both Japanese and English and he person at the counter asked her, “Nihon wa nagai n des ka?” Her English is perfect, but she looks completely Japanese. I found it funny to ask this question to a Japanese person. I think it is more natural to ask her, “kaigai wa nagakatta n des ka?” (Did you stay overseas long?)