This is an overview of the use of Japanese nouns.

Plural and articles

Japanese has neither plural nor articles, which means that the distinction between “the mountain”, “a mountain”, “the mountains”, and “mountains”, is left to the imagination of the listener, or translator.

Kanji combinations and names

Kanji combinations can usually be broken down in groups of two kanji. Their reading is, generally speaking, the on’yomi. Names, however, are usually read in kun’yomi. In some instances certain consonants can become voiced:

山田 (Yamada) = 山 (yama/mountain) + 田 (ta/rice field)
竹山 (Takeyama) = 竹 (take/bamboo) + 山 (yama/mountain)
山本 (Yamamoto) = 山 (yama/mountain) + 本 (moto/origin)
本田 (Honda) = 本 (hon/origin) + 田 (ta/rice field)

The distinction between place names and family names is made by the suffix “san”. Yamada is a city in the Fukuoka prefecture, Yamada-san is a person named Yamada. “San” is honorific, and leaving it out is considered insulting. Since it is honorific, “san” is never used for one's own name, but only when referring to other people.

The particles の (no) and と (to)

The particle の (no) substantiates the word after the particle with the word before the particle, and can be translated as “of” or “which is/which are”.

Tagawa-san no hon

can be translated as “The book of Mr./Ms. Tagawa” or “Mr./Ms. Tagawa’s book”.

山の川 (yama no kawa)
can be translated as “the river of the mountain” or “the mountain river”.

The prepositions 上 (ue), 中 (naka), and 下 (shita) are also used with the particle の.

山の上の木 (yama no ue no ki)

can be translated as “The tree which is the top of the mountain” or “The tree on top of the mountain”.

山の下の田 (yama no shita no ta)

can be translated as “The rice field which is the bottom of the mountain” or “The rice field at the base of the mountain”.

山の中の川 (yama no naka no kawa)

can be translated as “The river which is the inside of the mountain” or, since using singular would make a rather awkward sentence, “The river in the mountains”.

The particle と (to) is best translated as “with” or “and”. The particle と can only be used in the meaning of “and” or “with” with nouns and other substantives. When used with verbs and adjectives と adopts a different function, which I will go into in a later lesson.

Combinations of particles

Particles can be combined where, as a rule, both particles keep their meaning.

上田さんとの話 (Ueda-san to no hanashi)

can be translated as “The talk which is with Mr./Ms. Ueda” or “The talk with Mr./Ms. Ueda”.

上田さんの話 (Ueda-san no hanashi)

can be translated as “The talk of Mr./Ms. Ueda” or “Mr./Ms. Ueda’s story”.

上田さんと話 (Ueda-san to hanashi)

can be translated as “Mr./Ms. Ueda and the story”.