Basic Japanese Grammar: Maybe… 多分・かもしれない
There are just some things in life that are not 100% and more like a half-and-half. In that case, how does one express this possibility of something? If you think something’s going to happen but you’re not 100% sure, you’re going to add the word “might”, “maybe” or “perhaps” in the sentence, aren’t you?
In our Season 3 Episode 6 of the Nihongo Master Podcast, we break down step-by-step how to express possibility in Japanese. This is an easy way to step up your Japanese game, because it’s so simple to learn and it’s so easy to add into your everyday sentences like “maybe it’s going to rain” or “perhaps I’ll cook dinner”. All of that is easily achievable with the grammar language that will be in this article!
Even though this article is a recap of the podcast episode, it does have just enough information for you to grasp the entirety of the grammar point. However, we highly recommend you to tune in to our podcast, as our Study Saturday language series is formatted just like our online learning system – we introduce the grammar point, put it to use with a few roleplaying scenarios, and compile a list of new vocabulary words at the end!
To express the possibility of something happening or something you want to do, in English, we use the words “maybe” or “perhaps”. There are a few ways to go about that in English. However, in Japanese, there are only two ways to go about it, so you can learn how to express possibility pretty quickly!
The first one is by using the word “tabun” (多分). The word itself already means “maybe”. Now we need to know how to incorporate it into a sentence. Usually, it’s at the beginning of the sentence. The format goes:
多分 + (sentence)
For example, let’s say this sentence in Japanese: “Perhaps the Spanish language is easy.”
多分 + [スペイン語 (the Spanish language) + は + 簡単 (easy) ] = 多分スペイン語は簡単です
Tadaa! That’s it for the first grammar point! It’s good to note that while it’s preferable to use at the beginning of the sentence, you can also use it at the end, depending on the situation.
The next way to express possibility is by adding ~kamo shirenai (or ~kamo shiremasen for the polite form), to the end of the sentence. The format is:
(Sentence) + かもしれない (polite: かもしれません)
For example, let’s say this sentence in Japanese: “I thought I might be falling sick.”
Slightly longer, but not an impossibly hard sentence to translate. To say “to fall sick” in Japanese, it’s byōki ni naru (病気になる). To express opinions, which we covered in another Study Saturday podcast episode (you can check out the recap article here), we say “to omotta” (と思ったと) or “to omoimashita” (思いました) for the polite form at the very end of the sentence.
病気になる + かもしれない + と思った (polite: と思いました) = 病気になるかもしれないと思った
We can’t use kamo shiremasen for this one; we only change the ending to the polite form.
We could also say it as tabun byouki ni naru to omotta (多分病気になると思った). Both ways of saying “maybe” are interchangeable for the most part!
We often wrap up the episode with a list of vocabulary words, so we list them out here for listeners to refer to:
Supeingo (スペイン語) — Spanish language. You can add ~go (語) to most country names to talk about their language. For example, French is furansu-go (フランス語)
Kantan (簡単) — easy
Byōki ni naru (病気になる) — to fall sick. Byōki on its own refers to sickness
Tsukareteiru (疲れている) — to be tired
Tada (ただ) — “just”, you can also use dake in certain situations
Au (会う) — to meet
Tonari (隣) — next to
Kōen (公園) — park
Komu (混む) — to be crowded
Soto (外) — outside
Chikaku (近く) — near
kaban (カバン) — bag
wasurechau (忘れちゃう) — it comes from the word wasureru, which means to forget
hakubutsukan (初物館) — museum
ryōhō (両方) — both
Tanoshimi ni (楽しもに) — looking forward to something
Basho (場所) — place
Kaigai (海外) — overseas
Fuyu (冬) — winter
Samui (寒い) — cold
Yasumu (休む) — to take a day off
Rokugatsu (六月) — June. It combines the number 6 and the word month, since June is the sixth month. For July, the seventh month, it’s shichigatsu (七月), and August is hachigatsu (八月)
Maybe…Tune in to our podcast?
Now you’re a pro at expressing possibility in two ways in Japanese! You’ll use this quite often in everyday conversations, more than you think! In Japanese culture, it’s better to be indirect than reply with a direct answer, so this acts as a buffer from giving a straight “yes” or “no”. Practical, isn’t it?
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