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Digging Into Hiragana

Adam C. Clifton
29 Aug 2014

Now that we've had a general overview of written Japanese, we'll take a deeper look at Hiragana. As Hiragana contains all the basic sounds used in the language, it's an excelent place to start learning Japanese.

Looking at the tables throughout this lesson, you'll see the entirety of the alphabet laid out, and it may look a little daunting. But don't fret! There are a few patterns that will make learning Hiragana much easier. I'll explain them as we go through.

Basic Characters

aiueo
aiueo
kkakikukeko
ssashisuseso
ttachitsuteto
nnaninuneno
hhahihuheho
mmamimumemo
yyayuyo
rrarirurero
wwawo
nn

Here are the the basic Hirigana characters. Don't worry about trying to memorize them yet, we'll start covering that with some fun tools in the next lesson.

Looking at the table you can probably see the pattern already. Most of the sounds are made up of the row header plus the column header (eg: ぬ = n + u = nu). Following this pattern will make it a lot easier to learn all the basic characters.

Dakuten

aiueo
ggagigugego
zzajizuzezo
ddadzidzudedo
bbabibubebo
ppapipupepo

For the second pattern, look at the 'Dakuten' block of characters. Notice that the characters here look a lot like the basic characters from earlier, but they have little marks in the top right.

These marks just change the initial sound to a different one, and it's fixed for each column so it should be easy enough. For example 'k' sounds plus the double dash mark become 'g' sounds. Also note the bottom two rows, they are both taken from the 'h' row of basic characters, but one is modified with a double dash and the other has a little circle in the corner.

Combo Hiragana

yayuyo
kきゃ kyaきゅ kyuきょ kyo
sしゃ shaしゅ shuしょ sho
cちゃ chaちゅ chuちょ cho
nにゃ nyaにゅ nyuにょ nyo
hひゃ hyaひゅ hyuひょ hyo
mみゃ myaみゅ myuみょ myo
rりゃ ryaりゅ ryuりょ ryo
gぎゃ gyaぎゅ gyuぎょ gyo
jじゃ jyaじゅ jyuじょ jyo
dzぢゃ dzyaぢゅ dzyuぢょ dzyo
bびゃ byaびゅ byuびょ byo
pぴゃ pyaぴゅ pyuぴょ pyo

And finally the third pattern is the Combo Hiragana. Which look like an existing Hiragana character, followed by a shrunk down ya, yu or yo. For these characters, you drop out the base sound and replace it with the sound of the tiny following character. EG: ni + ya -> nya.

Check out the next lesson where we begin learning our first Hiragana characters.

Image Credit Kazuyoshi Kato.

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