Japanese

Watch out! 11 Japanese words that change meaning by pitch accent.

Japanese has what’s called a pitch accent. This is the intonation of Japanese language. If your goal is to sound like a native Japanese speaker, it’s important to have a grasp of it, since incorrect pitch accent will make you sound foreign.

Pitch accent also differentiates words! For the word はし(hashi), pitch accent can change it from a bridge to a pair of chopsticks, so be careful!

Here are some words that sound the same, but with different pitch accents.

11 different examples of pitch accent

あめ (あめ) (rain) vs (あめ)(candy)


あめ has two meanings. One is rain and another is candy. Even if your pitch accent is wrong, people will understand you based on context, but it's better to know the difference of accent if you want to sound like a native speaker.

When you pronounce (あめ)(rain), the word starts high and ends in a low pitch. On the other hand, the end of (あめ)(candy) starts low and ends in a high pitch.

Sentence

あめってきた。
ame(-\) ga futte kita
It has started to rain.


あめ
べたい。
ame(-/) wo tabetai
I want to eat a candy.

あく (あく)(evil) vs ()く(to open)


(あく)(evil) goes from high to low, and ()く(to open) goes from low to high.

Sentence

あく正義せいぎ
aku(-\) to seigi
Evil and justice

ドアが
doa ga aku(-/)
A door opens.

はし (はし)(bridge) vs (はし)(edge) vs (はし)(chopsticks)


はし has three different meanings: (はし)(bridge), (はし)(edge) and (はし)(chopsticks). The pitch accent of (はし) and (はし) are same. They go from low to high. But (はし) goes from high to low.

Sentence

はしわた
Hashi(-/) wo wataru
Cross a bridge.


道路どうろ
はしくるまめる
Douro no hashi(-/) ni kuruma wo tomeru
Stop a car at the side (edge) of a road.

はしはとても便利べんり
Hashi(-\) wa totemo benri
Chopsticks are really convenient.



くま (くま)(bear) vs (くま)(eye bag)

Bear((くま)) and eye bag((くま)) are same word in Japanese. (くま)(bear) goes from high to low. (くま)(eye bag) is the opposite of (くま)(bear), it goes from low to high.

Sentence

くま親子おやこ
Kuma(-\) no oyako.
Mother bear and baby bear.

かしをしてくまができた
youkashi wo shite kuma(-/) ga dekita.
I stayed up late and got eyebags.

じょし 女子(じょし)(girl) vs 助詞(じょし)(particle)

“Girl” is called 女子(じょし)(joshi) in Japanese. But “particle,” like は or が, is also called 助詞(じょし)(joshi). It makes you wonder why two completely different words come out from pitch accent!
女子(じょし) (girl) goes from high to low. 助詞(じょし)(particle) goes from low to high.

Sentence

原宿はらじゅくけい女子じょし
harajukukei joshi(-/).
Harajuku style girl.

めんどくさい助詞じょし
Medokusai joshi(-\).
Annoying particles.

Check out our article on how to say “such a hassle” in Japanese!

いえ (いえ)(house) vs NO


When you want to say “no” politely in Japanese, you say いえ(ie). いえ(ie) goes from high to low. House is also called ie((いえ)) in Japanese. It goes from low to high.

Sentence

このいえはいかがですか?
Kono ie(-/) ha ikaga desuka?
Do you like this house (Are you gonna buy this house)?

いえ。結構けっこうです。
Ie(-\). Kekkou desu.
No, I’m fine.

はい YES vs (はい)(lung)


はい(yes) is the very first word to learn for Japanese learner. But if you pronounce はい(yes) with wrong accent, it’ll mean (はい)(lung).

Will anybody ever think you’re shouting lungs at them instead of yes?

Probably not, but you need to know the difference between them. When you want to sayはい(yes), it goes from high to low. So it is like hai(-\). If you say hai(-/), it means lung ((はい)) in Japanese.

Sentence

はい。日本語にほんご大変たいへんです。
Hai(-\). Nihongo ha taihen desu.
Yes. Japanese is hard.

たばこははいくない
Tabako wa hai(-/) ni yokunai
Smoking is bad for your lungs.

にじ (にじ)(rainbow) vs 二時(にじ)(2o’clock)



Niji has two meanings in Japanese. One is 2 o’clock and another one is rainbow. 2 o’clock niji goes from high to low. Rainbow is also called niji but it goes from low to high.

Sentence

二時にじおう
Niji(-\) ni aou.

にじがかかる
Niji(-/) ga kakaru.
There is a rainbow.

 

もも (もも)(peach) vs (もも)(thigh)


もも indicates two different meanings. When you want to say もも for peach, you go from low to high. So it’s like もも(-/). On the other hand, If you mean thigh, you say もも(-\).

Sentence

ももべたい。
Momo(-/) wo tabetai.
I want to eat a peach.

スクワットでももいたい。
Squat de momo(-\) ga itai.
My thighs hurt from squatting.

かき (かき) vs 牡蠣(かき)



Do you like persimmon or oysters? If you want to say that you like persimmons, you go from low to high, like (かき) (-/). If you like oysters, you say 牡蠣(かき)(-\).    

Sentence

かき
Kaki(-/) ga suki.
I like persimmons.

牡蠣かき
Kaki(-\) ga suki.
I like oysters.

すみ (すみ)(corner) vs (すみ)(ink)


Sumi has two meanings, one is (すみ)(corner), another is (すみ)(ink).
It might be rare to hear those words in same situation but you need to know the difference. (すみ)(corner) goes from high to low. (すみ)(ink) goes from low to high.

Sentence

部屋へやすみきこもる。
Heya no sumi(-/) de hikikomoru.
Go hide (and not come out) in a corner of the room.

すみをこぼす。
Sumi(-\) wo kobosu.
Spill ink.

Conclusion

Most Japanese people will understand you even if you have the wrong pitch accent, but it’s important to learn if you want to effectively communicate to Japanese people! It will sound better to their ears and bring you closer to native pronunciation😊

-Japanese
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