The difference between Hiragana & Katakana is one of the questions I most frequently receive from my students, so I’m going to touch base with it in this post.
Hiragana & Katakana – What’s different?
Both Hiragana and Katakana are derived from Chinese characters (Kanji). They are both phonetic letters, meaning they tell you how to pronounce the word. The basic difference between the two is that Hiragana is used to spell Japanese origin words whereas Katakana is for non-Japanese words.
- Hiragana indicates how to pronounce Japanese-origin words
- Katakana indicates how to pronounce non-Japanese words (loanwords)
I explain all about Japanese writing systems in the video below.
Japanese young children first learn to write the 46 Hiragana letters. We use Hiragana to spell words that originally exist in Japanese as below.
- とうふ tofu (Noun)
- はし chopsticks (Noun)
- おいしい delicious (Adjective)
- たべる eat (Verb)
- すずきまちこ Suzuki Machiko (Person’s name)
- とうきょう Tokyo (Placename)
After Hiragana, we learn the 45 Katakana letters. Then we can write loanwords as below. Loanwords are the words adapted from other languages to Japanese.
- コーヒー coffee (English)
- ハンバーガー hamburger (English)
- トム・クルーズ Tom Cruise (English name)
- キムチ kimchee (Korean)
- ニーハオ Ni hao (Chinese)
- ボンジュール Bonjour (French)
- イタリア Italia (Italian)
We also use Katakana for sounds things or animals make such as “Bang!” or “meow.”
- バタン！Bang! (Sounds of things)
- ピンポーン Ding dong (Sounds of a doorbell)
- コンコン Knock knock (Sounds of knocking
- ニャー Meow (Sounds cats make)
- ワンワン Bow-wow or Woof woof (Sounds dogs make)
- コケコッコー Cockadoodledoo (Sound roosters make)
How about Kanji?
Japanese Kanji is not phonetic letters. It doesn’t necessarily tell you how to pronounce the word, but it indicates the meaning of the word.
So, in Japanese the pronunciation of the word does not specify its meaning. As you see in the examples below, はし [hashi] can be a few different things and Hiragana doesn’t help you to be sure of the meaning. Kanji does.
- はし ? 箸、端、橋
- かみ ? 神、髪、紙
- たつ ? 立つ、建つ、断つ、発つ
- かく ? 書く、描く、欠く、掻く
- せんせい ? 先生、宣誓、専制
Want to learn Hiragana & Katakana?
I have complete Hiragana and Katakana lessons.
Provide the information below and I can also send you the Hiragana chart & Katakana chart by email.
Hiragana Chart (PDF 10 pages)
Katakana Chart (PDF 10 pages)
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