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Orthography and Exceptions

The Japanese writing system does a much better job than English of capturing how something is actually pronounced. However there are a few areas where things are pronounced different than they are written.

Dropping Vowels
When the vowels “u” and “i” are placed between certain consonants (sh, s, k, p, ts, h, ch, f, t) the vowel may become “devoiced” and not get pronounced at all.

Dropping u With “u” the beginner will encounter this most often with “desu” actually being pronounced as “des” and with “masu” verbs actually being pronounced as “mas”.

Example: "It's a book"
Hiragana: ほん です
Romaji: hon desu
Actual: hon des

Example: "Is there water?"
Hiragana: みず あります か?
Romaji: mizu ga arimasu ka?
Actual: mizu ga arimas ka?

Dropping i With “i” the beginner will encounter this most often with the past tense verbs where “mashita” is actually pronounced “mashta”.

Example: "I went"
Hiragana: いきました
Romaji: ikimashita
Actual: ikimashta

When to drop vowels depends somewhat on the dialect of the speaker but it happens most often in the Kantō dialect. The only real way to get a good feel for when to drop vowels is to listen carefully to native speakers as they speak and repeat them as closely as possible. Don’t worry too much about this when starting out.

Pronouncing ん
When ん is placed before the consonants B or P it gets pronounced as M instead of N. The reason is because the M sound flows into P more easily than N.

Example: "Tempura"
Hiragana: てんぷら
Romaji: tenpura
Actual: tempura

は used as a particle
As mentioned before the Hiragana は is pronounced “Wa” when it is used as a particle. In all other cases it is pronounced “Ha” as expected.