勉強

Answering questions minimally

tl;dr: When someone asks a question, pay attention to the end of the question. When responding, reuse the verb from the question. Information toward the beginning of the question can be retained or dropped depending on what information should be highlighted.

When I took a local beginner Japanese class, the instructor would always start the class with the following question:

質問はありますか。
しつもんはありますか。
shitsumon wa arimasu ka.
Do you have any questions? (As for questions, are there?)

I remember the very first time all the students had a difficult time answering this basic question. We would either answer with

いいえ、質問はありません。
いいえ、しつもんはありません。
iie, shitsumon wa arimasen.
No, we don't have any questions. (No, as for questions, there are not.)

or simply

いいえ。
iie.
No.

These are perfectly fine responses. However, they are “extreme” ways of responding. The first response repeats the entire question back (i.e., “No, we don’t have any questions.”) and the second one is just a one-worded response (i.e., “No.”). How do we go for something in the middle (e.g., “No, we don’t have any.”)?

Fortunately, our instructor eventually told us it’s sufficient to just respond with

いいえ、ありません。
iie, arimasen.
No, we don't have any. (No, there are not.)

or even

ありません。
arimasen.
We don't have any. (There are not.)

To summarize, we discovered there were several ways to answer the question:

いいえ、質問はありません。
いいえ、しつもんはありません。
iie, shitsumon wa arimasen.
No, we don't have any questions.
いいえ、ありません。
iie, arimasen.
No, we don't have any.
ありません。
arimasen.
We don't have any.
いいえ。
iie.
No.

Then it clicked. This roughly corresponded to several choices that we could have responded in English:

No, we do not have any questions.
No, we do not have any.
No, we do not.
We do not.
No.

There were two takeaways from this:

Takeaway 1: Pay attention to the end of the sentence in Japanese. Pay attention to the verb at the end of the sentence. At minimum, we can respond with the same verb in the appropriate conjugation.

In this case, we paid attention to the verb あります (arimasu / have) and then responded with ありません (arimasen / don't have).

Here’s another example:

4月に飛行機で日本に行きますか。
しがつにひこうきでにほんにいきますか。
shigatsu ni hikouki de nihon ni ikimasu ka.
Will you go to Japan by airplane in April?

At minimium, if we didn’t want to use はい (hai / no) or いいえ (iee / no), we can respond with 行きます (いきます / ikimasu / I will go) or 行きません (いきません / ikimasen / I will not go).

This leads into takeaway 2:

Takeaway 2: A sentence structure in Japanese would be roughly backwards in English. Thus when responding to a long question in English, we can turn the long question into a long answer and then drop a lot of information toward the end of the sentence but the beginning of the sentence remains. Conversely in Japanese, when responding to a long question in Japanese, we can turn the long question into a long answer and then drop a lot of information toward the BEGINNING of the sentence but the end of the sentence remains.

So using the same example of, “Will you go to Japan by airplane in April?”, we can respond in several ways in English:

Yes, I will go to Japan by airplane in April.
Yes, I will to to Japan in April.
Yes, I will go to Japan by airplane.
Yes, I will go to Japan.
Yes, I will go.
Yes, I will.
I will.
Yes.

The way we respond depends on what information we want to retain and highlight. Nonethless, in all the examples, we still keep the beginning part of the sentence, namely “I will”.

Japanese, then, is just backwards:

はい、4月に飛行機で日本に行きます。
はい、しがつにひこうきでにほんにいきます。
hai, shigatsu ni hikouki de nihon ni ikimasu.
Yes, I will go to Japan by airplane in April.
はい、4月に日本に行きます。
はい、しがつににほんにいきます。
hai, shigatsu ni nihon ni ikimasu.
Yes, I will go to Japan in April.
はい、飛行機で日本に行きます。
はい、ひこうきでにほんにいきます。
hai, hikouki de nihon ni ikimasu.
Yes, I will go to Japan by airplane.
はい、日本に行きます。
はい、にほんにいきます。
hai, nihon ni ikimasu.
Yes, I will go to Japan.
はい、行きます。
はい、いきます。
hai, ikimasu.
Yes, I will go.
行きます。
いきます。
ikimasu.
I will go.
はい。
hai.
Yes.

Notice that the verb remains: 行きます (いきます / ikimasu / I will go). Thus the verb is important and it’s important to pay attention at the end of the sentence so we can use it again in our response. We can choose to keep or omit information toward the beginning of the sentence depending on what we want to highlight.

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