Hiragana Combinations, aka Diphthongs

In the last lesson, you learned the extended hiragana characters. The biggest lesson so far in this course. Now we’re moving into combinations adding 30 new sounds to the language.

Luckily, this is the last lesson where you’ll learn something new. The lesson after this is boot camp. Where you’ll get to practice everything all together.

What Does Diphthong Mean?

This combination of characters is called a diphthong… though you’ll never need to remember this. Just know that Japanese diphthongs are created by combining the beginning consonant from each “i” vowel sound kana き (ki) ぎ (gi) し (shi) じ (ji) ち (chi) に (ni) ひ (hi) び (bi) ぴ (pi) み (mi) り (ri) — with a “y”  sound やゆよ.

This means combinations like: きゃ (ki-ya), ぎゅ (gi-yu), にょ (ni-yo), etc… Except you drop the i. So they become: kya, gyu, nyo, etc…

You might have also noticed that the “y” sound character when combined like this is written smaller. If you look closely at きゃ for example, you can see the や is smaller than the き.

The Hiragana Diphthongs

There are thirty diphthongs in hiragana touching most of the consonant sounds. The easy part is these combinations are made from the consonant sound + や (ya) ゆ (yu) よ(yo) — so there are only three diphthongs per consonant sound.

Ki = KYA KYU KYO

Gi = GYA GYU GYO

Shi = SHA SHU SHO

Ji = JA JU JO

Chi = CHA CHU CHO

Ni = NYA NYU NYO

Hi = HYA HYU HYO

Bi = BYA BYU BYO

Pi = PYA PYU PYO

Mi = MYA MYU MYO

Ri = RYA RYU RYO

Pay special attention to the SHI, JI, and CHI rows. Notice that the “y” sounds are not pronounced. For example しゃ looks like shi-ya, but it is just sha — without the “y” sound.

Study Point

The main takeaway from this lesson is you learn to recognize the combination. That the や, ゆ, and よ are written smaller, because when exploring Japan, unfortunately, those can be very subtle.

Something to remember too is these combinations are only from the “i” vowel sound characters so if you see a や, ゆ, or よ after an “i” sound character, perhaps it is a combination.

Recall Practice

Time to practice! Just like in all lessons, do this as many times as it takes for you to feel like you can confidently select the correct answer without guessing.

This recall covers all the modified characters all together – 25 characters in total, a bit longer than the previous lessons.

Good job! Continue practicing until you can confidently identify each character with ease. Click the buttons below to restart the practice (challenge yourself with inverted and challenge mode).

Once this practice feels easy to you it’s time to take a long break and then move on to the next lesson.