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
- きゃ (kya) = き+や — sounds like “kyah”
- きゅ (kyu) = き+ゆ– sounds like “Q”
- きょ (kyo) = き+よ– sounds like “kyoh”
Gi = GYA GYU GYO
- ぎゃ (gya) = ぎ+や — sounds like “gyah”
- ぎゅ (gyu) = ぎ+ゆ– sounds like “gyou”
- ぎょ (gyo) = ぎ+よ– sounds like “gyoh”
Shi = SHA SHU SHO
- しゃ (sha) = し+や — sounds like “shah”
- しゅ (shu) = し+ゆ– sounds like “shoe”
- しょ (sho) = し+よ– sounds like “show”
Ji = JA JU JO
Chi = CHA CHU CHO
- ちゃ (cha) = ち+や — sounds like “chah”
- ちゅ (chu) = ち+ゆ– sounds like “chew”
- ちょ (cho) = ち+よ– sounds like “cho”
Ni = NYA NYU NYO
- にゃ (nya) = に+や — sounds like “nyah”
- にゅ (nyu) = に+ゆ– sounds like “nyou”
- にょ (nyo) = に+よ– sounds like “nyo”
Hi = HYA HYU HYO
- ひゃ (hya) = ひ+や — sounds like “hyah”
- ひゅ (hyu) = ひ+ゆ– sounds like “hyou”
- ひょ (hyo) = ひ+よ– sounds like “hyoh”
Bi = BYA BYU BYO
- びゃ (bya) = び+や — sounds like “byah”
- びゅ (byu) = び+ゆ– sounds like “byou”
- びょ (byo) = び+よ– sounds like “byoh”
Pi = PYA PYU PYO
- ぴゃ (pya) = ぴ+や — sounds like “pyah”
- ぴゅ (pyu) = ぴ+ゆ– sounds like “pyou”
- ぴょ (pyo) = ぴ+よ– sounds like “pyoh”
Mi = MYA MYU MYO
- みゃ (mya) = み+や — sounds like “myah”
- みゅ (myu) = み+ゆ– sounds like “myou”
- みょ (myo) = み+よ– sounds like “myoh”
Ri = RYA RYU RYO
- りゃ (rya) = り+や — sounds like “ryah”
- りゅ (ryu) = り+ゆ– sounds like “ryou”
- りょ (ryo) = り+よ– sounds like “ryoh”
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.
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.