In Japanese, many ‘ands’ make hard work

by Peter Backhaus

Contributing Writer

Sometimes the smallest things cause the most trouble. This not only holds for the odd typo in an email address or a mosquito in your bedroom, but also for translations of apparently simple little words. Such as “and.”

As a look at the long list of definitions in any proper dictionary will show, “and” can handle a large number of quite disparate functions. Obviously, the “and” in “ham and eggs” does something entirely different from the one in “and they lived happily ever after.” We just don’t give too much thought about it in English, because it’s all done with one and the same word.

Japanese, by contrast, is a little more particular about its “ands” and that’s where the trouble starts. Likely the first word for “and” new learners of Japanese will get to know is と (to). And in fact, it goes quite some way, provided you use it only with nouns, such as in 果物と野菜 (kudamono to yasai, fruits and vegetables) or おばあちゃんとおじいちゃん (obāchan to ojiichan, grandma and granpa).

Some slight differences with English will come to the fore when you have three or more components, such as in, say, Peter, Paul and Mary. Whereas in English, it is considered good style to add “and” only before the final word of the list and use commas elsewhere, it is normal for Japanese と to appear in repetition. Thus, it would be quite natural to say ピーターとポールとメアリー (Piitā to Pōru to Mearii).

For more non-committal enumerations, the particle や (ya) can be used. It works the same way as と, but has the advantage that it makes no claim for completeness. So when you link our three guys from above with や instead of と, you would still be talking about Peter, Paul and Mary, but likely have a few more people in mind, who remain unmentioned. Basically the same can be done with とか (toka), though ピーターとかポールとかメアリー (Piitā toka Pōru toka Mearii) is almost as non-specific as Tom and Dick and Harry.

One problem that learners of Japanese have to come to terms with is that Japanese verbs and adjectives are linked in a totally different way from nouns. They require some sort of て (te) or で (de) connection.

Suppose a given product is advertised as cheap, fast, safe and convenient. In Japanese these adjectives would be glued together as follows: 安くて速くて安心で便利 (yasukute hayakute anshinde benri). As for verbs, we only have to look at the standard farewell phrase 行って来ます (itte kimasu, I’ll be back), literally “I’ll go and come,” to see that the two verbs are linked with て, not と.

For actions or states of affairs where some antonymic character needs to be emphasized, a connection with たり (tari) does an excellent job. Examples are 出たり入ったり (detari haittari, go in and out), 降ったり止んだり (futtari yandari, raining on and off), and 暑かったり寒かったり (atsukattari samukattari, hot and cold).

Advanced learners may come across a number of other “ands” as well. Two of them, particularly common in legalese and related genres, are 及び (oyobi) and 並びに (narabi ni). The difference between the two is that 並びに has some “as well as” feel to it, meaning that it implies that there is a categorical difference between the parts it connects. Here is a very prototypical excerpt from a legal document that contains both terms: 当社に関連する商品及びサービス並びにお客さまに興味をお持ちいただけるような他の商品及びサービス (tōsha ni kanren suru shōhin oyobi sābisu narabi ni o-kyaku-sama ni kyōmi o o-mochi itadakeru yō na hoka no shōhin oyobi sābisu, Products and services relating to our company, as well as products and services from other companies our customers may be interested in).

A third rather stilted way of saying “and” is且つ (katsu). For instance, a global delivery company on their Japanese homepage promotes their services as より迅速に、且つ環境にやさしい方法で (yori jinsoku ni, katsu kankyō ni yasashii hōhō de, faster and in an environmentally friendly way). And if you like long and winding kanji-only words, you must know 兼 (ken), as in 共同創設者兼会長 (kyōdō sōsetsusha ken kaichō, co-founder and chairman).

Finally, we shouldn’t forget that “and” can also be used to open up whole new sentences or clauses, as in our “happily ever after” example from the beginning. Unfortunately, virtually none of the aforementioned candidates is available in such cases. Instead there is a whole battery of other terms, including そして (soshite), それで (sorede), それから (sorekara), and そしたら (soshitara).

But don’t worry — all of them are easily recognizable on account of their beginning with そ (so). And with this, we can close our troublesome account of Japanese “and” on an optimistic note. A happy and-ing, if you will.