Language | WELL SAID

Explaining what you see and hear with ‘no da’

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

Kinō kaidan de koronde, hone o otchattan da.

Yesterday I fell down the stairs and broke a bone.

Situation 1: On Monday morning, Ms. Gray sees section chief Mr. Okubo has his leg in a cast and asks what happened.

グレイ: うわ、どうされたんですか。

大久保: きのう階段で転んで、骨を折っちゃったんだ。救急病院に行かなきゃならなくて、大変だったんだよ。

Gurei: Uwa, dō sareta-n desu ka?

Ookubo: Kinō kaidan de koronde, hone o otchatta-n da. Kyūkyū byōin ni ikanakya-naranakute, taihen datta-n da-yo.

Gray: Wow, what happened?

Okubo: Yesterday I fell down the stairs and broke a bone. I had to go to casualty — I’ve had a tough time.

Today we will introduce the proper use of のだ, a phrase that is frequently used in daily conversation but has no direct translation in English. Xのだ (or んだ for short) is used when the speaker is explaining or asking for an explanation about a situation that both the speaker and the listener have seen or heard, as in Situation 1.

On the other hand, のだ is not used when an explanation — or asking for an explanation — is unnecessary. For example, a doctor will usually ask his/her patient どうしましたか instead of どうしたんですか because it’s obvious the patient has a problem.

In spoken language, Xのだ becomes Xんだ and Xの, with the latter form being mainly used by females, e.g., 骨(ほね)を折(お) っちゃったの. The polite version is のです/んです. X can be a plain form of a verb, noun or an i- or na-adjective. Note that a na-adjective or a noun in affirmative non-past become なのだ instead of だのだ, as in きれいなのだ and 子(こ)どもなのだ.

Situation 2: Mr. Mita and Mr. Sere are waiting for a train.

三田: 電車が遅れている。きっと事故があったんだ。

セレ: そうだね。駅の案内に「車両故障で遅れています」って表示が出ているよ。

Mita: Densha ga okurete-iru. Kitto jiko ga atta-n da.

Sere: Sō da-ne. Eki no annai ni “Sharyō koshō de okurete-imasu”-tte hyōji ga dete-iru yo.

Mita: The train is late. I bet there’s been an accident.

Sere: That’s right. The station display says, “The train is delayed due to vehicle breakdown.”

のだ is also used when the speaker guesses the cause or reason of the previous sentence or the present situation, as in Situation 2. (Note that the word 故障 can refer to an accident as well as a breakdown, among other things.) のだ also shows the consequence of the previous sentence or situation, as in このバケツ、 水(みず)がもれるみたいだよ。だから、床(ゆか)がぬれていたんだ (This bucket seems to be leaking. That’s why the floor got wet). Bear in mind that if のだ is not used properly, it can sound as if the speaker is making excuses or being a bit pushy.

Bonus Dialogue: It is almost midnight and Mrs. Okubo is talking to her son, Mitsuo, a high school student.

母: 光男(みつお)、何(なに)をしているの?まだ寝(ね)ないの?もう12時(じゅうにじ)よ。

光男: 宿題(しゅくだい)をしているんだ。量(りょう)が多 (おお)すぎるんだよ。あの先生(せんせい)はいつもそうなんだ。だから、しょうがないんだよ。

母: でも、それは自分(じぶん)が早(はや)いうちから準備(じゅんび)しなかったからでしょ。

光男: きょうは、いろいろやることがあったんだよ。さてと、ネットで答(こた)えを調(しら)べよう。

母: え?すぐにネットに頼(たよ)っていたら、勉強(べんきょう)にならないでしょ?

光男: きょうの宿題は、ネットで調(しら)べて、その答えを比較(ひかく)することなんだ。メディアリテラシーの勉強(べんきょう)のためなんだよ!

母: あ、ごめんなさい。すぐに決(き)めつけてはいけないのねえ。

Mother: Mitsuo, what are you doing? Still not in bed yet? It’s already 12 o’clock.

Mitsuo: I’m doing my homework. I’ve got too much of it. My teacher always gives us a lot. So, it can’t be helped.

Mother: But that’s because you didn’t start preparing for it earlier.

Mitsuo: Today I had a lot of things to do. Anyway, I’ll look for the answers on the internet.

Mother: What? If you rely on the net from the start, you won’t learn much, will you?

Mitsuo: Today’s homework is to look for the answers on the net and compare them. It’s work for media literacy!

Mother: Oh, sorry. I really shouldn’t rush to judgment like that.