Japanese Grammar Bank

UNCERTAINTY IN JAPANESE

Learning how to express different levels of uncertainty is an essential part of articulating yourself in any language.

With Japanese being especially nuanced, the importance of mastering this can’t be understated.

By the end of this article, you should be able to navigate this maze.  

UNCERTAINTY WITH なんだか & なんか

なんだか nandaka
なんか nanka

なんだか or its informal counterpart なんか is like saying “kinda” or “sorta” in English.

It’s an adverb that brings a touch of informality and uncertainty to your statements.

Add なんだか (formal) or なんか (informal) at the start of the sentence you want to change.

PATTERN

なんだか (formal) / なんか (informal) + Sentence

You often see it paired with ~気がする ki ga suru (have a feeling), like this:

nandaka ame ga furisou na ki ga suru

なん(だ)か雨が降りそうな気がする

I kinda feel like it might rain or something

So, when you slip in なん(だ)か with ~気がする, it’s like sprinkling a bit of ambiguity onto your already uncertain gut feeling.

JAPANESEROMAJIENGLISH
なんだか寒い。Nandaka samui.It’s kinda cold.
なんか変なことが起きた。Nanka hen na koto ga okita.Something weird happened.
View More Phrases:
JAPANESEROMAJIENGLISH
なんだか調子が悪い。Nandaka choushi ga warui.I’m feeling sorta off.
なんか忘れてしまった。Nanka wasurete shimatta.I kinda forgot.
なんだか気になる人がいる。Nandaka ki ni naru hito ga iru.There’s someone I kinda like.
なんかおかしいことが起きている気がするNanka okashii koto ga okite iru ki ga suru.I feel like something strange is happening.
なんだか疲れた。Nandaka tsukareta.I’m kinda tired.
なんか変な音が聞こえた。Nanka hen na oto ga kikoeta.I heard some weird noise.
なんだかお腹が空いた。Nandaka onaka ga suita.I’m kinda hungry.
なんかおかしな予感がする。Nanka okashina yokan ga suru.I have a kinda strange feeling.

UNCERTAINTY WITH もしかしたら

もしかしたら moshikashitara

もしかしたら is your trusty companion when you want to throw in a little “maybe” or “perhaps” into your conversation.

Particularly when you’re making an educated guess with a pinch of doubt.

It often teams up with ~かも(しれない) kamo(shirenai), as in:

moshikashitara shiken no kekka ga yokatta kamoshirenai

もしかしたら試験の結果が良かったかもしれない

Perhaps, just perhaps, my exam results might have turned out well
JAPANESEROMAJIENGLISH
もしかしたら雨が降るかもしれないMoshikashitara ame ga furu kamoshirenai.It might rain.
もしかしたら試験の結果は良いかもしれないMoshikashitara shiken no kekka wa ii kamoshirenai.The test results might be good.
View More Examples:
JAPANESEROMAJIENGLISH
もしかしたら新しい仕事を見つけたかもしれないMoshikashitara atarashii shigoto o mitsuketa kamoshirenai.I might have found a new job.
もしかしたら彼は遅れるかもしれないMoshikashitara kare wa okureru kamoshirenai.He might be late.
もしかしたら彼女は忙しいかもしれないMoshikashitara kanojo wa isogashii kamoshirenai.She might be busy.
もしかしたら彼は病気かもしれないMoshikashitara kare wa byouki kamoshirenai.He might be sick.
もしかしたら彼女はこの映画を見たかもしれないMoshikashitara kanojo wa kono eiga o mita kamoshirenai.She might have seen this movie.

UNCERTAINTY WITH かな

かな kana

Putting this at the end of the sentence adds a sense of wonder to your sentence.

You can put it after casual form of a verb (e.g., 行くiku、行った itta、行きたい ikitai、行かない ikanai, etc.), or any noun/adjective.

PATTERN

Verb / Noun / Adjective + かな

You can use this when you’re uncertain of something. Often adding かな is a subtle way of asking for advice on something.

Let’s take a look at some examples below:

Tenki ga yoku naru kana.

天気が良くなるかな

I wonder if the weather will improve.
Kanojo wa ima isogashii kana.

彼女は今忙しいかな

I wonder if she’s busy now.
View More Examples:
japaneseromajienglish
このレストランは美味しいかなKono resutoran wa oishii kana.I wonder if this restaurant is good.
明日は晴れるかなAshita wa hareru kana.I wonder if it will be sunny tomorrow.
彼は来てくれるかなKare wa kite kureru kana.I wonder if he will come.
これが正しい答えかなKore ga tadashii kotae kana.I wonder if this is the correct answer.
今日の試験は難しいかなKyou no shiken wa muzukashii kana.I wonder if today’s exam is difficult.
彼らは旅行中かなKarera wa ryokou-chuu kana.I wonder if they are traveling.
この本は面白いかなKono hon wa omoshiroi kana.I wonder if this book is interesting.
彼が成功するかなKare ga seikou suru kana.I wonder if he will succeed.

UNCERTAINTY IN JAPANESE WITH 難しい

難しい muzukashii

This is one that I’ve learned over years of exposure to Japanese listening.

Japanese people often express their uncertainty at being able to do something by using 難しい (it’s difficult) and often pairing it with かな  or かも(しれない) kamo(shirenai).

Whilst direct translations often come out as “That might be a bit difficult,” it often means “That’s not possible.” 

UNCERTAINTY IN JAPANESE WITH かどうか

This means “whether or not,” and is often used in sentences like, “I don’t know whether or not this will work.”

The way you form this is by having your core idea in the dictionary form in the first half, followed by かどうか and then a verb of knowing, inquiring, or finding out.

You can put it after casual form of a verb (e.g., 行くiku、行った itta、行きたいikitai、行かない ikanai, etc.), or any noun/adjective.

PATTERN

Verb / Noun / Adjective + かどうか

Here are some examples in context:

Kanojo wa ashita shiken o ukeru ka douka kimete inai.

彼女は明日試験を受けるかどうか決めていない。

She hasn’t decided whether she will take the exam tomorrow or not.
View More Examples:
JAPANESEROMAJIENGLISH
彼が来るかどうか知らない。Kare ga kuru ka douka shiranai.I don’t know whether he will come or not.
今日は雨が降るかどうか分からない。Kyou wa ame ga furu ka douka wakaranai.I don’t know whether it will rain today or not.
この本が役に立つかどうか疑問だ。Kono hon ga yaku ni tatsu ka douka gimon da.I doubt whether this book will be useful or not.
あなたがそれを覚えているかどうか気になります。Anata ga sore o oboeteiru ka douka ki ni narimasu.I wonder whether you remember it or not.
彼はその仕事を引き受けるかどうかまだ分からない。Kare wa sono shigoto o hikiukeru ka douka mada wakaranai.He still doesn’t know whether he will take on that job or not.
彼が約束を守るかどうか心配です。Kare ga yakusoku o mamoru ka douka shinpai desu.I’m worried about whether he will keep his promise or not.

SUMMARY

Here is a summary of the grammar mentioned in this lesson:

  • なんだか nan da ka / なんか nan ka can both be used to add a sense of uncertainty to the following phrase, similar to “kinda” or “sorta” in English.
  • もしかしたら moshikashitara can be used to give an educated guess with some doubt, similar to “perhaps” in English.
  • かどうか kadouka can be used to express uncertain sentences like “I’m not sure whether or not I can speak Japanese well.”
  • かな kana can be thrown on the end of a sentence to express “I wonder if…”
  • 難しい muzukashii is often used to express uncertainty at something happening, or being able to do something.

Learn Japanese with FlexiClasses

Book online classes with the best teachers in the industry.


FAQs

How to express uncertainty in Japanese?

Here is a summary of the grammar mentioned in this lesson:

なんだか nan da ka / なんか nan ka can both be used to add a sense of uncertainty to the following phrase, similar to “kinda” or “sorta” in English.

もしかしたら moshikashitara can be used to give an educated guess with some doubt, similar to “perhaps” in English.

かどうか kadouka can be used to express uncertain sentences like “I’m not sure whether or not I can speak Japanese well.”

かな kana can be thrown on the end of a sentence to express “I wonder if…”

難しい muzukashii is often used to express uncertainty at something happening, or being able to do something.

Check out the full article here for sentence examples and structures.

How to express certainty in Japanese?

Here’s a quick summary of the lesson about certainty in Japanese:

– だろう da rou (informal) and でしょう deshou (formal) both mean “probably” with a fair amount of certainty.

– かもしれない kamoshirenai and 多分 tabun are like “maybe,” but are often masking more certainty than the direct translation lets on to.

– はずだ hazu da signifies strong certainty and reflects objective viewpoints.

– に違いない ni chigainai denotes high certainty and suggests subjective perspectives while retaining a formal demeanour.

– と思う to omou can be used too in conversation.

Check out the full article about certainty in Japanese here.

How to use なんだか?

なんだか or its informal counterpart なんか is like saying “kinda” or “sorta” in English.

It’s an adverb that brings a touch of informality and uncertainty to your statements.

Add なんだか (formal) or なんか (informal) at the start of the sentence you want to change.

You often see it paired with ~気がする ki ga suru (have a feeling), like this:

なん(だ)か雨が降りそうな気がする

nandaka ame ga furisou na ki ga suru

I kinda feel like it might rain or something

How to express potential in Japanese?

Conveniently, there’s actually a potential form of conjugation of verbs in Japanese.

The potential form is used for personal-related things as well as general possibilities.

For Group 1 verbs (うu-verbs).

Here, we replace the う u-vowel sound with its え e-vowel counterpart and add る ru.

飲む nomu (to drink) becomes 飲める nomeru (can drink).

For Group 2 verbs(るru-verbs).

We simply swap out the る ru ending with られる rareru.

食べる taberu (to eat) becomes 食べられる taberareru (can eat).

Here a three exceptions you’ll want to remember:

する suru (to do)

→ 出来る dekiru (can do) 

くる kuru (to come)

→ こられる korareru (can come) 

ある aru (to be)

→ あり得る ariuru/arieiru (can exist/can be/possible) 

Check out the full article here for more sentence examples.

Where can I study more Japanese grammar?

You should have a look at our Japanese Grammar Bank, where we regularly publish free lessons for levels A1, A2 and B1.

Can I learn Japanese with LTL?

Yes, you can!

We teach Japanese online, on our Flexi Classes platform.

We can also organise a language program for you in Tokyo, where you can study in group or individual classes, as well as live with a Japanese family.

MORE FREE LESSONS