In my last post I introduced adverbs of frequency (頻度を表す副詞) and this time I would like to introduce a few extra phrases to help you talk about how often you do something.
Last time I introduced fairly vague (曖昧な) words like often or sometimes, but if we want to be more concrete (具体的) we can use the words once, twice, 3 times etc. After these words we usually add a single time period like “a week” or “a month”, for example:
I exercise once a week – 週一回運動します I eat out twice a month – 月2回外食します I go on a trip 3 times a year – 年3回旅行します
Note: if we want to say something like 「2か月に1回」 we have to use a different phrase. In this situation we would say “once in 2 months”.
If you are talking about how long you did something for (時間・期間) you can also say things like:
I sleep 6 hours a night – 毎晩6時間寝ます I work 5 days a week – 毎週5日働きます
We can use other counters (助数詞) to make many different combinations. For example:
I drink 3 coffees a day – １日コーヒー3杯を飲みます I watch 2 films a month – 月2回映画を見ます (直訳：毎月映画を2本見ます）
Another useful word is every (毎_), which we use when we do something regularly (定期的に). For example:
I read the newspaper every morning – 毎朝新聞を読みます I go shopping every weekend – 毎週末ショッピングします I play tennis every Tuesday – 毎(週)火曜日にテニスをします
In this post I would like to introduce a very useful set of words; namely adverbs of frequency (頻度を表す副詞).
Here is a list of the most common adverbs of frequency in English:
100% Always (いつも) ↓ Usually (普段) ↓ Often (よくする) ↓ Sometimes (時々) ↓ Occasionally (たまに) ↓ Hardly ever (めったにしない) 0% Never (全然しない)
These words are especially useful for talking about your lifestyle or everyday routine (日常生活). For example:
I always wake up at 6am. I usually have rice for breakfast. I often go shopping after work. I sometimes watch a movie at the weekend. I occasionally go on a trip with my family. I hardly ever drink coffee. I never eat cheese.
When you want to ask someone about their lifestyle or routine you can use the question, “How often do you _ ?” (どのくらいの頻度でしますか?). For example, “How often do you exercise?”
Note 1: you have to be careful with the phrase hardly ever. In English this is grammatically positive (肯定文), but in Japanese it would be translated as a negative phrase (否定文):
I hardly ever drink coffee → コーヒーはめったに飲まない。
Note 2: You also have to be careful with word order (語順). Adverbs usually come after the verb (動詞の後) in English (for example – “I walk slowly“), but these adverbs of frequency usually come before the verb (動詞の前).
Tanabata literally translates (直訳) as “The evening of the seventh”, but is often called the Star Festival (星祭り) in English.
It is based on the Chinese Qixi Festival and celebrates the meeting of 2 divine (神聖な) lovers, Orihime and Hikoboshi (“the weaver girl” – 織り手 – and “the cowherd” – 牛飼い – in the original Chinese story).
These characters are represented by the stars Vega (ベガ) and Altair (アルタイル). In the story of Tanabata these lovers are separated by the Milky Way (天の川) and are only allowed to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month.
In modern Japan the most common way of celebrating the festival is for people to write their wishes on strips of colourful paper (短冊), which are then hung (つるされる) on a bamboo (笹) “wish tree” with other decorations. You can see these decorations in many different places like schools and shopping arcades.
Every year we display a small bamboo tree at our school and ask students from the kids classes to write their wishes. The wishes are usually about what the students want to be in the future and this year there were many interesting jobs, including a midwife (助産師), a dolphin trainer (イルカ調教師) and a YouTuber(ユーチューバー). Other wishes included wanting to get rid of hay-fever (花粉症を治す) and wanting to be taller (もっと背が高くなりたい).
For me Tanabata is interesting because we can see the same stars in the UK as in Japan, and we also decorate trees at Christmas time which creates a similar atmosphere.
Surprise can also be used as a noun (名詞), so in the end from one key word you can make at least 7 other new words. The meanings of words are of course all connected, but have slightly different nuances and so are very useful to learn as a set.
Another common pattern using a verb as a base word is when we add “-er” to a verb to make an agent noun (動作主), for example:
play → player – 選手、プレーヤー、演技者など work → worker – 働く・作業をする人、労働者など
There are also sets of words we can make using adjectives and nouns as bases:
In Japanese, English (katakana) words are regularly abbreviated (短縮・省略される), but often in different ways to native English so you need to be careful.
One example is “air-con” (エアコン), which in English would be shortened to AC or A/C. We often abbreviate words by using initialism (頭文字語) like this but using longer parts of the words like in Japanese is much rarer. (NOTE: “cooler” (クーラー) is also Japanese English (和製英語) and means something different in English).
However there are some exceptions (例外) especially in slang (スラング、俗語). For example “rom-com”, which is short for romantic comedy. Another example is “sci-fi”, which is short for science fiction, when in Japanese the initialism SF is usually used.
Abbreviations of longer words and phrases are also common in Japanese, such as「コンビニ」 or 「デパート」, but these would be impossible to understand in native English (both are missing the key word “store”…). We would always need to say the full word or phrase, i.e. convenience store or department store. Instead of shortening words like this natives may use shorter slang words.
On the other hand, some words in English are shortened in ways that may seem illogical (非論理的な、不合理な) to non-natives. One example is refrigerator which is shotened to “fridge” in English and not refridge (also notice that an extra “d” was added to the shortened word). Another example is influenza which is shortened to “flu” in English and not “influ” (インフル) like in Japanese.
If you want to know how a word is usually abbreviated in English you can often find the answer in the dictionary or by doing a web search.
Mother’s Day (母の日) in Japan is celebrated on the same day as in America (the second Sunday in May – 5月の第2日曜日). It was started over 100 years ago as a national holiday to honour mothers (母を祝う).
In the UK it is also known as Mothering Sunday. It was originally an old Christian tradition not directly connected with mothers, but slowly developed into a celebration similar to modern American Mother’s Day; a day when children give gifts to their mothers.
As it is based on the Christian calendar, Mother’s Day in the UK is a “movable holiday” (移動祝日) like Easter and is celebrated on the Sunday 3 weeks before Easter (復活祭の3週間前). This year it was celebrated on 22nd March in the UK. Because I am in Japan I always forget to call my mother in the UK on Mother’s Day…
In both the US and UK it is traditional to give a gift of flowers to your mother, and like in Japan carnations are the most popular. Children often make home-made gifts and cards too, and sometimes serve their mothers breakfast in bed (朝食を作ってベッドまで運んであげる).
Easter (復活祭) is a Christian holiday celebrating Jesus Christ returning from the dead. It is the most important Christian festival and many people who are not Christians also celebrate it as a cultural holiday.
Easter is not held on the same date every year and so is called a “movable feast” (移動祝日). In the UK it is celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon which is on or after March 21st (春分の日以後の満月より後にくる最初の日曜日). This means it is celebrated in March or April and can occur as early as March 22nd and as late as April 25th… This year it is celebrated on April 12th in the UK.
Many people go to church on Easter Sunday and exchange greetings cards. There are many non-Christian traditions that are enjoyed by children, such as decorating eggs or hunting for eggs in the garden. In the UK many people also give gifts of chocolate eggs. Another symbol of Easter is a rabbit known as the Easter Bunny and adults sometimes dress up in a bunny costume to entertain children.
British families often get together for an Easter lunch and some traditional foods include roast lamb and special Easter buns and cakes.
Students often ask me what is a good way to learn English vocabulary and it is a difficult question to answer. One suggestion I often make is to learn words in sets. For example for adjectives (形容詞) you can often learn an opposite (反対) word. In this way you can learn double the number of words and adjectives are always very useful for conversation.
Here are some common adjective pairs:
big – small
long – short
clean – dirty
hard – soft
wet – dry
fast – slow
You can sometimes also add the prefix (接頭辞) “un-” to adjectives to make an opposite, for example unintelligent (知力のない). Unintelligent is also softer than a more direct opposite word like stupid (ばかな).
On the other hand (他方では) you sometimes have to be a little careful when translating adjectives, as there are some differences between Japanese and English. For example the opposite pair of high and low in English is usually translated in Japanese as「高い」 and 「低い」. However, when we are talking about people’s height (背の高さ) , we translate 「背が高い」as tall and 「背が低い」as short.
Sometimes there are also cultural (文化的な) differences about what people think the best opposite for a word is. For example for Japanese people the opposite of 「甘い」is usually 「辛い」and so students sometimes think that in English the opposite of sweet is spicy. However in English we usually think the opposite for sweet is sour or bitter (but we might sometimes say salty too「塩辛い」）.
Snacks like arare and senbei are usually called rice crackers in English and sweets like mochi are called rice cakes.
As I mentioned in a previous post, it is OK to use the Japanese names for things like foods and traditional Japanese items. You can then try to explain what it is in a simple way. By doing this you can teach people the Japanese name and practice English at the same time.