Table of Contents
- What Is んだ?
- Sentence Structure
- Beyond The Basics
What Is んだ?
んだ and its variants (んです/のだ/のです) usually come at the end of a sentence and add an explanatory feel to the sentence. The basic function of these is to fill the gap of understanding between a speaker and a listener. So you often use them to explain something or resolve misunderstandings. Using one makes the sentence sound as if you are trying to share the piece of information in order to fill in the blanks, often it’s some context that your listener is missing.
An example? Let’s say today is your lucky day — you unintentionally impressed your date by helping out an Italian tourist who was lost. Your date didn’t know you could speak Italian so they look surprised and confused. In this situation, you may say something like:
- (It’s because) I actually grew up in Italy.
Simply saying 実はイタリアで育った without adding んだ still gives the same information, but it doesn’t sound quite as natural and may come off as a random statement. On the other hand, adding んだ creates a natural flow for you to complete the context by explaining why you can speak Italian, which is something your date is obviously wondering. So even though it’s not a universal translation, the nuance んだ adds in this case is almost like “It’s because…” Whether or not your date explicitly asks why you speak Italian, it’s natural to use んだ in this case.
Still cloudy? That’s understandable. Although it’s a common expression, it has a very unique and subtle nuance and there’s no exact translation in English. So keep reading to observe more examples to deepen your understanding!
んだ and its variants are made out of the same set of two components. The first part is the particle の (nominalizer). This の often changes to ん especially in spoken Japanese, and that’s why you see variations like んです or んだ. The second part is です and だ, which are very common sentence enders in Japanese. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how you can form a sentence with them.
Like we mentioned earlier, the first part of んだ is the nominalizer の. So if you are familiar with how verbs interact with the nominalizer の, you might already know how you can attach んだ to verbs. For those who are not sure, don’t worry, it’s quite simple with verbs. You can use pretty much any form of verb, like present form, passive form, potential form, negative form, you name it. Then you simply attach んだ (or its variation) at the end.
- I study.
- I studied.
Passive Causative Form
- I was made to study.
You can use any form of a verb as long as it’s to explain how an action is performed or how an event happens. However, verb forms like the command form or volitional form won’t work as they don’t make sense for explanations.
Another thing to note is that it only works with the plain form as opposed to the polite form, aka the ます-form.
If you want to be polite, んです would be a good option for you!
い-Adjectives work with んだ similarly to the way the nominalizer の works with it. Since the nuance んだ adds is explanatory, it usually combines with a form of い-Adjectives that explains the way of things, like the present tense, past tense, and negative form.
- I’m sad.
- I am not sad.
Past Negative Form
- I wasn’t sad.
い-Adjectives should be in the plain form, not in the polite form.
With Nouns And な-Adjectives
So far, it’s been very simple as we’ve been just attaching んだ to sentences and words. However, you might want to pay closer attention with nouns and な-adjectives. For example, to say “I’m a vegetarian,” you use the noun, ベジタリアン (vegetarian) and say:
- I’m a vegetarian.
…Did you notice something is a bit different? You need to insert な after a noun. And, this is the same for other な-adjectives as well. To say “it’s easy,” you use a な-adjective, 簡単 (easy), and say:
- It’s easy.
What about if you wanted to say “I was a vegetarian“ or “It isn’t easy”? To show different a tense, or whether it’s a positive or negative sentence, you use the conjugation forms of だ.
- I was a vegetarian.
- It isn’t easy.
In case you were wondering why we added な to the present form instead of だ — that’s because historically, な comes from だ. Crazy, right? But hopefully that explains why we use it with both nouns and な-adjectives (which are noun-based adjectives). Both of these can also precede だ to form a sentence.
Now that we've gotten all the structural information out of the way, let's jump into how んです and んだ are used.
んだ for Explaining
Adding an explanatory tone is one of the most common features of んだ. We already saw an example of んだ being used for this purpose earlier. In the previous example, you humblebragged about why you speak Italian after you unpurposefully impressed your date with your Italian skills, saying:
- (It’s because) I actually grew up in Italy.
Your date was obviously wondering why you could speak Italian, so you used んだ to fill in the gap of understanding between you and them by providing information about the circumstance. Let’s take a look at another example. You are still on the date, and later on, you run into a familiar face. It’s a crowded place so you briefly exchange greetings and part ways. Whether your date actually asks you or not, again they are wondering “Who was that?” So to fill in the blank, you use んだ and say:
- We worked at the same restaurant.
Now you see how んだ is being used again to fill in the gap of understanding between you and your date? Without んだ, it still conveys the same piece of information, but it could sound like a random statement that came from out of the blue, while んだ creates a smooth flow by making it clear that you are explaining something.
んだ for Resolving Misunderstandings
んだ can be used to fill in the gap of understanding between you and your listener not only when your listener is missing some information, but also when they’re misunderstanding something. For example, your sister is upset because her favorite ice cream (that she even put her name on) is now gone. You know how upsetting that is, right? She is somehow convinced that you ate it and is falsely accusing you of eating her ice cream. However, you know it was actually your mom who ate it. So to exonerate yourself, you use んだ and say:
- No, mom ate it.
Just like that, you can use it to provide information to resolve a misunderstanding. You’ll often see the sentence ending particle よ paired up with this んだ. They match up well because よ indicates you’re trying to offer a new perspective that your listener does not have.
Beyond The Basics
んだ And んですか for Realization
So far, we’ve seen examples of んだ being used when you explain something to someone else, but it can also be used for your own realization as if you’re explaining something to yourself. In this case, んだ indicates that you were not previously aware of the information, and you filled in the blank yourself. Let’s say your roommate looks very happy today. You ask if something good happened to him. Turns out he’s just got promoted. In a response to that exciting information, you can say:
- You got promoted. Congrats!
Just like that, んだ can show that you’re realizing something as if you’re explaining it to yourself while processing the information.
In a situation where you’re using んです, which is more polite, you’ll need to add a question marker, か. This makes it more of a confirming question, rather than explaining something to yourself and processing the information on your own. If it was your father-in-law who got promoted (not your roomie), for example, you might say something like:
- Did you get promoted? Congratulations!
There are also cases when you don’t have a particular listener at all, like when you’re talking to yourself. For that kind of situation, んです is not so suitable because です is used for social situations. However, んだ would be perfect as its ending part だ is more self-directed. Let’s take a look at an example. On a different occasion, your roomie looks kind of down and locks himself in his room. You’re wondering why. Then you see his very emotional post on social media and you find out that he had his heart broken. You may say to yourself (in your mind or say it aloud — I won’t judge you):
- I see, he got dumped…
んだ is perfect to express realizations with the nuance of “Oh, gotcha” because you use it when the gap of understanding is filled. It’s like you put the puzzle pieces together yourself.
の And んですか For Seeking Explanation
んだ can also be used for asking for an explanation or a request to fill in the blank in the form of a question. And in real-life conversations, the variants, の and んですか, are most commonly applied for this use. We mentioned it briefly in the previous section, but んですか is a combination of んです and the question marker, か).
Now let’s see how it works in action. For example, one day when you come back to work from a lunch break, all of your coworkers are freaking out and you don’t know why. You ask someone:
- 何かあったんですか? (Polite)
- Has something happened?
In this case, you want to use の or んですか as you’re seeking an explanation of why everyone is panicking. You sense that something is wrong, but you don’t know what. So you’re asking your coworkers to fill in the blanks for you. And when someone explains the reasoning, they might use んだ (or its variants) back to you as they’re filling in the gap of understanding. They may say something like:
- There’s a cockroach.
(Literally: A cockroach appeared.)
Ew, a cockroach!? Yikes, but it all makes sense now why everyone is freaking out!
んだ For Introducing A New Topic
We’ve seen examples where んだ gets used for explanation when something is unclear — there’s a gap in understanding that needs to be filled. For example, your friend might call you and say:
- I can’t see you today. I caught a cold. I’m sorry.
This is the good ol’ んだ at play. You were probably wondering why your friend wasn’t able to meet up with you today, so they explained it to you. But, this order can also be a little different — you can use んだ as a way of starting a conversation by sharing the context first.
- 風邪ひいちゃったんだ。 だから今日は会えない。ごめんね。
- I can’t see you today. I caught a cold. I’m sorry.
With んだ, your listener can expect some sort of relevant statement coming. That way, んだ can be a good way of introducing a new topic, or starting a conversation.
Different Forms of んだ — んです / のです / のだ
As we’ve mentioned, んだ has a few variants, namely, んです, のです and のだ, and there are nuanced differences between them.
First of all, the ones with ん (んだ and んです) have a colloquial feel to them, like when の is changed to the ん sound to make it easier to say. You will also see this in casual writing, like texts, emails, blog posts and such. However, for more formal writing, the ones with の (のだ and のです) are usually prefered.
- I’m going to the beach tomorrow.
The other components are です and だ. To put it simply, です is a politeness marker, and what that means is, んです is sort of semi-casual. It’s politer than んだ, but still colloquial. You might use it to talk to someone you don’t know well or want to be polite with in conversation.
- I’m going to the beach tomorrow.
のです, on the other hand, sounds a bit stiff or overly polite when it’s used in conversation, but you would see it in casual readings like blogs or novels.
- Kenichi’s mother disapproved of his marriage at first.
だ is an assertiveness marker. The nuance is casual when it’s used in conversation, especially when paired up with a sentence ending particle like よ and ね, or in the form of んだ. It’s also self-directed while です is social. This explains why んだ can be used as-is for expressing realization. のだ is very assertive, so you would likely find it in formal writing like academic papers. It’s rarely used in real-life conversation, but it’s sometimes used to portray anime characters as confident or arrogant.
- California was the first state to prohibit the use of plastic bags for retail.
んだ For Commands
You can also use んだ for commands, for when you’re trying to fill in a gap of understanding between you and the person you’re talking to — like when they’re not taking things seriously, for example. When んだ is used for commands, it’s typically seen when dramatising situations in movies and novels. Let’s use a typical action movie scene as an example. There’s a ticking bomb right in front of you and your sidekick. You have to run as quickly as you can, but your sidekick is shocked by fear and freezes. You yell at them and say:
Using んだ like this is kind of a movie cliché, as the example may have sounded like. And, compared to the regular command form 逃げろ, which simply tells the sidekick to run, 逃げるんだ sounds more dramatic, as if you’re really trying to get the sidekick to understand the situation (and how serious and life-threatening it is)!
While you might not see んだ being used like this in real-life too often, you’ll likely see it being used in actual conversation, especially when the sentence ending particle よ is added. For example, when your son is leaving to start living on his own for the first time. As a parent, you might say something like:
- You eat breakfast everyday, okay?
This probably comes from you knowing your son’s habit of skipping breakfast. You’re worried about him and you use んだよ to express that you’re wanting him to understand he should eat breakfast everyday.