Introduction to Japanese Writing: Hiragana Group 11: Dakuten (がざだば, etc.)

Did you miss our introduction to Hiragana?  If so, you can go back and read it here.

This group is probably going to be the largest group that we cover during our introduction to Hiragana.  That said, this will also be the simplest one yet, as you should already know all of the base characters if you have been following along so far.

What is a Dakuten?

This group is centered around characters containing a mark known as a dakuten (濁点だくてん).  It looks like a quotation mark added to the top right of a kana character, like so: がばび

What this mark does is change the consonant from its unvoiced form to its voiced form.  In linguistic terms, the voiced sound engages the vocal chords whereas the unvoiced one does not.  In plain English, it means that the sounds change per the list below:

  • K becomes G
  • S becomes Z
  • T becomes D
  • H becomes B

These are the only Hiragana columns affected by the dakuten.1

K becomes G

  • が [GA]
  • ぎ [GI]
  • ぐ [GU]
  • げ [GE]
  • ご [GO]

No surprises in this group.

S becomes Z

  • ざ [ZA]
  • じ [JI]
  • ず [ZU]
  • ぜ [ZE]
  • ぞ [ZO]

Continuing the story from ち CHI and つ TSU, ZI is typically written as JI to remind English speakers that it is pronounced like “gee”.  It’s typically only seen written as ZI in contexts intended for Japanese readers.

T becomes D

  • だ [DA]
  • ぢ [DJI]
  • づ [DZU]
  • で [DE]
  • ど [DO]

Speaking of ち CHI and つ TSU, their irregularities carry over into here.  ぢ DJI and づ DZU have largely been replaced by じ JI and ず ZU respectively in modern Japanese2, however they still remain in use at times where two ち CHI or つ TSU characters appear in a row (e.g. ちぢむ [chi dji mu] “to shorten”, つづく [tsu dzu ku] “to continue”).

In terms of pronunciation, it is generally taught that ぢ DJI is pronounced identically to じ JI, and likewise づ DZU is pronounced identically to ず DZU.  Their representation when romanized can vary.  ぢ can be written as any of DI, DJI, or JI; while づ can be written as DU, DZU, DSU, or ZU.  The list at the top of this section reflects the author’s personal preferred style, since it communicates unmistakeably which character is intended.

H becomes B

  • ば [BA]
  • び [BI]
  • ぶ [BU]
  • べ [BE]
  • ぼ [BO]

As with the G column, the B column is as straightforward as they come.

How to Write

For reference, here is a quick review of the general rules for stroke order:

  • All characters should fill a square of about the same size
  • Top to bottom, left to right
  • Horizontal strokes before vertical strokes that intersect them

G Column

Z Column

D Column

B Column

Vocabulary Practice

The following words can be written using only the characters we have covered so far.  Once you’ve practiced reading them a couple of times, try writing them on a piece of paper without looking and see how well you do.

G Column

  • がっこう [ga k ko u] school
  • およぐ [o yo gu] to swim
  • げんご [ge n go] language
  • ぎんこう [gi n ko u] bank

Z Column

  • めざす [me za su] to aim for/to set a goal to do something
  • きぜつ [ki ze tsu] loss of consciousness
  • しずか [shi zu ka] quiet
  • じかん [ji ka n] time
  • ぞんじる [zo n ji ru] to know/to be aware of

D Column

  • だれ [da re] who?
  • ちぢむ [chi dji mu] to shorten
  • つづく [tsu du ku] to continue
  • でぐち [de gu chi] exit
  • どこ [do ko] where?

B Column

  • ばか [ba ka] idiot, fool
  • ひびき [hi bi ki] sound, noise
  • ぶき [bu ki] weapon
  • べつ [be tsu] different
  • ほぼ [ho bo] roughly

Onward!

When you’re ready, click here to move on to Group 12: Handakuten!

  1. Sometimes you might see it added to other characters as a way of showing shock in manga dialogue or sound effects.  Katakana also makes expanded use of the dakuten for purposes of facilitating the writing of sounds specific to foreign languages.
  2. For example, 地獄 [ji go ku] (“hell”) used to be written as ぢごく [dji go ku], but is now written as じごく [ji go ku].  Similarly, 珍しい [me zu ra shi i] (“rare”) used to be written as めづらしい [me dzu ra shi i], but is now written as めずらしい [me zu ra shi i].

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Paul Baptist

Paul Baptist

Japanese linguist, web developer, bassist, teacher, and long-time anime fan.

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