Hiragana Pattern “Exceptions”
“With the possible exception of the equator, everything begins somewhere.” – C.S. Lewis
There aren’t a ton of weird exceptions in the hiragana alphabet, but there are enough to throw you off a bit if you don’t see them coming. Luckily, all of the exceptions still make quite a bit of sense, and with a little practice (which you’ll get plenty of in the next chapter) these will just become “normal” instead of “exceptions.”
Let’s take a look at all of them. All you need to do is read these and take notes (possibly in your Japanese language log?)
し (shi): This is the first of the “exceptions.” Instead of pronouncing “shi” like the other columns (you’d think it would be pronounced like “see” instead of like “shi”), you’re going to pronounce it like you would the word “she” (as in “she went to the store”). In romaji (at least on TextFugu), you’re going to see it written as “shi.”
ち (chi): This one is a lot like “shi” from above, but this time instead of a “ti” sound you add an “h” in there to make it “chi.” This is pronounced like the “chee” in “cheese.”
つ (tsu): Instead of going with the pattern and pronouncing this one “tu” you need to add an “s” in there, pronouncing it “tsoo.” This sound is unlike almost anything in the English language, so in order to learn this one just refer to the next page which will lay everything out for you.
ふ (fu/hu): This particular kana is a bit weird, because it can be pronounced two ways, either “fu” or “hu.” Most of the time you’ll see it as a “fu” sound, but depending on the word it can go either way (especially when you add foreign words into the mix). When just reading the character on its own (i.e. from the hiragana chart) it’s best you pronounce it with a “hu” sound. As this comes up, I’ll be sure to make a note of it so you can see when it’s pronounced “hu” and when it’s pronounced “fu.”
The entire や (ya) column: The entire “ya” column is a bit weird in that it’s incomplete. Instead of following the pattern and going “ya, yi, yu, ye, yo” there are two kana “missing” from it. For this column, all you need to learn is “ya, yu, yo,” and “yi” and “ye” don’t exist. When you learn “the pattern” it almost becomes hard to forget and omit kana, but you’ll figure it out with practice.
ら (ra) column: Although this column isn’t really an exception, it is the column that gives people the most problems, in terms of pronunciation. On the next page we’ll be going over the pronunciation of this one in great detail. It’s the subtlety that makes it tough, but I think TextFugu has one of the best explanations out there.
わ (wa) column: This column only consists of two kana, and one of them (を/wo) is only used as a particle, which we’ll learn more about later. を (wo) isn’t pronounced with a “w” sound, either. It’s pronounced almost exactly like お (o). You can pretend the “w” part doesn’t exist and pronounce “wo” like “o.”.
ん (n): “n” is the only consonant-only kana, and has an nnnnn sound, like the “n” in “man.” Every other kana is a consonant plus vowel, using two (English) letters to create one kana. ん (n) is the only consonant-only kana. It’s really easy to pronounce and use once you see it a few times, but when it comes to “patterns” it doesn’t really fit, making it an exception.
So, that’s all of them! Considering how much hiragana there is, these aren’t all that bad. Remember, you don’t have to learn everything all at once. We’ll practice these exceptions over the next couple chapters making it a lot easier and a lot more manageable.