The Small “Tsu”
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
There’s one last “weird” thing you need to learn before you’re finished with “reading and writing hiragana.” Do you remember the hiragana つ (if you don’t, you should probably review a bit really quick!).
That is the hiragana for “tsu” from the たちつてと column (ta-column).
This tsu, however, is different. It’s a small tsu (kind of like the small ゃ, ゅ, and ょ we learned about for combo-hiragana) and it does something really, really different. First, let’s look at the size difference, just in case you don’t believe me.
つ vs っ
See how one is smaller than the other? Good, let’s roll with it.
The small tsu creates “double consonants” (this means two non-vowels put together, like tt or kk or pp). In Japanese, you’ll remember, there’s almost no way to create a double consonant unless you are using “n” (but let’s pretend that doesn’t count). Each kana is either a vowel on its own (a, i, u, e, o) or it’s a consonant plus a vowel (ka, mi, ha, fu, ko, etc). That means no matter how you put these together, you can’t have the same two consonants right next to each other, no matter how hard you try.
mimimimimimimimimimimimi (nope again)
aaaaaaaaaaa (still no double consonants)
With a small tsu, however, you can create a double consonant. Let’s see how it works, looking at a couple examples.
いぷん – In romaji, this would be spelled “ipun.” This is not a word, and without the small tsu, it can never be correct. The correct version of this word is actually “ippun.” See how there are two p’s next to each other (we’ll go over the pronunciation of this in a second)? In order to make that work in hiragana, you add the small っ in right before the consonant you want to double up. So, in this case, we’d write “ippun” as いっぷん.
a にっぽん – Nippon
For this word, Nippon, the small tsu shows up right before the ぽ. The consonant it shows up right before is the “P” part of “po,” meaning the “P” is what gets doubled, making this word “nippon.”
Pronouncing Small Tsu
Now, pronunciation for small tsu is also a little different and may take a little practice. Let’s take a look at the two words we’ve already done, いっぷん and にっぽん.
When you pronounce a small tsu, you want to break the word up. It’s almost like you’re putting a little space in between the consonants of the double consonant. For example:
ippun → ip_pun
Although the space isn’t written in, if you think of it this way, it will make your pronunciation a lot better. It’s like you end the first part with a “p” sound, and begin the second part with a “p” sound. You kind of pronounce both consonants, separately.
nippon → nip_pon
In the case of にっぽん, you’d pronounce it like “nip” (space) “pon.” You don’t want to leave a really long space there, obviously, but just a little bit to separate the two pieces out. Listen to the recording for nippon to see what I mean.
One more good way to think about it is by looking at the English word “that’s.” Now, this isn’t quite the same thing, but it does a good job showing you how to pronounce the small tsu.
Go ahead and say the word “that’s” out loud. Notice how there’s a small space between “that” and the “s”? That’s the kind of space you want to create between the double consonants in a small tsu word. You could even look at some other words that are like this. “cats,” “dogs,” “mitts,” etc. The list goes on and on. The important thing is you understand the small space between consonants so you can pronounce the small tsu correctly.
Let’s take a look at some more words to really get it down as well as practice using and writing small tsu into words.
1. Can you write “yatteimasu” in hiragana?
a やっています – the small tsu goes before the て because the “T” of the “Te” is what you are doubling up.
2. Can you write “Yatta!” in hiragana?
a やった！ – the small tsu goes right before the た because you want to double the “T” part of the word.
3. Can you write “yappari” in hiragana?
I’ve also created an example video to help you practice with. Go through the example words (and more) using the video provided below.
The more you study Japanese, and the more that you read, the easier this will get. It’s really important you understand how small tsu works before you move on. You don’t have to feel incredibly comfortable with it, you just need to be able to say “yeah, I can read / write something with a small tsu, even if it takes me a bit of thinking.”
The last page of this chapter will tell you more about how you’ll continue to study hiragana as you work through the TextFugu text. The good news is you’re not expected to be perfect at it yet. There’s going to be plenty of opportunity to practice and get much, much better at hiragana.