How to use “はい (Hai) Yes” in Japanese?

If you pay attention to Japanese conversation, you can find numerous “hai” in just 5 minutes of talk. As you might have already known, はい “hai” is an expression that can be used to bring the agreement to almost everything. But, this magical word has more than one function that can be used everywhere in daily life. In this article, I will show you the pronunciation, the five functions of “hi”, and of course with examples to make sure you know how to use “hai” properly!

5 functions of はい hai with examples

As usual, let’s check the pronunciation before everything starts!

① To make agreement / affirmative response

This is one of the most common meanings of はい used in everyday life. This can be simply translated into “YES” in English. However, at the same time, “hai” can be translated to “NO” in English as well.

Sounds complicated, right?

Firstly, let’s take a look at how to use はい “hai” to make an affirmative response as “yes”.

潤: 健さん、普段運動しますか? Ken, do you usually do excise?
健: はい、週に2回ジムに通います。 Yes, I go to the gym twice a week.
Q: Excuse me, are you the teacher at this university.
A: Yes, do you need any help?

💡 While “hai” means yes in English, the antonym which means no in Japanese is いいえ”iie”.

はい can also be translated into “no” in English

In proper English grammar, when you are asked a negative question like below.

昨日健と会いませんでしたか?
Didn’t you meet Ken yesterday? 

For this negative question, a “no” answer in English frequently indicates that “the person being asked the question didn’t meet Ken yesterday“. Likewise, a “yes” would mean that “the person being asked met Ken yesterday”.

However, it is the opposite in Japanese. A はい “hai” in Japanese indicated the person being asked didn’t meet Ken. On the other hand, いいえ “iie” would mean that “the person being asked to meet Ken yesterday”

Japaneseはい、昨日健と会いませんでした。いいえ、昨日健と会いました。
EnglishNo, I didn’t meet Ken yesterday.Yes, I met Ken yesterday.

How does it work? In Japanese, a response with “hai” is the agreement / affirmative answer to the whole question, no matter there is any negative question or positive question. In other words, when you agree with what the other person said you can always say はい”hai”.

The other example to deepen your understanding about “hai”

💡 Here is another example for practice again. What is your answer to 『 この映画を見たことありませんI have never watched this movie before“』 in Japanese? はい “hai”? いいえ “iie”?

この映画を見たことない
Haven’t you watched this movie before?

If you agree with the question which means to agree to “you haven’t watched the movie before”, then the answer would be はい、この映画を見たことありません

To avoid the potential misunderstanding, native English speakers frequently answer with a clarification / explanation following yes or no. Or sometimes, people answer by omitting yes and no and simply giving the response with a clarification / explanation.

Same as in English, this kind of misunderstanding occurs in Japanese as well sometimes. It is also suggested to give an explanation to make better conversation!

Similar Expression in Japanese

そう / そうです / そうですねsō / sō-de-su / sō-de-su-neYes / That’s right
うんunYes
(a less formal expression)

② To mean “Understood”, “Okay”, “Got it”

“Hai” here can be widely used to give a response when you are asked to do anything, whether on casual occasions, at school, or at work.

Although it is no problem to only say “hai” to mean “I got it”, there are many sentences that people say following “hai”. Among all those sentences, though the meanings are quite similar, those sentences are different in the degree of being formal. Below are the examples listed from casual to formal.

はい、分かりました。wa-ka-ri-ma-shi-ta
はい、了解しました。ryō-kai-shi-ma-shi-ta
はい、承知しました。shō-chi-shi-ma-shi-ta.

Also, make sure when you are answering with a proper tone when using “hai”. If you sound impatient or reluctant, this might leave others a bad impression that you are unwilling to accept or do something. In this case, for example, when you are facing your professor, superior, client, or on any occasion you want to show your politeness, make sure you are answering with an energetic はい “hai”!

はい、はい、はい、、、

Do you have an experience like this? You are in your messy room playing video games or surfing on the internet with a lot of homework not yet done. Your parents keep telling you to do this and do that. This might have repeated day by day. Or, your friend keeps telling you about a story that you have been listening to thousands of times.

With “hai, hai, hai”, you are delivering messages like “okay, okay, you already told me this hundred of times”. Of course, this is suggested to use when you are talking with your close family or friend!

③ Sorry? What did you say?

This usage of “hai” acts as a question. In this case, you can find the rising intonation in the end.

  • When you can’t clearly hear / understand what others are saying.
はい?もう一度お願いしでもいいですか?ha-i? mo-u-ichi-do-o-nega-i-shi-de-mo-i-i-de-su-ka?Sorry? Can you repeat it one more time?
  • When you found others’ statements offensive or anything that you can’t agree with. With “hai”, it means you are questioning others.

④ “Hai” before an action to indicate a timing

Most of the time, people say “hai” when they are starting doing something.

はい、チーズ。ha-i, chī-zuSay cheese.
はい、行きましょう!ha-i, i-ki-ma-sho-uLet’s go!
はい、食べよ。ha-i, ta-be-yoLet’s eat.
はい、どうぞ。ha-i, dō-zoHere you go.

⑤ “I am listening.”

When someone is talking to you, you can say “hai” during the person made a quick pause or told you an important thing, to let the other side knows that you are paying attention to the conversation. In this case, the people who are talking can also make sure that you can understand the content or not.

When talking face to face, instead of saying “hai” people can nod to show they are listening. However, when talking on the phone, we can’t see others. In this case, “hai” plays a very important role during a phone call.

Summary

はい、これは”はい”についての説明です。何か質問がありますか?This is the explanation about “hai”. Do you have any questions?

Here are some important points of this article:

  • “Hai/Yes” in Japanese can be used when you are making affirmative response.
  • Works as a response when you are asked to do anything.
  • Use this phrase when you want others to repeat what they said one more time.
  • Using when start doing something.
  • You can use to let others know you are listening as well.
  • Be careful with the tone. An energetic “hai” can leave a good impression to others.
  • A tired, impatient, reluctant tone can deliver a totally different message!

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ABOUTこの記事をかいた人

Hi! I’m Yujung from Taiwan. Decided to start my career in Kansai area Japan in 2019, I’ve always considered this a right decision ever made in my life. WHY? There are way too many things waiting for me to discover, such as the charming language, spectacular nature, colorful seasons and lovely people!