What to Know about “Nanka”(なんか) in Japanese

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Have you ever heard the word “Nanka” in Japanese?

If you watch Japanese TV, Movie or Dorama, you may realize how so often the Japanese use “Nanka” in daily conversation. “Nanka iikoto atta?” which means Do you have any good news? or “Nanka hen” which means something wrong, and so on. Yes, if you go to Japan, you can hear this “Nanka” phrase every day. “Nanka” is one word, but there are a lot of different meanings and usage. “Nanka” is the most useful casual phrase to speak Japanese. That’s why people use this unconsciously every time.

1. What does “Nanka” actually mean?

So, what exactly is “Nanka”? Well, the first meaning is “Something like..”. It is equivalent to the English “like”. You may hear certain people in English speakers in the following way, “Like totally, I would never like do that, it’s just like wrong”. I’m sure you have heard this type of language in your life before, whether that be in real life or the movies.

In Japanese “Nanka” equates to the same thing. “Nanka” can be used almost anywhere in the sentence when you are looking to express the meaning of “Something like”, just like in English. However, “Nanka” is only used in spoken language, so please bear that in mind.

2. How to use “Nanka” in a Sentence

Like, if there’s any equivalent to like, the word “like” in Japanese, has to be like “Nanka”. “Nanka” is a contraction of “Nanika”(なにか), which means “something”. However, “Nanka” can be used to mean something very similar to the English “like”.

[Example]
Game Nanka kyoumi nai-yo.
ゲームなんか興味ないよ –
I’m not interested in something game.

You will notice the total lack of particles. You’ll see that a lot in casual speech, so “Nanka” is always used in casual conversation. Another thing to notice here is that “Nanka” essentially means “Things like” in this example. This usage is distinct for “Nanka”, and you won’t see “Nanika” (何か) used in the same way.

In fact, just like the word “like” in English, you can stick “Nanka” just about anywhere and still make sense! Be careful though because this might become a habit and you might start sounding like the way you do when, like, you use like, like everywhere. Also, it is like a “Filler” “Additional phrase when speaking”. This filler is used to fill in the gaps when starting to speak in a conversation when the speaker does not know what to say when it is difficult to say when hesitating.

[Example]

なんか、となりの人が、
"Somehow, the person next to me ..."
なんかね。今日、電車に乗ったら、なんか変な人がいて、なんかよくわからない事をぶつぶつ言っていたよ。
"Hey, like, when I got on the train today, there was like a strange person and like he was mumbling something I couldn’t understand.”

The frequency of “Something” used in everyday conversation is considerable. I think that the flow of the words “Nanka saa”, “Nanka ~ dayone”, and “Nanaka ~ da” is a kind of escape from responsibility. It seems that the formula “Nanka = I don’t understand well” holds true.

3. When can we use “Nanka” in daily life?

Including above, there are some meanings of “Nanka” in a sentence. In Japan, people use “Nanka” in the following situations:

(1) When you are not confident, when you say something unclear, or when you are thinking

Japanese SentencesHow to ReadMeaning in English
なんか大切なことを伝えたいのに、言葉がみつからない。
Nanka taisetsunakoto wo tsutaetainoni Kotoba ga mitsukaranai.I want to tell you something important, but I can’t find words.
結婚する前になんか決め手がほしかった。 I wanted a decisive factor before getting married.Kekkon suru maeni Nanka kimete ga hoshikatta.

(2) When you say something you don’t understand

Japanese SentencesHow to ReadMeaning in English
なんか買いますか?Nanka [Nanika] Kaimasuka?Will you buy something?
なんか手伝いますか?   Nanka [Nanika] Testudaimasuka?May I help you?

(3) Expresses the feelings of the speaker’s contempt, disdain, and humility, negative feeling

Pattern: Subject + なんか・なにか 「Nanka or Nanika」
Japanese SentencesHow to ReadMeaning in English
[Contempt]
ひらがななんか簡単です。     
Hiragana Nanka Kantandesu.Hiragana is too easy.
[Negative]
忙しすぎて休みなんかとれない。
Isogashi-sugite Yasumi Nanka torenai.I’m too busy to take a day off.
[Humility]
お礼なんかいらないです。     
Orei Nanka iranai desu.I don’t need that gratitude.
[Humility]
わたしなんかまだまだです。     
Watashi Nanka madamada desu.
There is a feeling of “It is still a long way” in “Something”.
I still have a long way to go. 
[Negative]
こんなことで結婚なんかしない。   
Konnakoto de Kekkon Nanka shinai!I won’t get married because of this.
[Negative]
あなたなんかきらい!       
Anata Nanka Kirai!
It is sometimes rude to use it for people, therefore, it is highly recommended to not easily use it.
I hate you!

(4) Earning time [It is not formal, so it is better not use so often]

Japanese SentencesHow to ReadMeaning in English
なんか、なんか、、             Nanka, NankaIt’s like… something like…

(5) Escape responsibility, Feelings of hesitation and you don’t want to say things clearly

Japanese SentencesHow to ReadMeaning in English
なんかよくわからないんですが、  Nanka yoku wakaranai ndesuga..I am not sure but..
なんか人から聞いたんですが、   Nanka hito kara kiitanndesu ga..I just heard from others but..

(6) Same meaning as “Such as” or “etc”

Pattern: Noun phrase + Nanka → "etc." 
Japanese SentencesHow to ReadMeaning in English
ビールなんか持っていきます。Bi-ru Nanka motte ikimasu.  I will bring something like beer.
広告は電車なんかにたくさんあります。Koukoku wa Densha Nanka ni takusan arimasu.   There are a lot of advertisements on trains etc.

4. Difference between “Nanka” and “Nanika”

In conversation there is also “Nanika” used the same way as “Nanka”. What is the difference of “Nanka” (なんか) and Nanika (なにか). Originally, in Japanese, it has been shortened from “Nanika” なにか, which means something, to “Nanka”. Meanwhile, it is almost the same. As you can see here it is used exactly like where you would use “Nanika” (なにか), however, there is a small difference. Can you tell what that is?

“Nanika” is more polite and formal use and “Nanka” is more casual. In addition, there is no particle in the “Nanka” sentence. When using “Nanka” you do not need to use any particles after this which makes it quite easy to use. “Nanka” is the casual form of Nanika, so if a shopkeeper comes to you and says,

“Nanika” osagashi desuka?
何かお探しですか?             
It means “Are you looking for something?”

or “Nanka” osagashi desuka?

It is the same meaning, but “Nanika” is more formal and respects others, so shop clerks always use “Nanika” in this sentence. However, “Nanika” is too casual, so they won`t use “Nanika” in this sentence. Also, there is another example, and the first two sentences use the “Something” meaning, see how no particles are needed after “Nanka” as the following sentences.

Tokyo ni iku kedo, Nanka hoshii mono aru? 
東京に行くけど、なんか欲しいものある?  
I am going to Tokyo. Do you want anything?
Asoko ni Nanka iru.
あそこになんかいる。              
There is something over there.

In this example “Nanka” is used with the meaning “like” or “say” imagine how useful this could be to get someone’s attention or to fill in those awkward pauses,

なんか、気持ち悪くなってきた。
Nanka, kimochi waruku natte kita.    
Say, I am getting a little sick.

The key points are below.

  • “Nanika” is more polite, and something tends to be used when writing.
  • “Nanika” needs to have particles, but “Nanka” does not these due to casual conversation. 
  • “Nanka” is more ambiguous and more uncertain than “Nanika”, so it is easier to say
  • Also, “Nanika” is often used by young people.
  • “Nanka” is very useful when you have a feeling of hesitation when saying something that is difficult to say.
  • “Nanka” allows the listener to understand the psychological state of the speaker, so communication can be smooth.

Summarize

To summarize this article, let’s review the following points:

  • Japanese people so often use “Nanka” and There are a lot of meanings depending on the situation.
  • “Nanka” is a useful word to say uncertain things and communicate with others smoothly.
  • “Nanka” and “Nanika” are the same meaning, but “Nanika” is formal and “Nanka” is more casual, and “Nanka” does not need particles.
  • Better to learn “Nanka” phrases in casual conversation, but not use them so often, when you go to Japan in the future. 
  • Make sure that too much using “Nanka” in conversation, may give others a not good impression.
About Yuri Sensei 25 Articles
I am Yuri. I have worked for several companies, involved in assisting foreigners and teaching Japanese. I have also worked in Vietnam, teaching Japanese. I would like to help students abroad and teach Japanese culture. My hobbies are traveling abroad and sports, like tennis. Following excitement and discovering new things inspires me a lot. My joy in life is to help people overseas so that I can pass on the charm of Japanese culture.