The Most Commonly Used Japanese Words by Frequency

Topics: Japan, Language

In a previous post, I expounded on language learning and laid out what I think is the fastest way to learn any language. One of the components of quickly acquiring languages is to prioritize the words that you learn. Learning the most common words first will reap huge benefits for your comprehension. There are several word frequency lists out there, most of them I found were compiled from newspapers, but Mike “Pomax” Kamermans over at nihongoresources.com had a brilliant idea to use Japanese novels as material instead. His algorithm compiled over 65 million words. No word frequency list can be perfect, but I think this one is about as close as you can get.

I simply took the first 3000 words from his data and made some tweaks so the words are easier to utilize for studying. I removed punctuation and numbers, and compiled the words into 2 page pdf files that are easy to print so you can cross off words when you learn them. I’ve also included the text file of those 3000 words in case you want to do any textual searches.

PDF files: For Printing

Japanese Word Frequency List 1-1000

Japanese Word Frequency List 1000-2000

Japanese Word Frequency List 2000-3000

Text file: For Searching

Japanese Word Frequency List 1-3000

A little bit of number crunching on the data turned out some very interesting facts.

The first 100 words on the list make up 57.2% of the text that was processed.

The first 500? 70.3%.

The first 1000? 76.2%

The first 3000? 85.4%

The first 10,000? 94.1%

But don’t let this data fool you completely.  Mike (the man who generated the list himself) said in an email…

Usually the most frequently used words don’t need explicit learning because they are found all over the place, and the medium-presence words are more important, because they convey important things. Frequent words are usually common because they contain little information, so you have a trade-off between ‘used a lot’ and ‘give critical information’.

You can find the complete list of more than 65,000 words including punctuation, word frequency, and parts of speech at http://pomax.nihongoresources.com/index.php?entry=1222520260.

Here’s a link my article How to Learn Any Language in 6 Months

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41 Responses to “The Most Commonly Used Japanese Words by Frequency”

  1. John Smith says:

    If only your list of the top 1000 had what each word meant.

  2. John says:

    John, I would recommend going to http://dic.yahoo.co.jp and find the meanings and an example sentence or two for each word. I think the words need to be learned in context too, not just translated blindly. Thanks for the comment!

  3. […] A typical unabridged Chinese character dictionary will have more than 40,000 independent entries.   It would take a lifetime to familiarize yourself with all of these characters, but thankfully languages follow the rule of 80/20, a.k.a. the Pareto Principle.   What this means is roughly 20% of those characters are used 80% of the time.   A well-educated Chinese student will recognize upwards of 7,000 characters, and reading a newspaper may require a working knowledge of 3,000 characters [1].   We can find the same thing in English- “The Reading Teachers Book of Lists claims that the first 25 words make up about one-third of all printed material in English, and that the first 100 make up about one-half of all written material [2].”  Using an SRS like Anki and a dictionary with good example sentences, the initial effort of memorizing 100 words should take three days at most.  Three days for 50% comprehension!  I know I know, that number is slightly overstated because many of those 100 words are lemmas (more than one word – like “is” can be “He was”, “I am”, “You are” etc.), but you see the point I’m trying to make right?  By learning the common words first, you quickly increase your effective comprehension of the language.  Note: You can find the first 3000 common Japanese words in this post. […]

  4. CJ says:

    This would have been absolutely amazing, if it had included translations. Telling people who can’t read kanji to search for it in an online dictionary is laughable.

  5. Right now I’m using this amazing resource to learn new 日本語 vocab (I already finished RTK 一+三):

    http://www.manythings.org/japanese/words/leeds/

    What I do is:

    1. Click on the [E] link for each new word I want to learn, which takes you to Jim Breen’s E-dic.

    2. Read the definition and check out some examples.

    3. From those examples I extract 5 for further review in my Anki deck.

    I´m also using Khatzumoto’s MCD method for my reviews; which is much more effective and easier to use than vanilla-sentences ever were.

  6. John says:

    Wow, that site is awesome! It makes it really easy to find meanings and such, thanks for the tip.

  7. Curt says:

    CJ, you don’t need translations. You can simply copy and paste into the dictionary. It helps, but is not necessary, to read kanji for the application of this list–indeed, for most it is by this list that you can learn to read kanji.

    I’ve employed it for the past several months and have gotten almost up to 2000 words so far. I simply paste into the Denshi Jisho online dictionary, take a couple of sentences whose words I otherwise know, and put them into my SRS.

    Thanks for the information, John!

  8. CJ says:

    Thanks for the reply Curt. But unfortunately putting most of these words through an online dictionary brings up long lists of very different words. I doubt anyone is going to guess the meaning if they didn’t know the word before searching.

  9. csjpn says:

    65 million is a typo right?

  10. Lily says:

    I am doing some research about Japanese aphasics, your resources about word frequency is very helpful here. thank you :)

  11. arilando says:

    So i’m wondering what does this た and う mean? Unless conjugations are taken as their own words.

  12. Cooljin says:

    Great list and idea to make a top 3,000 word list. However…

    PDF is a HORRIBLE format for the exchange of vocabulary list. Much better to use text files or spreadsheet format like Excel .xls. If done in a spreadsheet or as a Google Doc, they are better to import into Flashcard programs to help memorize.

  13. Kris says:

    So many complaining responses. i think thepdf file is perfect! One page I can stuffin my pocket and pull out to practice at a moments notice? Yes please!

    If you just want a premade list of words you can throw in xxx flashcard app, there are already a ton of them. Dont forget too that the act of looking it up in a dictionary as opposed to just having it done for you will increase your retention dramatically.

    It would be impossible to include definitions anyway, because this list includes all occourances of a word, regardless of meaning.

  14. Scott says:

    Hi. I downloaded the pdfs for personal use. Thanks for these. :)

  15. jd tripp says:

    Thank you so much for spending the time to put together this list.
    I don’t mean to be negative, but I don’t want people to make the mistake of believing that these are the most common words used in the ‘speaking’ Japanese language, because they are not. These words are the most common ‘read’ Japanese words found in novels. These are not most common used when speaking Japanese.

    Think about it…. people do not talk as they talk in books; people do not talk as they do in movies. If you tried to speak as a fictional character in the real world you would sound quite strange.

    If you want some advice on a new list; get the list from: phone conversations/ letters written/ casual conversation, and such.

    Once again, thank you.

  16. kata rina says:

    thank you for these. It would be nice if there were no repeats, like わたし & 私 show up as two different words, therefore, they ‘both’ show up lower on the list than they should. I don’t mind lack of translations, if you are going to learn them anyway, it doesn’t seem like too much trouble to work on it a bit.

  17. Kuro Gaiden says:

    Actually, jd tripp you couldn’t be more wrong. How do you think books are written? Are they just magic words put on to paper with no actual context? Please. The “secret entity” that writes books are these things called human beings. These human beings talk as well as write almost every single day, and have been doing it their entire life. I don’t remember a school or work day going by where I didn’t write SOMETHING. Written form of communication is the oldest and truest form of communication there is. And learning from books or “written Japanese” as you like to put it, is hardly a bad thing. Your comment has probably discouraged many people and should be removed for it’s ignorance on the subject.

  18. Kuro Gaiden says:

    I would also like to say thank you for this list. I know something like takes a lot of work, and some of us actually appreciate it.

  19. mark says:

    there is a problem with this word frequency method using novels- those are written words and will differ from the most used spoken words- almost like 2 different languages.

  20. mark says:

    written form of communication is not the oldest form of communication- this is an incorrect statement especially in Japan. In Japan only educated people of the highest classes were taught to write- usually Chinese kanji. It was too difficult for uneducated people to write and learn on their own so the common people developed the phonetic way of writing which later evolved into modern Japanese. Spoken and written Japanese is very different. The words used and forms and phrases as well. Of course some of the words will be the same but if you spoke like a novel people would laugh at you.

  21. Lindsay says:

    It’s… it’s beautiful… (wipes tear)

  22. asmodean says:

    Thanks for the tip about Anki in your linked post. That and Pomax’s frequency analysis work inspired me to produce my own domain-specific study material.

    I’ve produced an Anki deck tailored for the Tales of Xillia games as an initial experiment:
    http://asmodean.reverse.net/pages/freqdeck.html

  23. John says:

    Thanks for all the encouragement everyone, it’s great to know that my work has been helpful.

  24. victor says:

    maybe you will interesting this one
    http://www.thn21.com/base/zi/17300.html
    according this page

    380 Chinese character will covering 70% chinese usage. (Chinese character not = chinese word)

  25. cam says:

    LOL – I love the haters – complaining that there’s no translation to the list. You’ve given them a free car and they’re complaining that they need to fill it with gas. Anyway, list is awesome, thanks!

    I’m on a mission this yr to get JP under my belt. Goal: conversational level in listening, speaking, reading. I tried the JLPT N5 last year and failed by 3 pts. I’m going to try the following for 6 mo’s to see how it goes:

    Two Questions: in addition to the cool tips you give around full immersion, word and sentence lists and frequency, how much time did you spend talking? In my case, I find that I make pretty big mistakes when I speak which makes me wonder if speaking more is helpful, to catch errors which might help me to refine my grammar and understanding? Did you spend much time physically writing Kanji, or worry more about recognition and ability to communicate kanji through typing?

  26. naomi lea says:

    You are so awesome for compiling this in downloadable formats. The other day I realized that a frequency list is what I needed to prioritize new vocab but couldn’t find a Japanese list. Thank you so much, even without the translations this is an amazing resource to me and I appreciate the time and effort to put it out there.

  27. John says:

    Cam, thanks for the comment! I spent a LOT of time studying, wrote Kanji thousands of times while memorizing using Anki, and fortunately had an entire year in Japan to dedicate myself to the task – but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be done outside Japan. My advice in general, is input before output. Don’t get in the habit of speaking incorrectly in hopes that people will correct you. They won’t. Do your best to emulate what you know to be correct, and soon you’ll have enough under you belt that you can speak correctly on your own.

  28. […] a lot of lists out there (this one is pretty good) that are worth looking at. In fact, a Google search for “most common Japanese words” […]

  29. Grumpy Japanese Speaker says:

    Sorry but this list is junk. So many non-words. Japanese words can’t be parsed like “words” in western languages since there is no demarcation between words. The first ten or so are all particles which can’t be “memorized” by punching them into something like Anki. It would be like attempting to memorize words like “the” without any further context. Many more are verb endings – again, useless on their own, and non-words to boot. People who think this is an amazing, beautiful resource must have zero knowledge of Japanese, because this kind of mindless data crunching with complete disregard for how the actually language works is not going to do any language learners any favors. I’m sure a list of the most frequent English, French, or Spanish words would be a valuable resource for language learners. This list is not a parallel to that kind of resource. It would be like looking at an English list that included words like “ing”, “ed”, “s”, “ey”, “ness”, and so on.

  30. Sergio says:

    Stop complaining, the list is a good tool to focus in the most used words, I’d divided the list between kanjis an hiragana words. So I can study the kanjis. And for the hiragana words you can find examples for them with the jisho.org dictionary. I’ll tell you something, a kid at elementary School Grade 2 ( 7 years) will learn the kanji 羽 (feather) and wait to secondary school to learn 唇(lips) 8 years later! The kanji for feather is in 1814 positioon in my kanji list and lips is 170. So I think although at the end you must learn all kanjis, when learning you can be more selective and gain more understanding of the written japanese by focusing in the most used kanjis. Thanks John!

  31. […] funny to read, I used it at the beginning to train myself to read the kana quickly. Read the kanjis Most commonly used words by frenquency Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese Meguro language center study materials Nihongo […]

  32. Viaxl says:

    Yo nice job John. The comments are even more helpful. Thank you for creating such a post and making good things happen.

  33. Viaxl says:

    By helpful comments I mean those links and actual information, not shit talkers with their shit brain.

  34. Liam says:

    Hi, John:

    Thanks for the excellent work in compiling this list! Presenting it in PDF and text was also very helpful (and for the whiners, it’s not that hard to convert almost any format into any other format; if you can’t do that mindlessly simple task, forget about learning another language).

    I actually like that there are no translations/definitions. It provides a great path for learning for those who are willing to actually stir their stumps, and it provides a barrier (at least in their minds) for whiners and do-nothings, which keeps the useless comments down to minimize the annoyance to those who actually do things.

    Sorry, didn’t mean to make this comment about whiners. They are soooo annoying!

    Big, big thanks again to you, John, and Bless you!

    “…For I was hungry (for knowledge), and you fed me (useful information)….”

  35. John says:

    Truly, my pleasure. You’re welcome.

  36. Chris says:

    Will this compiled list of the 3000 most frequently used Japanese words ever be available in anki? Yes, I’m lazy. That’s why I’m asking.

  37. nokinoks says:

    I know people are saying that this is “laughable” because it doesn’t have the meaning. And though I do agree it would have been way better, I completely disagree that this is anything near laughable! This is a great resource:) I appreciate it very much, and since I have something inside my head called a brain, though I seldom use it, I shall try and use it to figure out how best to utilize this amazing resource! :D Thank you so much! More power!

  38. Oscar says:

    I’m almost sure you might already know this but, you wrote “65 million” and then included the link saying it’s “65 thousand”, when I first read “65 million” I almost gave up to learning this beautiful language. :(

  39. Anonymous says:

    Erm, where is the data from. There are a few anomolies. I’m noting the absurd appearance of rena and batora- in katakana as well as keiichi.

  40. John says:

    Oscar, his algorithm looked at over 65 million words to see which were common, then found there were 65 thousand words in the language. Don’t worry about having to learn 65 thousand words either since not even native speakers can comprehend that many words. Learn the first 1000 words and you’ll be well on your way to fluency.

  41. […] The Most Commonly Used Japanese Words by … – Right now I’m using this amazing resource to learn new 日本語 vocab (I already finished RTK 一+三): http://www.manythings.org/japanese/words/leeds/… […]

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