The Complete Guide to Learning Katakana Step-By-Step

カタカナ (katakana) is one of the fundamental components of the Japanese writing system. ひらがな (hiragana) and 漢字 (kanji) are the other two Japanese writing systems. If you want to learn all of the katakana for free, this step-by-step guide with video will teach you how to pronounce, read, and write all of the katakana characters.

Modern Katakana Characters

Modern katakana has 46 base characters: five singular vowels, 40 consonant-vowel unions, and one singular consonant. The 46 characters are organized in a chart format, which is called アイウエオ表 (aiueo hyō). The chart has ten rows of up to five hiragana characters. 

Why do you need katakana when there’s hiragana? They both represent the same Japanese sounds, so is katakana even necessary? Yes, it is! The biggest difference is that hiragana is used to express Japanese words and combines with kanji characters (to form different verb forms).  

On the other hand, katakana is used to express 外来語 (gairaigo), or foreign loanwords. You’ll notice that many of the example words given in this guide sound similar to English. That’s because a lot of words used in Japan do come from English! And katakana is used when writing these types of loanwords. There are times when Japanese words are written in katakana. This is usually done because a writer wants to emphasize that word.  

How to Read and Write Katakana: 直音 (Chokuon)- Basic Characters

直音 (chokuon) means all the basic hiragana and katakana. Be sure to practice and memorize these katakana first before learning the more complex katakana covered later in this guide.

You can download the blank sheets to practice writing the katakana characters here: Blank practice katakana writing sheet

ア行 (A Gyō) – A Row: Pronunciation

How to Read Katakana : A-Row (ア行)

ア (A)

The katakana character a, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.
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 (a) is the first katakana on the katakana chart, just like hiragana  (a).  (a) is similar to the katakana character  (fu).  (a) has a curved line under the “フ” part.

Words Starting With ア (A):

•アイス (aisu): Ice cream
•アクリル (akuriru): Acrylic
•アスパラガス (asuparagasu): Asparagus

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ア(a)

イ (I)

The katakana character i, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (i) is relatively similar to the katakana  (no).   (no) is simply a curved line, whereas,  (i) has a vertical line under the curved line.

Words Starting With イ (I):

•イギリス (igirisu): United Kingdom
•イラスト (irasuto): Illustration
•インフルエンザ (influenza): Flu

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: イ(i)

ウ (U)

The katakana character u, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

When writing  (u), make sure to start with a small dash at the top before writing the bottom part. You may notice that this character looks similar to the character  (wa).

Words Starting With ウ (U):

•ウイルス (uirusu): Virus
•ウクライナ (ukuraina): Ukraine 
•ウエスト (uesuto): Waist

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ウ (u)

エ (E)

The katakana character e, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (e) consists of three straight lines. Be sure to start with the top line, then a vertical line down the center, and finally a bottom horizontal line (longer than the top horizontal line).  A helpful tip that can apply to writing in all Japanese components (hiraganakatakana, and kanji): when writing horizontal lines, it’s almost always drawn from left to right. When you write vertical lines, it’s almost always from top to bottom.

Words Starting With エ (E):

•エルメス (erumesu): Hermès (Luxury Goods Store)
•エチケット (echiketto): Etiquette
•エクアドル (ekudoru): Ecuador

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: エ (e)

オ (O)

The katakana character o, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

When writing  (o), be sure to start with a horizontal line, followed by a vertical line cutting through it. Be sure to do a sharp, upward “hook” stroke at the end of this vertical line. You then will end with a smooth curved line for the third and final stroke. It might sound complicated, but the video below will show you exactly how it’s done!

Words Starting With オ (O):

•オムレツ (omuretsu): Omelette
•オイル (oiru): Oil
•オアシス (oashisu): Oasis

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: オ (o)

カ行 (Ka Gyō) – Ka Row: Pronunciation

How to Read Katakana : Ka-Row (カ行)

カ (Ka)

The katakana character ka, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

As you might notice, katakana  (ka) looks similar to hiragana  (ka). However, the hiragana  (ka) includes a disconnected stroke in the top right corner and has no sharp angle. In contrast, the katakana  (ka) has no disconnected stroke in the top right corner and has an acute angle in the second stroke.

Words Starting With カ (Ka):

•カメラ (kamera): Camera
•カレンダー (karendā): Calandar
•カレー (karē): Curry (and rice)

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: カ (ka).

キ (Ki)

The katakana character ki, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

Again, you can see similarities between katakana  (ki) and hiragana  (ki). The katakana  (ki) does not have an upward turn like the hiragana  (ki) has, or a curved stroke at the end like  (ki) has.

Words Starting With キ (Ki):

•キャラクター (kyarakutā): Character 
•キャベツ (kyabetsu): Cabbage
•キムチ (kimuchi): Kimchee

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: キ (ki)

ク (Ku)

The katakana character ku, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (ku) is similar to the katakana  (ta). The only difference between  (ku) and  (ta) is the third stroke of タ (the center line connecting the strokes in the middle).

Words Starting With ク (Ku):

•クッキー(kukkī): Cookie
•クーポン (kūpon): Coupon
•クレープ (kurēpu): Crêpe

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ク (ku)

ケ (Ke)

The katakana character ke, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (ke) starts with a short curved stroke in the top left corner, followed by a straight horizontal line, and ends with a longer curved stroke to the left. One thing to note is that the first and third strokes should be parallel to each other.

Words Starting With ケ (Ke):

•ケーキ (kēki): Cake
•ケーブル (kēburu): Cable
•ケチャップ (kechappu): Ketchup

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ケ (ke)

コ (Ko)

The katakana character ko, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (ko) is made of only straight lines, which makes it less challenging to write. The katakana  (ro), which will be discussed later in this section, is a complete square, whereas,  (ko) has an opening on the left side. Although it seems easier to write these symbol-like characters with a single stroke, knowing the correct number of strokes and their order is essential. Watch the video to see the correct stroke order.  

Words Starting With コ (Ko):

•コロッケ (korokke): Croquette
•コップ (koppu): Mug, Cup
•コルク (koruku): Cork

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: コ (ko)

サ行 (Sa Gyō) – Sa Row: Pronunciation

How to Read Katakana : Sa-Row (サ行)

サ (Sa)

The katakana character sa, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (sa) looks a bit similar to katakana  (ri). The difference is that  (sa) has a horizontal line cutting through both vertical strokes.  

Words Starting With サ (Sa):

•サーモン (sāmon): Salmon
•サンフランシスコ (san furanshisuko): San Francisco
•サーフィン (sāfin): Surfing

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: サ (sa)

シ (Shi)

The katakana character shi, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (shi) can be one of the most tricky katakana characters because of its similarity with the character  (tsu). As you may notice,  (shi) has two short lines that lay flat (close to 180 degrees in angle), whereas  (tsu) has two short slashes that are more vertical.  (shi) can also be mistaken for  (n) or  (so), both of which also look similar to each other. To better understand how to write  (shi) correctly, check out the video and be sure to practice writing it.

Words Starting With シ (Shi):

•シアトル (shiatoru): Seattle
•シカゴ (shigako): Chicago
•シーザーサラダ (shīzā sarada): Caesar salad

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: シ (shi)

ス (Su)

The katakana character su, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (su) is similar to  (nu). The only difference between  (su) and  (nu) is the second stroke: for , the second stroke just touches the bottom of the first stroke—the second stroke for  cuts right through the first one.

Words Starting With ス (Su):

•スーパー (sūpā): Supermarket
•スマホ (sumaho): Smart phone
•ストーブ (sutōbu): Stove, Heater

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ス (su)

セ (Se)

The katakana character se, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (se) is similar to the hiragana version of  (se). The hiragana  (se) has an extra line on the right side and its third stroke curves to the right. On the other hand, the katakana  (se) lacks a vertical line on the right side and its second stroke has a sharper angle turning to the right.

Words Starting With セ (Se):

•セール (sēru): Sale
•セロハンテープ (serohantēpu): Scotch tape
•セルフサービス (serufusābisu): Self-service

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: セ (se)

ソ (So)

The katakana character so, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (so) can be easily mistaken for  (n). One difference is that the first stroke of  (so) is more vertical than that of  (n). Also, when you write  (so), you write the second stroke from top to bottom (downward); however, when you write  (n), you write the second stroke from bottom to top (upward). 

Words Starting With ソ (So):

•ソース (sōsu): Sauce|
ソフトドリンク (sofutodorinku): Soft drink, soda
•ソフトクリーム (sofutokurīmu): Soft serve ice cream

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ソ (so)

タ行 (Ta Gyō) – Ta Row: Pronunciation

How to Read Katakana : Ta-Row (タ行)

タ (Ta)

The katakana character ta, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

The katakana  (ta) looks a little like  (ku). The difference is that  (ta) has an extra line in the middle.

Words Starting With タ (Ta):

•タイ (tai): Thailand
•タレント (tarento): An entertainer on television or radio
•タオル (taoru): Towel

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: タ (ta)

チ (Chi)

The katakana character chi, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

When you write  (chi), you will start with an upper horizontal stroke, then a longer horizontal stroke under it, and end with the curvy downward stroke.

Words Starting With チ (Chi):

•チワワ (chiwawa): Chihuahua
•チアリーダー (chiarīdā): Cheerleader
•チンパンジー (chinpanjī): Chimpanzee

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: チ (chi)

ツ (Tsu)

The katakana character tsu, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

As mentioned above,  (tsu) is similar to the katakana character  (shi). Be sure to watch the video and pay attention to the stroke order of this character. Of course, don’t forget to practice writing it too!

Words Starting With ツ (Tsu):

•ツナ (tsuna): Tuna
•ツイッター (tsuittā): Twitter
•ツーショット (tsūshotto): Picture of two people (usually a man and a woman)

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ツ (tsu)

テ (Te)

The katakana character te, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (te) has two horizontal strokes with a final curvy vertical stroke that only touches the bottom of the second stroke. Be sure not to go through the horizontal lines when you write the last stroke.

Words Starting With テ (Te):

•テーブル (tēburu): Table
•テクニック (tekunikku): Technique
•テレビ (terebi): TV

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: テ (te)

ト (To)

The katakana character to, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (to) has two straight lines. The first stroke is a long and straight vertical line. The second stroke is a shorter line, which stems from the midpoint of the first stroke and is slanted downwards.

Words Starting With ト (To):

•トイレ (toire): Restroom
•トースト (tōsuto): Toast
•トレーニング (torēningu): Training

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ト (to)

ナ行 (Na Gyō) – Na Row: Pronunciation

How to Read Katakana : Na-Row (ナ行)

ナ (Na)

The katakana character na, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (na) is one of the simpler katakana characters to remember. If you remember  (chi) from earlier,  (na) is  (chi) without the top stroke.

Words Starting With ナ (Na):  

•ナース (nāsu): Nurse
•ナイフ (naifu): Knife
•ナタデココ (natadekoko): Nata de coco (Coconut gel)

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ナ (na)

ニ (Ni)

The katakana character ni, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

All the katakana characters originate from kanji.   (ni) is the most obvious example of this. The kanji character for “two” is , the same as katakana  (ni).

Words Starting With ニ (Ni):  

•ニス (nisu): Varnish
•ニックネーム (nikkunēmu): Nickname
•ニュース (nyūsu): News

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ニ (ni)

ヌ (Nu)

The katakana character nu, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

As mentioned above,  (nu) is similar to Katakana  (su).  (nu) has its second stroke crossing its first stroke.

Words Starting With ヌ (Nu):

•ヌードル (nūdoru): Noodle
•ヌー (): Gnu
•ヌード (nūdo): Nude 

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ヌ (nu)

ネ (Ne)

The katakana character ne, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

ネ (ne) can be confusing to remember at first. It takes four strokes to write  (ne). Check out the video to see the correct way to write it.

Words Starting With ネ (Ne)

•ネイティブ  (neitibu): Native (speaker)
•ネクタイ (nekutai): Necktie
•ネガティブ (negatibu): Negative (person, way of thinking, etc.)

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ネ (ne)

ノ (No)

The katakana character no, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

ノ (no) might be the easiest katakana character to write. Be sure to start the stroke from the top right and go down to the bottom left.

Words Starting With ノ (No):

•ノート (nōto): Notebook
•ノック (nokku): Knock
•ノルウェー (noruuē): Norway

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ノ (no)

ハ行 (Ha Gyō) – Ha Row: Pronunciation

How to Read Katakana : Ha-Row (ハ行)

ハ (Ha)

The katakana character ha, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

Some people say  (ha) looks like hashi (chopsticks) as the two strokes are equal in length and angle.

Words Starting With ハ (Ha):

•ハイタッチ (haitacchi): High five
•ハイキング (haikingu): Hiking
•ハンバーガー (hanbāgā): Hamburger

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ハ (ha)

ヒ (Hi)

The katakana character hi, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

ヒ (hi) is made up of one horizontal stroke and one long line that curves around it.  

 Words Starting With ヒ (Hi):

•ヒーロー (hīrо̄): Hero
•ヒート (hīto): Heat
•ヒエラルキー (hierarukī): Hierarchy

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ヒ (hi)

フ (Fu)

The katakana character fu, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (fu) is similar to  (wa). As you might notice,  (wa) has an extra vertical line at the left top corner.

 Words Starting With フ (Fu):

•フットサル (futtosaru): futsal
•フラミンゴ (furanmingo): Flamingo
•フラダンス (fura dansu): Hula (dance)

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: フ (fu)

ヘ (He)

The katakana character he, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (he) is another katakana character that requires only one stroke. The shape of  resembles a boomerang. If you remember hiragana  (he), the katakana  (he) is identical.

 Words Starting With ヘ (He):

•ヘッド (heddo): Head
•ヘルニア (herunia): Hernia
•ヘルメット (herumetto): Helmet

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ヘ (he)

ホ (Ho)

The katakana character ho, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (ho) has a cross in the center and two short outward strokes on each side. 

Words Starting With ホ (Ho):

•ホース (hōsu): Hose
•ホームラン (hōmuran): Home run
•ホッチキス (hocchikisu): Stapler

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ホ (ho)

マ行 (Ma Gyō) – Ma Row: Pronunciation

How to Read Katakana : Ma-Row (マ行)

マ (Ma)

The katakana character ma, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (ma) is similar to  (fu) but has a shorter downward stroke and an extra stroke at the end. 

Words Starting With マ (Ma):

•マグロ (maguro): Tuna
•マネージャー (manējā): Manager 
•マーガリン (māgarin): Margarine

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: マ (ma)

ミ (Mi)

The katakana character mi, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

ミ (mi) is made up of three equal-length strokes. When writing  (mi), you start with the top stroke, going from left to right. As you write the stroke, it should gradually taper downwards. The three strokes should be parallel to each other.

Words Starting With ミ (Mi):  

•ミイラ (mīra): Mummy
•ミートソース (mīto sо̄su): Meat sauce (Bolognese sauce)
•ミッキーマウス (mikkī mausu): Mickey Mouse

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ミ (mi)

ム (Mu)

The katakana character mu, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

The first stroke of  (mu) starts at the top, goes downward and slightly to the left, then turns sharply to the right. The second stroke is a straight line slanted to the left and touches the end of the first stroke.  

Words Starting With ム (Mu):

•ムエタイ (muetai): Muay Thai
•ムース (mūsu): Mousse (food)
•ムニエル (munieru): Meunière

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ム (mu)

メ (Me)

The katakana character me, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (me) is a lot similar to the katakana  (no). However,  (me) has an extra stroke that crosses the first stroke.

Words Starting With メ (Me):

•メイク (meiku): Makeup
•メール (mēru): E-mail
•メス (mesu): Scalpel

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: メ (me)

モ (Mo)

The katakana character mo, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (mo) is a little similar to the hiragana  (mo). However, the katakana  (mo) is much more square (less curvy) than the hiragana  (mo). Also, the third stroke of the katakana モ (mo) does not stick out at the top of the character. It just touches the first stroke but does not go through it. 

Words Starting With モ (Mo):

•モンブラン (monburan): Mont Blanc (a dessert made with chestnut purée and cream)​, Mont Blanc mountains in Europe
•モップ (moppu): Mop
•モノクロ (monokuro): Monochrome

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: モ (mo)

ヤ行 (Ya Gyō) – Ya Row: Pronunciation

How to Read Katakana : Ya-Row (ヤ行)

ヤ (Ya)

The katakana character ya, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

ヤ (ya) is another katakana character that has similarities with its hiragana partner. The hiragana  (ya) is rounder than the katakana  (ya) and has an extra dash at the top.

Words Starting With ヤ (Ya):

•ヤシの木 (yashi no ki): Palm tree
•ヤンキー (yankī): Delinquent
•ヤンデレ (yandere): Someone with an (unhealthy) obsession over their love interest

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ヤ (ya)

ユ (Yu)

The katakana character yu, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (yu) is slightly similar to  (ni), but if you practice writing this character a few times, you will quickly notice and learn their differences.  

Words Starting With ユ (Yu):  

•ユーモア (yūmoa): Humor
•ユッケ (yukke): Yukhoe (A Korean dish made with seasoned raw beef and usually topped with an egg yolk)
•ユニフォーム (yunifōmu): Uniform

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ユ (yu)

ヨ (Yo)

The katakana character yo, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

The katakana  (yo) has three strokes in total. The first stroke starts at the top left corner, moving to the right and making a 90-degree turn downward. The second stroke is the line in the middle. The last stroke is the line at the bottom, which results in this character looking like a backward “E.”

Words Starting With ヨ (Yo):  

•ヨーグルト (yōguruto): Yogurt
•ヨガ (yoga): Yoga
•ヨーロッパ (yōroppa): Europe

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ヨ (yo)

ラ行 (Ra Gyō) – Ra Row: Pronunciation

How to Read Katakana : Ra-Row (ラ行)

ラ (Ra)

The katakana character ra, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (ra) looks a lot like the katakana  (fu). The difference is that  (ra) has an additional horizontal line at the top.

Words Starting With ラ (Ra) :  

•ライチ (raichi): Lychee
•ライム (raimu): Lime
•ライオン (raion): Lion

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ラ (ra)

 リ (Ri)

The katakana character ri, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

If you remember the hiragana  (ri), you might notice that the katakana  (ri) is very similar. As opposed to the hiragana  (ri), which has two curved strokes like parenthesis ( ), the katakana  (ri) has two strokes that are more straight and rigid.

Words Starting With リ (Ri):

•リコーダー (rikōdā): Recorder
•リストラ (risutora): Restructuring of a company, down-sizing, laying people off
•リボン (ribon): Ribbon

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: リ (ri)

ル (Ru)

The katakana character ru, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (ru) is similar to the katakana  (no). The difference is that  has an extra curved stroke (that looks like a sharper “L”) on the right side in addition to  (no).

Words Starting With ル (Ru): 

•ルアー (ruā): Lure
•ルーム (rūmu): Room
•ルール (rūru): Rule

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ル (ru)

レ (Re)

The katakana character re, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

The katakana character  (re) looks similar to the right half of ル (ru).

 (re) looks like the letter “L” but with the bottom stroke curving up at a sharper angle.  

Words Starting With レ (Re):  

•レジ (renji): Cashier, register
•レスリング (resuringu): Wrestling
•レストラン (resutoran): Restaurant 

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: レ (re)

ロ (Ro)

The katakana character ro, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (ro) looks like a square. Although a square seems easy enough to write (if you single or double-stroke it),  (ro) has three strokes. Watch the demonstration video to see how it’s written.

Words Starting With ロ (Ro):

•ロボット (robotto): Robot
•ロース (rōsu): Pork loin, sirloin (beef)
•ロケット (rokketto): Rocket

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ロ (ro)

ワ行 (Wa Gyō) – Wa Row: Pronunciation

How to Read Katakana : Wa-Row (ワ行)

ワ (Wa)

The katakana character wa, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (wa) looks a little like  (fu).  (wa) has an extra stroke in the upper left corner. Be sure the second stroke (upper horizontal line) is long enough, so it doesn’t look like Katakana  (ku).

Words Starting With ワ (Wa):

•ワイシャツ (waishatsu): Dress shirt for work
•ワイン (wain): Wine
•ワンピース (wanpīsu): Dress

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ワ (wa)

ヲ (O)

The katakana character wo, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

ヲ (o) is similar to the katakana  (fu); however,  (o) has an extra horizontal line in the center.

Words Starting With ヲ (O):

There are no words starting with  (o) in Japanese.  

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ヲ (wo)

ン (N)

The katakana character n, written in white on a dark green background, with numbers showing the stroke order.

 (n) looks almost exactly like the katakana  (so).  (n) ‘s first stroke is more horizontal than that of  (so) ‘s. The second stroke of  (n) starts at the bottom, going upwards, whereas that of  (so) begins at the top, going downwards. Make sure to watch the demonstration video so you can differentiate these two similar characters! It’s very easy to get these two characters mixed up.  

Words Starting With  (N):

There are no words starting with  (n) in Japanese. 

How to Read and Write Katakana Easily: ン (n)

Part II Advanced Katakana: Characters With Different Sounds

Nice work! You now know all of the basic katakana characters! Let’s level up and learn how to use these basic characters to create new characters and sounds.   

濁音 (Dakuon) – Katakana with Dakuten

Dakuten are the two small, vertical dashes that you write on the upper right-hand side of certain characters. It looks very similar to small double quotation marks (“). Adding these two strokes to certain katakana characters will change it from an unvoiced consonant to a voiced consonant 濁音 (dakuon). 

This is easy to do. All you need to do is remember which characters can take the dakuten marks. 

Characters that can take the dakuten are カ (ka)、サ (sa)、タ (ta)、and ハ (ha) rows

Let’s see how to use the dakuten and how it changes the characters in those rows. 

Dakuon:  The カ (Ka) Row Becomes the ガ (Ga) Row

Characters in the カ (ka) row with a dakuten will have their “k” sound change to a “g” sound.

  • カ (ka) —> ガ (ga)
  • キ (ki) —> ギ (gi)
  • ク (ku) —> グ (gu)
  • ケ (ke) —> ゲ (ge)
  • コ (ko) —> ゴ (go)
How to Read and Write Katakana: ガ行 (Ga Gyō) - Ga Row

Words Starting With ガ (Ga):

  • ガイド (gaido): Guide
  • ガソリンスタンド (gasorin sutando): Gas station
  • ガラス (garasu): Glass

Words Starting With ギ (Gi):

  • ギター (gitā): Guitar
  • ギガ (giga): Giga, gigabyte
  • ギリシャ (girisha): Greece

Words Starting With グ (Gu):

  • グアム (guamu): Guam
  • グッピー (guppī): Guppy
  • グミ (gumi): Gummy candy

Words Starting With ゲ (Ge):

  • ゲート (gēto): Gate
  • ゲスト (gesuto): Guest
  • ゲレンデ (gerende): Ski area, ski slope

Words Starting With オ (Go):

  • ゴーヤ (gōya): Goya, bitter melon
  • ゴリラ (gorira): Gorilla
  • ゴルフ (gorufu): Golf

Dakuon: サ (Sa) Row Becomes the ザ (Za) Row

The characters in the サ (sa) row with a dakuten attached to it will go from an “s” sound to a “z” sound.  

** EXCEPTION:  シ (shi) will turn into ジ (ji).

  • サ (sa) —> ザ (za)
  • シ (shi) —> ジ (ji)
  • ス (su) —> ズ (zu)
  • セ (se) —> ゼ (ze)
  • ソ (so) —> ゾ (zo)

*Note: ジ (zi) is the way you read/write romaji with the 訓令式 (kunrei shiki) system, which is used by the Cabinet of Japan. However, “ji” is how you would read “ジ” with the Hepburn style of romaji. The Hepburn style is used in most English translations. It is also easier to understand since the readings of each character are much closer to the actual pronunciation of Japanese words. For example, the word ジーンズ ( jīnzu) means “jeans.” It is pronounced “ji-nzu.” If you were to pronounce it using the kunrei shiki romanization, it would be “zi-nzu,” which would not be the correct pronunciation.

How to Read and Write Katakana: ザ行 (Za Gyō) - Za Row

Words Starting With ザ (Za):

  • ザ (za): The
  • ザンビア (zambia): Zambia 
  • ザック (zakku): Zac/Zack/Zach (name)

Words Starting With ジ (Ji):

  • ジーンズ (jīnzu): Jeans
  • ジェットコースター (jetto kōsutā): Roller coaster
  • ジム (jimu): Gym

Words Starting With ズ (Zu):

  • ズーム (zūmu): Zoom
  • ズッキーニ (zukkīni): Zucchini
  • ズボン (zubon): Trousers, pants

Words Starting With ゼ (Ze):

  • ゼリー (zerī): Jelly
  • ゼミ (zemi): Seminar
  • ゼロ (zero): Zero

Words Starting With ゾ (Zo):

  • ゾーン (zо̄n): Zone
  • ゾロメ (zorome): Matching dice, the same number repeated (in multi-digit numbers) 
  • ゾンビ (zonbi): Zombie

Dakuon: タ (Ta) Row Becomes the ダ (Da) Row

The katakana ta-row has two exceptions. Characters in the タ (ta) row with a dakuten attached to it will go from a “t” sound to a “d” sound.

**EXCEPTIONS: チ (chi) and ツ (tsu):
チ (chi) will turn into ヂ (ji) and ツ (tsu) will change to ヅ (zu). 

How to Read and Write Katakana: ダ行 (Da Gyō) - Da Row

Notice that シ (shi) also turns into ジ (ji). Both ジ and ヂ become “ji” (romaji and pronunciation are the same). Why do two different characters have the same reading and pronunciation? 

This is something called 連濁 (rendaku) in Japanese. Rendaku is when you combine Japanese words that result in the first constant of the second word becoming voiced. 

In katakana, very few words use ヂ or ヅ (usually proper nouns like names or places). So it is much easier to understand if we take a look at the example we have in our learning hiragana guide:  

はな (hana) means either flower or nose. For this example, it will mean “nose.” ち (chi) also can mean blood or ground/earth. We will use the “blood” meaning for this example.  

When we put these words together, it should look like this: はな (hanachi).

However…

Because of the concept of 連濁 (rendaku), the first constant of the second word ち (chi – blood) will become voiced —> ぢ(ji). Therefore, the correct word will be はな (hanaji), which means “nosebleed.” If we were to use the other “ji,” it would not be correct technically:  

X はなじ – > Not correct technically

O はなぢ – > Correct writing of the word

つ (tsu) is the same. With the dakuten, it will change to づ (zu) (just likeす (su) —> ず (zu)) and is mainly used with 連濁 (rendaku) words. This means that づ (zu) is primarily used when combined with other words (in the middle of the end of words, not at the beginning).

Let’s take a look at the whole da-row:

  • タ (ta) —> ダ (da)
  • チ (chi) —> ヂ (ji)
  • ツ (tsu) —> ヅ (zu)
  • テ (te) —> デ (de)
  • ト (to) —> ド (do)

Words Starting With ダ (Da):

  • ダーツ (dātsu): Darts
  • ダイエット (daietto): Diet
  • ダム (damu): Dam

Words Starting With ヂ (Ji):

There are no modern words that start with  (ji).

Words Starting With ヅ (Zu):

Most words with ヅ (zu) are written in kanji/hiragana.  

Words Starting With デ (De):

  • デザート (dezāto): Desert
  • デパート (depāto): Department store
  • デビュー (debyū): Debut

Words Starting With ド (Do):

  • ドア (doa): Door
  • ドイツ (doitsu): Germany
  • ドーナツ (dōnatsu): Donut

Dakuon: ハ (Ha) Row Becomes the バ (Ba) Row

Characters in the ハ (ha) row with a dakuten attached to it will go from a “h” sound to a “b” sound:

  • ハ (ha) —> ハ (ba)
  • ヒ (hi) —> ビ (bi)
  • フ (fu) —> ブ (bu)
  • ヘ (he) —> ベ (be)
  • ホ (ho) —> ボ (bo)
How to Read and Write Katakana: バ行 (Ba Gyō) - Ba Row

Words Starting With バ (Ba):

  • バイト (baito): Part-time job
  • バケツ (baketsu): Bucket
  • バター (batā): Butter

Words Starting With ビ (Bi):

  • ビーダマ (bīdama): Marbles (game)
  • ビール (bīru): Beer
  • ビニール (binīru): Vinyl

Words Starting With ブ (Bu):

  • ブレーキ (burēki): Breaks (car, bicycle, etc.)
  • ブラック (burakku): Black
  • ブラシ (burashi): Brush

Words Starting With ベ (Be):

  • ベッド (beddo): Bed
  • ベビーカー (bebīkā): Baby stroller
  • ベランダ (beranda): Balcony

Words Starting With ボ (Bo):  

  • ボクシング (bokushingu): Boxing
  • ボランティア (boranteia): Volunteer
  • ボンド (bondo): Adhesive

半濁音 (Han Dakuon): Katakana With the Consonant “P

The 半濁音 (han dakuon) applies to only the ハ (ha) row. The ha-row is the only row that can either change to a dakuon reading (バ (ba), ビ (bi), ブ (bu), ベ (be), ボ (bo) or a 半濁音 (han dakuon) reading. The han dakuon reading changes the “h” sound to a “p” sound. To create the han dakuon reading for the ha-row, draw a small circle at the top right-hand corner of the character:

  • ハ (ha) —> パ (pa)
  • ヒ (hi) —> ピ (pi)
  • フ (fu) —> プ (pu)
  • ヘ (he) —> ペ (pe)
  • ホ (ho) —> ポ (po)

It can be very easy to mistake the small circle (han dakuon) for the two slashes (dakuon) at the upper right-hand corner of the character, so be sure to pay special attention when reading or writing these characters.

How to Read and Write Hiragana: パ行 (Pa Gyō) - Pa Row

Words Starting With パ (Pa):

  • パン (pan): Bread
  • パトカー (patokā): Police/patrol car
  • パプリカ (papurika): (Red or Yellow) Bell pepper 

Words Starting With ピ (Pi):

  • ピアノ (piano): Piano
  • ピエロ (piero): Clown
  • ピザ (piza): Pizza

Words Starting With プ (Pu):

  • プール (pūru): Pool
  • プライバシー (puraibashī): Privacy
  • プレゼント (purezento): Present, gift

Words Starting With ペ (Pe):

  • ペーパー (pēpā): Paper
  • ペンキ (penki): Paint
  • ペンチ (penchi): Pliers

Words Starting With ポ (Po):  

  • ポイント (pointo): Point(s) (scoring, point of a story, etc.)
  • ポスト (posuto): Postbox
  • ポテト (poteto): Potato

促音 (Sokuonn): The Small “ツ (Tsu)” in Katakana

The small tsu represents a doubled or “geminate” consonant called sokuon (促音) in Japanese. When you put a small tsu (small ッvs. a normal sized ツ) in a word, it will change the pronunciation of the character that comes right after it. That consonant in that character will change to a double consonant.

For example, the word バグ (bagu) means “bug” (as in a computer bug). However, we put a small ッ in the middle of that word, we would get バッグ (baggu) which means “bag” (as in a tote bag, or purse).

Notice how the character that followed the small ッ changed into a double consonant (from “gu” to “ggu”). These double consonants act as a small pause when you pronounce these words.

Check out our hiragana guide to learn more about the small tsu in detail.

Example Words Using the ツ (Tsu):

  • ポケット (poketto): Pocket
  • ソックス (sokkusu): Socks
  • マップ (mappu): Map

Part III: Combination Katakana Characters

In this last section, we’ll combine characters to form new katakana characters. If you have already mastered the basic characters above, this section will be easy! All you need to do is remember which characters go together, and you’ll finish this section in no time.  

拗音 (Yōon): Combination Katakana Characters

Smaller versions of the characters  (ya),  (yu), and  (yo) can be added to specific characters ending in an “i” sound. The katakana that can be combined with the ya-row characters are:

  • キ (ki) and ギ (gi)
  • シ (shi) and ジ (ji)
  • チ (chi) and ヂ (ji)
  • ニ (ni)
  • ヒ (hi), ビ (bi), and ピ (pi)
  • ミ (mi)
  • リ (ri)

All you need to do is write a smaller  (ya),  (yu), and  (yo) character and put it in the bottom right-hand corner of any of the characters listed above. Let’s look at examples from each of these rows. To read these combination katakana, you will drop the “i” from the first character and replace it with the reading of the ya-row character.

For example:

  • キ(ki) + ャ(ya) = キャ (kya)
  • キ(ki) + ュ(yu) = キュ (kyu)
  • キ(ki) + ョ(yo) = キョ (kyo)
  • and so on…

*EXCEPTIONS: シ (shi), ジ (ji), チ (chi), and ヂ (ji) are the exceptions. Just like the characters above, you will replace the “i” with the reading of a ya-row character. However, you will get rid of the “y” and only use the vowel of the ya-row character (a, u, o).

For example:

  • シ(shi) + ャ(ya) = シャ (sha)
  • ジ(ji) + ャ(ya) = ジャ (ja)
  • チ(chi) +ュ(yu) = チュ (chu)
  • and so on

Let’s take a look at each row of combination characters in more detail.

キャ行 (Kya Gyō) – Kya Row:  (Ki) and ギ (Gi) + ヤ (Ya) , ユ (Yu), and ヨ (Yo)

How to Read and Write Katakana: キャ行 (Kya Row)

Words Starting With キャ (Kya) and ギャ (Gya):

  • キャスト (kyasuto): Cast
  • キャビア (kyabia): Caviar
  • キャプテン (kyaputen): Captain
  • ギャグ (gyagu): Joke
  • ギャラリー (gyararī): Gallery 
  • ギャンブル (gyanburu): Gambling 

Words Starting With キュ (Kyu) and ギュ (Gyu): 

  • キュレーター (kyurētā): Curator
  • キューティクル (kyūteikuru): Cuticle
  • キューブ (kyūbu): Cube
  • ギュメ (gyume): Angle brackets (e.g. < >)

Words Starting With キョ (Kyo) and ギョ (Gyo):

  • キョンシー (kyonshī): A Chinese vampire/monster
  • キョフテ (kyofute): Kofta (Meatball/meatloaf dishes)
  • キョードー東京 (kyо̄dо̄ tо̄kyо̄): Kyodo Tokyo (theater company)
  • ギョーザ (gyо̄za): Gyoza, dumplings, potstickers
  • ギョロ目 (gyoro me): Big, bulging eyes

シャ行 (Sha Gyō) – Sha Row:  (Shi) and ジ (Ji) + ヤ (Ya) , ユ (Yu), and ヨ (Yo)

How to Read and Write Katakana: シャ行 (Sha Row)

Words Starting With シャ (Sha) and ジャ (Ja):

  • シャベル (shaberu): Shovel
  • シャワー (sha): Shower
  • シャーベット (shābetto): Sherbet
  • ジャム (jamu): Jam
  • ジャズ (jazu): Jazz
  • ジャケット (jaketto): Jacket

Words Starting With シュ (Shu) and ジュ (Ju):

  • シュシュ (shushu): Scrunchie
  • シュノーケル (shunōkeru): Snorkeling
  • シュークリーム (shūkurīmu): Cream puff(s)
  • ジュース (su): Juice
  • ジュニア (junia): Junior
  • ジュエリー (juerī): Jewelry 

Words Starting With ショ (Sho) and ジョ (Jo):

  • ショッピング (shoppingu): Shopping
  • ショー (shō): Show
  • ショック (shokku): Shock
  • ジョギング (jogingu): Jogging
  • ジョッキ (jokki): Jug, beer mug
  • ジョイント (joint): Joint

チャ行 (Cha Gyō) – Cha Row: チ (Chi) and ヂ (Ji) + ヤ (Ya) , ユ (Yu), and ヨ (Yo)

How to Read and Write Katakana: チャ行 (Cha Row)

Words Starting With チャ (Cha) and ヂャ (Ja):

  • チャック (chakku): Zipper
  • チャンス (chansu): Chance
  • チャート (chāto): Chart

*There are no common words starting with ヂャ (Ja). Words that use this character are usually proper nouns like names, places, or creations.  

Words Starting With チュ (Chu) and ヂュ (Ju):

  • チュロス (churosu): Churro
  • チューブ (chūbu): Tube
  • チューター (chū): Tutor

*There are no common words starting with character ヂュ (ju). Words with this character are usually proper nouns like names or places. ジュ (ju) is used for words that contain the reading “ju” in them.  

Words Starting With チョ (Cho) and ヂョ (Jo):  

  • チョコ (choko): Chocolate
  • チョッキ (chokki): Vest
  • チョーク (chōku): Chalk

*No common words start with the character ヂョ (jo). Words with this character are usually proper nouns like names or places. ジョ is used for words with this sound.  

ニャ行 (Nya gyō) – Nya Row: ニ (Ni) + ヤ (Ya) , ユ (Yu), and ヨ (Yo)

How to Read and Write Katakana: ニャ行 (Nya Row)

Word Starting With ニャ (Nya):

ニャチャン (nyachan): Nha Trang

Words Starting With ニュ (Nyu):

  • ニュアンス (nyuansu): Nuance
  • ニューヨーク (nyūyōku): New York
  • ニュース (nyūsu): News

Words Starting With ニョ (Nyo):

  • ニョッキ (nyokki): Gnocchi
  • ニョオウインコ (nyoouinko): Golden Parakeet

ヒャ行 (Hya Gyō) – Hya Row: ヒ (Hi), ビ (Bi) and ピ (Pi) + ヤ (Ya) , ユ (Yu), and ヨ (Yo)

How to Read and Write Katakana: ヒャ行 (Hya Row)

Word Starting With ヒャ (Hya):

ヒャクメオオトカゲ (hyakumeootokage): Argus monitor (species of lizard)

Word Starting With ビャ (Bya):

ビャンビャン麺 (byanbyan men): Biangbiang noodles

Word Starting With ピャ (Pya):

ピャチゴルスク (pyachigorusuku): Pyatigorsk (a city in southern Russia)

Words Starting With ヒュ (Hyu):

  • ヒューストン (hyūsuton): Houston
  • ヒューマン (hyūman): Human
  • ヒューマニティー (hyūmanitei): Humanity

Words Starting With ビュ (Byu):

  • ビュッフェ (byuffe): Buffet 
  • ビューティフル (byūtifuru): Beautiful
  • ビュー (byū): View

Words Starting With ピュ (Pyu):

  • ピューマ (pyūma): Puma
  • ピュア (pyua): Pure
  • ピューレ (pyure): Purée

Word Starting With ヒョ (Hyo)

ヒョウモンチョウ族 (hyōmonchō zoku):Argynnini (a tribe of butterflies in the Heliconiinae subfamily)

Word Starting With ビョ (Byo):

ビョンビョン (byonbyon): Onomatopoeia for something bouncy

Word Starting With ピョ (Pyo):

ピョートル1世 (pyōtoru issei): Peter the Great

ミャ行 (Mya Gyō) – Mya Row:  ミ (Mi) + ヤ (Ya) , ユ (Yu), and ヨ (Yo)

How to Read and Write Katakana: ミャ行 (Mya Row)

Word Starting With ミャ (Mya):   

ミャンマー (myanmā): Myanmar

Words Starting With ミュ (Myu):

  • ミュージアム (myūjiamu): Museum
  • ミュージック (myūjikku): Music
  • ミュージシャン (myūjishan): Musician 

Word Starting With ミョ (Myo):

ミョウバン (myōban): Alum

リャ行 (Rya Gyō) – Rya Row: リ (Ri) + ヤ (Ya) , ユ (Yu), and ヨ (Yo)

How to Read and Write Katakana: リャ行 (Rya Row)

Word Starting with リャ (Rya):

リャザン (ryazan): Ryazan (a city in western Russia)

Words Starting With リュ (Ryu):  

  • リューマチ (ryūmachi): Rheumatism
  • リュック (ryukku): Backpack

Words Starting With リョ (Ryo)

  • リョクトウ (ryokutō): Mung bean(s)
  • リョウブ科 (ryōbuka): Clethraceae (plant family of flowering plants)

Summary

Remembering all the katakana takes some practice, so don’t get frustrated if you don’t remember them all at once. Just go step-by-step: watch the videos and then practice writing and reading them. Flashcards are also a great way to help you remember the characters.  

I hope this guide helped you to learn katakana! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave us a comment!

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