When do we use katakana?

  • Loan (foreign) words except for Chinese origin words, which are written in kanji
    • Names of countries and people
  • Company names and their products
  • Onomatopoeia e.g. ワンワン, ドキドキ
    • Sounds made by rain, wind, motorbikes and animals
    • Even imagined sounds – even a death stare (ジー)
  • Some animal and insect names e.g. ゴキブリ
  • Emphasis e.g. それはダメです。
  • Change of tone – Use of katakana suggests more masculine and stronger tone, whereas hiragana suggests a softer and feminine speech.

Use of katakana

Signs in dotonbori
Manga (Emphasis)
Manga (Onomatopoeia)
Scientific name of plants (Loan Words)

How do we use katakana?

Essentially, katakana is used and read the same way as hiragana. Refer to the katakana chart below for its pronunciation.


Basic Katakana

Katakana Basic Reading

Modified Syllables (dakuon)

Dakuon Katakana

Consonants Plus “y”

Consonant Y.PNG

Long Vowels

Long vowels in katakana are indicated by “ー” for horizontal writing and flipped 90 degrees for vertical writing for all rows of katakana table.

Long vowel Katakana.PNG

Double Consonants

Doubling consonants is indicated by the katakana small tsu, ッ.

double consonants

Special device

So far, except for the simpler method of lengthening vowels, the use of katakana has been identical to the use of hiragana. We next come to a device that is used in katakana but not in hiragana. Some foreign words use sounds that are not used in Japanese. In order to express these sounds, a small a, i, e, o (ァ,ィ,ェ,ォ) is used. Their methods of use should be clear from examples below.


When compound words or names are written in katakana, sometimes, a dot is placed between the words.

  • ジョン・スミス (John Smith)
  • ホーム・ステイ (home-stay)
  • アウトドア・リビング (outdoor living)
  • ファッション・ショー (fashion show)
  • ハーバー・ブリッジ (harbour bridge)

Tools to help you learn

Katakana by Marugoto

Katakana stroke order animations, listen to each katakana, see how the katakana is used in common vocabulary, and take katakana quizzes.
(Click image to play)


Learn katakana in 10 days (Playlist)

Katakana Practice Booklet

(Click image to download)


Katakana Reading Exercises

Organised in levels of difficulty (Lv. 1 to 9)
(Click image to download)


Katakana Mnemonics

(Click image for access)


Katakana Memory Hint App by Japan Foundation

(Click image to download)

Katakana Quiz

(Click image to play)


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