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)


Japanese Writing System


Japanese can be written in the same alphabet as we use for English – this is called rōmaji (roman letters). However, the Japanese themselves do not use this system of writing; instead, they use a combination of three writing systems.

 HIRAGANA (ひらがな)

Hiragana is a phonetic system of writing.
It is made up of 46 characters which stand for a vowel sound such as /ah/, a consonant + vowel such as /ka/ or the letter n. All words of Japanese origin can be written in these characters and this is the first set of characters taught at a school in Japan. These characters have a rounded shape and are made up of no more than 4 lines.

 KATAKANA (カタカナ)

This set of characters stand for the same set of 46 sounds as hiragana, but they are only used for very specific purposes. These are:

  • writing words borrowed from other languages (other than Chinese)
  • writing place names (other than those in China and Japan)
  • writing personal names (other than those of Chinese and Japanese people)
  • sometimes used for the names of companies and their products
  • to highlight, emphasise or decorate words

These characters are quite angular and have fairly sharp corners and straight lines. They are also made up of no more than 4 lines.

 KANJI (漢字)

The third system of writing is kanjiThis very large set of characters com from China and are often called Chinese characters. They stand for particular meaning and are often read in a number of different ways depending on their place in a word. The Japanese commonly use almost 2000 of these characters. Although some of these characters are very simple, many of them are impressively complicated.

You can write all Japanese by just using hiragana and katakana, and indeed this is how young children in Japan start writing. Kanji can be included in your writing as they are learnt and they make it easier to quickly see the meaning of a passage of written Japanese.

In standard Japanese script, ひらがな,カタカナ, and 漢字 are all used together, as in the following example:

先週の日曜日に ハイキングに 行きました。