In my opinion 何, or “what”, is one of the most useful Japanese words to know. It shows up a ton in normal conversation and is an important part in asking questions. You can even use it all on its own as an interjection if something has left you really surprised and confused.
It’s also an easy word to pick out when watching Japanese shows and movies since it usually comes near the end of sentences. It’s even easier to notice when someone gets surprised and just yells out “なに!?” at the top of their lungs.
何 = なに = what
Who’s On First?
Blue: Today we’re going to be learning about what.
Yellow: Why are you asking me? Was I supposed to come up with a lesson plan?
Blue: I mean today we’re going to be learning the 日本語 word for “what”.
Yellow: The 日本語 word for what? Is this is a guessing game?
Yellow: Are going to learn the word for cat? Strawberry? Tactical fighter jet?
Blue: The 日本語 word for “what” is 何. It’s usually pronounced なに.
Blue: Sometimes it’s pronounced なん instead, like when it comes right before です.
Yellow: So… today we’re learning about 何?
Blue: That’s right.
Yellow: Hmm… nope. Translating the question to 日本語 didn’t make it easier to guess. Just tell me what word we’re going to learn.