Learn about the words Genki, Desu and ka

Japanese Lessons – Beginners Guide: ‘Genki’, ‘Desu’ and ‘ka’

Learn about the words Genki, Desu and ka

A language is a valuable tool. It helps us to express how we feel and what we need or want to know. Today we focus on such expressions such as finding out how someone feels and if they are all right.

How Are You?

When we greet someone this is an expression that always pops up. It can feel very ritualistic sometimes, because most people are used to answering, “I am well, thanks” even if they aren’t. How many of us have asked someone how they are after greeting them and they said they are well, and then immediately started to talk about all the problems in their life? It is strange but it has happened. Sometimes someone may actually say they are not doing okay “I don’t feel so good, actually.” Asking how someone is doing is a ritual in every language and today we learn about it in Japanese.

Let’s visit our friend Yuki. You have just greeted Yuki and wants to ask her how she feels todaY. In Japanese, the word for well is genki’. If you put an ‘o’ in front of the word it makes the word more polite. You may ask Yuki ‘Ogenki desu ka? ‘Meaning ‘Are you well?’
IF Yuki were feeling well, she would respond: ‘Hai, genki desu.’ Meaning ‘Yes, I am well?’
If Yuki feels unwell she may respond withIie, genki dewa (ja) arimasen.’ ‘No, I am not well.”
Please note that ‘ja arimasen’ sounds more casual, and is used more in daily conversations. ‘Genki?’ is informal. ‘’Ogenki’ is polite.
Other ways to answer this question is
Yes, I’m very well. – Hai, totemo genki desu.
So so. – Māmā desu.

More information:


Desu usually ends certain affirmative sentences. Sentences that usually contains a verb such as “be’ (am, is, are…) end with ‘desu’. You pronounce it ‘des’ and the ‘u’ is silent.

Example – Genki Desu will sound like ‘Genki Des’ spoken out loud.

Dewa and Ja

Desu is usually changed into ‘dewa arimasen’ or ‘ja arimasen in negative sentences. ‘Ja’ sounds more casual, and is more commonly used in daily conversations.

Example – Genki dewa (ja) arimasen.


To make something a question in Japanese, ‘ka’ is added to the end of a sentence. It is pronounced with a rising intonation.

Example: (O) Genki desu ka?

Recommended reading: read our lessons on greeting someone in Japanese:
Japanese Greetings: Beginner’s Guide Part 1
Japanese Greetings: Beginner’s Guide Part 2 


If you have read our Japanese greetings articles and this article, and feel like exercising a little, here are two exercises to practice Japanese a bit.

You and Yuki:

You: Konbanwa Yuki-chan (Good Evening Yuki!)
Yuki: Yaho! (Yuki is greeting you because you are a friend and she is from Osaka)
You: Ogenki desu ka? (Are you well?)
Yuki: Hai, genki desu! (Yes, I am well)

You and Tobi:

In this exercise, you run into Tobi. You have not seen him in a while. He is a little younger than you. You will see he greets you as senpai because he sees you as a senior. It is a sign of respect.

You: O hisashiburi desu ne, Tobi-kun (hisashiburi is a way to greet someone you have not seen awhile)
Tobi: Hai, Senpai. Hisashiburi
You: Ogenki desu ka? (Are you well?)
Tobi: Māmā desu. (so, so)

Have fun exercising Japanese, Ganbatte ne!