Of course, the first place we have to start is the title of the series:
Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai
俺 – ore – I, me (generally used by males)
妹 – imouto – little sister
可愛い – kawaii – cute
わけ – wake – reason
ない – nai – negative, nonexistent
Many of you probably already know the translation of this: My Little Sister Can’t be This Cute. However, probably very few of you are aware of why this sentence translates like that. So, as our first translation project, we will translate the title of the series.
Well, let’s start from the beginning. The first three words, ore no imouto are simple enough to translate, and it all comes down to understanding the “no” in the middle. This leads us to the first major topic:
New Grammatical Object – Particles (A General Introduction)
Particles are the backbone of the Japanese language. They do not exist in the English language. Prepositions in English (in, with, by, above, etc.) come close, but are not as pervasively important as particles.
A particle tells us what the function of a certain part of a sentence, and always come after the part of the sentence it modifies. For example, the subject particle ga, which we will learn about in a little bit, comes right after the subject of a sentence. In a sentence that starts “X ga…“, we know that X is the subject of the sentence.
As we continue to read, we will meet many, many different and diverse particles. A full understanding of the many different particles is essential to becoming proficient at Japanese, so pay close attention whenever a new particle pops up, like right now:
New Grammatical Object – no (Particle)
No is a particle that marks possession. In many respects, it is similar to the English apostrophe-S, and it is often used precisely in that way. In the three words
Ore no imouto,
The particle no sandwiched in the middle tells us that what comes before it (remember, particles always modify what comes right before them), the ore, possesses what comes after it, the imouto. Because ore means I and imouto means little sister, these three words translate to “my little sister.”
It should be noted though that no is much more versatile than the apostrophe-S. For instance, it can be used to create an appositive. Imouto no Kirino would mean “my little sister, Kirino,” something that cannot be accomplished by a simple apostrophe-S in English.
This brings us right to the next word, ga.
New Grammatical Object – ga (Particle)
As mentioned before, ga marks the subject of a sentence. There is not much more I will say about it at present. In this case, it tells us that ore no imouto, translated as my little sister, is the subject of the sentence.
There is another particle that marks the subject of a sentence, wa, that gives a lot of grief to foreigners who want to learn Japanese. The differences between wa and ga are a headache to internalize, and so we will defer such discussion until wa comes up in the text (which won’t take long, trust me).
This brings us to the next three words, konna ni kawaii.
New Grammatical Object – kore, sore, are, and their variants
These words are so frequently used in the Japanese language that it is probably good to just introduce them now. Put simply, these words are the Japanese equivalents of the English “this” and “that.” If you want to refer to an object close to you, you use “this.” For example, “look at this,” or “listen to this.” In Japanese, “this” translates to kore.
Meanwhile, if you want to refer to something away from you, in English you use “that.” In Japanese, it’s slightly different, as “that” is split even further into two categories. Sore is use for objects that are away from the viewer, but not too far away, while are is reserved for things that are very far away. So, you might use sore for “that thing on the front lawn that I can see,” but are for “that thing in the other country I saw on the news.”
There are a few variations on these three words. Koko, soko, and asoko refer to locations, and are roughly translated to “here,” “there (nearby),” and “there (faraway).”
Kono, sono, and ano are the adjective forms of kore, sore, and are. So, “this cat” would be translated as kono neko (where neko is, as you should know, the Japanese word for cat). Note that these words all end in the syllable no, which should (rightfully) remind you of the possessive particle no we talked about above.
Last, there’s konna, sonna, and anna. These roughly mean “something like this/that.” They are used to express an emphasis on the degree to which something is true. For example, konna imouto would translate to “a little sister like this,” while anna neko would translate to “a cat like that. If you add a ni to the end of these words, they become adverbs. We will see a lot more of this particle ni later, so we defer discussion until that time. However, it’s enough to understand that konna ni is the adverb form of konna, and so in the phrase
konna ni kawaii,
the ni is necessary because konna ni modifies the adjective kawaii. And, it would translate roughly to “cute like this.” This leads right into our discussion of adjectives.
New Grammatical Object – “true” i-adjectives, present tense
By “true” adjectives, does that mean there are “untrue” adjectives? Yes, and we’ll get to those when they show up. In this case, the adjective we are dealing with is kawaii (cute), which is a true i-adjective. I call these adjectives i-adjectives because their present tense forms all end in the syllable i.
We will learn more about how to express adjectives in the past tense later. But, for now, just keep in mind that adjectives, in Japanese, like in English, can be used to modify nouns in two ways:
(1) (Coming right before the noun, forming a fragment): kawaii imouto (cute little sister)
(2) (Coming after the noun and subject particle, forming a complete sentence): imouto ga kawaii (little sister is cute)
In this case, we are dealing with case (2). So far, the sentence reads:
ore no imouto ga konna ni kawaii = my little sister is this cute.
Note that there is one other adjective in this sentence, nai, which means “nonexistent.”
This brings us to the last three words, wake ga nai.
New Grammatical Object – Relative Clauses (A General Introduction) + wake
Relative clauses are something else that often give English speakers trouble when they learn Japanese, just because the word ordering is so different. A relative clause is a long descriptor phrase that is then used to modify a word. For example, in the sentence “The apple that I bought from the store was delicious,” the relative clause “that I bought from the store” modifies the noun “apple.”
In English, relative clause usually come after the word they modify, and are generally joined to that word by a relative pronoun like “that,” “where,” “who,” etc. In Japanese, relative clauses come before what they modify, and there is no relative pronoun. In a sense, they almost act like adjectives. Relative clauses in Japanese end in adjectives or verbs, which are then immediately followed by what they modify. We have yet to encounter a verb (and won’t in this section), and the relative clause in the sentence we are translating is:
Ore no imouto ga konna ni kawaii,
which ends in the adjective kawaii. Recall that this sentence translates to “my little sister is this cute.” This sentence modifies the next word, wake. The word wake is just a normal noun, and translates to “reason,” and is in fact commonly used at the end of sentences when the speaker wishes to emphasize that he/she reached some conclusion from reasoning. Kirino herself often uses this word at the end of sentences to add a somewhat snarky confidence to her speech.
To focus on this translation, though, we know that the phrase “my little sister is this cute” modifies the noun wake, which means “reason.” So, the whole phrase ore no imouto ga konna ni kawaii wake translates to “the reasoning that my little sister is this cute.”
We now know enough to finish the translation off. After wake, we see the subject particle ga once again, which tells us that the noun “the reasoning that my little sister is this cute” is the subject of this sentence. Finally, nai is an adjective that means “nonexistent.” To say X ga nai means “X does not exist.” We will talk more about nai later, but for now, we can make the final translation:
Ore no imouto ga konna ni kawaii wake ga nai
= “The reasoning that my little sister is this cute does not exist.”
Or, putting it into more fluid English,
= “There’s no way my little sister can be this cute.”
The phrase wake ga nai is actually used quite often, and can usually roughly be translated as “there is no way that…”
Congratulations! You now know how to translate the title of Oreimo.