The Meaning of Desu: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of desu? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word desu, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word desu mean?

According to 80 20 Japanese, the word desu is one of the first words that Japanese students encounter when using the language. Desu, or です in hiragana, is the polite form of the copula verb meaning to be or is. This verb describes two things that are equal, i.e. _____ wa _____ desu. The two blanks will contain nouns that are equal to one another, such as, “Tomorrow is tuesday.” The Japanese would say “Ashita wa kayōbi desu,” or “明日は火曜日です。” In English sentence structure, it may appear that the wa in the sentence means is or equals, but this is not the case. Wa tells the listener or reader the subject of the sentence. Everything that follows the word wa will be related to the subject of the sentence. Therefore, everything after the word wa in the aforementioned example would be related to the word “tomorrow.” The words that follow the wa can either be nouns or adjectives. In the Japanese language, desu usually comes at the end of a sentence.

Desu can be conjugated into different tenses and different forms such as the past tense, future tense, and more in Japanese grammar. While these may be second nature to the native Japanese people, it may take some practice to get the hang of this Japanese word. The past tense of desu is deshita. Degozaimasu is the formal form of desu. You would use this term if you are talking to people you do not know or if you are in a formal situation like an interview or business meeting. The hiragana of this form of desu is でございます. You would use degozaru when you want to act like a Samurai, according to Tofugu. This can also make some sound like a bit of a brute, but is used for humorous effect. The hiragana of this form of desu is でござる. The most  informal version of desu is da, which is written in hiragana as だ. This is a shorthand form of desu and is used between people who know each other very well, such as friends or siblings. Desu is the most commonly used and is used in neutral situations as well as formal and informal ones. If you are unsure which form of desu to use, stick with the standard desu. No one will be offended, especially if you are just learning.

According to Dictionary and Urban Dictionary, fans of anime and manga who are Western will sometimes add the word desu to the ends of sentences to sound cute and mock or imitate the Japanese language i.e. “kawaii desu” which doesn’t really mean anything. It has become a bit of a meme that a weeaboo will have the obsessive need to add the word desu to the end of every sentence even when the sentence does not require it. They might be a fan of the character Suiseiseki from the anime series Rozen Maiden or manga Rozen Maiden. This character appears on many motivational posters with the word desu. A person using the term incorrectly in broken Japanese-English might sound something like, “I just got new cat ears and a large collection of leather belts for my stream, desu! Do you like my new pen desu? It lights up, desu!” The word desu is unnecessary in every single instance shown here, and makes someone sound like an uneducated wannabe.

What is the origin of the word desu?

According to Dictionary, the word desu has been used since the Muromachi period from 1337-1573 in which the word was used in traditional theater for characters to introduce themselves. It became more popularly used toward the end of the Edo period from 1603 to 1868. It was widespread by the Meiji period of 1868 to 1913. It became popularized in the west with the advent of the spread of anime and manga in the 1990s and 2000s. 

How can the word desu be used in a sentence?

The word desu is used frequently in the Japanese language. This is one of the first words that a person learning Japanese will learn. More Japanese vocabulary terms you might try learning could be i-adjectives, predicates, and na-adjectives. Below are some examples of desu in the hiragana, phonetic speech, and translated into English.


 Hiragana: 猫が可愛くていいです。 彼は喉を鳴らして、ちょっとしたごちそうを食べます。

 Phonetic: Neko ga kawaikute īdesu. Kare wa nodo o narashite, chottoshita gochisō o tabemasu.

 English: The cat is cute and nice. He purrs and eats a little treat.


 Hiragana: 私は頭が良いです。私はクラスで一番成績が良いです。

 Phonetic: Watashi wa atama ga ii desu. Watashi wa kurasu de ichiban seiseki ga yoidesu.

 English: I am smart. I have the highest grade in my class.


 Hiragana: 本は長いです。楽しんで読んでいます。

 Phonetic: Hon wa nagaidesu. Tanoshinde yonde imasu.

 English: The book is long. I am enjoying reading it.


 Hiragana: これは巨大な電動工具です。 重すぎて使えません。

 Phonetic: Kore wa kyodaina dendō kōgudesu. Omo sugite tsukaemasen.

 English: This is a massive power tool. It is too heavy for me to use.

Overall, the word desu means “it is” and is a conjugation of the copula verb in Japanese sentence structure. Like in English, Japanese verbs can be conjugated into different tenses. The word desu will always come at the end of a sentence and increases the levels of politeness of the sentence. Some people who are fans of anime will use this word at the end of sentences or at the end of a statement where it is not required. Try practicing your Japanese skills today!


  1. Desu: What It Means, and When and How to Use It | 80 20 Japanese 
  2. Desu | Dictionary 
  3. What Desu Means and How to Use It | Tofugu
  4. Desu | Urban Dictionary