In today’s lesson, I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about the meaning and translation of the Japanese greeting “konbanwa” (こんばんは). Before we discuss in detail what the expression actually means in Japanese and how to reply to it, here is the basic English translation of “konbanwa”.
“Konbanwa” (こんばんは) is a basic Japanese greeting that means “good evening” and should only be used when greeting or saying hello to someone in the evening. It is said after sunset when it has already gotten dark, but since the phrase sounds rather stiff it is not used with friends or family members.
The interesting thing about the Japanese greeting “Konbanwa” (こんばんは) is that the expression originated from a full sentence that was used to ask “How are you this evening?“. So read on if you are curious! We will also discuss why you can’t say “gozaimasu” after “konbanwa” and the reason behind writing it as “konbanha“
The Actual Meaning of “Konbanwa” in Japanese
The Japanese greeting “Konbanwa” (こんばんは) is usually written in Hiragana and translates into English as “good evening“. When written in kanji as 今晩は (konban wa) it can also be translated as the first part of a full Japanese sentence that translates as “Tonight…” or “This evening (is)…“, though.
This evening (is)…
The first word 今晩 (konban) means “tonight” and は (wa) is a so-called particle that marks the topic of the sentence. Hence, it is also called the topic particle or topic marker.
Together they make the first part of the sentence “Konban wa genki desu ka?” (今晩は元気ですか) which translates as “How are you this evening?” or “How are you tonight?“.
Similar to how “Konnichiwa” originated from the phrase “Kyou wa gokigen ikaga desu ka?“, today’s “konbanwa” has probably originated from that old way of greeting someone.
Since “konbanwa” means “good evening” it is only used in the evening. There is no general rule when the evening starts, but most Japanese use it after sunset or when it has gotten dark. In summer that is usually around 7 o’clock while in winter that might already be at 6 or maybe 5 o’clock.
Is Konbanwa a Greeting?
“Konbanwa” (こんばんは) is one of the three basic Japanese greetings and translates as “Good evening“. It is used to say hello to people you meet in the evening. However, since it sounds rather formal and stiff most Japanese don’t use it with their friends, family members, and people they know well.
Good evening! (formal greeting used in the evening)
When greeting friends in the evening I would use a more casual phrase like “Yaa!” (やあ) or just calling them by their name. In case you don’t know any other phrases you can find a total of 26 common and casual greetings in my blog post about how to say “Hello” in Japanese.
(common casual greeting)
The other two basic Japanese greetings are “Konnichiwa” (こんにちは) which means “Hello” or “Good afternoon” and “Ohayou gozaimasu” (おはようございます) or its more casual version “Ohayou” (おはよう).
I have already published the post about the meaning of “Konnichiwa” and how to respond to it in Japanese. The blog post about Ohayou and its meaning will follow in the next day.
Do You Say “Gozaimasu” After “Konbanwa”?
“Gozaimasu” (ございます) can be said after “Ohayou” (おはよう) to make the expression more polite, but since “Konbanwa” (こんばんは) is actually the beginning of a sentence it cannot be followed by “gozaimasu” (ございます). The particle は (wa), also used in “Konnichiwa” (こんにちは), marks the topic of the sentence.
“Gozaimasu” (ございます) can’t be said after “konbanwa” (こんばんは) and “konnichiwa” (こんにちは).
As a general rule, try to remember that “gozaimasu” (ございます) can’t be said after the topic particle は (wa) which usually indicates the start of a sentence. It can be attached to the greeting “Ohayou” (おはよう) and the expression “Arigato” (ありがとう) to make them more polite, though.
Good morning! (polite)
Thank you! (polite)
How Do You Reply to “Konbanwa”?
When someone greets you in Japanese with “konbanwa” it is best to reply using the same phrase “konbanwa” (こんばんは). Since “konbanwa” is a formal greeting it is usually an appropriate and very polite response. However, if used to reply to friends or family members it might sound too stiff.
Honestly, it is very unlikely that your Japanese friends are going to greet you with “Konbanwa” (こんばんは). None of my friends have ever said that phrase to me. However, I always greet the mother of the 3 students I teach in the evening with the formal greeting “Konbanwa”.
Should You Write “Konbanwa” in Hiragana or Kanji?
The Japanese greeting “Konbanwa” is most commonly written in hiragana only as こんばんは (ko-n-ba-n-ha). However, occasionally you can also see it written in kanji as 今晩は (konban + ha). Both versions are correct and can be used but nowadays it is usually written using kana alone.
(most common way to write “Konbanwa”)
(correct but rarely used to write “Konbanwa”)
“Konbanwa” vs “Konbanha” – Which One is Correct?
The Japanese word こんばんは (今晩は) can be romanized as “konbanwa” and “konbanha“. Both versions are correct, but “konbanha” is the closest to the Japanese spelling in hiragana since it is written with the syllables こ (ko), ん (n), ば (ba), ん (n), and は (ha). The syllable は (ha) is pronounced “wa”, though.
- こんばんは is こ (ko), ん (n), ば (ba), ん (n), and は (ha)
- は (ha) is the so-called topic particle that is pronounced “wa“
- in romaji both spellings are correct “konbanwa” and “konbanha”
- “konbanha” is closest to the hiragana and the Japanese spelling
- “konbanwa” reflects the Japanese pronounciation better
As usual, when you are studying Japanese or want to learn Japanese I recommend you to memorize the greeting こんばんは either in Hiragana or as “konbanha“. Like this, you won’t make any mistakes when you have to write the word in Japanese.
The Meaning of “Konbanwa Minna” & “Konbanwa Minna-san”
“Konbanwa minna” (こんばんはみんな) and “Konbanwa minna-san” (こんばんは皆さん) both mean “Good evening everyone“. “Konbanwa” is the formal greeting used in the evening to say “good evening“. “Minna” and “minna-san” translate as “everyone“, but the latter is the more polite way to address a group of people.
Good evening everyone!
Good evening everyone! (more polite)