Unfinished Sentences in Japanese Ending with けど (kedo) and が (ga)

It is very common in Japanese to encounter unfinished sentences that end in けど (kedo). In English, kedo is often translated as ‘but’, ‘though’ and ‘however’. Although it may seem odd to leave a sentence unfinished ending with the word ‘but’, doing so serves an important role in smooth communication in Japanese and is a reflection of Japanese culture. There are several situations in which kedo is used at the end of an unfinished sentence.

けど (kedo) is used at the end of unfinished sentences in Japanese as a softening hedge when a speaker wants to mitigate their current, previous or upcoming utterance, when providing background information or bringing up a new topic, and when the rest of the sentence can be understood from context.

けど (kedo) is used a lot in Japanese speech. You have probably learned from your textbook that kedo is a conjunction used in sentences with both contrastive and bi-clausal features. For example, 魚が好きだけど、すしが苦手だ。I like fish, but I do not like sushi. This is one of the canonical uses of kedo.

The canonical example above with contrastive and bi-clausal features is a perfectly acceptable use of kedo, but interestingly, this use only appears 3% of the time! An intriguing study was done by Minako Noda which examined the use of kedo by Japanese native speakers in everyday conversation [1]. The study revealed that kedo is actually used in a non-canonical way, 79% of the time.

Non-canonical means that kedo is used with neither of the expected contrastive or bi-clausal features mentioned above. Furthermore, when used in a non-canonical way, kedo comes at the end of an unfinished sentence and its meaning varies depending on what the speaker is saying.

There are 3 main uses of kedo when used at the end of an unfinished sentence:

  1. Backgrounding, which provides relevant information when introducing a story
  2. Mitigation, to hedge (soften) the speaker’s current utterance
  3. Discourse mitigation, to hedge (soften) the speaker’s previous or upcoming utterance 

けど (kedo) Used for Backgrounding

A speaker makes backgrounding statements when setting the scene for the main story they are about to tell. The backgrounding use of kedo represents 30% of all non-canonical uses of kedo [1]. When used for backgrounding, kedo is used to connect a series of clauses (not just two), which is called clause chaining. An example is below.

My weekend was so fun.
I went to a concert for the first time in a long time.
I finally got to see a band that I have liked for a really long time; it was super exciting.

In the example above, the initial kedo at 「久しぶりにライブを見に行ったけど。」chains the two subsequent clauses to it 「前からずっと好きだったバンドがやっと見れて、すごく盛り上がちゃった。」, and the story could continue to go on further with subsequent clauses in the chain.

けど (kedo) Used to Mitigate a Speaker’s Current Utterance

There is a tendency in Japanese to not be overly direct with and imposing on others. Unfinished sentences ending in kedo are a manifestation of this tendency. When expressing a feeling, an opinion, making a request, or bringing up a new topic, けど (kedo) and the more polite が (ga) are used at the end of unfinished sentences as a hedge. These words help make opinions less definitive, requests less direct and show a speaker’s reservation about the continuation of the sentence.

けど (kedo) Used When Expressing Feelings in Response to What Someone Said

An unfinished sentence ending with けど (kedo) or だけど (dakedo), can be used to express your feelings in response to what someone has said. These feelings tend to be on the negative side such as defeat as in example 1 below, exasperation as in example 2, and hurt as in example 3.

恋人: ね、赤の車にしようよ。
Partner: Hey, let’s pick the red car.
あなた: は~、黒のが好きだけどな。
You: sigh, I like the black one but…
お母さん: 何でゲームばかりするの? 宿題をしなさい!
Mom: Why are you just playing games? Do your homework!
あなた: もう終わっているけど。
You: I already did it but…
あなた: 上司に「だらしない」っていわれた。
You: My boss called me “slovenly”.
あなた: そんなことを言われるとは思わかったけど。
You: I never thought I would be called that but…

けど (kedo) and が (ga) Used When Expressing an Opinion

When expressing an opinion in Japanese, you’ll want to make an effort not to be overly definitive and disarm a potentially negative impact [2]. This can be accomplished by expressing your opinion as an unfinished sentence. Even though the sentence is unfinished, you can still say want you want to say without leaving out any information. Below are some examples.

You: I’ve been thinking about visiting Japan for the first time this year. Would summer be good? 
Friend: If you’re coming to Japan, spring or fall would be good but…
あなた: 今度の冬休み、旅館泊まろう?
You: How about we stay at a Japanese inn for the winter holiday?
友達: 冬の旅館はとても寒いけど。
Friend: Japanese inns are really cold in the winter but…

Before moving on, anther conjunction that you will see at the end of unfinished sentences is (が) ga. Ga is more formal than kedo, so it is heard less frequently, but it does come up in situations such as students talking to their teachers, colleagues talking in the workplace and in other more formal situations.

が (ga) and けど (kedo) are often used at the end of unfinished sentences in Japanese when making a request, expressing an opinion, and as a softening hedge. They make opinions less definitive, requests less direct and show a speaker’s reservation about the continuation of the sentence.

As mentioned, by using けど (kedo) or the more polite が (ga), you are still able to fully express your opinion, but the unfinished sentence conveys to the listener that the topic is not closed, and you are still open to other opinions. In effect, a space is left for them to think and respond. Let’s see another example sentence below with ga.

Colleague: I wonder if it’s ok to just leave the data presented in a table?
You: I think presenting the data in a graph would make it easier to understand but…

けど (kedo) and が (ga) to Mitigate a Previous or Upcoming Utterance

Discourse mitigation is the most common of the three ways to use kedo (and ga) at the end of an unfinished sentence. Discourse mitigation is where you are circling back to hedge (soften) something you previously said, or where you are priming the listener in advance for something that you are about to say. Below is an example of circling back.

あなた: Iphoneは最高のスマホだね。使いやすくて、便利で、皆が持っているべきじゃない?
You: The Iphone is the best smartphone. It’s easy to use and convenient. Everyone should have one, shouldn’t they?
友達: そうだけど、Iphoneって高いだろう?
Friend: Yes but, aren’t Iphones expensive?
あなた: そうだね。高いけど。
You: Yes, you’re right. They’re expensive but…

けど (kedo) and が (ga) When Bringing Up a New Topic

Another example of discourse mitigation is when bringing up a new topic. けど (kedo) and が (ga) are used both to introduce the new topic and also provide a space to the listener to confirm if they are prepared to give you their attention to continue with the topic. By using けど (kedo) and が (ga) you can convey a hesitation about bringing up the topic. Perhaps it might be a tough topic to discuss, or you are not sure if now is a good time. Some examples are below.

Hey, about next week’s weekend plans… 
Professor, regarding the due date for my paper…

In the examples above, you are hedging what you will say next. For example, in the first example, the next thing you might say is “I need to cancel” which might be disappointing for the listener to hear. In the second example, it might be, “something has come up and I won’t be able to make the deadline”.

けど (kedo) and が (ga) When Making or Refusing a Request

Using an unfinished sentence ending in けど (kedo) or が (ga) is a politeness strategy when making a request. Specifically, using ~たいんですけど or ~たいんですが softens the imposition of the request [4]. Some examples are given below.

(on the phone) Hello, this Friday night, I was hoping to make a reservation for 6 o’clock but… 
I am doing research about Japan for one of my classes right now, and I was hoping to borrow a book but… 

The second example above comes from a study by Mayumi Fukuda-Oddie which compared how two groups of students are likely to make a request to their teacher [5]. One group was Japanese native speakers, the other was Japanese learners. The native Japanese speakers used an unfinished sentence 7 out 10 times.

An unfinished sentence with けど (kedo) or が (ga) can also be used to politely refuse a request as in the following example.

あなた: すみません、今、ちょっといいですか?
You: Excuse me, do you have a moment right now?
同僚: あ、今はちょっと忙しいですが。
Colleague: Ah, I am a little busy right now but…

Above, the borrowing a book example in particular is an example of a true unfinished sentence. It could actually have been completed as 本をお借りしたいんですが、よろしいでしょうか? But the goal is to mitigate what you are saying, and the ultimate way to do that is by not saying it. A dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar underscores this with their explanation:

S2 in “S1 ga S2” is often omitted when it is understandable from the context and / or the situation, or when the speaker doesn’t want to continue for some reason (e.g., the sentence is too direct, impolite, embarrassing, etc.)

A dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar

As alluded to at the start of this article, unfinished sentences play an important role in smooth communication in Japanese and are a reflection of Japanese culture, a culture which values harmony with and showing empathy towards others. For a deeper understanding, I write more about the cultural reasons why unfinished sentences are used in Japanese here.

In many of the unfinished sentences in this article, けど (kedo) and が (ga) are acting similarly to a sentence ending particle, and in large part, it’s the particles and connectives that make unfinished sentences able to have meaning in Japanese. For further exploration, I have written about unfinished sentences ending with the connective から (Kara) here, the particles に (ni) and へ (he) here, and the particle を (wo) here.


[1] Noda, Minako. (2020). How the Japanese “Contrastive” kedo is Structured and Used in Everyday Conversation. University of Alberta.

[2] Maynard, S. K. (2005). Expressive Japanese: A reference guide to sharing emotion and empathy. Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press. (As cited in Becker, 2018.)

[3] Becker, Anne. (2018). Linguistic and Cultural Analysis of Empathy: Strategies for Japanese-English Translation. Curtin University.

[4] Kashiwazaki, H. (1993). Hanashikake koudouno danwabunseki: Irai youkyuu hyougenwo cyuushinni (Discourse analysis of requests with phatic communication). Nihongo Kyouiku (Journal of Japanese Language Teaching) 53-63. (As cited in Fukuda-Oddie, 2007.)

[5] Fukuda-Oddie, Mayumi. (2007). Non-verbal and Verbal Behaviour of Beginner Learners of Japanese: Pragmatic Failure and Native Speaker Evaluation. University of New South Wales.

Colten Dumonceau

My goal is to provide information that will help you learn Japanese as quickly and effectively as possible. I have spent more than ten years learning Japanese, mostly self-taught, from absolute beginner to an advanced level. I believe its possible to go much faster than I did. Please let me share with you the best learning strategies I have uncovered.

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