Why Do Japanese Speakers End Sentences With “But”?

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Imagine a couple of Japanese speakers, engaging in a quick conversation about grabbing some drinks after work.

  • 今夜こんや みんな みにいくけど
  • We’re going to get drinks tonight, but
  • うーん。めっちゃ きたいけど
  • Umm. I really want to, but

This is an example of a typical exchange between coworkers in Japan, but did you notice there’s something strange from a grammatical perspective?

These sentences are incomplete because けど (but) is placed at the end. けど is a conjunctive particle. That is, it’s a particle used primarily to join sentences together. In other words, it’s supposedly for connecting sentences, not ending them. However, in real-life interactions, it’s actually not rare at all to encounter incomplete sentences like this in Japanese.

If you’re a beginner of Japanese and not familiar with this quirk, you may wait for another sentence to follow けど. Well, I don’t want to leave you hanging, so I’ll tell you this — けど is often a sign that the conversational baton is being passed on to you. That is, けど is letting you know that it’s your turn to speak and you’re actually expected to respond to what’s just been said. Either that, or it’s a hint to move on to a different topic.

Some intermediate learners overuse unfinished sentences believing it simply makes you sound polite, but using it regardless of the situation doesn’t work so well — けど could make you sound wishy-washy or less reliable as well.

While Japanese speakers use けど at the end of sentences quite often, major textbooks for second-language learners of Japanese don’t cover it as a separate grammar point. It might be included as a part of an example sentence or practice conversation materials, but that’s not enough to get a decent understanding of it.

Then when you look it up on the internet, you see explanations like “it softens your tone” or “it makes you sound polite.” Although that can be true, knowing how that works is also important. Some intermediate learners overuse unfinished sentences believing it simply makes you sound polite, but using it regardless of the situation doesn’t work so well — けど could make you sound wishy-washy or less reliable as well.

So in this article, I’ll discuss けど that’s used at the end of a sentence — when it’s commonly used and what it sounds like. This certainly doesn’t cover every situation in which けど is used at the end of a sentence, but hopefully after reading this article you’ll get a better grasp of how it really works!

Prerequisites: To get the most out of this article, you should already know hiragana and katakana. If you need to brush up, have a look at our Ultimate Hiragana Guide and Ultimate Katakana Guide. Although this is not required, it will be an advantage if you’re already familiar with けど as a conjunctive particle — Even if you’re not, I got you. I’ll be explaining what it is in a sec!

What Is けど ?

kedo

Let’s start off by reviewing the very basics of けど — what it does as a conjunctive particle. As you’ve seen in the translations of the earlier examples, the closest equivalent in English is often “but” or “though” because けど can connect two sentences that contrast with each other.

For example, you can use けど to say something like:

  • 人見知ひとみしりだけど、パーティーは き。
  • I’m not outgoing, but I like parties.

See how it works just like its English equivalent “but”? It’s connecting two sentences — “I’m not outgoing” and “I like parties” — two contrasting ideas.

This sounds pretty straightforward, but keep in mind that けど can be more than just “but.” けど can be used to add context to what you’re about to say as well. For example, when you’re asking someone for a favor, you can use けど to provide the context behind your request.

  • たまごがないんだけど かえりに ってくれる?
  • We’re out of eggs. Can you buy some on your way home?

Instead of showing two contrasting ideas like the previous example, in this case it’s simply providing the context — the reason you’re asking for eggs.

To sum up, けど can be used to illustrate two contrasting ideas, just like “but.” Additionally, it can be used to add context to whatever you’re about to say.

けど At the End of a Sentence

Now that you have the basics of けど down, let’s talk about the main topic of this article. What does it do at the end of a sentence? When けど is added to the end of a sentence, it can create a few different effects, like adding afterthoughts, being less confrontational, expressing uncertainty, and more. However, overall, けど leaves a sort of lingering effect that gives the listener a hint as to what you want to say without being explicit because these けど sentences are technically unfinished. Read on to see what I mean and check out actual examples!

けど For Adding Afterthoughts

kedo – though

Let’s start with something we often do in English. One of the common effects of けど is to make your comment sound as if it’s an afterthought — like casually using “though” at the end of a sentence.

For example, you went to a party last night and your friend asks what it was like. You answer:

  • かなり ひとがいたよ! 会場かいじょう ちいさかったけど
  • There were quite a few people there! The venue was small, though.

In the first sentence, you mention that there were many people there. However, after that you add that the venue was small because you assumed you made it sound like it was a big party with lots of people at a huge venue and wanted to clarify that the venue wasn’t actually that big. Just like that, by adding an afterthought with けど, you can modify or negate what you previously said.

This afterthought effect can be used to express humility as well. Let’s say you and your friends are talking about family, and it’s brought up that your dad owns a company. Your friend says:

  • え、お とうさん 会社かいしゃ 経営けいえいしてるの?
  • Oh, does your dad own a company?

In response to that, you say:

  • 小さい会社だけど…。
  • It’s a small company, though….

By adding けど, you’re noting that it’s a small company and your dad being a CEO is not a big deal. Just like that, people often use けど to express humility by adding an afterthought to something that potentially sounded pretentious.

けど For Being Less Confrontational

けど can be added to the end of a sentence to avoid sounding confrontational, like when you have a conflicting opinion or a disagreement. It’s sort of similar to when you express disagreement and finish your sentence with “…but yeah” or “…but you know” to leave things vague and move on to the next topic. For example, your friend is a big believer in the blood type x personality theory, which is a belief that blood types have an influence on personality. They ask if you agree that people with blood type B are self-centered:

  • B がたの人ってワガママだよね。
  • People with blood type B are self-centered, right?

Unlike your friend, you don’t believe that blood types influence your personality. In order to express your disagreement, you can say:

  • わたしはそう おもわないけど…。
  • I don’t think so, but… (yeah).

けど here makes it sound as if you acknowledge their opinion while expressing that you don’t share the same opinion. In this way it kind of works like “…but yeah” or in a way, a politer version of “…but whatever” in English. You don’t agree, but you don’t intend to make an argument out of it and want to move on to a different topic. By using けど, you can make your statement sound less confrontational or argumentative.

けど here makes it sound as if you acknowledge their opinion while expressing that you don’t share the same opinion.

However, also be aware that your listener could pick up on this けど tactic, and follow up with “but what!?” in the case they didn’t like your response (or it turned out that they were looking to argue). So giving a non-committal response like そうかな (“I am not so sure”) and keeping your honest opinion to yourself is totally an option as well.

けど is not limited to expressing a conflicting opinion, and it can come in handy in other sticky situations too. Let’s bring back the earlier example of getting drinks with coworkers — in response to 今夜皆と飲みにいくけど… (We’re going to get drinks tonight…), a colleague says:

  • うーん。めっちゃ行きたいけど
  • Umm. I really want to go, but

If the sentence were completely finished, it would’ve been followed by something like 行けない (I can’t go) or まだやらなきゃいけないことがある (I still have some stuff to do). However, leaving it open ended rather than being direct creates an opportunity for the listener to take the hint so you can avoid sounding abrupt. As you could probably tell, this けど sentence implies that the person wants to go but (probably) can’t. By not refusing outright, you can leave things tentative — you’re not exactly saying that you can’t, but you’re not proactively committing to the plan of joining them either. It’s kind of wishy-washy, but this not-saying-“no”-tactic can be a polite way of refusing in Japanese.

けど For Expressing Uncertainty

Earlier, we learned that けど can come off as sort of wishy-washy. This characteristic of けど helps you express uncertainty and the lack of confidence when you’re not so sure about something, like ending a sentence with “…but I don’t know” or “…but I’m not sure” in English.

Let’s say your friend tells you that Kenichi’s birthday is coming up, but he forgot when it is exactly. You’re not sure either but you think it’s Wednesday next week. You might say something like:

  • 来週らいしゅう 水曜日すいようびだと思うけど…。
  • I think it’s Wednesday next week, but… (I don’t know).

This けど at the end of the sentence expresses uncertainty, as if you’re saying “I don’t know for sure, so don’t rely on me!” Although it may look like a sign of lacking confidence in English-speaking countries in general, in Japanese, people tend to do this quite often unless they’re pretty sure about something. In a way, you’re trying to minimize your responsibility as a source of information, so this could come off as rude or unreliable if you use this when you’re talking about something that you’re supposed to know!

けど For Giving Flexibility of How To Respond

kedo on a phone call

So far we’ve talked about けど when it’s used at the end of a sentence to mean “but,” but do you remember that けど can also be used to provide context? Well, it can do that at the end of a sentence too!

When you use けど to add context and end a sentence, you can open up the possibility of how the listener can respond. This is commonly used for making requests, asking for permission, extending an invitation, asking someone for a favor, and more. For example, a typical opening phrase when calling a restaurant to make a reservation in Japanese is:

  • もしもし。 予約よやくしたいんですけど…。
  • Hello. I’d like to make a reservation…

What けど is doing here is providing the context, which is that you want to make a reservation. Remember the earlier example of running out of eggs, then making a request to buy some? Just like that, this けど is providing the context, but what it’s missing is what the context is leading to. Being a grammatically incomplete sentence, this making-a-reservation example is only providing the context. In other words, it’s missing what’s following after that, which could be a request like “Can I book a table for two tonight?” or a question like “Is there any availability?”

You’re not specifying what you are asking for. Rather, you’re leaving it vague so that the listener can respond to you in a way that’s convenient for them.

Interestingly, leaving a sentence unfinished like this creates a unique effect — by pausing at けど and not saying anything after that, you’re not specifying what exactly you are asking for. Rather, you’re leaving it vague so that the listener can respond to you in a way that’s convenient for them. Instead of specifying your request to achieve the goal of making a reservation, you’re implying that you want the staff to decide the next move to make it happen, or tell you whether it’s even possible to make a reservation at all. (Some restaurants don’t take reservations, and popular restaurants can be completely booked for months or even years in advance.)

So, in response to the phrase 予約したいんですけど, the restaurant staff have the freedom to choose how to respond, like “What date?” or “How many guests?” etc. They might want to give you a heads-up first, like “We are completely booked out for the rest of the month” instead of asking you a question to move the reservation process forward. Just like that, by using unfinished sentences, you can leave it up to the person responding, which can be a considerate way of communicating. This is one of the reasons some people say using けど at the end of the sentence is polite.

Now, let’s take another look back at the colleagues’ exchange from earlier about getting drinks after work.

  • 今夜皆と飲みにいくけど
  • We’re going to get drinks tonight…

If this were a complete sentence, what could potentially follow けど is a question like 一緒いっしょ る? (Do you want to come with us?) or 仕事しごと わりそう? (Do you think you can wrap up your work?). However, by simply telling your coworker that you’re going to get drinks, and not specifying what exactly you’re asking after that, you can casually check in to gauge their reaction. It’s less pressure for your coworker because in case they can’t join you they don’t have to say “no” or reject the invitation — There was no specific question asked in the first place, anyway.

Just like that, by stopping your sentence at けど, you can give the listener some flexibility in how to respond, which could be a considerate and polite way of communicating. Also, this comes in handy when you’re not exactly sure what to ask and want to let the person you’re talking to take the lead in the conversation.

Let’s take a look at one more example! You’re closing a store or a restaurant and a customer is still hanging around (not realizing you are closing). If you want to hint that they should leave or hurry up, you can use けど and say:

  • すみません。そろそろ 閉店へいてん 時間じかんなんですけど…。
  • Excuse me. The store will be closing soon…

What could possibly follow this けど is “Are you ready to check out?” or even “Can you hurry up and get outta here?” You name it. Whatever follows would be a bit awkward to say directly to a customer’s face. However, if you don’t end the sentence with a specific question or request, you can let the customer take the hint while giving them some flexibility in how to react. (Though usually in this case they’re kind of expected to leave or pick up the pace and finish.) Sounds passive aggressive? Well, you could say so, but in Japanese it’s often polite to be indirect, and this is one tactic to avoid directness (which generally equals “rudeness” in Japanese).

That’s a Wrap, But…

As you’ve seen in this article, ending a sentence with けど can be used to create a pretty wide range of effects. In Japanese culture, being able to give and take hints is highly valued because it allows people space to express themselves indirectly. Okay, you might call it wishy-washy, but… けど can be very handy!

Even though the focus of this article was on けど, anything you learned in this article also applies to が as they’re often interchangeable.

Oh, I should also mention が, another conjunctive particle that works almost the same as けど. Despite its more formal nuance, が is pretty much functionally the same as けど as it can also appear at the end of a sentence and give off the same nuance. So keep in mind — even though the focus of this article was on けど, anything you learned in this article also applies to が as they’re often interchangeable.

Well, now this is a wrap, but I hope you’ll continue observing how people use けど at the end of their sentences so that you can reinforce the concept and discover more uses!

この 記事きじで「けど」の ことがもっとよく かったら、 うれしいけど…。

I would be glad if this article helped you get a better understanding of “kedo,” but….

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