The most common way to say “or” in Japanese is to link the two words or sentences with the particle か (ka).
During the beginner stages of Japanese language learning, you may recognise か (ka) as the question particle. You place it at the end of a formal sentence to transform it into a question. Words such as です (desu) will become ですか (desuka) etc.
However, you can also use か (ka) to link two things together via “or“. You can also repeat it after multiple successive options. For instance,
ke-ki ka ko-ra ka pan.
Cake or cola or bread.
For everyday conversation, using か (ka) when you want to say “or” in Japanese is sufficient and you will sound natural.
With that said, there are several other ways to say “or” in Japanese outside of this grammar.
You may encounter many of these alternative ways in written text or during conversations where formal speech is necessary.
It goes without saying that you will also need to know them for the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test), N4 or above!
All entries in this guide are accompanied by audio clips for your pronunciation reference.
Table of Contents
Or in Japanese
The most common way to say “or” in Japanese is to use か (ka). You can use か (ka) after multiple verbs (dictionary form), nouns or adjectives to link them together with the equivalent to the English “or” in Japanese.
When connecting words with か (ka), you’re listing possible options, while emphasising that one of them will be suitable or appropriate.
Saying Or in Japanese Examples
Essentially, you use か (ka) to state two or more choices.
basu ka densha de kyoto ni ikimasu.
I’ll go to Kyoto by bus or train.
In the above example, the single か (ka) functions the same as “or” does in English.
You can use か (ka) as many times as you need to list choices with “or”.
kuro ka aka ka ao, zenbu ga suki!
Black or red or blue, I like them all!
When the list of alternatives emphasises further consideration or a decision, the final ending grammar particle needs to be replaced with another か (ka).
Let’s take a look at an example sentence.
kare ha sugoi ka yabai ka wakarnai.
I don’t know if he’s awesome or just crazy.
It’s important to know that when deciding between the alternatives, you have to end the last word (or sentence) in the list with か (ka) to completely connect them naturally.
In the above example, the comparison is being made if the person is awesome or crazy. Despite there being only one “or” present in English, two か (ka)’s are required in Japanese. This would then replace any grammar particle that would otherwise be necessary.
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Here’s another example!
ke-ki wo taberu ka tabenai ka kimerarenai.
I can’t decide whether to eat or not to eat the cake.
This person is considering their alternatives – to eat or not eat the cake. Therefore final particle has to be replaced with か (ka).
Asking Questions – Which do You Prefer
To ask someone a question with “or” in Japanese, there is a very simple structure you should follow.
- XかY, Question.
With the above pattern, replace the X and Y with the two choices, and follow with the question you’d like to ask.
For instance, you could say:
oniku ka osakana, dochira no hou ga suki desuka?
Meat or fish, which do you prefer?
Or/Perhaps in Japanese
The word あるいは means “or” in Japanese, and has formal connotations and would usually be found written in passages or heard in polite speech.
You can use あるいは (aruiwa) to list multiple items or options that are related to each other in some way. Using あるいは (aruiwa) emphasises the listed items as possible alternatives to/for something.
あるいは (aruiwa) Examples
For instance, let’s say you’re following a cake recipe. You notice this:
bata- aruiwa ma-garin ga hitsuyou.
Butter or margarine is needed.
In this example, it is conveyed that butter or margarine is required to make the cake. In this topic, these two ingredients fall into the same category as one can be substituted for the other.
Thus, using あるいは (aruiwa) emphasises that one of the possible options will be necessary.
Similarly, you can also use あるいは (aruiwa) in situations where there are several options to choose from that contribute to progression towards a certain goal.
To reiterate, using あるいは (aruiwa) is a way to present a list of alternatives to/for the purpose of something.
gakkou ni densha de iku ka, aruiha jitensha de iku ka mayotteiru.
I’m not sure if I’ll go to school by train or by bicycle.
In the above sentence, the emphasis is on how it’s possible to use both the train or bicycle to go to school. The options of walking or taking the bus can also be alternative to choose from.
Using あるいは (aruiwa) to say Perhaps in Japanese
The word あるいは (aruiwa) also has the nuance of “ or perhaps”, or ” or maybe”.
It’s also possible to begin a sentence with あるいは (aruiwa).
aruiha, kare ha sono kanousei ni kizuiteitanokamoshirenai.
Or perhaps, he had maybe noticed the possibility.
The above example is still presented as an alternative suggestion to something else.
To clarify, when you use あるいは (aruiha), you’re emphasising the possible available options that are of similar types or related in some way.
Or in Japanese with もしくは (moshikuha)
The word もしくは (moshikuwa) is a more literary way to say “or” in Japanese.
Similarly to あるいは (aruiwa), the word もしくは (moshikuwa) can also be used to list items as a possible option for something.
However, unlike あるいは (aruiwa), もしくは (moshikuwa) strictly emphasises the difference between the outcomes of the options.
あるいは (aruiwa) is used to list items or options as possible alternatives to a solution. Whereas もしくは (moshikuwa) can be used to list options that are different or present different outcomes from each other.
もしくは (moshikuwa) also has the nuance of “otherwise” or “perhaps” in Japanese.
もしくは (moshikuwa) Examples
You use もしくは (moshikuwa) in circumstances where it’s not possible to achieve the same result from the same options. Only one of the options can come to be.
gakkou ni iku ka, moshiku wa yasumu ka.
To go, or to not go to school.
In this example, you are presented with two options. You use もしくは (moshikuwa) here as the conclusion of if you will go to school or not will be ultimately decided by which option you pick.
You can also use もしくは (moshikuwa) to state a fact that something will happen at one of two possible times.
6gatsu moshikuwa 10 gatsu ni okonawareru ibento.
An event that will take place in June or October.
It’s best to use もしくは (moshikuwa) here as the event will take place in June or October, quite different times. In this case, もしくは (moshikuwa) highlights the difference in the time, which is something あるいは (aruiwa) would only do to a lesser extent.
Asking Questions with Or in Japanese
The word それとも (soretomo) is fundamentally used in questions, rather than statements. Therefore, when you want to ask someone a question with “or” in Japanese, you use れとも (soretomo). By using それとも (soretomo) to connect alternative options together in the form of a question.
Where you can use あるいは (aruiwa) in questions and statements, それとも (soretomo) can only be used in questions.
それとも (soretomo) Examples
For instance, you could ask:
gakkou made arukimashouka? soretomo basu made ikimasuka?
Shall we walk all the way to school? Or shall we take a bus?
You’re presenting two possible alternatives in the form of a question, therefore you can use それとも (soretomo) to connect them together.
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As another example, you can use それとも (soretomo) to ask someone if they like X or Y in Japanese.
inu ga suki desuka? soretomo neko no hou ga suki desuka?
Do you like dogs? Or do you like cats more?
How Not to Use それとも (soretomo)
あるいは (aruiwa) and それとも (soretomo) can be used interchangeably, except in the case of questions.
For example, you cannot say:
soretomoma-garin ga hitsuyou desu.
We need butter
As this sentence is a statement, rather than a question, you cannot use それとも (soretomo) to say “or” here. Instead, you should use あるいは (aruiha).
Or in Japanese with または (mata wa)
または (matawa) is another way to say “or” in Japanese. There is a kanji for または (matawa). However, you’ll rarely see it used. This kanji is 又は.
You use または (matawa) between two options or sentences to link them together as possible choices.
It is different to あるいは (aruiwa) as the options aren’t restricted to being of a similar type to be listed.
または (matawa) Examples
However, similarly to あるいは (aruiwa), you can use また (matawa) to show that both options for something are acceptable.
With the options listed with また (matawa) you commit to one and discard the others.
fo-mu ha kuropen matawa aopen de kinyuu shi tekudsai.
Please fill in the form with a blue or black pen.
In this example, the blue or black pen are acceptable options. This gives you the choice to select one method, and discard the other.
Emphasising Either in Japanese
Where あるいは (aruiwa) and もしくは (moshikuwa) have the nuance of “perhaps” to them, または (matawa) does not.
Instead of “perhaps”, “either” is emphasised much more. Let’s look at an example.
ranchi setto ni ha dorinku matawa desa-to ga tsukimasu.
The lunch set comes with either a drink or a dessert.
The above example is something you may hear when attending a restaurant or cafe in Japan. Using または (matawa) here emphasises that the included drink or desserts are separate options available for you to choose from.
It has a sense of being “absolute” – the meal comes with either a drink OR dessert. For comparison, if you were to use あるいは (aruiwa) instead, the connotation of perhaps would be applied to the overall meaning. The fact that they are different options is stressed with または (matawa).
How Not to Use または (matawa)
As previously mentioned, you cannot use または (matawa) in any sentence where you express uncertainty towards the subject when you want to say “or” in Japanese.
Let’s take a look at an example.
mi-teingu ha 7 ji shuuryou yotei daga, aruiwa nobiru kamoshirenai.
The meeting is set to finish at 7, (or) perhaps it’ll be extended.
In the above example, as there is doubt that the meeting will actually finish at 7, you’ll need to use あるいは (aruiwa). It can even be substituted for もしくは (moshikuwa).
However, in this case as well as those similar, you cannot use または (matawa), unless the subject has 100% certainty.
More Ways to Say Or in Japanese
なり~なり (nari~nari) functions similarly to か~か (ka~ka), which I explain in entry #1. You can pair it with nouns and/or verbs that are in their dictionary form. By doing so, you can link multiple options together, creating the sequence: X or Y.
The grammar なり~なり (nari~nari) falls into the N1 category. Note that it should not be used when directed toward a person who is of a higher social status such as a teacher or manager.
When you use なり~なり (nari~nari), you express different acceptable options without emphasising a preference. Think of it as a way to express a proposal of two options by saying: “X or Y, either is OK”. In this case, it’s similar to (mata wa).
shinro nitsuite oya ni nari, sensei ni nari soudan shi tekimeyou.
Let’s decide your future path by discussing it with either your parents or teachers.
Generally, you’ll need to use two なり~なり (nari~nari) to link options together with a single “or”. Think of なり~なり (nari~nari) as the grammar that marks the words or phrases that appear at opposite sides of a single “or”.
taikutsu nara, sentaku nari, souji nari tetsudatte hoshii.
If you’re bored I’d like you to help me with either the cleaning or the laundry.
To reiterate, using this grammar emphasises that both options are fine. It is also possible to use a single なり (nari) when you want to specify or emphasise an available option directly.
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For instance, let’s take a look at the following sentence.
kanojo ni nari soudan shitara ii desu.
You may discuss it with her (or someone else).
By only including a single なり (nari), you emphasise the possibility of other options that were not stated. In the case of the example sentence above the use of one なり (nari) creates the connotation of “or another person, whichever is fine”.
なり~なり (nari~nari) is only used during situations like this where advice or a request is being spoken.
Or, Etc in Japanese
- Or, etc.
とか (toka) is an expression that you can use to offer up examples of several possibilities that one doesn’t have to choose a specific option from.
With とか (toka) you can list as many options as you deem necessary, without emphasising that a choice from that list is required.
とか (toka) Examples
kurisumasu ni purezento toshi teatarashii hon toka manga toka, dou?
What do you think about a new book or manga (or something) as a Christmas present?
You don’t even have to list the options as a question with とか (toka). You can also use it in a reply too.
ramen toka sushi toka suki dayo.
I like ramen and sushi etc.
In the case of the example sentence above, the とか (toka) indicates that there are further foods you may like. It leaves your response open-ended, and not restricted to only the specific things you’ve said.
Similar to the first example, you can also use とか (toka) to infer both “or” and “etc” simultaneously.
kakurenbo toka oni gokko toka shi teasobou.
Let’s play tag or hide and seek (or something).
Casual Or in Japanese
- That, or…
A colloquial way to say “or” in Japanese is それか (soreka). It is similar to または (matawa), but more casual.
When you use それか (soreka), you’re answering a question with another proposed alternative. You’ll use it to begin new sentences that can answer a question. A good way to think of それか (soreka) is as “that or”.
ashita ni iku no ha dou? soreka asatte iku?
How about going tomorrow? Or should we go the day after?
In the above example, we can assume that the original question would have been something along the lines of “when should we go?” Using それか(soreka) allows us to suggest a valid alternative. With それか (soreka) we can indicate that “tomorrow” is plausible, but “the day after” is also possible.
Summary of the Best Ways to say Or in Japanese
There are approximately 8 different ways to say “or” in Japanese.
- か~か – Allows phrases, words and sentences to be chained together in a sequence.
- あるいは – Presents a list of similar alternatives that fall into the same category to/for the purpose of something. Also has the nuance of “perhaps”.
- もしくは – Lists options that are different or present significantly different outcomes from each other. Also has the nuance of “perhaps”.
- それとも – Connects two possible alternatives in the form of a question. It cannot be used for statements.
- または – Used for occasions when both options for something are acceptable. One option is selected, and the other is discarded.
- なり~なり – Expresses different acceptable options without emphasising a preference. A proposal of two choices where either answer is OK.
- とか – Lists several options where there is no single “correct” answer.
- それか – Casual way to answer a question with a proposed alternative.
Overall, the most common way to say “or” in Japanese will be to used か (ka). In formal writing and speech, you’ll hear あるいは (aruiwa), もしくは (moshikuwa) etc much more frequently, but they can be heard in everyday conversation every once in a while too.
Are You Done? Or Do You Want to Study More?
- もう終わりますか？ それとも勉強を続けますか？
mou owarimasu ka? soretomo benkyou wo tsutzukemasu ka?
Are you done already? Or do you fancy studying some more?
I recommend looking at this amazing online free Japanese dictionary for some further examples should you be curious.
Or if you’d like to learn more Japanese, take a look at:
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