So the other day I was thinking that I say, “I was thinking…” all the time in Japanese.

And then I was thinking… maybe I should write a post about that, particularly because this is one of those (many) Japanese phrases that I mess up all the time.

japanese ninja characters

思ったんだけどさ…
omotta n da kedo sa…
So I was thinking…

思った (omotta) means, technically, “(I) thought,” the past tense of 思う (omou), meaning “to think.”

Then we have んだ, and this is where I always mess up this phrase.

I always say 思ったけどさ… (omotta kedo sa), but this sounds really strange… and it’s kind of hard to explain why it sounds strange. Instead, let’s look at why the version with 〜んだ (~nda) is not strange.

I like to call 〜んだ the “〜だ of explanation.”

Saying “Something だ” means, more or less, “Something is.”

Saying “Something んだ” means, rather, “Something is (and there is a reason that I’m telling you this).”

This could be because I’m explaining something, or it might be because I’m about to give you a reason for something that happened or something that I did–it’s a really versatile construction.

Since saying “(So) I was thinking…” is used to get someone’s attention, is used as an intro for something to say, we add んだ (n da) to “I thought,” 思った (omotta) to give us 思ったんだ (omotta n da), which has this nuance of “I thought (something) (and there’s a reason that I’m bringing this up–so listen up!).

Then, since this just an intro to what we’re about to say, we add けどさ… (kedo sa…).

The literal translation of this would be “but like…”

Literal translations from Japanese to English are pretty much useless, though, and it’s closer to meaning the “So” that I put in front of “So I was thinking…”

"So I was thinking... this beer is delicious."

“So I was thinking… this beer is delicious.”

けど (kedo) means “but,” and that’s probably what you’ll learn it as meaning if you take any Japanese classes. What those classes probably won’t tell you, though, is that けど (kedo) is also a content marker.

Specifically, it’s a marker for content that follows the sentence being expressed. So by putting the word けど (kedo) at the end of a sentence, even if it’s the last word we say, indicates that there is more content coming later (be it unspoken or not).

I talk about content markers such as this a lot in the video course that I’m developing, so if this tiny short explanation is making your head spin, just check that out… once it’s available.

さ… (sa…) just means “like,” and, as such, it’s kind of meaningless, but it just acts like a crutch word for adding pauses to sentences, much like “like” in English. さ〜 (sa~) would be okay here, too, and it would indicate a drawn out sound.

So we put that all together, and we get 思ったんだけどさ… (omotta n da kedo sa…), “So I was thinking…”

Okay, cool, so we know how to form this sentence intro.

But how do we use it naturally?

When to Say 思ったんだけどさ…

Japanese people are not the best at expressing their feelings or opinions straightforward, and the true purpose of the phrase 思ったんだけどさ… (omotta n da kedo sa…) “So I was thinking…” is to help them ease into a sentence that expresses an opinion or a feeling… particularly an emotion or feeling that may not be well received.

For example…

思ったんだけどさ… これ少なすぎない?
omotta n da kedo sa… kore sukuna-suginai?
So I was thinking… this might not be enough.

The literal translation of this is something like “So I was thinking… Isn’t this too few?” Maybe this person is talking about, for example, some food that she and her friend bought for a party. Looking at it now, she thinks that it might not be enough.

Saying “I think we didn’t get enough (food)” is kind of a direct sentence in Japanese, because it’s pointing out a mistake–not getting enough of [whatever].

So we soften that opinion by easing into it with 思ったんだけどさ… (omotta n da kedo sa…), “So I was thinking…”

思ったんだけどさ… もっと早く起きればよかったよね
omotta n da kedo sa… motto hayaku okireba yokatta yo ne
So I was thinking… we should have gotten up earlier, huh?

I think that in a natural translation of this Japanese into English, I might even completely drop the phrase “So I was thinking…” as it doesn’t really seem to serve much of a purpose into English.

In the Japanese, though, like in the last example, it’s needed to soften the second half of the sentence, which is pointing out a mistake: もっと早く起きればよかったよね (motto hayaku okireba yokatta yo ne), “We should have gotten up earlier, huh?”

思ったんだけどさ… 最近お菓子ばかり食べてる気がする
omotta n da kedo sa… saikin okashi bakari tabeteru ki ga suru
So I was thinking… lately I’ve been eating nothing but junk food.

This example is just a little different than the last ones, as it’s not really talking about a mistake, necessarily, although it is talking about something that, depending on your perspective, might not be a very good thing: “I feel like ately I’ve been eating nothing but junk food,” 最近お菓子ばかり食べてる気がする (saikin okashi bakari tabeteru ki ga suru).

If I were translating this sentence, I would drop the “So I was thinking…” and add the phrase “I feel like…” which is expressed by 気がする (ki ga suru): 

思ったんだけどさ… 最近お菓子ばかり食べてる気がする
omotta n da kedo sa… saikin okashi bakari tabeteru ki ga suru
I feel like lately I’ve been eating nothing but junk food.

By the way, I translated お菓子 (okashi) to “junk food,” but in particular it could be referring to quite a lot of things, such as sweets like cookies, cakes, and candy bars, or even snacks like chips and popcorn. However, if it were only talking about chips and popcorn, then スナック (sunakku) “snack food” would probably be more common. If it were only talking about cakes, then スイーツ (suiitsu) “sweets,” would be okay too. お菓子 (okashi) works for pretty much any of those, but the nuance would be snacks (or sweets) bought at a convenience store (not at a fancy cake shop, for example). 

思ったんだけどさ… 彼氏のこともう好きじゃないかも
omotta n da kedo sa… kareshi no koto mou suki ja nai kamo
So I was thinking… I’m not sure if I like my boyfriend anymore.

This one is is pretty straightforward. A more literal translation would be something like “So I was thinking… maybe I don’t like my boyfriend anymore.” In a way, I suppose, we could put this under the “mistake category,” or we could just classify it generally as a highly personal opinion, which gets softened with a nice, clean 思ったんだけどさ… (omotta n da kedo sa…) intro.

Sorry if that was confusing. If you like articles like this, please let me know in the comments.

Also, if you feel even a glimmer of gratitude for anything that you find on this site, it would mean the world to me if you could share it. Who knows, if we get enough people to visit this site, maybe I can write Japanese educational materials on here full time… without starving to death.

Good luck with your studies!

Niko

p.s. Maybe it’s time to get serious, yo:

Niko

Yo! I'm Niko, the founder of NihongoShark. I'm also a Japanese translator, writer, and all-around language nerd.

I created this site to help as many people master Japanese (any language, really) as possible.

Uh, what else? Well... I live in Tokyo, Bangkok, Sapporo, Saigon, San Diego, Tokyo, Chiang Mai, Portland, Oregon! So if anyone wants to meet up for a refreshing nama beer, I'm probably down for that. Or a coffee. Learning Japanese is tricky-tikki-tavi. But we're in this together. ファイト!

Good luck with your studies!

Niko

p.s. If you like my articles, you may very well love my daily lessons.