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There are 46 hiragana characters for 46 different sounds. Hiragana are used for expressing "grammatical" elements such as particles, and endings of adjectives and verbs which show tenses, etc. Kanji are used for expressing "meaningful" elements such as nouns and stems of adjectives and verbs.

It is possible to write entire Japanese sentences in hiragana. If an adult forgets certain kanji which are rarely used, he/she may substitute hiragana for them. Since the basic 46 hiragana symbols and some modifications of the suffice for all Japanese sounds, Japanese children start to read and write Japanese all in hiragana before making an attempt to learn some of the two thousand kanji currently used.

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