Japanese Grammar Rules For Every Beginner

Japanese GrammarWhen it comes to Japanese grammar, once you ‘get it,’ it really becomes quite straightforward and simple. When studying the grammar of the Japanese language, it is best to try and detach your mind from all the English language grammar rules before you begin.  For example, in Japanese grammar, the verbs always come at the end of a sentence. If you are just beginning to learn the Japanese language, knowing a few basic grammar rules will prove to be useful. If you have zero clues about speaking Japanese, this is definitely the place to start.  As a matter of fact you might want to supplement this lesson with this course that teaches an elementary Japanese course . You will soon find out that Japanese has a syllabic system that is very easy and simple to learn. There are only around one hundred fifty syllables.

Nouns and Pronouns

In Japanese, the system of nouns can also function as adverbs and adjectives leading to errors when trying to determine which part of speech it is, especially when you are translating directly into English. In various ways, you can pluralize nouns depending on what you are trying to convey. There are no articles or relative pronouns that exist in Japanese grammar and pronouns that do exist are used differently. When it comes to Japanese Grammar, one of the first lessons would be to know how nouns and pronouns are used. Here is a list of Japanese pronouns:

  • You: Anata
  • I/Me: Watashi
  • We/Us: Watashitachi
  • You: Anatatachi
  • He/Him: Kare
  • Them/They: Kanojotachi
  • That person: Ano hito
  • Those persons: Ano hitotachi

When it comes to the word ‘you’ or ‘anata’ in Japanese, using this is to be avoided when possible. Instead, use the name of the person along with ‘san.’ In the same way, use the name of the person when making a referral to a 3rd party.

Many nouns in the Japanese language do not chance forms the way they do in English. For instance, there is no plural form for most nouns except those that refer to people. This is why the word ‘cats’ and ‘cat’ are the same word, ‘neko.’ If necessary, there are methods of showing that there is one or more than one of something. There are word ‘counters’ such as:

  • Various: Samazama
  • Many: Takusan

In Japanese grammar, pronouns don’t change in form the way they do in English. For instance, hers, her and she all indicate one person. In the grammar of Japan, however, the word ‘hers, her and she’ are l indicated by the ‘kanojo’ term. A particle is utilized for determining which of its English equivalent is used.

There are no indefinite or definite articles that modify nouns due to the fact that Japanese grammar does not use gender. Plus, plural and singular forms are frequently the same. For example the words: book, the books, the book, a book or books are indicated by just the word ‘book’ or ‘hon.

For nouns that refer to people the ‘tachi’ suffix can be used for indicating plural

  • Mr. Akiro and his family: Akiro san tachi
  • Child: Kodomo
  • Children: Kodomotachi

Here is a list of indefinite pronouns:

  • Nothing: Nannimo
  • Not much: Ikuramo
  • Nowhere: Dokomo
  • No one: Daremo
  • Anything: Nandemo
  • A little/Some: Ikuraka
  • Something: Nanika
  • Somewhere: Dokaka
  • Something/Someone: Doreka

Japanese Names

Generally, there are many name suffixes added to the ends of Japanese names. Usually, the suffix placed after names is ‘san.’ This term is respectful and is somewhat like the way we use Mr or Ms in English. The difference is that it makes no reference to marital status and is gender neutral. One thing to remember though is that ‘san’ should not be used after your own name.

A diminutive form of ‘san’ is ‘chan. This term is placed usually after close friends’ given name or the names of family members that are younger. It is also used after pet names.

A more honorific form of ‘san’ is ‘sama.’ This is heard most often in the ‘okyaku-sama’ word, which means ‘honored customer or guest.’

One casual name suffix is ‘kun.’ This is used after peers’ names in situations that are more casual. This suffix is usually used to address boys in schools. In a situation of work, such as in an office, this suffix is usually used by higher ups to address subordinates.

Either sex can use all of the suffixes. Often, ‘sama’ and ‘san’ are used after titles aside from the names, such as in the case of ‘okyaku sama’ mentioned earlier.

When it comes to Japanese names, the family name comes before the given name so a person named Akiro Hiromo would be ‘Hiromo Akiro.”

Japanese Word Order

Generally, in the English language, sentences are made up of words that are put in the subject, verb and object or SVO formation. For example in this sentence:

The boy ate the pear.

 The subject is the boy, the verb is ‘ate’ and the object is the pear. In sentences that are Japanese, however, words are arranged generally in the order of subject, object, verb or SOV. For instance in the sentence: This is a pencil, in Japanese, you would write:

Kore wa pencil desu.

Kore (this) wa pencil (a pencil) desu (is), where ‘Kore’ is the subject, desu is the verb and the object is the pencil.  Many folks often make the error of translating too literally. For instance, people will read, “It is a pencil” when they see the word “Pencil desu” but may be translated literally as, Pencil it is” since they forget about changing word orders between the two styles. The sooner you realize that verbs always end Japanese sentences, the easier it will be for you to learn to read this language. Here is an article about Japanese sentence structure that gives you great information on word order.

In Japanese grammar, sentences are made into questions by placing the ‘ka’ particle at the end:

  • Did Akira see a mouse? Akira ga nezumi o mimashita ka.

Being a language that uses Subject-Object-Verb rather than the Subject-Verb-Object word order of the English language, sentences would then be translated literally this way:

  • Akira saw a mouse: Akira ga nezumi o mimashita(literally translated: Akira mouse saw)
  • Akira is a cat: Akira wa neko desu (literally translated: Akira a cat is)

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Particles

When studying Japanese grammar, one of the first things that could throw you off is a particle. This is something that Japanese grammar has, but which English grammar does not have. A particle helps you tell which word in a sentence belongs to which part. A particle always follows the clause or word modified. On their own, these really have no meaning, but exist to modify the sections of sentences. Many people learning Japanese language for the first time make a mistake and begin to ‘translate’ each particle. The thing is, there really is no equivalent in the English language. One example is the ‘spoken’ question mark of the Japanese language.  Many English speakers that are used to every word having a meaning may not be used to the ‘unspoken’ particle words in the beginning, but once you start realizing that particles are words that are less ‘meaningful’ and more ‘functional,’ this makes it easier to understand.  If you want to speed up your Japanese conversation skills, here is a course that will help you do just that.

Here is a list of particles:

Ka: Question Mark

  • Are you a student? Gakusei desu ka.

Confirmation: Ne

  • You’re a student, are you not? Gakusei desu ne.

Emphasis: Yo

  • So you’re a student! Gakusei desu yo

Simultaneous action: Nagara

  • I thought about the problem while walking: Mondai ni tsuite kangaemashita, aruki nagara

Or: Ka

  • How about coffee or tea? Kohi ka Ocha ikaga desu ka

Involvement: To

  • I often have lunch with my friends: Watashi wa yoku tomomdachi to hirugohan o tabemasu
  • The student has a pencil and a pen: Sono gakusei enpitsu to pen o motte imasu

Neither/Both/Also: Mo

  • I drink both coffee and tea: Kohii mo ocha mo nomimasu
  • I drink neither coffee nor tea: Kohii mo ocha mo nomimasen
  • I like coffee, I also like tea: Watashi wa kohii ga suki desu. Ocha mo suki desu

Demonstratives

Words that are demonstrative, whether they are adverbs, adjectives or pronouns may be divided into 4 groups according to their prefixes:

  • Question: Do
  • Something far away from both the listener and the speaker: A
  • Something near to the listener but far from the speaker: So
  • Something near the speaker: Ko
  • Which way: Dochira
  • That way: Achira/Sochira
  • This Way: Kochira
  • Where: Doko
  • Over There: Asoko
  • There: Soko
  • Here: Koko
  • What kind of: Do
  • In that manner: a/so
  • In this manner: Ko
  • What kind of: Donna
  • That kind of: Anna
  • That kind of: Sonna
  • This kind of: Konna
  • Which: Dono
  • That: Ano/Sono
  • This: Kono
  • Which One: Dore
  • That One: Sore
  • This One: Kore
  • Here is a list of interrogative pronouns:
  • Why: Doshite
  • When: Itsu
  • How Many: Ikutsu
  • How Much: Ikura
  • How Many People: Nannin
  • What: Nani, Nan
  • Who: Dare

Grammar for Gift Giving

In Japan, gifts are a big thing and part of their culture. Knowing the right grammar when receiving or giving gifts is appropriate. There are verbs to express either receiving or giving and this depends on the relative status on both the one who gives and the one who gets the gift.

  • Receive from superiors: Itadaku
  • Receive: Morau
  • A superior giving to speakers: Kudasaru
  • Giving to a speaker: Kureru
  • Giving informally: Yaru
  • Giving to a superior: Sashiageru
  • Give: Ageru

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