Forming Sentences in Japanese

Welcome to Japanese! To practice the language, work with your family, your close friends, or even your pets until you get the chance to talk with a Japanese person. The more you apply a language in your daily life, the better you grasp its essence. With this article, you can start forming a Japanese sentence in just five minutes — no joke!

When you begin speaking in Japanese, don't be afraid of making mistakes and be sure to keep smiling. If you speak even a little bit of their language, Japanese people will open their hearts to you right away and appreciate your effort. Simply making the effort to communicate in another person's language is one of the best ways to act as an ambassador and contribute to international.

Presenting the basic construction

The basic word order in English is subject-verb-object, but the order in Japanese is subject-object-verb. Instead of saying I watched TV, you say I TV watched. Instead of saying I ate sushi, say I sushi ate. Now you know the pattern. So repeat after me: Put the verb at the end! Verb end! Verb end! Go ahead and try it! I sake drank, I karaoke did, and I money lost! Good, you the basic word order in Japanese have.

Introducing particles

Subject-object-verb is the basic word order in Japanese, but object-subject-verb is also okay. As long as the verb is at the end of the sentence, Japanese grammar teachers are happy. For example, if Mary invited John, you can say either Mary John invited or John Mary invited in Japanese. Like I said, as long as the verb is at the end, the order of other phrases doesn't matter.

Although it sounds great, a smart person like you may be saying, "Wait a minute! How do you know who invited whom?" The secret is that Japanese use a little tag called a particle right after each noun phrase. The particle for the action performer is ga (gah), and the particle for the action receiver is o (oh). So, both of the following sentences mean Mary invited John:

  • Marî ga Jon o sasotta. (mah-reee gah john oh sah-soht-tah)
  • Jon o Marî ga sasotta. (john oh mah-reee gah sah-soht-tah)

Actually, ga is the subject-marking particle, and o is the direct object-marking particle. They can't be translated into English. Sorry, it's just Japanese.

Other Japanese particles include kara (kah-rah), made (mah-deh), ni (nee), de (deh), to (toh), and ka (kah). Luckily, they can be translated into English words like from, until, to, with, by, at, in, on, and, and or. But each particle is translated differently depending on the context. For example, the particle de corresponds to in, by, or with in English:

  • Bosuton de benkyôsuru. (boh-soo-tohndeh behn-kyohh-soo-roo; I'll study in Boston.)
  • Takushî de iku. (tah-koo-sheee deh ee-koo; I'll go by taxi.)
  • Fôku de taberu. (fohh-koo deh tah-beh-roo; I eat with a fork.)

Translation is not always the best way to figure out a foreign language, so remember the particles in terms of their general functions, not their exact English translations. Table 1 presents Japanese particles and their various meanings.

Table 1: Particles

Particle

Translation

General Function

Example

ga (gah)

No English equivalent

Specifies the subject of the sentence.

Jon ga kita. (john gah kee-tah; John came.)

o (oh)

No English equivalent

Specifies the direct object of the sentence.

Mari ga Jon o sasotta. (mah-reee gah john oh sah-soht-tah; Mary invited John.)

kara (kah-rah)

from

Specifies the starting point of the action.

Ku-ji kara benkyoshita. (koo-jee kah-rah behn-kyohh-shee-tah; I studied from 9 o'clock.)

made (mah-deh)

until

Specifies the ending point of the action.

San-ji made benkyoshita. (sahn-jee mah-deh behn-kyohh-shee-tah; I studied until 3 o'clock.)

ni (nee)

to, on, at

Specifies the target of the action.

Nihon ni itta. (nee-hohn nee eet-tah; I went to Japan.) Tokyo ni tsuita. (tohh-kyohh nee tsoo-ee-tah; I arrived at Tokyo.)

ni (nee)

to, on, at

Specifies the time of the event.

San-ji ni tsuita. (sahn-jee nee tsoo-ee-tah; I arrived at 3 o'clock.)

e (eh)

to, toward

Specifies the direction of the action.

Tokyo e itta. (tohh-kyohh eh eet-tah; I went to/towards Tokyo.)

de (deh)

in, by, with, at

Specifies how the action takes place; indicates the location, the manner, or the background condition of the action.

Bosuton de benkyoshita. (boh-soo-tohn de behn-kyohh-shee-tah; I studied in Boston.) Takushi de itta. (tah-koo-sheee deh eet-tah; I went there by taxi.) Foku de tabeta. (fohh-koo deh tah-beh-tah; I ate with a fork.)

no (noh)

's

Creates a possessive phrase or a modifier phrase.

Mari no hon (mah-reee noh hohn; Mary's book) nihongo no hon (nee-hon-goh noh hohn; a Japanese language book)

to (toh)

and, with

Lists items.

Sushi to sashimi o tabeta. (soo-shee toh sah-shee-mee oh tah-beh-tah; I ate sushi and sashimi.)

to (toh)

and, with

Specifies an item with the same status as the subject noun.

Jon ga Mari to utatta. (john gah mah-reee toh oo-taht-tah; John sang with Mary.)

ka (kah)

or

Lists choices.

Sushi ka sashimi o taberu. (soo-shee kah sah-shee-mee oh tah-beh-roo; I will eat sushi or sashimi.)

You can have a bunch of particles in a sentence:

  • Marî ga kuruma de Tôkyô e itta. (mah-reee gah koo-roo-mah deh tohh-kyohh eh eet-tah; Mary went to Tokyo by car.)
  • Jon no otôsan kara bîru to osake to wain o moratta. (john noh oh-tohh-sahn kah-rah beee-roo toh oh-sah-keh toh wah-een oh moh-raht-tah; I received beer, sake, and wine from John's dad.)

Japanese nouns need these particles; they don't need articles like a and the in English. Furthermore, there's no need to specify singular or plural. Tamago (tah-mah-goh) is either an egg or eggs.

Telling the topic

English doesn't have a topic phrase, but if you put a topic phrase at the beginning of whatever you say, you can sound a lot more like a native Japanese speaker. Japanese just love to mention topics at the beginning of their sentences.

At the very beginning of a statement, clarify what you're talking about — state the topic of the sentence. You need to provide the listener with a heads up: What I will say from now is about topic, As for topic, or Speaking of topic. Use the particle wa (wah) to mark the topic word.

Suppose you're talking about what you did yesterday. You start with the word for yesterday, kinô (kee-nohh), add wa after the word to alert the listener that yesterday is your topic, and then finish the sentence.

The following sentences differ in what the speaker is talking about. The statement can be about what happened yesterday, about what happened to the teacher, or about what happened to John, depending on what precedes wa:

  • Kinô wa sensê ga Jon o shikatta. (kee-nohh wah sehn-sehh gah john oh shee-kaht-tah; As for yesterday, what happened is that the teacher scolded John.)
  • Sensê wa kinô Jon o shikatta. (sehn-sehh wah kee-nohh john oh shee-kaht-tah; As for the teacher, what he did yesterday was to scold John.)
  • Jon wa sensê ga kinô shikatta. (john wah sehn-sehh gah kee-nohh shee-kaht-tah; As for John, what happened to him was that the teacher scolded him yesterday.)

Any noun can be the topic. The subject noun can be the topic, and the object noun can be the topic too. When a noun is both the subject of the sentence and the topic of the sentence, you use only the topic particle wa — never ga wa — to mark the noun as both the subject and the topic.In the same way, when a noun is the direct object as well as the topic, mark it with just wa — never with both o and wa.

blog comments powered by Disqus
How to Ask For Help in Japanese
Speaking Japanese at Work
Common Conversational Words and Phrases in Japanese
How to Pronounce Tricky Sounds in the Japanese Language
How to Say Dates and Times in Japanese
Advertisement

Inside Dummies.com