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Grammar Notes Japanese

Japanese language shares some structural features with other languages in the world. However, many of them are not present in Western languages including English. Listed below are some key concepts of the Japanese language:

1. Sentence structure: Subject + Object + verb, rather than Subject + Verb + Object like English

2. Verbs: Verbs have conjugations of tense and aspect.

3. Singular and Plural: There is no obvious distinction between singular and plural. Quantities are often presented by simply adding quantifiers in front of the nouns.

4. Levels of formality: According to the situation, it is necessary to change the style of both written and spoken Japanese. There are few ways on how to make words and phrases polite.

5. Verb conjugation: simply apply “formal words” rather than basic words and add お [o] in front of nouns - お花 [o hana] / flowers instead of 花 [hana] / flowers - are some of the examples.

6. Particles and Articles: Example of a Particles are は [wa], が [ga] / subject or topic markers are placed after nouns and pronouns. Without these particles, the nouns cannot be grammatical subjects. に [n]) / similar to English prepositions such as in, to, on. の [no] / similar to an apostrophe 's'. These are just a few examples, and many of them are used in multiple ways. They are the words that mainly show the relationship of words, phrases, or clauses to the rest of the sentence. Some particles are like English prepositions they always follow the word they mark. That's why they are called subject marker or object marker. Articles on the other hand such as a, an, and the, are not used in Japanese language. Demonstrative pronouns such as 'this' and 'that' are often used instead of articles.

Spoken Japanese has the following characteristics:

1. Slight differences in speech style between men and women.

2. The predicate (verbs) is sometimes the only part that is present in sentences in Japanese. Subjects and objects can be omitted if the speaker judges them to be understood among others.

Three different kinds of writings in Japanese:

1. Kanji (Chinese characters) - each character has an idea or meaning. Most of them have two or more readings.

木 [ki] / tree
水 [mizu] / water
山 [yama] / mountain

2. Hiragana (phonetic letters) - these are the characters that are most likely the first letters you learn.

こんにちは [konnichiwa] / Hello :: こ [ko] ん [n] に[ni] ち [chi] は [wa]

3. Katakana (phonetic letters) - those are used mainly for foreign words (foreign names and foreign originated words)

チョコレート [chokore^to] / chocolate :: チョ [cho] コ [ko] レー [re^] ト [to]
アメリカ [Amerika] / America :: ア [a] メ [me] リ[ri] カ[ka]

Nounsare quite simple in Japanese. There is no use of gender or articles and there is no required distinction between singular or plural.

女の人 [onna no hito] / woman
男の人 [otoko no hito] / man
自転車 [jitensya] / bike

[otokonoko ga pan o tabemasu]
The boy is eating bread.

Take note of the particle を [o] after 何 [nani] and the food name. を [o] is placed after nouns and it indicates that the nouns are the direct objects, it is an object marker. Without this particle the nouns cannot have objective meanings grammatically and the sentences sound choppy and incomplete.

Japanese sentences end with verbs and the ending of verbs are the different form of conjugations that shows its tense and aspect.

Basic form of verbs are hardly used especially in conversations, however you need to know them to conjugate verbs as they are the 'base'.

座る [suwaru] / sit
立つ [tatsu] / stand
歩く [aruku] / walk

Verb conjugations:

Japanese verbs can be divided into three types for conjugations:

1. う [u] verbs - verbs that ends with う [u], such as 飲む [nomu] / drink
2. る [ru] verbs - verbs that ends with る [ru], such as 食べる [taberu] / eat
3. irregular verbs, such as [kuru] / come

Verb tenses and conjugations will be discussed in details in Chapter 6.

There are three types of adjectives in Japanese. The differences are the ending letters in them. In their base forms, there is an:

1. い [i] adjective which ends with the letter い [i]
2. な [na] adjectives which ends with the letter な [na]
3. colour words which are nouns that transform to い [i] adjectives in the most cases.

To make negative form with adjectives, first you need to drop い [i] part which is the last letter and add くない [kunai], the negative suffix.

赤い [aka i] red – drop the last letter of the word い [i] + くない [kunai] negative suffix = 赤くない [akaku nai] / not red
黒い [kuri i] / black - drop the last letter of the word い [i]+ くない [kunai] negative suffix = 黒くない [kuroku nai] / not black

[kono keitaidenwa wa kuroku naidesu. sore wa aoi desu]
This mobile phone is not black, it's blue.

[kono denwa wa akaku naidesu. sore wa kuroi desu]
This telephone is not red, it's black.

Present Tense

To make present continuous tense [-ing form], you need to conjugate verbs to て (-te) form and then add います [teimasu] / -ing.

座って [suwatte] / sit = 座っています [suwatte imasu] / sitting
立って [tatte] / stand = 立っています [tatte imasu] / standing
歩いて [aruite] / walk = 歩いています [aruite imasu] / walking

Basic sentence structure in present continuous tense: Subject (noun) + Verb:

男の人 [otoko no hito] + `座っています [suwatte imasu] / The man is sitting.

As mentioned to be able to make complete sentences in the Japanese language, a particle is needed. Subjects are made up with nouns, pronouns or proper nouns + particles. Another particle is が [ga] which is a topic/subject marker. It is placed after nouns, in this case it would be 男の人 [otoko no hito] / man. Without this particle, the noun cannot be a grammatical subject.

男の人 [otoko no hito] / man + が [ga] / subject marker particle + 座っています [suwatte imasu] / sitting

[otoko no hito ga suwatte imasu]
The man is sitting.

Future Tense

To form the future tense of verbs:

1. う [u] verbs - change the last sound う [ u] to [ou] and add としています [toshiteimasu] / is going to [verb]

飲む [nomu] / drink - change last sound to [ou], 飲もう [nomou] / drink and add 飲もうとしています [nomou toshiteimasu] / is going to drink

[neko ga nomou toshiteimasu]
The cat is going to drink.

2. る [ru] verbs - drop the last letter of the word る [ru] and add よう [you] and としています [toshiteimasu] / is going to [verb]

食べる [taberu] / eat - る [ru] the last letter of the word + ようとしています [you toshiteimasu] = 食べようとしています [tabe you toshiteimasu] / is going to eat

[inu ga tabe youtoshiteimasu]
The dog is going to eat.

Past Tense

To form the past tense of the verb:

1. う [u] verbs – change the last sound う [u] to い [i] and add ました [mashita] / suffix of the past tense of the verb

飲む [nomu] / drink change to 飲み [nomi] + ました [mashita] = [nomi mashita] / drank

[neko wa nomi mashita]
The cat drank.

2. る [ru] verbs - drop the last letter of the word る [ru] and add よう [you] and add ました [mashita] / suffix of past tense of the verb

[inu wa tabe mashita]
The dog ate.


中 [naka] / in
上 [ue] / on
下 [shita] / under

Another particle is の [no] and perhaps it is the most useful particle of all. In this case it is used as a noun modifier which means directing where the objects are, not exactly like English 'to', but perhaps similar to 'of'. 中 [naka] without の [no] is translated to 'middle' or 'inside' which are both nouns. Now, add の [no] after 中 [naka], 中の [naka no] is translated to 'in' or 'inside of' or 'middle of'. Without this particle, the noun 中 [naka] cannot be a preposition or have a meaning equal to a preposition such as 'in'.

上の [ue no] / on
下の [shita no] / under


[kuruma no naka no akachan]
A baby in a car.

[kuruma no ue no jitennsya]
A bike on a car.

[hikouki no shita no otokonoko]
A boy under a plane.

In the first sentence you can notice that 中の [naka no] is placed after 車の [kuruma no]. This is very different from the English form and is a very common mistake for beginner students to make.


彼[kare] / he
彼女[kanojo] / she

Please note that these words are also used for him and her, his and hers. How you make a difference is easy, you simply use different particles. Remember, each particle has different purpose.

Pronouns 'he' and 'she' using は [wa]: 彼 [kare] / he and 彼女 [kanojo] / she are pronouns in Japanese but without a subject marker は [wa], they cannot be grammatical subjects.

[kare wa nani o kite imasuka]
What is he wearing?

[kare wa nagai zubon o haiteimasu]
He is wearing long pants.

[kanojo wa nani o motte imasuka]
What is she holding?

[kanojo wa ooki i bo^ru o niko to chiisa i bo^ru o ikko motte imasu]
She is holding two big balls and a small ball.

私 [watashi] / I
あなた [anata] / you

Please note that these words are also used for 'me' and 'you' (as an object form) and 'mine' and 'yours'.

Below are examples using 私 [watashi] and あなた [anata] by using は [wa] as a subject marker. 私 [watashi] and あなた [anata] are also pronouns in Japanese but without the subject marker は [wa], they cannot be grammatical subjects:

帽子 [boushi] / hat

[anata wa nani o kite imasuka]
What are you wearing?

[watashi wa shiroi boushi o kabutteimasu]
I'm wearing a white hat.

Demonstrative pronouns

One demonstrative pronoun is the word あの [ano] / that. Remember that there is no 'the' in Japanese because we don't really use articles. However, you can say その [sono] or あの [ano] for 'the' in Japanese to specify or emphasize a word.

この [kono] / this
あの [ano] / that/the
その[sono] / the

お兄さん [oniisann] / older brother
妹 [imouto] / younger sister

[kono otokonoko wa sono onnanoko no oniisan desu]
This boy is the older brother of the girl.

[kono onnanoko wa sono otokonoko no imouto desu]
This girl is the younger sister of the boy.

Making negative sentences is quite simple in the Japanese language.

Verbs are formed as (present continuous tense + negative). In Verb conjugations, just remember the present continuous tense ています [imasu] / -ing, take out the last letter す [su] and add せん [sen], a suffix, which will make it to its negative form. Unlike in English, negative suffix せん [sen] is used in Japanese to make negative forms it can't be translated to 'not' directly but it has the same effect.

立っています [tatte imasu] / standing

Negative form:
す [su] the last letter from the sentence + せん [sen] the negative form suffix = 立っていません [tatte imasen] / not standing

[onna no hito wa tatte imasen]
The woman is not standing.

To formulate questions in Japanese use present continuous forms as they are the most commonly used forms in both spoken and written Japanese. Unlike in English, we don't move the order of subjects and verbs in the sentences to make question forms. We simply add か [ka] at the end of the sentence.


料理しています [ryuri shiteimasu] / cooking
飲んでいます [nonndeimasu] drinking

Now Add か [ka] to formulate a question:
[ryouri shiteimasuka]
(Are you/Is she etc.) cooking?

[otokonoko ga tabeteimasu ka.]
Is the boy eating?


The question word 何を [nani o] / what.

[ano onna no hito wa nani o shiteimasuka]
What is that woman doing?


It's simple to make a question, just add か [ka] (sentence ending particle for question forms) at the end. Another particle to use is は [wa] which is a subject/topic marker particle.

どこ [doko] / where
です [desu] / be

[ano otoko no hito wa dokodesuka]
Where is the man?

[ano otoko no hito to onna no hito wa dokodesuka]
Where are the man and the woman?


The question word 誰 [dare] / who.

[ano sensei wa dare desuka]
Who is the teacher?

[ano isha wa dare desuka]
Who is the doctor?

When comparing two things in Japanese, normally the sentence is formed:

A + は [wa] +B より [yori]+ adjective/adverb + verbs (or verbs that are described with adverbs). This means, A is more than B.

は [wa] - subject marker particle
より [yori] - more than, less than, -er than as in 'bigger than'

女の人[onna no hito](A) + は[wa] + 男の人[otoko no hito](B) + より[yori]) + きれい[kirei] (adjective) + です[desu] (verb)

[onnanohito wa otoko no nin yorikireidesu]
The woman is more beautiful than the man.

The 'as____as' form or 同じ [onaji] in Japanse is usually translated to same in English. To use it to make comparison sentences is shown below, は [wa] or が [ga] are also used as subject markers:

A + は [wa] or が [ga] + B と同じ [to onaji] + adjective/adverb + be verbs (or verbs that are described with adverbs).

'A' and 'B' are the same /have the same 'adjective/adverb'. This means A is as 'adjective' as B.

ひげの男の人 [hige no otoko no hito] (A) + は [wa] + 帽子の男の人 [boushi no otoko no hito](B) と同じ[onaji] + 高さ [takasa] / tall + です [verb]

[higeno otoko no hito wa boushi no otoko no hito to onaji takasa desu]
The man with the beard is as tall as the man with the hat.

Superlative Comparison

To form comparison sentences with most or in a superlative degree we have:

'A' subject/topic + は [wa] or が [ga] + 一番 [ichiban] / the most + adjective, noun or adverb + be verbs (or verbs that are described with adverbs). 一番 [ichiban] is usually translated to the most, No. 1, top etc in English.

象が [zou](A) + 一番 [ichibann] / the most + 大きい [ookii] / big

(zou ga ichibann ookii)
The elephant is the biggest.

Counting numbers in Japanese is very simple. After you learn how to count from one to ten, you simply need to combine those numbers systematically to go from there.

一 [ichi] / one
二 [ni] / two
三 [san] / three
四 [shi] / four
五 [go] / five
六 [roku] / six
七 [shichi] / seven
八 [hachi] / eight
九 [kyuu] / nine
十 [juu] / ten

Note: People use those universal numbers (number system) such as 1, 2, 3, 4… 100, 1000… as well as Kanji characters in Japan.
十一 [juu ishi] / eleven
十二 [juu ni] / twelve
十三 [juu san] / thirteen

Can you see the pattern? They are combinations of 十 [juu] / ten and the numbers in the ones place.

十四 [juu shi] / fourteen
十五 [juu go] / fifteen
二十 [ni juu] / twenty: combination of the numbers 二 [ni] x 十 [juu].
二十一 [ni juu ichi] / twenty one : 二 [ni] x十 [juu] + 一 [ichi]

More Examples:
十 [juu] / ten + 一[ichi] / one = 十一 [juu ichi] / eleven 11
十 [juu] / ten + 九 [kyuu] / nine = 十九 [juu kyuu] / nineteen 19
二 [ni] / two x 十 [juu] / ten = 二十 [ni juu] / twenty 20
二十 [ni juu] / twenty + 五 [go] / five = 二十五 [ni juu go] / twenty five 25
九 [kyuu] / nine x 十[juu] / ten = 九十 [kyuu juu] / ninety 90
九十 [kyuu juu] / ninety + 九 [kyuu] / nine = 九十九 [kyuu juu kyuu] / ninety nine 99
百 [hyuku] / one hundred 100

After百 [hyuku] you start: 百 [hyuku] / one hundred + 一 [ichi] / one = 百一 [hyaku ichi] one hundred one] and so on. The rest is exactly the same.