Learn Japanese

Forming Japanese Sentences

The basic word order in English is subject-verb-object. In Japanese, it's subject-object-verb. Instead of saying "I watched TV," for example, you say "I TV watched." Instead of saying "I ate sushi," you say "I sushi ate." Repeat after me: Put the verb at the end! Verb end!

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, ii Mary invited John, you can say either "Mary John invited" or "John Mary invited" in Japanese.

A smart person like you may say, "Wait a minute! How do you know who invited whom?" The secret is that Japanese uses a tag called a particle after each noun phrase. The particle for the action performer (the subject) is ga (gah), and the particle for the action receiver (the direct object) is o (oh). So both the following sentences mean "Mary invited John".

  • Mari ga Jon o sasotta. (mah-reee gah John oh sah-soht-tah)
  • Jon o Mari ga sasotta. (John oh mah-reee gah sah-soht-tah)
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 iike 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:

ParticleTranslationGeneral Function Example
ga(gah)No English equivalent Specifies the subject of the sentenceJon ga kita.(John gah kee-tah; John came.)
o(oh)No English equivalentSpecifies the direct object of the sentenceMari ga Jon o sasotta. (mah-reee gah John oh sah-soht-tah; Mary invited John.)
kara (kah-rah)fromSpecifies the starting point of the actionKu-ji kara benkyo shita. (koo-jee kah-rah behn-kyohh shee-tah; I studied from 9:00.)
made (mah-deh)untilSpecifies the ending point of the actionSan-ji made benkyo shita. (sahn-jee mah-deh behn-kyohh shee-tah; I studied until 3:00.)
ni (nee)to, on, atSpecifies the target of the actionNihon 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, atSpecifies the time of the event San-ji ni tsuita. (sahn-jee nee tsoo-ee-tah; I arrived at 3:00.)
e (eh)to, towardSpecifies the direction of the action Tokyo e itta. (tohh-kyohh eh eet-tah; 1 wentto Tokyo.)
de (deh)in, by, with, atSpecifies how the action takes place; indicates the location,manner, or background condition of the actionBosuton de benkyo shita. (boh-soo-tohn de behn-kyohh shee-tah; I studied in Boston.) TakushT de itta. (tah-koo sheee deh eet-tah; I wentthere by taxi.) Foku de tabeta. (fohh-koo deh tah-beh-tah; I ate with a fork.)
no(noh)'sCreates a possessive phrase or modifier phrase Marl no hon (mah-reee noh hohn; Mary's book) Nihongo no hon (nee-hon-goh noh hohn; A Japanese language book)
to (toh)andLists itemsSushi to sashimi o tabeta. (soo-shee toh sah-shee-mee oh tah-beh-tah; 1 ate sushi and sashimi.)
to (toh)withSpecifies an item with the same status as the subjectJon ga Marl to utatta. (John gah mah-reee toh oo-taht-tah; John sang with Mary.)
ka(kah)orLists choicesSushi ka sashimi otaberu. (soo-shee kahsah-shee-mee oh tah-beh-roo; I will eat sushi or sashimi.)

You can have a bunch of particles in a sentence, as in these examples:

Japanese nouns need these particles, but they don't need articles like a and the in English. Furthermore, you don't need to specify singular or plural. Tamago (tah-mah-goh) means either "an egg" or "eggs."