Japanese grammar is actually surprisingly easy once you get it. Basic grammar is at least. It’s like a maths problem; + x – etc., all have their own uses and places, it’s the numbers around them that change the meaning of the formula.
In Japanese these are called “particles”. They are set sounds that have set uses. Once you know the basic ones it’s very easy to create a wide variety of sentences by changing the words.
Here’s a guide to creating simple sentences using particles.
How To Practice Making Sentences
I wanted to write this first because I feel it’s one of the most important things about this article.
The following begins to give you the building blocks to make very simple sentences. What you need to do to learn them is:
- Have fun and be curious – write for fun, try and make up sentences, look up new words, write a diary or blog.
- Learn vocabulary to experiment with – the more you learn the more new sentences you can make.
- Make mistakes and be corrected by others – check you have it right through forums or sites like Lang-8.com.
Every Sentence Without a Verb ends with “Desu”
Whenever you have a simple sentence that does not have a verb it will end in です “desu” (formal) or だ “da” (informal).
noun です (desu) / だ (da) = a noun
an apple. = ringo desu / ringo da
a dog. = inu desu / inu da
Starbucks. = sutaba desu / sutaba da
an idiot = baka desu / baka da
(There is a complicated historical reasoning behind “desu”. But I like to think of it as a period or full stop, that marks the end of the sentence when there is no verb.)
You can elaborate on these by adding an adjective in front of the noun/object.
adjective noun です (desu) / だ (da)
a cold apple. = samui ringo desu / samui ringo da
a loud dog. = urusai inu desu / urusai inu da
a close Starbucks. = chikai sutaba desu / chikai sutaba da
a beautiful idiot. = kireina baka desu / kireina baka da*
There are 2 types of adjectives. い (i) adjectives and な (na) adjectives. You don’t need to worry about those right now but you can click here to learn more about them and where you can learn them for free.
Just like in English you can also drop the object and just have the adjective in the sentence.
it’s cold. = samui desu / samui da
it’s loud. = urusai desu / urusai da
it’s close. = chikai desu / chikai da
it’s beautiful. = kirei desu / kirei da*
Talking About a Topic with “wa”
The topic of the sentence will be at the start and is marked with は “wa” (but written with the character for ha).
topic は (wa) noun です (desu) / だ (da) = __ is noun.
I am Bob. = watashi wa bob desu / da
She is French. = kanojo wa furansu-jin desu / da
The dog is a shiba-inu. = inu wa shiba-inu desu / da
Similar to English you can also use this to swap the adjective with the object. So instead of saying “cold apple” you can say “the apple is cold”. (In this case you can see that the noun becomes the topic.)
topic は (wa) adjective です (desu) / だ (da)
the apple is cold. = ringo wa samui desu / da
the dog is loud. = inu wa urusai desu / da
the Starbucks is close. = sutaba wa chikai desu / da
the idiot is beautiful. = baka wa kirei desu / da
There is a very similar particle to wa used in sentences, which is ga. Ga marks the subject of the sentence, but the difference between the two is very subtle. Here’s a good explanation of the difference between wa and ga by NihonShock if you’re interested in learning more.
If you can’t be bothered to read all that a basic way to remember the difference between “wa” and “ga” is…
“information wa” is information you don’t need in a sentence. I.e watashi wa Sam desu = I am Sam. If you’ve already established that you’re talking about “watashi wa”, you can drop that part of the sentence.
“information ga” is information you do need. I.e Sam ga suki desu = I like Sam. This sentence wouldn’t make sense if you dropped “Sam ga”.
Making a Sentence with Verbs
Depending on how you start learning Japanese verbs you will either learn them in “masu” form (which is more formal) or “dictionary”/”plain” form (which is more informal and how you would find them written in the dictionary).
If you are studying with a teacher from a workbook you will probably learn “masu” form. This is because they are very easy to use and easy to change into past, negative and past negative. (You can click here for a more detailed look at how “masu” verbs change)
If you are studying online through Memrise or Tae Kim’s Guide to Grammar then you will probably learn the “plain” form. (You can click here for a more detailed look at plain verbs and how they change)
But right now the most important thing you need to know is 2 things:
1. Japanese verbs always go at the end of the sentence
2. You DO NOT combine verbs with “desu” or “da” (so NO “ikimasu desu”).
There are 2 more particles I’d like to introduce to you. The first is を “o” (sometimes spelled “wo”) and is used with objects/nouns. With “o” you can do things to an object with a verb.
I eat an apple. = ringo o tabemasu / ringo o taberu
I drink coffee. = kouhii o nomimasu / kouhii o nomu
I read a book. = hon o yomimasu / hon o yomu
The second is に “ni” and is used when you’re talking about places. I.e here, there, specific places, etc.
place に (ni) verb
I go to the bank. = ginkou ni ikimasu / ginkou ni iku
I return home. = uchi ni kaerimasu / uchi ni kaeru
I come to school. = gakkou ni kimasu / gakkou ni kuru
I’m here. = koko ni imasu / koko ni iru
Did You Notice the Lack of “I”?
There is one final important thing I want to point out in Japanese sentences. This is because so many people new to Japanese make this mistake.
In English we say “I” in sentences a lot. Look at the above sentences where I go to the bank, I go home, I eat an apple, etc., but the Japanese does not use I in the same way we do.
You may know that “I” in Japanese is “watashi”, but constantly saying “watashi wa…” in every sentence sounds weird. In Japanese if you (or the person you’re speaking to) has already established who you’re talking about (i.e yourself), you do not need to use the topic (watashi) over and over. You often don’t need to use it at all!
Just like in the above sentences, it is often clear from the context that you are talking about “watashi” and therefore do not need to use it.
I hope this was helpful! Feel free to post on the Japanese Talk Online Facebook Page sentences you’d like to try out and get corrected, or if you have any questions!
If you’d like to learn more about Particles I strongly suggest buying All About Particles: A Handbook of Japanese Function Words. It’s cheap and easy to use. It goes through every kind of particle used in Japanese with example sentences using kanji and romaji and English!!