I hate studying Japanese grammar. I always have. I hate just how vague it can be, and all the rules that go with it. I’m happy when I know a grammar without needing to think about it because I don’t need to remember those rules, I just know it. (Everyone will get to that point)
But because I’ve never liked grammar I’ve avoided it. And because I’ve avoided it there have been times when my Japanese suffered. It’s difficult to study grammar when you don’t like it, but here are some suggestions to make it more bearable.
Studying Beginners Grammar
Beginner’s Japanese grammar is relatively simple (compared to later levels). Its mostly different verb patterns (past, present, continuous, etc).
When I began learning Japanese with a teacher she has a deck of cards with pictures of verbs on them (such as the image on the right for “sing”). She would go through the entire deck and I had to say what verb it was. When we began learning grammar they came out again and we’d go through the whole deck again turning the verbs into past, negative, te-form, ta-form etc.
This is a great way for beginners to learn verb conjugations as a beginner.
If you have a Japanese teacher (whether private or online) ask them to do this with you (if they haven’t already). If you can’t afford a teacher I suggest getting hold of or making your own verb image flashcard deck. If you use images and not words then you can associate the Japanese with the action rather than the English meaning.
This is also the method I use on Memrise to help people drill grammar, focusing on a specific grammar point and testing users with 5-15 words:
If you’re confused about particles I strongly suggest buying the book All About Particles: A Handbook of Japanese Function Words. It teaches you all about particles using example sentences with both kanji and romaji.
Other Useful Posts:
- The Basics of Grammar
- Verb Groups – Beginner’s Japanese Grammar
- Learn Japanese Grammar using English Grammar
Studying Intermediate and Advanced Grammar
Higher levels of grammar get more difficult because they can not only vague, but often have a lot of complicated rules.
I do think it helps to look over the complicated rules but not to become too focused on them. Maggie Sensei and JapaneseTest4You are two great websites for explaining complicated Japanese grammar (avoid JGrammar, it’s not very useful). If you’re looking for a specific grammar point I suggest googling “Japanese Grammar ___” and picking Maggie or JapaneseTest if they appear in the search options. This is because the websites both have bad search engines and neither of them cover all the grammar points out there.
So how do you study complex grammar in a non complex way? I personally find the best way is to treat the grammar like vocabulary.
に反して（にはんして）can be learnt as: “the result or situation has become opposite of what was predicted or expected” (as written in Try! 文法から伸ばす N2). OR as “contrary to” (as explained on JapaneseTest).
I personally find it a LOT easier to memorize the grammar thinking about it as a piece of vocabulary rather than complex grammar.
This doesn’t always work and you have to associate it with a few words or a sentence, or even a common phrase/grammar in Japanese.
Vstem つつある means “changing little by little” (i.e 子供の数は減りつつある = number of children is slowly decreasing)
のみならず is another way of saying だけでなく (but negative -), which means “not only, but also”
In other words, explain the grammar points to yourself in a simple way that you’ll understand.
How do you study/practice these grammar points?
I mentioned before applying the grammar points to a list of verbs, but that’s not as simple with more complex grammar. Some can only be used with nouns or adjectives, others can only be used with certain words or in certain ways.
I suggest trying to make a list of 5-10 focused parts of the sentence that works with the grammar you’re studying. You can create flashcards (with paper or a website like Memrise) to help you practice them. For example:
食べかけ = half-eaten
読みかけ = half-read
死にかけ = half-dead
着替えかけ = half way through changing clothes
仕事をやりかけ = half-done work
If you can make full sentences that works too! You can use websites like Lang-8.com to check with native Japanese people that the sentences make sense. But it’s important to study/use these on multiple occasions in order to cement them in your memory. Which is why the shorter the better, it’s harder to memorize a full sentence.
You can use textbooks to study and practice Japanese grammar. I suggest getting books for the JLPT even if you don’t plan on taking the test. They’re often full of exercises that you can practice using them. A few great books are as follows:
- Try! 日本語能力試験 文法から伸ばす日本語 (“Try! JLPT – Studying Japanese from Grammar”)
- Nihongo Somatoe Grammar (N3 – N1 Grammar) – Useful if you’re not taking the JLPT (use Try! if you’re taking N2+)
- Shin-Kanzen Master Grammar series
- 初級から中級への日本語ドリル 文法 (“From Beginner to Intermediate Japanese Drill Grammar”)
There are the Japanese Grammar Dictionaries but they don’t have exercises. I’ve found them to be not very useful for people who find grammar difficult.
Grammar is not easy for those who don’t like grammar. I’ve studied it in many different ways over the years and how I learn best changes over time as well. But I’ve noticed that even though I dislike it, I DO end up learning it and it slowly clicks into place.
If you’re stuck/confused and have any questions about grammar you can ask people on forums, Goolge+ or even on the Japanese Talk Online Facebook Page.