Japanese sentences

One of the simplest Japanese sentences is structured as ‘Watashi wa Nihon-jin desu’. This sentence means ‘I am Japanese.’ in English. There are two noticeable differences from English even in this short sentence. Let us look at one by one because they are crucial to understand how Japanese sentences work.

The first difference is the location of the verbs. Japanese sentences end with verbs and other information comes before the verbs, while English verbs come after the subject and followed by other information. Therefore, the verb appears in different places in the example sentences in Japanese and English. To be grammatically strict, these ‘verbs’ that tend to consist of a verb and others are called predicates.
  • In the Japanese sentence ‘Watashi wa Nihon-jin desu’, ‘desu’ is the verb.
  • In the English sentence ‘I am Japanese.’, ‘am’ is the verb.
Once you recognise it, this is not a complex rule at all. However, when you listen to Japanese, it is important to understand that Japanese sentences conclude at the end. The verbs, so-called predicates, form various meanings such as negativity, question and past tense. These come at the last part of the sentence in Japanese. Listeners or readers may need to be patient and wait until the end to understand the whole meaning of the sentence.

The second difference relates to the words that are called particles. In the example sentence ‘Watashi wa Nihon-jin desu’, the word ‘wa’ is the particle. In Japanese sentences, the grammatical function of words are defined by particles placed after them. On the other hand in English, the major factor that defines grammatical function of words is the location of the word.

The particle ‘wa’ marks the topic of the sentence. With ‘wa’, we know the example sentence is talking about the preceding word ‘watashi’, ‘I’ in English. In the English sentence ‘I am Japanese.’, we know the subject is ‘I’ because of the location of the word. This difference affects the way we understand the meaning of the sentences. To understand Japanese sentences, the word order is less important but particles are. Furthermore, the existence of particles allows Japanese language to easily change its word order.

Japanese sentences have distinctive structure and function. The main verbs come at the end and the particles mark the role of words. They are not complex but it requires time to get used to. In fact, it interferes Japanese people constructing English sentences. It would be good practice to pay special attention to these rules until they start happening automatically in you.

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