The sentence order is very different from English. In English we use Subject-Verb-Object (SVO), but in Japanese it is usually (but not always!) Subject-Object-Verb (SOV).
|watashi wa||pan o||tabemasu.|
Notice the "extra" words wa & o. These are called particles (or grammatical markers) and tell us a lot about the function of the word it follows. Don't worry! We will get to particles soon enough.
です is a copula (a word used to link the subject of a sentence with a predicate). It shows that something is or isn't something else. It is one of the very few irregular forms in Japanese. です can act like the English "to be" (you know; is, am, are...) in the sense that です is used to explain who or what something or someone is. It is also used when equating one thing with another.
Let's take a look.
ゾウ は 大きい です。
|Romaji:||zou wa ookii desu.|
|Literal:||elephants (topic particle) big are|
|Natural:||Elephants are large.|
これ は ねこ です。
|Romaji:||kore wa neko desu.|
|Literal:||this (topic particle) cat is|
|Natural:||This is a cat.|
Most of the time you want to use the "to be" verb you will use です. Later we will learn other forms to show existence.
There are several ways to say "and" (connecting words and phrases). Let's look at two of them:
わたし は 日本語 と 英語 と フランス語 が 話せます。
There are many ways to conjugate verbs, but here we will focus on two present tense forms: "dictionary form" (also known as "plain form") and " ~masu form" (also known as "polite form")
Switching between these two verb forms does not change the meaning of the verb but the dictionary form is more casual.
|Dictionary Form||-Masu Form||Meaning|
||Both mean "to eat"|
||to do (this is one of the 2 irregular verbs)|
You will notice some other changes between the two forms. I would recommend learning about the three verb groups here, but for our purposes right now, just memorize a few examples and try to find patterns with other verbs. And remember: Mistake making is memory making! (As long as you correct yourself, of course.)
Making questions in Japanese is easy! -- REALLY! Usually you can change a statement into a question by just adding a か ka to the end!
Now add a
アメリカ人 です か。
See "Questions and Question Words - 10 minute lesson" for more on this.
By mastering these question words, your conversational skills will be much stronger!
いつ きました か？
どこ から きました か？
どうして きました か？
だれが きました か。
なに を 買いました か。
You can do a lot more with 何, see here.
あなた は だれ です か？
For more on this please see our "Questions and Question Words" guide.
This is another nice thing about Japanese.
To show relationship or possession between two things just put a の (no) between them. The trick is knowing (erm... のing) which goes to the left of the no and which goes to the right...
Think of の as a 's (apostrophe S)
わたし の ねこ
日本 の 車
ねこ の おもちゃ
But, a small word, but... There are other "buts" but demo is the most common. Learn this first and you can pick the others up later.
日本語 が 好き でも フランス語 は きらい です。
Pronouns are not used nearly as much in Japanese as they are in English. Often the pronoun is used once and then after (until the topic shifts to someone else) the pronoun is dropped. Still they are very important!
When the meaning is obvious, the pronoun is usually dropped. Both of the following is clear in meaning:
See the "I, Me, You, Thou..." guide for more on pronouns.
In English, we have our "ah" and "um." In Japanese, they have their "eeto." This is the sound you make when you can't think of what to say, but want to say something!
何 の 動物 が 好き です か？
ええと。。。 ねこ が すき。
Particles may seem a little foreign to you at first, but for the most part, they aren't too difficult to grasp.
These particles are placed after a word (or phrase) and show its relationship (grammatical function) to the rest of the sentence.
In other words, the particle itself isn't really translatable, but it tells you a lot about the function of the word it follows.
The best way to learn to use them is to memorize useful examples and try them out for size!
shows the main topic of the conversation. It may be helpful to think of it as "As for..."
あなた は やさしい。
Makes "you" the main topic: "As for YOU, you are nice."
sometimes the difference between wa and ga is hard to tell. Sometimes they can be used interchangeably with only a slight change in meaning. See next entry for more on this.
ねこ が へん。
Makes the "cat" the subject
The topic particle は can easily be confused with the subject particle が. That is because は overrides が, in other words, in a sentence something can very easily be both the topic and the subject of that sentence. In such cases the が "disappears" and it looks like the は is acting as a subject marker.
Take this simple sentence.
"I" (that is the speaker, Clay) is the topic and now this is known, it won't be repeated unless the topic changes.
What is the subject of the sentence? That's right - "I" watashi is. But because "I" is also the topic only the topic marker は is used. Now we'll let Clay continue and say another sentence ...
"cats" is the subject here. "I" is still the topic. He could have said "watashi wa neko ga suki desu." but that is unnecessary because he has already said "watashi wa" establishing the topic in the previous sentence.
本 を よみました。
it makes "book" the object. If we were to say "I" it would be watashi wa at the beginning.
日本 に いきましょう！
There is movement going to Japan or shows time (at)
６時 に いきましょう！
日本 で 遊びましょう！
Notice there is no movement
See the "Particles and Conjunctions" guide for more on this.
Do you have an iPhone/iPod Touch?
You may be interested in this iPhone App for mastering Japanese Particles. It is produced by TJP's good friends over at JapanNewbie.com. It covers the basic particles plus those found on the JLPT N5 and N4 tests. Use the Study Mode and Quiz to test yourself. Click here to jump to the iTunes Japanese 101: Particles page
We will look at a few examples tha