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Grammar page 1

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The first page of the grammar lessons.

Before you start you may want to learn the Kana, see Learn Hiragana and Katakana lesson 1 (and later lessons).


Basic Word Order

The sentence order is different from English. In English we use Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) but in Japanese it is usually Subject-Object-Verb (SOV) - observe:

I eat bread.

わたしはペンをたべます。 watashi wa pan o tabemasu.

Don't worry! It isn't as bad as it seems. You will get used to it.


Desu is a copula - a grammatical form that can act like to be (You know - is, are, am...) in English in the sense of explaining who or what something / one is or equating one thing with another. Let's take a look:

わたしはクレイです。 watashi wa kurei desu. I am Clay.
これはねこです。 kore wa neko desu. This is a cat.

Most of the time you want to use the to be verb you will use desu. Later we will learn other forms to show existence.


  • is, are, am
  • always at the end
  • In the present tense the final 'u' is usually devoiced, sounding a little like "dess" HEAR IT! WAV 11 k

Two Basic verb forms ~dictionary、~ます

There are many ways to change verbs, but here we will focus on 2 present tense forms "dictionary form" (also known as 'plain form') and "~masu form" (also known as 'polite form'). Note that these do not change the meaning of the verb but that the dictionary form is a more casual.

The dictionary form gets its name because it is what is found in the dictionary. Dictionary form verbs ends in -u (many end in -ru). ~Masu form verbs are so called because they always end in -masu in the present tense.

The way to transform between dictionary form and ~masu form depends on whether you are dealing with a godan verb or an ichidan verb.

Godan verb dictionary vs ~masu

Final 'u' (when written in romaji) is changed to 'i' and 'masu' added.

(To walk) 歩く aruku -> 歩きます arukimasu.

Ichidan verb dictionary vs ~masu

Final 'ru' is removed and 'masu' added.

(To eat) 食べる taberu -> 食べます tabemasu.

All ichidan verbs end in 'iru' or 'eru' when written in romaji but not all verbs ending in 'iru' or 'eru' are ichidan verbs.

  • (To run) 走る hashiru (Ends in 'iru' but is a godan verb).
  • (To go down e.g. a slope) 下りる oriru (Ends in 'iru' and is an ichidan verb).

Irregular verbs dictionary vs ~masu

する suru, 来る kuru and 行く are special cases. They are amoung the irregular verbs in Japanese (at this level the only irregular verbs you will encounter).

The ~masu form of する suru is します shimasu.

The ~masu form of くる kuru is きます kimasu

The ~masu form of いく iku is いきます ikimasu

The copula desu

です desu is the '~masu' form. That sounds odd because there is no ~masu in desu, so instead I'll say です desu is the polite form. The plain form of the copula is だ da. There are nuances to the use of だ that don't apply to other plain forms but those will be dealt with later. For now ...

The polite form of だ da is です desu.

STOP and test yourself.

To keep this page as simple as possible, I am writing all examples (for other grammar points) in the masu form.

Making questions か

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!

anata wa amerikajin desu.
You are an American.

anata wa amerikajin desu ka.
Are you an American?


ka is added to the end of statements.
Word order is not changed as in English
In Japanese (see right example) the ? (Question mark) is not required (optional)
Just like in English, the last syllable goes up in intonation
In spoken Japanese sometimes the ka can be dropped if you have the upwards intonation at the end. But for now, let's stick to using ka

Question words

By mastering these question words, your conversational skills will be much stronger!

  • いつ itsu - when

いつきましたか。 itsu kimashita ka. When did you come?

  • どこ doko - where

どこからきましたか。 doko kara kimashita ka. Where did you come from?

  • どうして doushite - why

どうしてきましたか。 doushite kimashita ka. Why did you come?

  • なぜ naze- why

なぜ naze? Why? [used in the same way as doushite]

  • だれ dare - who

だれがきましたか。 dare ga kimashita ka. Who came?

And last, but certainly not least

  • 何 nani what

なにを買いましたか。nani o kaimashita ka. What did you buy?
You can do a lot more with 何, see later lessons.


  • Even with the question word a か ka is used. (Except in casual spoken Japanese).
  • The question word is at the beginning, but after the は wa if there is one.

anata wa dare desu ka?
Who are you? (the question word dare is after the wa)
more on this

Possessive "'s" の

This is another nice part about Japanese. To show relationship or possession between 2 things just put a の no inbetween them. The trick is knowing which goes to the left of the no and which goes to the right...

Think of it as: の => 's

わたしのねこ watashi no neko - My cat
日本の車 nihon no kuruma - Japanese car [Japan's car]
ねこのおもちゃ neko no omocha - Cat's toy

Also think of: わたしの watashino as "my" and
あなたの anatano as "your"


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!

Learn watashi and anata well tachi and ra are endings that indicate plurality! Easy! :)

I - わたし watashi WE - わたしたち watashi tachi
YOU - あなた anata

YOU - あなたたち anata tachi

HE - かれ kare THEY - かれら kare ra
SHE - かのじょ kanojo
IT - IT isn't used but in IT's place sore (that) is often used -- Don't worry!

Another meaning of kare (he) is actually "boyfriend" and kanojo is "girlfriend"!
When the meaning is obvious, the pronoun is usually dropped. In context both of the following are clear in meaning:
わたしはアメリカからきました。watashi wa amerika kara kimashita. I came from America.
アメリカからきました。amerika kara kimashita. (I) came from America.

more on this

Particles intro

In Japanese, grammatical parts of the sentence are shown very clearly by "particles." These particles are placed after the word (or phrase) they modify. The best way to learn to use them is to memorize useful examples and say them!

See also Particles page.

wa - overall topic particle

は wa - overall topic particle - shows the main topic of the conversation [NOTE: it is a hiragana ha but pronounced as "wa"]

あなたはやさしいです。 anata wa yasashii desu. You are nice. [Makes "you" the main topic]

ga - the subject particle

が ga - the subject particle - sometimes the difference between wa and ga are hard to tell. Sometimes they can be used interchangeably with only a slight change in meaning. Don't worry about this now!

ねこがへんです。 neko ga hen desu. The cat is strange. [Makes the "cat" the subject]

Comparing は and が

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.

watashi wa kurei desu.
I am Clay.
["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 - Clay is. But because Clay is also the topic only the topic marker は is used. Now we'll let Clay continue and say another sentence ...

neko ga suki desu.
(I) like cats.
["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.]

if both are in a sentence, the wa is first

o - The Direct Object particle

を o - The Direct Object particle

hon o yomimashita.
(I) read a book.
[NOTE: it makes "book" the object. If we were to say "I" it would be watashi wa at the beginning.]

ni - usually shows movement (to)

に ni - usually shows movement (to)

nihon ni ikimashou!
Let's go to Japan!
[There is movement going to Japan]

or shows time (at)

roku ji ni ikimashou!
Let's go at 6.

de - Shows location (at, in)

で de - Shows location (at, in)

nihon de asobimashou!
Let's play (have fun) in Japan!
[Notice there is no movement]

STOP and test yourself.

more on this


The equivalent to Mr. or Mrs. or Miss. is ~さん

USAGE: Right after the name. It is used even with friends. (Even when in English we wouldn't use "Mr.")

くれいさん kurei san - Mr. Clay
山田さん yamada san - Mr. (or Mrs...) Yamada

Other honorifics: (used the same way)

~さま sama - very polite - reserved for royalty, important people, and customers of stores
~ちゃん chan - used for young girls (kiti-chan = Hello Kitty)
~くん kun - used for young boys
~先生 sensei - used for teachers [クレイ先生 kurei sensei], doctors, and professionals

For more detail see this article on 敬称 keishou.

For now just use san. It is the most common.

Continue to lesson 2

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