Japanese Grammar FAQ
Under Construction... *
Although this is technically a FAQ, most of the contents are not actually frequently asked questions. They are in fact, grammatical problems which have occured to Japanese students in the past- and the aim of this FAQ is to make sure that these problems can be reviewed in a clear simple format by all students of Japanese. Effectively, the Japanese Grammar FAQ is simillar to a reference library, or an archive. It doesn't teach grammar, it shows examples of problems which have occured in the past relating to Japanese grammar. Hopefully in time this page will expand and provide our community with another excellent resource for studying Japanese.
Concerning させる (Saseru)
Sometimes even the best of Japanese students will come across a confusing grammar problem where they least expect it.
Keatonatron: Just some clarification on a fairly basic topic: Can the させる form be used when someone unintentionally is the cause for someone to do something? In other words, instead of "the teacher made the student do his homework" can you use it for "he made me laugh" or "you made me forget?"
Technically this is true. Just as we say, "You made me laugh" in English the same can be done in Japanese. Take the sentence: "Jill made the teacher laugh." We do not assume Jill is forcing the teacher to laugh, we assume that is unintentional.
- Jiru wa sensei o warawaseta
- Jill made the teacher laugh
Now grammatically this is all fine and dandy. But unfortunately, in Japanese this has a somewhat sarcastic nuance to it. The example above gives the impression that Jill perhaps made a fool of herself, causing the teacher to laugh. Of course, this isn't the type of nuance we're after.
Now look at this example:
- Jiru wa sensei ni waratte shimatta
- By Jill, the teacher was made to laugh
The above translation may be a little sketchy, but it illustrates the effect given by てしまった(-te shimatta.) (See Lesson 7 for more on しまった)
Comparing Confusing Conditionals
As most textbooks will tell you, there are many words for "if" in the Japanese language. If you have not yet encountered these, I recommend you visit this page.
The problems usually arise with the conditionals たら and ーれば、both of which we are told mean "if." So what is the difference between the two? Is one more formal than the other? Is there a certain situation where one is preferrable, or are they interchangeable?
These are important questions to consider. In my belief, no two words are the same; context and nuance play a big role in Japanese and even in English. For example, the following English words all have the same meaning- but each has a slightly different nuance: but, still, though, although, however, nevertheless.
1. Is one conditional more formal than the other?
As far as たら and れば are concerned, no. Formalities are usually expressed at the end of a sentence, and most sentences with these conditionals take this structure:
2. Are たら and れば interchangeable?
No. It all depends on what you want to say.
3. Ok, so how do I use them?
This is the final and most important question. You see, the flaw is actually in English, not Japanese. Observe the two sentences below:
- If it rains tomorrow, I'll use an umbrella.
- If you buy that one, you'll have no money left.
Unlike the first example, the second example has a definite nuance to it. If you buy that one, you will have no money left. It is a fact. Whereas in the first example, there is no definite state implied. The rain isn't going to force me to use an umbrella, I just want to use one because it is going to rain.
たら would be more suitable in the first example. れば would be more suitable in the second example.
- 明日雨が降ったら、かさを使います if it rains tomorrow, I expect I'll have to use my umbrella
- それを買えば、お金がありません if you buy that one, you will have no money left (FACT)