Japanese Word Order

A Smattering of Japanese Grammar

First, Japanese isn’t English. As obvious as that sounds, it is important to keep it in mind.
It is good, to a certain extent, to compare the languages to get a better feel for both, but a constant comparison can lead to disappointment and frustration.

English (SVO)

Cats eat mice.

Japanese (SOV)
  • ねこ は ネズミ を たべます。
  • neko wa nezumi o tabemasu.
  • cats – mice – eat

It isn’t as hard as it seems. Constructing a Japanese sentence is like detective work. You collect the clues along the way and then put it all together at the end.

Let’s break down another example.

わたし は  みせ へ  いきます。

watashi wa mise e ikimasu.

Let’s start with the first word + particle: わたし は means “as for me, I…”

わたし (I; me) + は (topic particle: as for…)

Ah! You know who is doing the work, but what, where, why, or when?

みせ (store) + へ (directional particle)

Ok! You know where! But what?

And finally, we have いきます, which means “to go.”

Now putting it all together, we understand.

I | as for | store | to | to go
I’m going to the store.

Sometimes it is good to start from the end of the sentence and work your way to the beginning. In that way, you will learn the most important info first (the action / verb) and move to what is made to happen and who does it.

Remember: The subject or main topic usually comes first (like English) but the verb comes last (not like English). Everything else usually comes in between.

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