Lesson 1Basic grammar
In this page, we will look at the main characteristics of Japanese sentences.
2 primary tenses : present and past
There are 2 primary tenses in Japanese: "Finished" and "Not finished".
As long as it is "Not finished", Japanese language does not distinguish the present from the future. I use the terms "present tense" for "Not finished" and "past tense" for "Finished". There is no particular form for the future tense in Japanese. We use the "present tense" for future action / state.
A verb comes at the end of the sentence
Like English, the subject comes at the beginning of the sentence. But the verb comes at the end of the sentence. All other information (what, when, where...) comes in between the subject and the verb.
Equivalent of the verb "to be" → "です"
"The auxiliary verb です(desu) is the equivalent of the verb "to be". です(desu) conjugates (changes form) according to past / present tense and affirmative / negative. But, です(desu) does not conjugate according to the subject and can be used for any subject (I, you, he, they...). Just like all verbs, です(desu) comes at the end of the sentence. See the conjugation chart below.
Auxiliary verb of politeness "ます"
There is a clear distinction between the polite (when you speak to an unknown person, your superior etc) and casual speaking style (when you speak to friends, family etc) in Japanese. When you speak (or write) politely to people, the verb is always used with the auxiliary verb of politeness ます (masu). There is no direct translation of the word ます(masu) in English, but it just turns the sentence into the polite style. ます(masu) can be used for any subject (I, you, he, they…). In the Apprentice Ninja level, ます (masu) is always being used. Polite speaking style is appropriate in most situations and it would be useful for you to learn it first.
verb + ます
verb + ました
verb + ません
verb + ませんでした
はなし + ます = はなします
Grammatical element called "particle"
In Japanese, there is a grammatical element called "Particle" which does not exist in English. In general, the particles are 1 or 2 syllables (sounds) and indicate the role of the preceding word in a sentence. They are similar to "prepositions" (to, on, at, with, for...) in English, but particles are placed after the related word. Click here for more information and a list of frequently used particles.
Particle "wa" indicates that the immediately preceding word is the topic / subject of the sentence
Particle "to" indicates the accompaniment. It means "with someone" in English
Particle "ni" indicates the destination. It means "to" in English
How to form a question sentence
Simply add the question particle "ka" at the end of the sentence. It transforms the sentence into a question sentence. It is so easy ! The word order does not change.
For sentences using WH words, click here
Omitting the subject
Japanese sentences often omit the subject (what / who) when the subject is obvious from the contextual clues. This is hard to imagine for English speakers ! Let's understand how omitting the subject works.
1 - As long as the subject remains the same, it is often omitted in the following sentences.
2 - The subjects « It » and « I » are often omitted.
3 - In general, the implied subject is « you » in question sentences.
How did you do on those 5 points ?
Once you have got these down, let's move on to the sentence structure !