Now that I’ve covered the Japanese syllabary and writing systems, in this section I’ll be going over the basics of Japanese sentences. To me, the most fundamental parts of Japanese grammar are particles and the “to be” verb, です(desu), which is what I’ll be discussing here in Part 3…
The verb です(desu) and its informal equivalent だ(da) are often called the “to be” verb in Japanese, though they don’t have an exact English translation. In most cases they’re used to indicate if something “is” or “isn’t.” Like other verbs (which I’ll discuss in Part 4), です(desu) and だ(da) conjugate.
Watashi wa bengoshi desu.
I am a lawyer.
The reason the hiragana は(ha) is pronounced “wa” in the first sentence and others will be explained in a bit.
Like in Spanish, if the subject of the sentence is already understood, pronouns such as “he” and “she” aren’t typically used in Japanese. Therefore, in the case of the second sentence, who Tanaka is would depend on the context (for simplicity’s sake in the following sample sentences, I’ll keep it as “It’s Tanaka.”) The first sentence however, specifically states who the lawyer is, in this case it’s the speaker. If it only said 弁護士です。(bengoshi desu.) without the pronoun for “I,” like the second sentence we’d have to determine who it’s talking about through context.
Watashi wa bengoshi deshita.
I was a lawyer.
It was Tanaka.
Watashi wa bengoshi dewa arimasen.
I am not a lawyer.
Tanaka dewa nai.
It isn’t Tanaka.
In more colloquial, casual speech, では(dewa) is contracted to じゃ(ja). With that, the present-negative conjugations of the sentences would be じゃありません(ja arimasen) and じゃない(ja nai) respectively.
Watashi wa bengoshi dewa arimasen deshita.
I was not a lawyer.
Tanaka dewa nakatta.
It wasn’t Tanaka.
Again, では(dewa) can be contracted to じゃ(ja) for colloquial speech, so the first sentence would be じゃありませんでした(ja arimasen deshita) and the second would be じゃなかった(ja nakatta).
Particles in Japanese sentences are used to “codify” words and connect nouns, verbs, and adjectives together. They can be tricky for English-speakers to grasp since English has very few particles in comparison and they’re used quite differently. There are a lot of particles in Japanese and I won’t be able to cover every single one in this post series. But I will cover the most basic ones in this part and will cover a few more in later parts.
は(wa): は is the particle that marks the topic of the sentence and introduces what the sentence is going to be about. Although it’s usually translated as “is” or “are,” it more specifically means “as for…” Like in the sample sentence I used for です(desu), the は(wa) in 私は弁護士です(watashi wa bengoshi desu) indicates that “As for me(私/watashi), I’m a lawyer(弁護士/bengoshi).” It’s written with the hiragana symbol は that’s usually pronounced “ha,” but as a particle it’s pronounced “wa.”
Masako wa gakusei desu.
Masako is a student/As for Masako, she’s a student.
Again, if it’s already understood that you’re talking about Masako, you could just say 学生です。/gakusei desu. (She’s a student.)
が(ga): While は(wa) marks the topic of the sentence, が(ga) marks the subject of the sentence. It’s easy to get these two mixed up so let’s look at an example.
Ani wa sushi ga suki desu.
My brother likes sushi.
First is the topic 兄/ani (my brother) followed by は(wa). This indicates that what follows is going to be concerning the speaker’s brother. Then the subject すし/sushi marked by が(ga) indicates what the verb or adjective is acting upon. In this case, the adjective 好き/suki (likable) is describing where the topic (my brother) stands as far as the subject (sushi) is concerned. Translated very literally, this sentence would mean “As for my brother, sushi is likable.” And again, if “my brother” is already understood as the topic under discussion, you could just say すしが好きです。/suchi ga suki desu.(He likes sushi.) Not all は(wa)/が(ga) sentences follow this pattern though…I personally still have trouble differentiating the two particles.
に(ni): に(ni) is a direction or placement particle; it indicates direction towards which a verb is heading or where something is located. It comes before “movement” verbs such as 行く/iku (to go) and 来る/kuru (to come) and after a location where something is indicated to be. It usually translates as “to,” “on,” or “in.”
Yamamoto wa Amerika ni ikimashita.
Yamamoto went to America.
The verb 行きました/ikimashita, conjugated from 行く/iku (to go), is a verb indicating movement. So に(ni) following アメリカ(America) indicates that it’s the place of destination.
Teeburu no ue ni shinbun ga aru.
There’s a newspaper on the table.
The words translate as follows; テーブルの上/teburu no ue (top of the table), 新聞/shinbun (newspaper), and ある/aru (to be/exist).
へ(e): へ(e) indicates the direction of motion and is interchangeable with に(ni) in these cases. In my first sample sentence for に(ni) for example, へ(e) could be used in its place. It’s written with the hiragana symbol へ that’s usually pronounced “he,” but as a particle it’s pronounced “e.”
で(de): で(de) indicates where an action is taking place or by what means some action was done.
Watashi wa toshokan de machimasu.
I will wait at the library.
待ちます/machimasu (to wait) is the verb. で(de) follows 図書館/toshokan (library) indicating that it’s the place where the action of waiting is or will take place.
Basu de gakkou ni kita.
I/He/She came to school by bus.
バス/basu (bus) で(de), literally “by means of the bus,” 学校に来た/gakkou ni kita (I, He, She, etc, depending on the context, came to school).
を(o): を(o) is the direct object particle. It comes before a transitive verb and after the thing to which the action is being done. It’s written with the hiragana symbol を that’s usually pronounced “wo,” but as a particle it’s pronounced “o.”
Rin-san wa resutoran de piza o tabeta.
Mr. Lin ate pizza at the restaurant.
食べた/tabeta (ate) is the action, so the direct object which has the action being done to it is the food, ピザ/piza (pizza).
Hon o yomimashita.
I/He/She read a book.
読みました/yomimashita (read) is the action, and 本/hon (book) is the direct object that this action is acting upon.
と(to): と(to) generally translates as “and” or “with.”
Watashi to Akira wa daigakusei desu.
Akira and I are college students.
と(to) can only be used as “and” for nouns. It can’t be used in such a sentence as “he’s nice and handsome” since those are adjectives being listed.
Tomodachi to shukudai o shita.
I did homework with a friend.
Here と(to) translates as “with.” The rest of the words are 友達/tomodachi (friend), 宿題/shukudai (homework), and した/shita (did).
の(no): の(no) is the possession particle. It acts a lot like the “apostrophe ‘s’” in English. It comes before the noun that is in possession and after the noun that is the “possessor.” It can also mean “of” or “from” when describing how one noun relates to another.
Saki no kuruma da.
It’s Saki’s car.
Kore wa nihon no uta desu.
This is a Japanese song/This is a song from Japan.
か(ka): か(ka) is the question particle. It acts like a question mark in English (though question marks are also used to some extent in Japanese). Unlike English however, there’s no need to change the original sentence when making it a question – just putting か(ka) at the end makes it a question in Japanese. か(ka) can also mean “or” within a choice of noun as in the second sample sentence below.
Kinou terebi o mimashita ka.
Did you watch TV yesterday?
Taking the か(ka) away simply changes the sentence to a statement, 昨日テレビを見ました/kinou terebi o mimashita (I watched TV yesterday).
Kuruma ka takushii de iku.
I will either go by car or taxi.
And that’s all the particles I’m going to cover here. Like I said, I feel that these are the most fundamental ones and I’ll most likely be discussing a few more in later sections.
So to end this post, below are simple anime-related sample sentences I made up to help reinforce what I covered in this part =)
Pikachuu wa pokemon desu.
Pikachu is a pokemon.
Shinji wa Evangerion no pairotto datta.
Shinji was an Evangelion pilot.
Konata to Kagami to Tsukasa wa comiketto ni itta.
Konata, Kagami, and Tsukasa went to Comiket.
Raito wa desu nouto o motteiru.
Light has a Death Note.
Yui wa keeki o tabetai.
Yui wants to eat cake.
Kyuubee to keiyaku shimasu ka.
Will you make a contract with Kyubey?
Erurikku kyouda wa renkinjutsu de nanika o tsuktta.
The Elric brothers made something with alchemy.