In Japanese, word order is less important than it is in languages like English thanks to the existence of particles. As I talked about in my guide to Japanese sentence structure, particles, not word order, are what determines how each part of a sentence relates to the verb:
Particles define the role of each element in relation to the verb
(If you haven’t read my article on Japanese sentence structure, I recommend doing so.)
As a starting point, most basic sentences can be formed using the following pattern:
The pieces of ‘other information’ can generally be expressed in any order without affecting the fundamental meaning of the sentence, as long as they are accompanied by the appropriate particles.
However, for any given sentence, there is usually a particular word order that sounds more natural than others. This is because word order affects where the emphasis in a sentence lies.
In this article, I will show you the thinking behind natural Japanese word order, and give you some basic rules that you can easily apply. I’ll also give you some exercises you can do to help you think like a Japanese speaker so that forming natural-sounding sentences becomes automatic.
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Earlier this month, I was given the opportunity to present at the National Symposium on Japanese Language Education, an event held in Australia every two years.
The symposium brings together Japanese language teachers from around the country to share ideas about how to best teach Japanese. It was a great event, and I came away with some interesting ideas that I hope to incorporate as I build on 80/20 Japanese.
For my presentation, I talked about Developing a Better Understanding of Japanese Sentence Structure.
Basically, I explained the big picture view I have of the Japanese language, and how I believe building a solid understanding of Japanese sentence structure can make it easier to learn Japanese.
After much time spent playing around with some new software, I have a couple of things I want to share with you:
- The video of my presentation
- My powerpoint slides (which include a bunch of useful diagrams of Japanese sentences)
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Most people find Japanese sentence structure to be difficult and confusing.
One of the biggest reasons for this is that the usual way of learning Japanese involves remembering random phrases and sentence patterns in isolation, without actually being taught why those sentences work the way they do. This is fine in the beginning when you’re just trying to learn a few basic phrases, but it makes it very hard to take the next step.
The truth is, Japanese sentence structure is actually incredibly logical, and a solid understanding of it will save you a huge amount of time trying to make sense of Japanese grammar.
In this guide, I break it all down and show you exactly how Japanese sentences work. Every aspect of Japanese grammar fits within the structure outlined below.
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