Japanese Sentence Structure: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

English vs Japanese sentence structure

Most people find Japanese sentence structure to be difficult and confusing.

This is completely understandable considering how fundamentally different it is to other languages, but the truth is that Japanese grammar is actually incredibly logical – it just needs to be looked at from the right angle.

Usually, the basic structure of Japanese sentences is considered to be SOV – subject-object-verb (eg. Isubject sushiobject eatverb).¬†This description makes it easier to compare with English, for example, which follows an SVO structure, but the truth is, this comparison is mostly meaningless because the two languages function in completely different ways. The SOV label is also wrong sometimes, as it is not uncommon in Japanese to see sentences with the object appearing before the subject. No wonder it seems so confusing…

Instead of trying to fit a Japanese-shaped peg into an English-shaped hole, let’s start again.

Firstly, in English, the main pieces of a sentence go in a specific order. The person doing the action (the subject, eg. I) is first, followed by the word that describes the action (the verb, eg. eat), then the thing that the action is done to (the object, eg. sushi). In English, it is the word order that tells us who did what.

Japanese sentences are structured around grammatical markers called ‘particles’. Each particle indicates how the word before it relates to other words in the sentence, usually to the verb. The verb appears last, but the order of the other words can vary because it is the particles, not word order, that tell us who did what.

For example, a basic sentence might have a topic (which is often the same as the subject) followed by the particle ‘wa’, then an object with the particle ‘wo’, and finally the verb. This basic word ordering is why Japanese is often considered an SOV language, but as long as the right particles are used with the right words, the actual order of the words can be changed.

In this article, I break it all down and show you exactly how Japanese sentences work, using plenty of examples and charts showing very clearly how Japanese sentences are structured. Every aspect of Japanese grammar fits within the structure outlined below.

Let’s get to it!