SOV Structure – How to Create Sentences in Japanese

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Ever wondered how to create sentences in Japanese? Do you know the sentence structure in SOV Japanese? Is the structure of Japanese sentences difficult?

Japanese grammar, in practice, is simple. But it is totally different and opposite from Portuguese, and this has greatly confused our learning. The order of the sentences, the conjugation of the verbs, everything, although simple, is different.

If we search the internet about Japanese grammar and structure, they will all talk about particles and verbs, but no one will explain in detail the order of each of the sentences, especially large sentences. Our goal is to explain everything about Japanese sentence structure.

Japanese SOV Structure (Subject + Object + Verb)

First we have to understand how Japanese grammar works and the structure of its sentences. Unlike Portuguese, the verb will almost always end up at the end of the sentence. This structure is called SOV.

SOV is when most sentences in the language follow the order of: subject + object + verb. See the following example sentence below:

The example sentence is: The children ate the apple

子供はリンゴを食べた kodomo wow ringo wo table
  • Subject: Child (kodomo);
  • Object: Apple (ringo);
  • Verb: They ate (tabeta);

In the sentence we have just seen, the apple is the object and appears before the past tense ate. The image below shows a little more about the Japanese grammatical structure:

The natural order and structure of sentences in Japanese

Phrases with Desu「です」

Now we will talk a little about the structure of some verbless sentences, which only have “desu”. Some like to call “desu” a verb, but others don't, so I'll stay neutral.

Romajionamae wakebindesukore wa hondesu
LiteralNameKevinIt isthisbookIt is
PortugueseMy nameIt isKevinThis isbook 

The structure can also be used with other verbs.

How do I identify the subject, verb and object?

Sometimes you can feel lost, asking what I define as subject, object and verb? The table below will help you decide:

Substantiveperson, place, thing or ideaKirigaya, mountain, stick, linguistics
Adjectivedescribes a nounred happy hot
VerbAn action or state of beingeat, contemplate, live, be afraid
determinerarticles and similar termsthe / the, the, this, that, some, all

There are many other categories of words like: pronouns, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and others. We will not delve into these words in this article.

The flexibility of Japanese phrases

Japanese is much more flexible. Anything to the left of the verb can be rearranged without changing the basic meaning of the sentence, although of course there is still a preferred order. How is this possible? Thanks to the particles that serves to identify each part of the sentence.

In Japanese, the order of Japanese words in a sentence is not as important as some languages. This is thanks to the existence of particles that do not order the words, but determine how each part of the sentence relates to the verb.

Maybe you didn't understand the image, but basically it all starts with the topic/subject and ends with the verb. Between these 2 all the information of the sentence takes place, using adverbs, adjectives, nouns, objects, places, etc. There is no order in which information for a given sentence is placed. But in some words there is a natural order that makes more sense and gives more emphasis to the sentence.

What do you mean there is no order in the sentences?

See the following example: Monday, Yamada saw Yumi at the train station

For this we have the following elements:

  • Phrase topic: Yamada
  • Sentence object: Yumi
  • Time: Monday
  • Location, middle: Train station
  • Verb: saw (see)

This sentence can be written in different ways and different orders such as:

  • Yamada wa getsuyoubi ni Yumi wo eki de mimashita.
    • 山田は月曜日に由美を駅で見ました。
  • Yamada wa getsuyoubi ni eki de Yumi wo mimashita.
    • 山田は月曜日に駅で由美を見ました。
  • Yamada wa Yumi wo getsuyoubi ni eki de mimashita.
    • 山田は由美を月曜日に駅で見ました。
  • Getsuyoubi ni Yamada wa Yumi wo eki de mimashita.
    • 月曜日に山田は由美を駅で見ました。

No matter what order these sentences above were written, they both express the same sense that it was Yamada seeing Yumi at the train station on Monday.

Of course, there are natural orders that are more commonly used. Time phrases tend to appear near the beginning of the phrase, so the third option is usually the least preferable. It is worth remembering that the time can and usually appears before the topic or subject.

Making Japanese phrases more natural

A fundamental rule that applies to all Japanese sentences is that “new or important information must appear last in the sentence”. It may seem difficult to think about new and important information before speaking, this is a habit that must be acquired with time. Mainly because the central action (verb) of the sentence comes at the end and everything that describes the sentence comes in the middle.

When we speak in English, most of the time the important information comes first and then the other unimportant details complete the sentence. Like for example: I had lunch in the park on Monday. The Japanese, on the other hand, do the opposite, saying: Me + on Monday + at the park = I had lunch!

  • 私は月曜日に公園で昼ご飯を食べました。
  • watashi wa getsuyoubi ni koen by hiru gohan wo tabemashita;
  • I wow Monday no park in lunch wo I ate;

That is, the person performing the action is mentioned first, but then the natural order is usually the details like date > environment > object > verb. That is, if you always speak your sentences expressing the details from the outside in until you get to the action, it will be more natural. It may be easy for you to order these sentences by remembering the particles, which follow wa > ni > de > wo.

The natural order and structure of sentences in Japanese

In the image above we have an idea of the natural structure of Japanese sentences. We can think of examples such as:

  • Kevin + Yesterday + School + Bus + Beach + Go
  • Yesterday Kevin took the bus to/from school to go to the beach;
  • ケビンは昨日に学校からバスで海に行きました。
  • kebin wa kinou ni gakkou kara basu by umi ni ikimashita;

Going into details

Of course, these rules will only apply to sentences with:

  • Actions that take place in one place;
  • Actions that occur in a movement from one place to another;
  • Actions that involve a movement of an object;

It is worth remembering that other information can be applied to these phrases such as:

  • Participants (to);
  • Origin (kara);
  • Start time (kara);
  • End time (made);
  • Subject (ga);

Expressing Japanese sentences with words in their natural order takes time and practice! So practice as much as possible! I hope this guide has helped you get a basic understanding of this topic!

Sentences with 2 objects

Many verbs can take more than one object, and some have none. When there is only one object, it is usually a direct object. And when there are two, the other is one indirect object (direct object destination).

The teacherafter schoolfor studentsgradesdeliver
subjectadjunctindirect objectdirect objectverb

Word order with the particle の

Now that we know a little bit about the order of the sentences, what about the word order? How can I use an adjective and say something belongs to me in the correct order?

You are probably familiar with the の (no) particle. Ever wondered the word order when saying something belongs to another?

The の particle is not complicated. You can keep in mind that the possession is reversed: ケビンの車 (Kevin's car). But what about when the sentence is big? See the example below:

RomajiWatashi noakainihon nokuruma

Advancing a little

We've already learned the basics of Japanese sentence or sentence structure, but how about we go a little further? See the sentence below:

Romajikebinsan waKin'yōbi nithe mise ofhon wokaimashita
PortugueseThe Kevinboughta bookin the storeFriday

Pay close attention to the order of each object in the sentence, the subject always comes first in Japanese sentences, and this can be quite confusing when learning. Especially if we don't know the preferred order of time, place, object, etc.

As in most cases, the sentence started with the subject followed by the particle は which indicates the topic. When the phrase has a “time” it comes after the theme being followed by the particle に. When the weather is something more open like afternoon and evening, the particle is not needed.

Place comes after time. The placeholder is で (de), but に (ni) is also used quite often. The で particle is used more when the object is stationary, and the に when it is moving. The object is placed before the verb. Using the を particle to indicate the action of the verb.

Remembering that there is no order, since Japanese is very flexible. But there is a preference and recommendation on how to speak and write so your Japanese is easier to understand and more beautiful.

Summarizing – Grammatical Structures

Of course, there are many things that we don't study in Japanese grammatical structure, such as the omission of words in the sentence and several other structures. Finally, I will leave some structures below so you can go deeper and understand more about the order and structure of Japanese sentences:

6subjecttimeplace/implementindirect objectdirect objectverb
7subjecttimeplaceexistential verb  
8subjecttimeoriginroutedestinymotion verb
9timetransport / companionplaceverb  
10timeperson / placesubstantiveverb  

Do not forget the particles that accompany the objects in the sentences:

companion / person
object, route
destinyに or へ
indirect object

I hope this article helped you understand

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