The natural order and structure of sentences in Japanese

WRITTEN BY

In Japanese the order of Japanese words in a sentence is unimportant and is often quite the opposite of Portuguese. All this thanks to the existence of particles that do not order the words but determine how each part of the sentence relates to the verb. In this article we will try to understand a little more about Japanese structural grammar.

Recalling that we already wrote an article talking about the Japanese grammatical structure that you can read by clicking here.

First, we have to understand how Japanese grammar works and the structure of its sentences. The most standard is the subject + object + verb. The image below shows a little more about the Japanese grammatical structure:

The natural order and structure of sentences in Japanese

You may not have understood the image, but basically it all starts with the topic / subject and ends with the verb. In between these 2 happens all the information of the sentence, using adverbs, adjectives, nouns, objects, places, etc. There is no order in which the information for a particular sentence is placed. But in some words there is a natural order that makes the most sense and the most emphasis on the sentence.

How come there is no order in the sentences?

See the following example: We mean that in Tuesday, Yamada saw Yumi at the train station. For this we have the following elements:

  • Yamada (wa) sentence topic
  • Yumi (wo) sentence object
  • Monday - getsuyoubi (ni) time
  • Station eki (from) local, middle
  • Saw - mimashita (verb)

This sentence can be written in several different ways and orders like:

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

No matter the order in which these sentences were written, both express the same meaning that was Yamada have seen Yumi at the train station on Monday. Of course, there are natural orders that are used more. Time phrases usually appear near the beginning of the phrase, so in most cases the third option is the least preferable. Remember that time can and does appear before the topic or subject.

Making Japanese phrases more natural

A fundamental rule that applies to all Japanese phrases is that “new or important information should appear last in the sentence“. It may seem difficult for us to think about new and important information before speaking, this is a habit that must be acquired over 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 Portuguese, most of the times the important information comes first and then the other unimportant details complete the sentence. Like for example: I had lunch at the park on Monday. The Japanese man goes the other way saying: Me + on Monday + in 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 de hiru gohan wo tabemashita;
  • I wa Monday ni park in lunch wo I ate;

That is, the person who performs the action is mentioned first, but then the natural order is usually details such as date> environment> object> verb. That is, if you always speak your sentences expressing the details from the outside to the inside until you get to the action, it will be more natural. It may be easy for you to sort these phrases 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 phrases. We can think of examples such as:

  • Kevin + Yesterday + School + Bus + Beach + Go
  • Yesterday Kevin took the bus to / from the 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 de umi ni ikimashita;

Getting into details

Of course, these rules will only apply to phrases 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;

Remember that other information can be applied to these phrases such as:

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

Expressing Japanese phrases with the words in their natural order takes time and takes practice! So, practice as much as possible! I hope this guide has helped you to get a basic sense of this subject!

Compartilhe com seus Amigos!