Japanese Grammar – Important Things That You Should Know

Today we’ll be introducing the basics of Japanese grammar so you can start forming sentences in no time!

School supplies showing Japanese grammar

Grammar is to language what bricks are to a house. Without all those grammar rules we abhor and despise, a language wouldn’t hold up! Anyways, once the house has been built, those bricks aren’t so detestable after all!

Japanese grammar is no different, and every Japanese language learner must come face to face with grammar at some point. Ready? Let’s jump in!

Japanese Grammar

In this guide, we’ll cover the different parts of the Japanese grammar. You’ll learn about the rules you need to observe to create sentences that make sense and are correct.

We’ve also included the different parts of speech such as particles, verbs, and adjectives, the Japanese sentence structure, quantifiers, and suffixes, and formal and informal speech.

“Grammar” in Japanese

Before we start learning Japanese grammar, let’s first teach you the Japanese word “grammar.”

Like any other English word, there are several ways to say “grammar” in Japanese. But the most common term is ぶんぽう (bunpō | 文法). You can say it as “bunpou.”

Is Japanese Grammar Difficult?

You already have a good start once you know the basic grammar of any language. However, much like any other language’s grammar, Japanese grammar can be a complex topic for some and easy for others. The measuring stick is completely subjective.

Native Korean speakers tend to have an easier time learning Japanese grammar since it resembles their mother tongue. Native English speakers are likely to find it more difficult to learn Japanese grammar – it all depends on who’s studying.

That being said, there are quite a few pieces to the puzzle known as Japanese grammar, so objectively, it is more complex than, say, Chinese grammar or any foreign language. Plus, learning a new language grammar is a complex linguistic topic – it takes complex rules to form complex thoughts into words. Still, and yet, with enough practice and immersion, you’re sure to get accustomed to the Japanese grammar rules, patterns and traits.

Japanese Grammar Rules

If you want to speak in Japanese, you must know the grammar rules.

There might be a tendency to apply your own grammar rules when you learn a new language. Especially if you’re speaking western languages like English. This doesn’t work most of the time as there are a lot of differences when it comes to grammar rules, sentence order as well as writing systems in Japanese.

But don’t worry; it isn’t as complicated as it sounds. There are enough Japanese grammar rules to throw the book at—it’s the same for any language, really. But step by step, things become easier. You may even think it makes more sense than your language.

Japanese Grammar Rules are easy

Let’s point out some facts about Japanese grammar in defense of its simplicity and ease of use:

  • Similar to other romance languages such as French and Portuguese, there are no gender words when learning Japanese grammar (masculine or feminine words).
  • Actions/verbs are always mentioned at the end of a thought or Japanese sentence.
  • The basic word order in Japanese is free. The subject can appear before or after the object, and the order of the object is flexible.
  • There are only two irregular verbs in Japanese and just a few other irregularities throughout the entire language.
  • There is no distinction between the present tense and the future tense, meaning you’ve only got to worry about the past and present tenses.

These are 5 huge grammar points of interest that any other language learner can take to the bank!

Japanese Grammar Overview

Since the topic at hand is so big, we’ve divided some of the essential grammar points into a few categories: Sentence order or structure, verbs, conjugation, speech styles, adjectives, and plurality/quantity.

Today, we’ll be giving an overview of these grammatical ideas. Here’s the best place to start for beginners studying Japanese grammar and a sweet review for intermediate/advanced students.

Remember, the journey of acquiring and learning grammar never stops. It’s just like vocabulary. So take your time developing these concepts (new or old) to keep your Japanese language foundation strong!

Japanese Sentence Structure

Put simply; there are a few different components to almost any Japanese sentence: The subject, the object, and the verb/action. Basic English sentences are typically structured like so:

Subject (S) + Verb (V) + Object (O)

Think of a sentence like: “David [subject] saw [verb] the bus [object],” or, “The tree [subject] sways [verb] in the wind [object]”.

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
David saw the bus.デイビッドはバスを見た。デイビッドは バス を みた 。deibiddo wa basu o mita.
The tree sways in the wind.木は風において揺れる。き は かぜ において ゆれる 。ki wa kaze nioite yureru.

Japanese sentences’ structures, on the other hand, are like this:

Subject (S) + Object (O) + Verb (V)

In Japanese, the same sentence in English would be like this:

“David [subject] ] the bus [object] saw [verb]”

This is the basic Japanese word order. The verb is usually at the end of a sentence. It may feel awkward at first, but with time and practice, you’ll get the hang of it!

Did you notice that there are particles in the sentence too? If you haven’t learned it yet, you can later read about our lesson about Japanese particles.

Here are more examples sentences of this structure:

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
He cleaned the car.彼は車を掃除しました。 かれ は くるま を そうじ しました 。kare wa kuruma o soujishimashita.
You guys think about this situation.あなた達はこの状況を考える。あなたたち は この じょうきょう を かんがえる 。anatatachi wa kono joukyou o kangaeru.

1. He かれ (kare | 彼)「」, car くるま (kuruma | 車)「」, cleaned そうじ (souji | 掃除) 「

2. You guys あなたたち (anatatachi | あなた達)「S」, situation じょうきょう (joukyou | 状況)「O」,think かんがえる ( kangaeru | 考える)「

Almost every sentence will take this shape. These examples are known as simple sentences. Complex sentences, or sentences with more than one clause, will follow the same pattern and be linked using unique conjugative particles. That’s a deep topic we will be covering in a different article.

Knowing this major difference in sentence/phrase structure alone helps to rearrange your thought patterns as you practice Japanese grammar.

Japanese Verbs

Next up on our grammar overview are Japanese verbs.

Japanese verbs have different tense and conjugation patterns than other languages. Some of them have already been covered in the Japanese grammar rules. Now, we’ll go over the basic Japanese verb tenses and their conjugation.

Verb Tenses

There are three basic verb tenses in English: past, present, and future. You don’t have to worry about tenses when learning Japanese because there are only two: present and past tense.

Aside from that, they don’t change depending on who’s performing the action, unlike in another foreign language. Japanese verbs remain unchanged like the present verb たべる (taberu | 食 べ る) which means “to eat.”

When you turn it into a past tense, you’ll need conjugation. For example, たべる(taberu | 食 べ る) is changed to たべた (tabeta | 食 べた), which means “ate.”

If you’re wondering how you can talk about the future in Japanese, it’s just simple! You’ll only need to add time to the sentence. For this sentence, “I’ll eat” たべます (tabemasu | 食 べ ます), we’ll add “now” or “tomorrow” to the sentence to make it future tense.

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
I'll eat now.私は今から食 べ ます 。わたし は いま から たべます。watashi wa ima kara tabemasu.
I'll eat tomorrow. 明日 食 べ ます。あした たべます。ashita tabemasu.

Makes sense, right?

Japanese Conjugation

Japanese verbs have a variety of conjugation patterns. Verbs in the same groups, however, follow the same conjugation rules. Knowing the verb groups will help you conjugate verbs quickly. Let’s get to know them all!

Japanese Verb Conjugations

There are three types of verbs in Japanese: いちだん (ichidan | 一段), ごだん (godan | 五段 ), and irregular verbs. There are only two irregular verbs and very few irregularities in some other verbs, as we mentioned before. So learning the conjugation rules will be a piece of cake.

Ichidan verbs

Ichidan verbs have る (ru) verb ends in dictionary form. For this reason, they are also commonly referred to as る-verbs. Some examples of these verbs are たべる (taberu | 食 べ る), おきる (okiru | 起きる), かける (kakeru | 掛ける), and あける (akeru | 開ける).

Vowel stem verbs are another name for these types of verbs. I’ll tell you why they’re called that way. Take, for example, the word taberu (たべる). When the stem -ru is removed, the word becomes tabe (たべ), which ends in? Right! Vowel. That’s why it’s known as a vowel stem verb. That makes sense, right?

These verbs are the easiest to conjugate since you only have to remove the る (ru) before adding the new ending to the verb. In other words, it remains on only one hiragana line in the hiragana chart (see chart below). Hence, derives the term いちだん (ichidan | 一段), which translates as “one level.”

Hiragana Chart

Godan verbs

Godan verbs end with any う (u) kana on the hiragana chart when in dictionary form. This う-kana can be proceeded by any consonant. For this reason, they are commonly referred to as う-verbs.

It is also known as consonant-stem verbs. Some examples of these verbs are およぐ (oyogu | 泳ぐ), あむ (amu | 編む), うたう (utau | 歌う), and なく (naku | 泣く). When conjugating these verbs, the final う-kana can become any other kana, or a vowel sound. Found in the Japanese language ((あ (a), い (i)、え (e)、お (o)).

That makes for 5 potential ending forms when conjugating う(u) verbs, which is represented in the name ごだん (godan | 五段), meaning “five levels.”

Irregular verbs

Compared to European languages, there are only two irregular verbs in Japanese, くる (kuru | 来る) and する (suru | 為る), which follow their own conjugation rules. These are common verbs, and learning them is simple as they’re only two!

If you want to learn more about it, you can study Japanese verb conjugations.

Other Japanese Verbs that can be Conjugated

We’ve gone over the three (3) Japanese verbs groups. Now, we’ll look at the two more common conjugated Japanese verbs.

The verb です (desu)

Anyone with any inkling of Japanese in their life has come across the verb です (desu). It’s the marker of any state of being and is most closely defined as “to be.” です (desu) follows the same conjugative pattern as all other う-verbs and gets used at a clause’s conclusion.

In English, we conjugate the verb “to be” to read “am,” “are,” and “is” depending on the subject of the sentence. In Japanese, it’s just です (desu). It gets conjugated into four forms only: to be, to not be, to have been, to not have been.

This is also one of the verb endings that you can use to say things in a polite form, which we’ll cover in a later section, so read on!

(te) form verbs

Te-form is another important Japanese verb conjugation. As mentioned earlier, the Japanese language has no future tense. In English, this is known as “present progressive.”

To fully understand how to conjugate て (te)-form, you must first learn how to conjugate present and past tense and the Japanese alphabet. However, here is an example of how to use it:
To eat becomes eat or eating

eat たべ(taberu | 食 べ ) → eating たべ (tabete  | 食 べ て)

If you noticed, we replaced the vowel-stem verb る (ru) → たべ(taberu ) and replaced it with the word て (te) → たべ (tabete) to say “I will eat” or “I’m eating.” It’s that easy. However, remember that not all te-form verbs actually end with “te.” There is some that end with “de.”

Overall, te-forms will help you tell your current or ongoing action. It has many other unique usages, other than speaking in the present progressive such as connecting successive verbs, asking for permission, etc. We’ll go over these in greater detail in another article.

Other useful aspects of Japanese Grammar

Japanese verbs and conjugations are an important part of Japanese grammar. There’s a lot more to learn about it! Of course, we won’t cover them all in this article. But here are some basic aspects you should also be aware of.

Japanese Particles

Besides the grammar rules, one more important aspect of grammar is what we call Japanese Particles. They are used to mark your sentence’s subject.

This is one of the topics that not many people enjoy. It can be confusing, especially if you have no prior knowledge of Japanese. However, with the right resources and consistent practice, you’ll for sure will learn it easily!

Basically, these particles define the purpose of the word they come after. This means they’re always placed after the word they modify.

For example:

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
She kicked the ball.彼女はボールを蹴った。かのじょ は ボール を けった 。kanojo wa bōru o ketta.

Did you notice how many particles we used in the sentence? There are two particles present: は (wa) and を (o). These are two of the most common particles.

は (wa) is used to mark the topic of a sentence. It gives you an idea of what the speaker wants to talk about. While を (o) is the direct object grammatical marker of a verb. Just like the example above, it shows you the object of the transitive verb けった。 (kicked | 蹴った。)

Common Japanese Particles

Some other particles are:

  • が (ga) – This particle, just like は (wa), is also a subject marker. However, が (ga) is used to mark the sentence subject, and は (wa) is used to mark the sentence topic. In Japanese, the topic and subject are separated, unlike in English, where they are the same.
  • の (no) – This particle is a possession marker. It’s like the Japanese version of apostrophe + “s” in English.
  • に (ni) – This is used as a grammatical marker for the verb’s indirect object. It’s similar “to” or “for” in English translations.
  • も (mo) – This is used to say “also” or “too.” It indicates if something is valid and has already been stated in a discussion.

More of these can be found on our list of the most common Japanese particles here.

Japanese Formal and Informal Speech

For a long time, Japan was a society based on age and rank. It still is today. Numerous expressions show respect for elders and higher-ranking individuals.

In English, it is common to be casual or to speak in the same tone to everyone. We still politely say things when speaking to our boss or to elders. However, in Japan, it is different.

For example, one word you shouldn’t say to the elders and those of higher rank is “Good morning” おはよう(Ohayou | お早う). You need to say “Good morning, sir/ma’am” おはようございま (Ohayougozaimasu | お早うございます).

Saying things in polite form is important. If not, Japanese people will view you as rude when you sound too friendly. Anime and Manga are also good resources to learn Japanese. They do, however, use the informal form most of the time. So to save you from embarrassment in Japan, let’s go ahead and learn the 2 Japanese speech styles!

Formal Speech

You should go with formal speech if you’re unsure what you should use. This can also be referred to as “polite Japanese.” You can use this form to everyone – to someone older than you, a family member, who has a higher social rank, strangers, and so on.

How can we even say things in a polite form? You can do this by using the verb endings –masu (ます) adjective/noun endings –desu (です). These can be conjugated similarly to other verb forms and are great to add to your vocabulary.

For example:

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
To speak 話しますはなしますhanashimasu
To write書きますかきますkakimasu

Verbs come last in a sentence in Japanese grammar rules. Although です (desu) is used for noun and adjective endings, it’s still like a verb itself, which is why it couldn’t be followed directly by verbs.

For example:

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
I am Kageyama.影山です。かげやまです。Kageyama desu.
It’s a cat.猫です。ねこです。neko desu.

When you want to say something that isn’t true, you can use the -masu (ます) form. For example, if I am not Kageyama, you would say:

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
I am not Kageyama.私は影山ではありません。わたしはかげやまではありません。watashi wa Kageyama de wa arimasen.

Simply adding -masen (ません) will convert it to a negative form. You’ll need to change it to -mashita (ました) to make it past tense. This is how you would say something is false or refuse to do something.

Informal Speech

This speech can be used when speaking to someone of equal rank and friends, family, and children. When learning Japanese, it’s best to start with a formal speech because it’ll be easier to learn how to speak informally later. However, if your only goal is to communicate with others or watch anime without subtitles. In that case, it’s okay if you only learn this speech.

Here are some examples of informal verbs:

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
To speak 話すはなすhanasu
To write書くかくkaku

There are several ways to tell formal from informal Japanese speech. Still, the absence of verb endings -masu (ます) and the polite copula -desu (です) is one of the easiest hints of using an informal language.

You can learn more about this in our Japanese honorifics article.

Japanese Grammar - Adjectives

Japanese Adjectives

Adjectives are placed first in Japanese before the nouns they modify. Japanese adjectives are categorized into two: い (i) adjectives and な (na) adjectives.

Some い (i) adjective examples are:

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
Scary 怖いこわいkowai
Amazing凄い すごい sugoi
Cold 寒いさむいsamui
Heavy重いおもいomoi

Some な (na) adjective examples are:

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
Pretty綺麗きれいkirei
Good上手 じょうず jyouzu
Quiet静かしずか shizuka
Safety 安全あんぜんanzen

い (i) Adjectives

い (i) adjectives are mainly used to describe emotions, temperature, colors, and any basic concepts. It is the first word to be used as an adjective, so it’s mostly in native Japanese or hiragana, and new words are rare to appear.

But thanks to other Western languages’ influences, we have what is known as “loanwords.” These helped form new い (i) adjectives, such as なうい (naui | ナウい), from the English word “now,” which means modern, trendy, hip, in or up-to-date.

な (na) Adjectives

な (na) adjectives, on the other hand, come from different origins. These so-called “adjectival nouns” can also be referred to as “Foreign adjectives.” However, when it comes to Japanese vocabulary, China has the most influence, from which many な (na) adjectives came from. That’s why, unlikeい (i) adjectives, な (na) can be written in Kanji and Katakana, but it still always ends in hiragana.

Difference between い (i) and な (na) adjectives

There are 2 major differences between い (i) and な(na) adjectives that every student of Japanese should be aware of:

  • While い (i) adjectives can precede nouns as they are, な (na) adjectives must be placed after all な (na) adjectives before preceding nouns (hence, the name).

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
Heavy bag 思いかばんおもい かばんomoi kaban
Quite person静かな人しずかな ひとshizukana hito
Pretty roomきれいな部屋きれいな へやkireina heya
Strange phone numberおかしい電話番号おかしい でんわ ばんごうokashii denwa bangou

  • The auxiliary verb です (desu) must follow stand-alone な (na) adjectives. い (i) adjectives do not take this verb.

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
This movie is great.この映画はすごい。この えいが は すごい。kono eiga wa sugoi.
The cat is dangerous. / Cats are dangerous.猫は危ない。ねこ は あぶない。neko wa abunai.
He is quiet.彼は静かです。かれ は しずかです。kare wa shizuka desu.
I like matcha.抹茶は好きです。まっちゃ が すきです。maccha ga suki desu.

And yes, adjectives actually change their form in Japanese grammar (unlike English)! That won’t be covered in today’s article, but don’t be alarmed if it pops up at some point in your studies. They conjugate (or inflect) similarly to verbs, making their patterns easier to remember.

Note: very few な (na) adjectives actually end in い (i), so be sure to study them carefully so as not to get mixed up!

Singulars and Plurals in Japanese

A division between singular and plural exists in Japanese grammar, but not in the same way as in English or any other language. There is no way to directly pluralize nouns in Japanese. いぬ (inu | 犬) can mean “dog” or “dogs.” いす (isu | 椅子) can mean “chair” or “chairs.” Instead, the Japanese language uses quantifiers, repetition words, and plural suffixes to specify a quantity.

Japanese Quantifiers and Counters

Using an actual number is a great way to specify quantity and is utilized within the Japanese language. In Japanese, however, every object takes a measure word that must accompany it if it is quantified. These words are called counters. We sort of use counters in English too – think about sheets of paper or cups of water. 

The grammatical sentence structure when quantifying nouns in Japanese has two general forms:

number + counter + の (no) + noun OR noun + number + counter

For readers who don’t know, の (no) is a commonly used Japanese particle that serves many functions, this being one of them. Let’s take the counter 本 (hon/bon/pon) as an example, which is used for counting long and round objects.

Here is how to quantify Japanese nouns using a counter.

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
3 pens三本のペンさん ぼん の ペンsan bon no pen
3 pensペン さん ほんペン三本pen san hon

This rule doesn’t apply only when the counter is the subject or object of the sentence itself. Take, for example, the counter for people 人 (nin). Since the counter is the same as the subject itself (as implied by the meaning of the character), there is no need to mention the noun. The noun is already provided in the context.

For example:

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
One person came.一人が来た。いち にん が きた。ichi nin ga kita.
The new job starts in February.二月に新しい仕事を始まるよ。にがつ に あたらしい しごと を はじまるよ。nigatsu ni atarashii shigoto wo hajimaruyo.

Other quantifiers are words like たくさん (takusan | 沢山) and すこし (sukoshi | 少し), which express the ideas of “a lot” and “a few,” respectively. These are obviously more general and subjective ways of addressing quantity, but the idea is the same. You can learn more about Japanese counters on this resource page.

Repetition Words

The pluralization of some Japanese words can be demonstrated using what is known as the Kanji repetition marker, 々(noma). It is written as のま in Hiragana.

This marker is never used on its own – only in tandem with certain nouns. These nouns are always words of Japanese origin and tend to reflect daily life or nature. They must also be general concepts and not specify a specific type of something. Lastly, the repetition marker cannot be used with proper nouns.

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
People人々ひとびとhitobito
Days日々ひびhibi
Trees木々きぎkigi

Note: There can also be a time-based quality when using the repetition marker, sometimes leading to the all-inclusiveness of a noun’s quality.

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
People are not the same.人々が同じじゃないです。ひとびと が おなじ じゃないです。hitobito ga onajijanai desu.

Plural Suffixes

Plural suffixes are used at the end of nouns, usually for people or things in nature. When used with non-living things on rare occasions, it personifies said things. The most common plural suffixes are たち (tachi | 達), ほう(kata | 方), and など (nado | 等).

These suffixes are not always specific. They refer either to a group/idea as a whole or to the company of the noun they are used with. Examples are:

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
Children are noisy.子どもがうるさい。こども が うるさい。kodomo ga urusai.
The four strict teachers.厳しい四人の先生たち。きびしい よにん の せんせいたち。kibishii yonin no sensei tachi.

These suffixes are used with personal pronouns to form other common words. Again, they can signify the company of a noun or pronoun:

EnglishKanjiHiraganaRomaji
We私たちわたしたちwatashitachi
You (all)あなた達あなたたちanatatachi
They彼等かれらkarera

Learning Japanese grammar

Learning a new language is not easy for sure. There is much more to learn about Japanese grammar than we have covered in this article. But I’m confident that we’ve covered everything important there is to know about it – how to use a grammar point, Japanese grammar rules, sentence construction, verbs, and so on.

With that said, hopefully, you now have a basic understanding of Japanese grammar and how it works. Just keep learning and practicing, and soon enough, you’ll reach your goal of Japanese fluency!

がんばっ てください (Ganbatte kudasai)! ^^

    4 replies to "Japanese Grammar – Important Things That You Should Know"

    • myla clavel

      thanks for this.

    • Jewel Nehlsen

      Very nice post. I absolutely love this website. Keep writing!

      • 90 Day Japanese

        Thanks for your comment, Jewel! I’m glad that our article has been useful to you. ^^ To find more great content on learning Japanese, visit the 90 Day Japanese Blog. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel for video lessons. You’ll get updated when our latest videos become available.

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