Introduction to Japanese Grammar

the author of both the contents and the page itself is
Mitsuhiro Tagata (C) 1996

Return to GSIA 45-968 Fall 96: If your computer cannot display Japanese at all, go back to the homepage, and click the clickable icon [mediate] to the right of the clickable line of text.

Some Syntactic Issues

1. The Japanese sentence typically has the SOV (subject-object-verb) ordering, while the English sentence has the SVO ordering. For example,
三菱自動車工業は新車を発売した。(Mitsubishi Mortors sold a new car.)
In the Japanese, the verb 発売した is placed at the end of the sentence.

1.1. The subject is often followed by は or が, and the object is often followed by を. These は, が and を are called 助詞, which means "helping word". As a translation of 助詞, the word "particle" is common.

2. Modifiers are always placed before nouns. For example, 黒い着物 (black kimono); 本を読んでいる人 (the person who is reading a book). In the second example, the phrase 本を読んでいる is never placed behind the noun 人. In English, the relative clause "who is reading a book" must be placed after the noun "the person".

Conjugation (General)

3. Verbs, adjectives, adjectival verbs, and auxiliaries have a conjugation. That is, each of these words has 6 types of forms. For example, the verb 話す conjugates as follows: 話さ(ない)/話そ(う), 話し(ます), 話す, 話す(時), 話せ(ば), 話せ.

3.1. The first forms 話さ and 話そ are called 未然形(mizen-form). They are followed by the negative auxiliary ない and the "let's" auxiliary (よ)う. There may be more than one mizen-form per verb.

3.2. The second form is called 連用形(renyo-form). It is followed by the polite auxiliary ます and the conjunctive て. Sometimes there are two renyo-forms per verb.

3.3. The third form is called 終止形(shushi-form or plain form). This form is the most basic form of conjugatable words.

3.4. The fourth form is called 連体形(rentai-form). It is followed by a noun.

3.5. The fifth form is called 仮定形(katei-form). It is followed by the conditional conjunctive ば.

3.6. The sixth form is called 命令形(meirei-form). It is used to give a command. This form has a very strong sense of command. Unless one is in a social position of giving a command to the other, it makes the commanded person angry.

Conjugation of Verbs

4. There are 5 types of 動詞 (verbs) in terms of conjugation.

4.1. The first type of verbal conjugation is called 四段活用 (yodan-conjugation). Here are some of yodan-conjugative verbs:

[話す] さ/そ  し  す す せ せ
[書く] か/こ き/い く く け け
[進む] ま/も み/ん む む め め
[行く] か/こ き/っ く く け け
For example, the verb 書く conjugates: 書か(ない)/書こ(う), 書き(ます)/書い(て), 書く, 書く(時), 書け(ば), 書け. The verb 進む conjugates: 進ま(ない)/進も(う), 進み(ます)/進ん(で), 進む, 進む(時), 進めば, 進め. Notice that the conjunctive particle て changes to で after the ん. The verb 行く conjugates: 行か(ない)/行こ(う), 行き(ます), 行く, 行く(時), 行け(ば), 行け.

4.2. The second type of verbal conjugation is called 上一段活用(kamiichidan-conjugation). Here is a kamiichidan-conjugative verb:

[見る] み み みる みる みれ みよ/みろ
Be careful with the table of this conjugation. The table shows the whole forms of the verb. That is, the verb 見る conjugates: 見(ない), 見(ます), 見る, 見る(時), 見れ(ば), 見よ/見ろ.

4.3. The third type of verbal conjugation is called 下一段活用 (shimoichidan-conjugation). Here is an example:

[決める] め め める める めれ めよ/めろ
That is, this verb conjugates: 決め(ない), 決め(ます), 決める, 決める(時), 決めれ(ば), 決めよ/決めろ.

4.4. The fourth type of verbal conjugation is called カ行変格活用 or カ変活用 (kahen-conjugation). Here is an example:

[来る] こ き くる くる くれ こい
As the kamiichidan-conjugation, the body of the verb changes. That is, the verb 来る conjugates: 来(ない) /konai/, 来(ます) /kimasu/, 来る /kuru/, 来る(時) /kurutoki/, 来れ(ば) /kureba/, 来い /koi/. Notice that the kanji 来 has three pronunciations.

4.5. The fifth type of verbal conjugation is called サ行変格活用 or サ変活用 (sahen-conjugation). An example is:

[する] さ/せ/し し する する すれ せよ/しろ
This verb has three mizen-forms; the さ is used when the verb is followed by the passive auxiliary れる, the せ is used when it is followed by the negative auxiliary ぬ, and the し is used when it is followed by the other negative auxiliary ない. Again, the body of the verb changes. That is, the verb conjugates: さ(れる)/せ(ぬ)/し(ない), し(ます), する, する(時), すれ(ば), せよ/しろ.

Conjugation of Adjectives

5. The following is the conjugation of 形容詞 (adjectives):
[青い] かろ く/かっ い い けれ [empty]
That is, it is 青かろ(う), 青く(て)/青かっ(た), 青い, 青い(空), 青けれ(ば).

Conjugation of Adjectival Verbs

6. Most 形容動詞 (adjectival verbs) are actually considered as a noun + だ (assertive auxiliary). Anyway, the adjectival verb 静かだ conjugates:
[静かだ] だろ だっ/で/に だ な なら [empty]
That is, its conjugation is 静かだろ(う), 静かだっ(た)/静かで(ある)/静かに(なる), 静かだ, 静かな(湖畔), 静かなら(ば). As mentioned above, the conjugation is the same as that of the assertive auxiliary だ.

Conjugation of Auxiliaries

7. There are about twenty 助動詞 (auxiliaries) in Japanese. Each auxiliary conjugates differently. But the conjugation pattern is one of what were mentioned above: 四段動詞型, 上一段動詞型, 下一段動詞型, カ変動詞型, サ変動詞型, 形容詞型, and 形容動詞型. The following are some of those.

7.1 The causative (使役) auxiliaries せる and させる conjugate similarly to 下一段動詞 (see 4.3 above):

[せる]  せ  せ   す/せる   す/せる  せれ   せよ/せろ
[させる] させ させ さす/させる さす/させる させれ させよ/させろ
The difference between the two causative auxiliaries is just a matter of distribution. せる is used with 四段動詞 and サ変動詞, while させる is used with other verbs. Any word placed just before these auxiliaries must be 未然形 (mizen-form). For example, 書く+せる change into 書かせる where the 書か is the mizen-form of the verb.

7.2 The passive (受身) auxiliaries れる and られる conjugate similarly to 下一段動詞, too:

[れる]   れ  れ  れる  れる  れれ  れよ/れろ
[られる] られ られ られる られる られれ られよ/られろ
れる is used with 四段動詞 and サ変動詞, while られる is used with other verbs. Any word placed just before these auxiliaries must be 未然形 (mizen-form). For example, 決める+られる change into 決められる, where the 決め is the mizen-form of the verb. Sometimes two auxiliaries are combined. 決める+させる+られる change into 決めさせられる, which means "be made to decide something".

7.2.1 The auxiliaries れる and られる have other meanings. They are used to express 尊敬 (respect) as in:

The られ of 来られた is the renyo-form of られる, and shows the respect to the addressee. Another meaing of れる and られる is possibility. For example:
The られ here shows the possibility of "my" coming here.

7.2.2 When possibility is expressed, れる might be used in place of られる. For example:


7.3 The negative (否定) auxiliary ない conjugates similarly to 形容詞 (See 5 above):

[ない] [empty] なく/ない/なかっ ない ない なけれ [empty]
Any word placed just before ない must be 未然形 (mizen-form). For example, 読む+ない change into 読まない, where the 読ま is the mizen-form of the verb. The three renyo-forms of ない are used as in: 読まなくてもいいです, 読まないで下さい, and 読まなかった.

7.4 The other negative (否定) auxiliary is ぬ, which conjugates irregularly:

[ぬ] [empty] ず ぬ/ん ぬ/ん ね [empty]
The connection of this auxiliary is again 未然形. That is, any word placed just before it must be mizen-form.

Particles (General)

8. There are 6 types of 助詞(particles). They are 格助詞(kaku-particle), 係助詞(kei-partcle), 接続助詞(conjunctive-particle), 副助詞(adverbial-particle), 終助詞(ending-particle), and 間投助詞(interjective-particle). The difference between particles and auxiliaries is that particles are not conjugatable, while auxiliaries are conjugatable.

8.1. 格助詞(kaku-particle), 係助詞(kei-particle), and 副助詞(adverbial-particle) usually follow a noun:

8.2. 接続助詞(conjunctive-particle) connects two sentences:
          [Sentence1]+[particle], [Sentence2].

8.3. 終助詞(ending-particle) is attached to the end of a sentence:

8.4. 間投助詞(interjective-particle) is attached to a noun or Noun+[partilce], or at the end of a sentence:

Kaku-Particles, Kei-Particles, and Adverbial-Particles

9. 格助詞(kaku-particles) include が, を, の, に, へ, と, より, から, and で. 係助詞(kei-particles) include は, も, こそ, and しか. 副助詞(adverbial-particles) include だけ, など, まで, ばかり, and ほど. For the purpose of memorization, you can consider these particles are of the same type. (A tip of learning a language is to simplify complicated things when first learning them.) Here are their approximate meanings:
   は/が  subject marker
   を    object marker
   の    postposition "of~" (possession)
   に/へ  postposition "to~" (direction), or
        postposition "in~" (time, day, month, year)
   と    post-conjunctive "that~" (quotation), or
        conjunctive "~and~", or postposition "with~" (co-participant)
   より   postposition "than~"
   から   postposition "from~"
   で    postposition "at~" (place)
   も    は/が/を+"also"
   こそ   emphasizer (This is rather an adverb.)
   だけ   "only" (This is rather an adverb.)
   など   "etc."
   まで   postposition "up to~"
   ばかり  "about/approximately" (This is rather an adverb.)
   ほど   "about/approximately" (This is rather an adverb.)


10.1. The form of the end of Sentence1 in "[Sentence1]+[particle], [Sentence2]" is a specific form which is specified by the particle followed. For example, the conditional conjunctive-particle ば requires 仮定形(katei-form) to the preceding word. So the Sentence 「雨が降る+ば、試合はありません」 becomes 「雨が降れば、試合はありません」, where the 降れ is the katei-form of the verb 降る.

10.2. 接続助詞(conjunctive-particles) are further divided into two types according to the ways of connection. One way of connection is 単純接続(simple conjunction), where two sentences are connected without a conditional relation. The other is 条件接続(conditional conjunction), where two sentences are in some way connected with a conditional relation. The latter, 条件接続 is further divided into two types: 確定条件(already-happnened condition) and 仮定条件(not-yet-happened condition). This 条件接続 is, in fact, differently classified into two other types: 順接(no-contradition) and 逆接(contradition). Thus, there are totally five types of connections as shown in the following chart:
   単純接続| が、と、ながら、つつ、まま    |
       |順接|ので、から |ば、と、(なら)|
       |逆接|が、けれども|ても      |
          | 確定条件 | 仮定条件   |

10.3 The use of each 接続助詞(conjunctive-particle) must be learned one by one. Some of them are described in this course's Grammatical Points of the Text.

Ending-Particle and Interjective Particle

11. Here I'm not going to differenciate between two types of particles. Both are used to express familiarity to the listener or to make a question. They include the question particle か and the familiarity particles ね and よ.

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Last updated on 10/11/96 by
Copyright (C) 1996 Mitsuhiro Tagata       All Rights Reserved