Japanese Grammar

In Uncategorized by Skritter

author photoSlurping soup for politeness, reading a book right to left, the side of the road you drive on, and the emergency telephone number in Japan (119) are not the only things “backwards”-seeming to Americans, but Japanese grammar is about as backwards as you can get from English grammar. This is one of many reasons why Japanese has been deemed one of the most difficult languages in the world for English speakers to acquire (not to mention the varying politeness levels), alongside Arabic, Chinese, and Korean. An interesting side note to learn about Korean is, in addition to having an abundant amount of words that are both similar in pronunciation and meaning as Japanese (and many Chinese loanwords as well), Korean grammar is also remarkably similar to Japanese grammar, making it an easier choice to learn for someone proficient in Japanese than one who is not.

With the Japanese blog posts starting here on Skritter, I thought it might be a good idea to touch a bit on grammar, and the big difference between Japanese and English. First, a quick and easy explanation about SOV and SVO, meaning (Subject-Object-Verb) and (Subject-Verb-Object). This is the main difference between Japanese (and Korean) grammar, versus English (and Chinese) grammar, where both Korean and Japanese use “SOV”, and Chinese and English both use “SVO”.

Let’s take the following sentence as an example:

(Subject: I), (Verb: read), (Object: a blog): SVO
“I’m reading a blog”.

(Topic: 私 – “I”), (Object: ブログ – “a blog”), (Verb: 読む – “reading”): SOV

Notice how in English, the verb (“reading”) is used before the object, (“a blog”), following the rules of SVO. The similarity between English and Japanese is the word order of the subject, in this case the word “I”, which starts at the beginning of the sentence in both languages. (On a sentence like this however, the topic would most likely be omitted in Japanese, leaving only the object and the verb remaining. As a note, the shortest possible Japanese sentence is nothing but a verb, with both the subject and object/topic omitted, to be inferred by the listener).

Using the same sentence above as an example, and if using English words but spoken in a Japanese word order, it would read: “I a blog am reading”. To be even more accurate, because no singular or plural is used, and the equivalent tense of am/is/are/to be (です), would be used at the very end in Japanese, a more accurate English depiction would read: “I blog reading am”. This is of course just to give a gist of the difference, and shouldn’t be taken as a direct equivalent.

Here are a couple more simple sentences to help illustrate the difference between SOV and SVO. Each sentence uses the same subject of “I”, or “私”(わたし), as marked with the topic marker “は”.

“I own a pet dog.”
English rendition: “I / dog / own”.
Dog (object): 犬(いぬ)
Raise a pet (verb): 飼う(かう), present progressive polite tense: 飼って + います

“I like sports.”
English rendition: “I / sports / like”.
Sports (object): スポーツ
Like (adjective used with polite copula verb “desu”): 好き(すき)+ です

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