Japanese Sentence Structure

Japanese Sentence Structure
The Japanese sentence structure is very different from what we are used to in English.  Here is an example.  In English we say:

John eats dinner in the restaurant with Mary.

However, if you were to literally translate a Japanese sentence word-for-word, you would get something like:

John restaurant in Mary with dinner eats.

Deconstructing this a little further, we get a basic sentence skeleton that looks like this:

(subject) wa (place) de (person) to (object) o (verb).

(Note: wa, de, to, and o are particles, which are explained on the Japanese particles page)

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Let’s leave Mary and the restaurant out of the picture for now just to keep things simple.  Here is the simplest Japanese sentence structure:

(John) wa (dinner) o (eats).
(subject) wa (object) o (verb).

You can literally just replace the subject, object, verb in the above sentence format to make a wide variety of sentences.  All you need to do is learn some vocabulary to fill in the blanks.

(John) wa (dinner) o (eats).
John wa bangohan o tabemasu.

(I) wa (book) o (read).
Watashi wa hon o yomimasu.

(My friend) wa (water) o (drinks).
Tomodachi wa mizu o nomimasu.

(You) wa (Japanese) o (study).
Anata wa nihongo o benkyoshimasu.

Little extra bits of information, like who John was eating dinner with and where John was eating dinner can be added to the basic Japanese sentence structure by placing them between the subject and the object.

(John) wa (restaurant) de (Mary) to (dinner) o (eats).
John wa resutoran de Marry to bangohan o tabemasu .

(I) wa (book) to (newspaper) o (read).
Watashi wa hon to shinbun o yomimasu.

(My friend and I) wa (restaurant) de (water) o (drink).
Watashi to tomodachi wa resutoran de mizu o nomimasu.

(You) wa (computer) de (Japanese) o (study).
Anata wa konpyuta de nihongo o benkyoshimasu.

With a bit of practice this can become very simple, and you’ll be able to say almost anything after memorizing a few verbs and nouns and inserting them into this Japanese sentence structure.

Additionally, you can string multiple simple sentences like this together with the following words:

Japanese English
soshite and
demo but
dakara therefore
nazenara because

For Example:

John eats dinner in the restaurant with Mary and drinks water.
(John) wa (restaurant) de (Mary) to (dinner) o (eats) soshite (water) o (drinks).
John wa resutoran de Mary to bangohan o tabemasu soshite mizu o nomimasu.

I read books but don’t read the newspaper.
wa (books) o (read) demo (newspaper) o (don’t read).
Watashi wa hon o yomimasu demo shinbun o yomimasen.

My friend drinks water in the restaurant therefore he is eating lunch.
(Friend) wa (restaurant) de (water) o (drinks) dakara (lunch) o (eats).
Tomodachi wa resutoran de mizu o nomimasu dakara hirugohan o tabemasu.

You study Japanese on the computer because you are a student.
(You) wa (computer) de (Japanese) o (study) nazenara (student) (are).
Anata wa konpyuta de nihongo o benkyoshimasu nazenara gakusei desu.

So with this simple Japanese sentence structure, you should be able to say just about everything you need to get by in Japan.  All you need to do is get comfortable using it and memorize a few words to fill in blanks.

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