Japanese sentence structure

18 December 2018 by wolfganghofmeier

Level: B1
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In English and Japanese, a sentence needs a verb. If there is no verb, it might be phrase.

Eat! .. Taberu! .. 食べる!

This isn’t very polite, but it is a complete sentence. Most English sentences also have a subject. In Japanese, it is common practice to leave out the subject if it is a pronoun.

I am eating. .. tabemasu .. 食べます

is more common than

watashi wa tabemasu .. 私は食べます

Using the first person pronoun a lot sounds self-centered in Japanese and should be avoided. If the subject is omitted, it is inferred.

Are you eating? .. tabemasu ka? .. 食べますか?

literally just means eating.

Often sentences have objects.

The horse eats hay. .. Uma wa hoshikusa o tabemasu. .. 馬は乾草を食べます。

Literally: horse ‘wa’ hay ‘o’ eats

English word order: subject verb object

Japanese word order: subject object verb

Other objects can also be present, sometimes preceded by propositions in English, followed by postpositions in Japanese.

The horse eats hay in the barn at noon. .. Uma wa shōgo ni naya no hoshikusa o tabemasu. .. 馬は正午に納屋の乾草を食べます。

English word order: subject verb object1 object2 object3

Japanese word order: subject object1 object2 object3 verb

In English as well as in Japanese an object can be put in front of the subject for emphasis.

At noon the horse eats hay in the barn. .. Shōgo ni uma wa naya no hoshikusa o taberu. .. 正午に馬は納屋の乾草を食べます。

The important part to note is that in Japanese the verb is always at the end.

Also important is the fact that Japanese has postpositions in place of the English prepositions and that various markers are used following nouns or phrases. Likewise, conjunctions always follow phrases whereas in English they preceed them. Because of this, it is often a good strategy to unpack a complex Japanese sentence from the end to the beginning.

逆に、優れた戦術を実現させるために、その戦術に合わせた装備品を開発することもあります。

Gyaku ni, sugureta senjutsu o jitsugen sa seru tame ni, sono senjutsu ni awaseta sōbi-hin o kaihatsu suru koto mo arimasu.

On the contrary, in order to realize superior tactics, we also develop accessories according to the tactics.

The sentence was found on the internet, then translated using Google.

arimasu .. there is, found right at the end.

mo .. also

suru .. to be, to make

The English verb is develop, so the Japanese equivalent must be somewhere near the end of the sentence. koto functions like a difficult to translate particle, so the next word to be considered is kaihatsu.

kaihatsu .. development

kaihatsu suru .. develop [verb]

Google shows particles ni and o. o must be an object marker, ni could be postpositions with a variety of meanings or it could be the ending of an adverb. Now the task consists of looking up all the words between the particles, stringing all the words together and comparing it to the Google translation.

on_the_contrary, excellent tactics ‘o’ realization in_order_make_it_happen, that tactics ‘ni’ combined equipment ‘o’ development made also there_is

Again, the Google translation: On the contrary, in order to realize superior tactics, we also develop accessories according to the tactics.

excellent = superior

realization in_order_make_it_happen = in order to realize

combined equipment = accessories

development made there_is = we develop

The hardest part for an English speaker may be the absence of the subject pronoun we which is inferred if the speaker is a company. In addition, all the markers after the nouns when we expect prepositions in front of nouns are challenging. Lastly, the English verbs realize and develop are represented by expressions with nouns and auxiliary verbs in Japanese.

 

Yes, this is daunting, but we must keep in mind that short Japanese sentences are fairly easy.

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