This section of the web site contains a very brief introduction to Japanese grammar. It is not meant to be complete; it’s just enough to get you started.
Grammar? Do I Really Need It?
First, let’s see who doesn’t need grammar.
- Little kids who are learning their first language certainly don’t need a grammar book.
- Tourists who are learning just enough Japanese for their vacation should be fine using a “listen and repeat” method to learn those vital polite phrases—and to ask where the restrooms are! (In fact, if done right, this method can yield very impressive results, as shown by the folks at Berlitz, Rosetta Stone, and Sybervision.)
- People who just need to make sure they are understood don’t need to know a lot of grammar.
If you don’t fit into those categories, then you can profit by learning grammar. You may not be looking forward to it, because most people’s experience in grammar classes has been...let’s just say...not very exciting.
What Grammar Buys You
Knowing grammar helps you figure out how sentences work. One problem with the listen-and-repeat method is that you learn sentence patterns without learning how the patterns are constructed. You may, for example, learn these sentences:
What is this? It is a pencil.
What are these? These are pencils.
What is this? It is a book.
What are these? These are books
You are pretty much left on your own to figure out the rule that an “s” at the end of a word signifies plural, and that the plural of “this” is “these.” The good news is that once you figure out a rule, it is your rule, you own it, and you are unlikely to forget it.
The bad news is that some rules are tricky to discover. A grammar book can set out the rules for you to make the process a lot faster.
How to Learn Grammar
Practice. No, really, that’s the key. At first, figuring out patterns for your sentences will be slow. Very slow. Don’t give up! The more you practice, the more familiar the patterns will become. So let’s start with the basic structure of a sentence.