Let’s take a look at the basics of Japanese grammar.
First, and most importantly. Japanese is a Subject Object Verb language , or SOV. Conversely, English is a Subject Verb Object, or SVO language. An example of this in English is
“I ate dinner.” In Japanese, however, you would say "I, dinner, ate," or...
watashi wa ban-gohan wo tabemashita. = I, dinner, ate.
Watashi = I
Ban-gohan = dinner
Tabemashita = ate (this is the polite past tense form of taberu, or “to eat”)
Most people will be initially confused by the middle of Japanese sentences because they 'over think' the grammar. If you merely concern yourself with the beginning and the end, the middle tends to fall roughly into place. There is more room for variation in the middle, and I have been told that the Japanese only really listen to the beginning and the end (subject and verb) of a sentence. Since the language is all about inferring meaning rather than saying it outright, the listener can generally put the pieces together. In the case of “I, dinner, ate,” you understand that the speaker ate something. If it’s the evening, it was probably dinner. The context of a sentence is often a key component of its meaning.
Now let’s move on to Particles ...
Particles are like prepositions (in, at, on, etc) in English, but different in one key aspect. While prepositions come before a word (“at the office”), particles come after the word. Take a second and digest that fact. So, instead of “I am at the office” you would say:
Watashi wa kaisha ni imasu = I, at the office, am.
Kaisha = work office
ni = at, in, within
Remember that “am” and “is” are verbs, therefore in Japanese it will come at the end of the sentence. The final verb in a Japanese sentence is the central verb, or the most important one. As a beginner in a language that values brevity, you won’t need to worry about making too many sentences with more than one verb.
In Japanese, particles are used in ways that prepositions aren’t...
Wa and ga have no real equivalents in English, and yet are still fairly easy to understand.
wa is used to denote the main subject of the conversation. You will see it described at “speaking of” or “as for the.” It is also used for things that are common knowledge, such as subjects like you and I.
Ga on the other hand, is used for introducing new topics to the conversation. It draws attention to a word, and is also used to show difference. Wa and ga don’t always have “meaning,” and are there simply as markers.
Let’s use the particles together:
Watashi wa nihongo ga suki = I, Japanese, like.
Nihongo = Japanese
Suki = Like
If you’ve ever heard of sukiyaki, a popular Japanese dish, this is the same word (suki). Yaki comes from yaku, a verb meaning “to fry lightly.” Yaki features heavily in Japanese food names. So, sukiyaki is kind of like “enjoy-lightly-fried.” Japanese is subtle in some areas, and blunt like a baseball bat in others.
The last words for this introduction are ( desu, imasu )
These words are all versions of “is,” and are used depending on what the subject is.
For stating a simple fact or familiar ideas using “is,” one uses desu.
For stating the location or possession of objects, such as asking if a shop stocks a certain product or saying where an object is, use arimasu.
For stating the location of people and many types of animals, use imasu.
The most important one for you will be desu. Let’s do some introductions, where I will say “I am Mike” in Japanese:
Watashi wa Maiku desu. = I, Mike, am.
i = watashi wa
Mike = Maiku
am = desu
Since it’s obvious that we’re doing introductions and I’m expected to give my name, let’s leave out watashi wa:
Maiku desu. = Mike, am.
To use imasu, we will be stating the location of Mike. The sentence will be divided by commas to show its component parts:
Maiku wa, Kanada de, imasu. = Mike, Canada in, is.
You may be wondering the name is given as Maiku rather than Mike. This is because the Japanese have a specific, but limited, array of sounds that they can use . English words don’t fit into this set cleanly, so a sort of approximation is necessary. Often, the end result is barely recognizable.