Now that we have studied how verbs are grouped in Japanese and the various tenses of the polite (丁寧 teinei) form, it’s time to put some of them to use. I’m going to assume that you have read the first lesson and understood everything in it.
And yes, this week’s theme is Tamaki Kousaka from To Heart 2. :3
First, here’s a very basic sentence in Japanese:
ro-maji: ore wa kouno takaaki da.
english: I am Takaaki Kouno.
俺 (ore): I / me
河野貴明 (kouno takaaki): Takaaki Kouno, the main character in To Heart 2
The hiragana は (ha) is read as “wa” when used as a particle. は indicates the topic of a sentence. Topic is a grammatical definition that has no equivalent in English. It’s usually okay to treat the topic as the subject, but there are times where this will not work. I’ll explain more later… For now just take it as the indicator for the subject.
だ (da) is the normal form of です (desu) which anyone who watches anime should know.
By the way, please do not introduce yourself in this manner in real-life. 俺 and だ should never be used when speaking to strangers unless you are looking for a fight… also known as 喧嘩を売る (kenka wo uru), literally “to sell a fight”. Payment in pain no doubt.
Let’s take a look at another sentence…
ro-maji: itsumo tama-nee to okujou de hirumeshi wo taberu.
english: I always have lunch with Tama-nee on the rooftop.
いつも (itsumo): all the time / always
タマ姉 (tama-nee): Tamaki Kousaka from TH2
屋上 (okujou): rooftop. In games and anime, this usually refers to the rooftop of a school…
昼飯 (hirumeshi): lunch, also 昼ご飯 (hirugohan) or お昼 (ohiru). hirumeshi seems to be preferred by many males.
食べる (taberu): to eat, also 食う (kuu). kuu sounds much rougher.
I have highlighted all the particles in the above sentence. Try to figure out what each particle does. Remember that a particle is used to indicate the role of the word just before it with regards to the entire sentence.
Notice that this sentence does not have an explicit subject. It is common in Japanese to hide the subject when it is obvious, a practice that is not considered grammatically-sound in English. (e.g. “Got to go now” = “I got to go now”)
In fact, subjects in most Japanese sentences are kept implicit and only included when there is a good reason to do so, such as when the subject is ambiguous or new to the conversation. An implicit subject is often (but not always) the speaker, depending on the context and the previous dialogues.
In the sentence above, the subject is obviously “I”, the speaker.
Native English speakers learning Japanese have a tendency to think of sentences without an explicit subject as being passive (i.e. “The lunch was eaten”). It takes time to get used to it so that you don’t confuse yourself when you get to real passive forms.
Sentences usually end with a verb. Particles are used to indicate the relationships of the words to the verb and to the sentence as a whole. Speaking strangers in non-polite form can result in much pain. The subject of a sentence is usually hidden but there is always an implied subject when that happens. You just have to figure out what it is.
Noun modifying clauses
Almost all sentences follow the basic sentence structure seen above, but if you actually attempt to decipher a long-ish sentence in Japanese, you might find yourself wondering why real-life doesn’t seem to work that way.
The main reason for this is because Japanese LOVE to use long-ass clauses to modify nouns. Noun modifiers often take up more than half of a sentence. A sentence that can essentially be simplified to less than five words (if you extract only the subject, object and verb) can end up taking up three paragraphs because of all the descriptions and explanations attached to each of those words. I heard this is true for German too, but I have no firsthand experience.
“My brother bought a dog last month. It died recently after being knocked down by a car. I heard that the driver was drunk.”
This will usually be written in Japanese as:
“The dog which my brother bought last month died recently after being knocked down by a car which I heard was driven by a drunk driver.”
It’s doable in English, but it just sounds too long and confusing. Most written sentences in Japanese are structured like this. It is difficult for beginners to locate the main subject and object of the sentence because each of the clauses has its own subject, object, verb and even sub-clauses.
Notice that I did not actually write the sentence above out in Japanese because I don’t want to go too much into this topic. Learning to break complex sentences up into parts and extracting the key information requires a good grammar and vocabulary foundations and lots of exposure to Japanese. There’s no shortcut around it. I just brought this up as a point of interest for those who are curious.
Subject and Topic
Just now, I mentioned that subject and topic are different things but it is usually safe to treat them as the same. Now I shall explain how they can refer to very different things in the same sentence.
Subject is indicated by the particle が (ga).
Topic is indicated by the particle は (wa).
Subjects work the same way as their English counterparts: they indicate the performer of an action.
Topics are much more general and unrestrictive. They can indicate almost anything about a sentence.
ro-maji: ashita wa ikimasu
english: I will go tomorrow.
In the sentence above, ashita (tomorrow) is the topic and ikimasu (to go) is the verb. We can clearly see that the topic in this case is NOT the subject, because “Tomorrow goes” makes no sense.
There is a hidden subject in this sentence, and that is “I”. You can see it as “ashita wa watashi ga ikimasu.” However, as I have mentioned, the subject is often kept implicit. One only states the subject explicitly when it is needed, because otherwise it places unnecessary emphasis on the subject.
Essentially, when you define a topic you are literally defining the topic of discussion. By saying “watashi wa” for example, you are basically saying “Now I shall talk about me…” or “As for me…”. Therefore, the verb at the end of the sentence may or may not apply to watashi directly, but we know that the sentence on the whole is somehow related to watashi.
ro-maji: tama-nee wa ashi ga nagai desu
english: Tama-nee’s legs are long.
足 (ashi): legs / feet
長い (nagai): long
A more literal translation would be “As for Tama-nee / Speaking of Tama-nee, her legs are long.” In this case, it is obvious that the subject of the verb です is NOT Tama-nee but her legs.
As I mentioned, the topic and/or the subject of a sentence may be excluded from a sentence if the context is clear. The above sentence requires both to be explicit in order for the meaning to be clear, due to a lack of context. Let me demonstrate this with two different examples.
Example 1: A few people are talking about Tama-nee and each of them lists out something about her body.
Person A: “tama-nee wa kami ga akakute nagai desu” (Tama-nee has red long hair)
Person B: “ashi ga nagai desu” (Her legs are long)
Me: “mune ga ookii desu!” (Her……nevermind)
There is no need to restate the topic “tama-nee” anymore once it has been established for conversation, unless you need to 1. change the topic or 2. emphasis the topic. Neither is there a need to use any pronouns in Japanese, because pronouns are reserved for special ocassions when you need the extra emphasis. (Like, ZOMG YOU ARE THE CRIMINALZ! 貴方を犯人です！)
Example 2: A few people are comparing the lengths of legs belonging to various people.
Person A: “doraemon wa ashi ga hikui desu” (Doraemon’s legs are short)
Person B: “konomi-chan mo hikui desu” (Konomi-chan’s legs are short too)
Me: “tama-nee wa nagai desu” (Tama-nee’s legs are long)
も (mo): a particle used to indicate “also / too”.
Notice that there is no need to restate the subject “ashi” after the first statement. It is understood that by “tama-nee wa nagai desu“, I don’t mean “Tama-nee is long” but rather I am referring to her legs. The topic of the sentence is not the same as the (implied) subject of the sentence.
Japanese sentences contain painfully-long, noun-modifying clauses. There is no hope for gaijin.
Topic does NOT always equal subject. Topic is NOT the same as subject. There is no hope for gaijin.
Resistance is futile. Give up!…
…Just kidding. But seriously, I can’t really explain any further for these two topics. I am writing this merely as an introduction to the various quirks of Japanese language, not as a complete guide to picking up the language.
In the second chapter, we talked about:
- Basic sentence structure
- Some common particles
- A particle usually indicates the role of the previous word
- Japanese are lazy and like to hide their subjects and topics
- Japanese are crazy and like to modify their nouns with long clauses
- Topic is NOT subject
Have fun~ Check back some time again for the third chapter soon. I realized that I should not structure my lessons like a real textbook because I won’t be able to cover much of the basic grammar anyway.
Instead, I’ll be spending the next chapter talking about some random quirks I’ve come across while studying the Japanese language so that you can show off to your fellow anime fans your newfound l33t Japanese trivial knowledge. Until next time, jya.
P.S. feel free to leave a comment on which girl you want me to focus on for the next chapter… ;)