I have been teaching Japanese both online and offline for over six years now and I’ve discovered many interesting facts that make Japanese “challenging” to learn. For example, Japanese contains grammatical structures that are unique to the Japanese language, and that are absent in other languages. Therefore, if you are a beginner or new to this language, this is an essential fact that you should know. In this article, I will review some other interesting facts about the language. I really hope that this information will help you to better understand Japanese in general.
Subject comes early and verb comes last
The word order in Japanese and English are opposite to each other. While English is consistently S-V-O, Japanese places the verb in the final position, with the other elements appearing in any order. Japanese is normally referred to as an S-O-V language, however, you should keep in mind that the subject comes early on in the sentence, the verb comes last, and everything else comes in between. It isn't “I kick the ball,” but “I ball kick,” which can get complicated as sentences get longer and more detailed.
Use particles to identify grammatical functions
Japanese uses particles to identify grammatical functions, and these particles get placed directly after the words to show these functions. Particles are words that have no semantic meaning by themselves, but serve a purely grammatical purpose. Particles are truly one of the reasons why Japanese is such a fascinating and unique language.
For example, は wa is one of the most common particles found in Japanese. Any word(s) that precede は wa is/are the topic of the sentence.
- 私 (は) ご飯 (を) 食べる。I eat rice.
- 私 (も) ご飯 (を) 食べる。I also eat rice.
- 私 (は) レストラン (で) ご飯 (を) 食べる。I eat rice at the restaurant.
- 私 (は) 家族 (と) レストラン (で) ご飯 (を) 食べる。I eat rice at the restaurant with my family.
Let's take a look at these example particles!
- は wa: Marks the topic of the sentence.
- が ga: Marks the subject of the sentence.
- を wo: Marks the direct object of the sentence.
- も mo: Indicated inclusion, similar to "also" or "too" in English.
- へ he: Specifies direction.
- の no: Possessive indicator.
How to count things and living beings
Counting is different in Japanese than in English. One interesting fact about Japanese (although it is also present in other Asian languages) is how things and living beings are counted.
- Native Japanese: 一つ (hitotsu), 二つ (futatsu), 三つ (mittsu), 四つ (yottsu), 五つ (itsutsu), 六つ (muttsu), 七つ (nanatsu), 八つ (yattsu), 九つ (kokonotsu), 十 (tō)
- Sino-Japanese: 一 (ichi), 二 (ni), 三 (san), 四 (yon or shi), 五 (go), 六 (roku), 七 (nana or shichi), 八 (hachi), 九 (kyū or ku), 十 (jū)
- お茶を (一つ) とコーヒーを (二つ) 下さい。ocha o hitotsu to kouhii o futatsu kudasai. Please give me one tea and two coffees.
Of course, like many other languages, dates and ordinal numbers are counted slightly differently in Japanese. But what is peculiar is that we also count things and living beings differently depending on their properties. As a result, the Japanese add suffixes known as “counters” to the series mentioned above in order to count.
Let's see some examples of counters in Japanese!
- 本 (-hon): long objects, like trees, bottles or pens.
- 枚 (-mai): flat, thin objects like paper or stamps.
- 冊 (-satsu): books or magazines.
- 台 (-dai): machines or vehicles.
- 杯 (-hai): cups or bowls of liquids.
- 個 (-ko): small and compact objects.
- 匹 (-hiki): small animals like cats, dogs or fish.
- 羽 (-wa): birds.
- 頭 (-tō): large animals like cows or horses.
- 人 (-nin): people.
- 名 (-mei): a more formal way of counting people.
Keigo is the honorific Japanese speech that comes into play during formal occasions. Japanese has an entire set of grammar dedicated to addressing people in a proper way. Everything from nouns to verb endings change depending on the status of both speakers.
- Sonkeigo – o [verb stem] ni naru [-rareru/passive form of the verb], special verbs like irasshaimasu (iru), nasaimasu (suru).
- Kenjougo – o [verb stem] shimasu/itashimasu (when doing something for someone else), special verbs like orimasu (iru), itashimasu (suru).
- Teineigo – desu/masu, the form that most Japanese learners are familiar with.
- Bikago – The addition of o or go at the beginning of words to make them more polite, for example ocha (tea), gohan (rice).
Imported words from other languages
All languages tend to import words from other languages when a word for a new item, idea or condition does not yet exist. Japanese is no exception to this universal linguistic rule. However, Japanese tends to incorporate foreign words even when a good Japanese word is already in common use.
In fact, Japanese has many loanwords from English (like cheese). However, they are often said using Japanese pronunciation, which can make some words intangible (“cheese” becomes チーズ chiizu). As such, asking for directions to the nearest McDonald's might not get you anywhere in Japan unless you say メクドナルド makudonarudo instead, which is the Japanese pronunciation.
Here are some examples of loan words written in Katakana:
- Maiku マイク microphone
- Suupaa スーパー supermarket
- Depaato デパート department store
- Biru ビル building
- Irasuto イラスト illustration
- Meeku メーク make-up
- Daiya ダイヤ diamond
- Pasokon パソコン personal computer
- Eakon エアコン air conditioning
Did you enjoy reading this article? I hope that it will be useful for you in your Japanese studies. I am also more than happy to help you achieve your Japanese learning goals. Please contact me for your first Japanese lesson. I will increase your confidence, as well as improve both your literacy and communicative skills in Japanese.