“Today, Japanese word order I will teach”.
This sounds like Yoda right? I wonder how many times I’ve heard about different word orders in different languages from my students ever since I started teaching Japanese. You may well get confused with the totally different word order from your own language. I felt exactly the same when I first started learning English. “Why not ‘I boy am,’ but ‘I am a boy’ in English?”. That was weird for me.
In Japanese, we might say a sentence in this word order: “I grocery store fish to buy go” (I go to the grocery store to buy fish). You might be worried how you can become fluent in Japanese even though there is a big difference between your mother tongue and Japanese. It’s going to be okay. These 2 tips will help you with your Japanese.
1. Important information comes at the end of a sentence
“You are beautiful”. What’s the most important word of this sentence, “Are” or “beautiful”? You may think it’s “beautiful,” but “are” actually makes the biggest difference in the sentence. “Beautiful” is also important but it’s better to know first which the speaker is trying to say, you ARE beautiful or NOT.
Anata wa kirei desu.
You are beautiful.
Anata wa kirei ja arimasen.
You are not beautiful.
You don’t know which unless you listen until the end of the sentence. In English, important information comes first, but Japanese grammar is the other way around.
Ano ramenya wa ninki…
That ramen shop, popular…
What will come next? It could be the positive (です, desu), negative (じゃありません, ja arimasen) or question form (ですか, desu ka), or maybe the past tense (でした, deshita). Sometimes you can guess what the next word will be from the context, for example if you were talking about the past, the past tense (でした, deshita) may possibly come. Even so, you have to basically listen to the complete sentence because Japanese verbs come at the end.
2. The most natural word order
Watashi wa kinou shibuya de Emma to eiga o mimashita.
I, yesterday, in Shibuya, with Emma, the movie, watched.
Watashi wa shibuya de Emma to eiga o kinou mimashita.
I, in Shibuya, with Emma, the movie yesterday, watched.
Watashi wa Emma to eiga o kinou sibuya de mimashita.
I, with Emma, the movie, yesterday in Shibuya, watched.
Watashi wa eiga o kinou shibuya de Emma to mimashita.
I, the movie yesterday, in Shibuya, with Emma, watched.
Which do you think is the most natural way to say? I’m sure a lot of native Japanese speakers will chose ①. If I say “I, wallet…”, you probably think “wallet, what?”. That’s the point. “My wallet was stolen? I lost my wallet? I found my wallet on the street?”.
Right after ○○を (○○ o), you have to explain what you did with it.
Saifu o nusumi mashita.
I stole a wallet.
Therefore, the No. ①, 「映画を」(eiga o, movie) +「観ました」(mimashita, watched) is the most natural way to say it.
Also, we have action verbs 「見ます (mimasu, to watch)、食べます (tabemasu, to eat)、します (shimasu, to do) etc.」, existence verbs 「います (imasu, to be)、あります (arimasu, to be)」 and motion verbs 「行きます (ikimasu, to go)、歩きます (arukimasu, to walk)、走ります (hashirimasu, to run) etc.」. A motion verb is a verb that involves a movement a person from one place to another place.
In general, word order in Japanese sentences using an action verb is:
(Subject) + Time + Place + Indirect object + Object + Action verb
Watashi wa ashita Ginza de kazoku to sushi o tabemasu.
I, tomorrow, in Ginza, with my family, sushi, eat.
Satou san wa doyoubi kouen de tomodachi to jogging wo shimasu.
Ms. Satou, on Saturday, in the park, with friend, jog.
If you make a sentence following this sentence structure, No. ① is the ideal answer.
So there you have it. I hope this article was helpful. I hope that you get used to the different word order quickly, and enjoy learning more Japanese!
As a bonus, I will give you some more interesting expressions in Japanese that are the same as English, but reversed!
Here are some common word pairs that have the exact same meaning, but are reversed! See if you recognize how the Japanese words and the English words have the opposite word orders!
白黒 = shiro kuro (black and white)
あちこち = achi kochi (here and there)
左右 = sayuu (right and left)
老若 = rounyaku (young and old)
売買 = baibai (buying and selling)
苦楽 = kuraku (joy and sorrow)
あれこれ = are kore (this and that)
飲み食い = nomi kui (eat and drink)
行ったり来たり = ittari kitari (come and go)
発着 = hacchaku (arrival and departure)
Have you heard of any of these word pairs before?
As you can tell, there are a lot of differences between Japanese and English, but there are no two foreign language which have 100% the same grammar, so don’t give up! Rather than think of these differences as troublesome, learn to enjoy the differences that make each language unique. Part of the fun of learning languages is exploring the different rules that each language has, so keep at it and have fun!