The Japanese language is structured quite differently from English. However, while it may take a little getting used to, basic Japanese sentence structure is simple to learn and eventually master—perhaps far more simple than English sentence structure!
Subject + Object + Verb
The most basic Japanese sentence structure is subject + object + verb. So for example:
|English:||I ate sushi|
|Japanese:||I sushi ate
Watashi wa sushi wo tabemashita
If a subject appears in the sentence (see the More on Verbs section below), the subject comes first and, in polite Japanese, is often followed by the subject marker wa は. This word, a preposition, has no translation in English and is used solely after the subject of a sentence.
Subjects can also be followed by the similarly untranslatable subject marker preposition ga が in lieu of wa は; ga が gives the subject more emphasis than wa は. For example, if we replaced “wa” with “ga” above, we will place more emphasis on “I.” So if someone asked, “Who ate sushi?” You will reply with “ga”, so more emphasis is placed on “I,” as in “I ate sushi.”
The object, if there is one in a sentence (there isn’t always an object in an English sentence, either) comes next, after the subject and the subject marker. The object is the recipient of the action (verb) in the sentence and can be a thing, a person, or a place. Nouns (both people and things) are often followed by the object marker (w)o を, which has no direct translation in English. They can also be followed by the object marker ga が , which acts similarly to the subject marker ga が by emphasizing the object. Objects such as places can also be followed by other particles and prepositions, such as “to,” which is ni に or e へ in Japanese, or “from,” which is kara から.
In a Japanese sentence, the verb comes last. It may be followed by a particle such as ka か, which is basically a spoken question mark that turns a statement into a question, or yo よ, which is similar to a spoken exclamation point. Both ka か and yo よhave no direct translation in English. Here are three versions of a sentence:
|I ate sushi.
Watashi wa sushi wo tabemashita.
|I ate sushi? (Which a forgetful person might ask!)
Watashi wa sushi wo tabemashita ka.
|I ate sushi! (“I ate sushi, I assure you!”)
Watashi wa sushi wo tabemashita yo.
The Japanese sentence structure of Subject + Object + Verb is different from English, but it is by no means difficult! You may have noticed in the lesson that following every sentence component (subject, object, or verb), there follows a “modifier.” For the subject, you can place either wa or ga. For the object, there is ga and a multitude of object prepositions. For the verb, there is ka (to form a question) or yo (for emphasis, like an exclamation mark.)
So you might be asking yourself, where do I go now? If you’d like to learn more about verbs, proceed to our verbs section, or if you’d like to learn more about object prepositions, we have an article for that as well! Numbers is also another good beginner’s lesson, or you can start tackling some vocabulary, so you will know how to say you ate something other than sushi!