Category Archives: Grammar

Japanese Desu – the Real Meaning! What they never tell you about da/desu.

This week’s new video is on desu/da. One of the earliest and simplest things we learn.

However, I have seen people at JLPT N3 level and beyond getting into trouble with more complex sentences simply because they have never learned what da/desu really does.

As so often, the textbook explanations don’t make it properly clear.

Actually some of them do tell you, in passing, the technical term that would give you the key to the mystery.

But then they don’t explain that term properly and carry on with the usual rough-and-ready dumbed-down explanations that  leave your Japanese understanding like a poorly-built building that will come down when a strong wind blows.

So is this going to be some complicated technical explanation that the textbooks don’t tell you because it’s too difficult?

Not at all! It’s very simple and straightforward. In fact, it’s easier than what they do tell you. And once you know it your understanding of the da/desu function will be as solid as a rock.

This is part of a mini-series or “story arc” (heh heh) within the current sequence of videos, because part of the confusion is intertwined with the way i- and na-adjectives aren’t properly explained (one of my earliest grammar articles which I made into a video last week) and will lead on to a discussion of “na no desu” and related constructions in videos to come.

So if you need more desu (and who doesn’t?) watch this video now.

Supporting videos:

For more information on the concepts in this video, please see:

I and Na Adjectives: what the textbooks don’t tell you (article and video)

I Am Not an Eel – the invisible Japanese particle (article)

Japanese Sentence Structure: the simple secrets (video)

One of the problems with textbook Japanese is that they treat Japanese grammar as if it were a series of random, unconnected “points” when really it is an organic, beautiful and amazingly logical whole (much more so than European grammars, including English).

In fact, I think it is because they expect language to be complicated and random, like European languages, that they treat Japanese as if it were so, and thus make it so for the poor learner.

Da/desu fits together with everything else in basic Japanese to make a rounded whole.

The “Suffering Passive”. Textbooks at their confusing worst! And the cure.

The “suffering passive” or “adversity passive” is one of the weirder notions that the Western version of “Japanese grammar” foists on us.

According to the textbooks, Japanese people, for some quite inexplicable reason, lapse into the passive voice in order to complain or lament about some event.

They don’t.

As we have explained before, there is no passive in Japanese, at least not in the sense of the English “passive voice”. It is the insistence that the Japanese ukemi (receptive form) is “passive” that leads to this odd notion of a “suffering passive”.

What is actually happening in the meiwaku ukemi (nuisance receptive – the accurate Japanese term for the “adversity passive”) is much simpler and actually is something that English speakers also do all the time – although it isn’t considered to be correct grammar in English.

Once you know this, you can forget the Byzantine explanations of European-language-based “Japanese grammar” and see the nuisance-receptive form as it really is – simple, logical and easily intuitive.

Watch this seven-minute video and stop suffering passively forever!

‘Cause dolls do what doctorates don’t.

 

Notes:

This video unpacks pretty deeply the confusing tangle that is Western “Japanese grammar”. The “suffering passive” misconception is born out of three other misconceptions. I think this video works on its own but you may need some help (and it certainly would be a good idea anyway, to dispel the other three.

So I am listing the three underlying misconceptions and giving links to the lessons that clear them up.

 

“Suffering Passive”: Underlying Errors

  1. That the Japanese receptive form is something like the English passive voice.
  2. That it is a “conjugation” – which in turn is based on
  3. The notion that the amazingly simple and logical Japanese helper-verb and helper-adjective structure is “conjugation” in the European sense.

If the ideas are unfamiliar to you, you will also find it useful to watch the lessons on the zero pronoun and particle and Japanese ga-centered grammar structure.

Sorry for all these links! I do think the video above is understandable by itself but it is based on unpacking the whole misguided structure of Europeanized “Japanese grammar”.

And this is something you are going to want to see for yourself if you want to make the whole of Japanese grammar – not just the “suffering passive” – as simple as it really is.

If you have questions, please ask them in the comments section of the video. I usually answer pretty quickly.

https://www.amazon.com/Unlocking-Japanese-Making-simple-really/dp/1539485501/

Te iru, te aru, te iku, te kuru. How and when to use them – and why

Te iru, te aru, te iku and te kuru are among the most commonly used constructions in Japanese.

Once you’ve learned how to make and recognize the te-form (made super easy in our last video lesson) you’ll want to start using it. It isn’t difficult and the textbooks don’t do a bad job of teaching it.

But…

They do tend to omit telling you the rationale behind how it all works, and that makes life harder.

Why do they do it? In this case I think it’s because they don’t want to burden students with “something extra to learn” – but that something is what makes it all hang logically together.

So it’s a bit like making people carry the shopping home without a bag because the bag would be “something extra to carry”.

Yes it would – but it’s the something that makes carrying the rest easier!

It’s not a huge deal in this case (the way it is in some of the grammar taught in this series) but if you know, for example why te iru (meaning “be”) is used the way it is, and what is the logic behind using te aru in place of te iru, it makes it a lot easier to know what you are doing instinctively rather than just trying to remember abstract “rules”.

More importantly, by learning it logically and organically we  start to get a grasp of the way Japanese, unlike Western languages, fits together in various ways like so many very regular, very logical lego-blocks.

So let’s devote 8 minutes to learning just how te iru, te aru, te iku and te kuru really work!

 

Notes:

1. One other irregularity (apart from kuru and suru) is iku which is irregular in te-form only (it is itte instead of iite). This really is the only other irregularity you will encounter in basic Japanese.

2. Why do we say akete aru when we say aite iru? This is because logically te aru can only be used with transitive verbs while te iru can be used with both intransitive and transitive ones (but tends to favor intransitive).

Our article on transitive and intransitive verbs makes this much easier. But if you’re a beginner don’t worry about it too much yet. All you need to know is that 開く means open (as in “the door is open) while 開ける means opening something (as in “I opened the door”).

Te aru needs a transitive verb because it is always stressing that somebody caused the state something is in. Te iru doesn’t and is happy with either. If this is all gobbledegook to you, don’t worry. You’ll get to it as your Japanese level advances.

Te Form of Verbs Made Easy – learn te-form in ten minutes with this simple mind-map

The te-form of verbs is one of the more difficult parts of Japanese because it really is a small set of “facts” that you have to learn.

Most of what gets presented as the random “gotta-learn-em-all” facts of Japanese grammar actually aren’t that at all. They are part of a logical system that the textbooks never teach and I have explained the real secrets in my book Unlocking Japanese and in various articles and video-lessons.

However, the te-form of verbs is one exception in that there really are six different forms depending on how the verb ends, which you just have to know.

Mendokusai (Japanese for “pain in the petunia”), ne?

Fortunately it can be made a lot easier.

In this video I give a simple mind-map with mnemonics that will allow you to dominate the te-form in a very short time. The video is under 8 minutes and you may want to watch it a couple of times. But you should have the te-form of verbs conquered for life in under an hour!

Notes (and advice):

There are  just three notable exceptions to the system presented here. They are Japan’s famous two irregular verbs kuru and suru, plus iku, “go”. Iku, instead of becoming the slightly awkward-sounding iite becomes itte. They work like this:

する (suru)→ して  (shite)

来る (くる kuru) → 来て  (きて kite)

行く (いく iku)→ 行って  (いって itte)

Even though I mention these for completeness, I don’t recommend “learning” them now unless it feels easy.

My advice is, if these three feel confusing, just ignore them for now. Don’t let the whole system feel over-complex for the sake of these three. Consolidate the overall system in your mind. You will easily pick up the few exceptions over time.

A lot of people stay shaky on the te-form of verbs for a long time (especially recognizing it on the fly). With this system you can master the whole structure in a very short time.

https://www.amazon.com/Unlocking-Japanese-Making-simple-really/dp/1539485501/

The Japanese verb conjugation chart to END conjugation charts!

Yes, I really meant the title.

This is a verb conjugation chart that is simple enough to keep in your head. It covers all the main conjugations (except -te/-ta form) and it simplifies the Japanese verb conjugation system to the point where you’ll never have to worry about it again.

Too good to be true?

How could one small android do all that?

The answer is, I didn’t do it. The Japanese language did it. Japanese “conjugation” (so-called) really is amazingly simple, logical and easy to understand – if you look at it the way it really is.

Japanese is language done right. Until you start to apply Western models like “conjugation” to it. Then it becomes the confusing mess you find in the Western “Japanese grammar” textbooks.

So let’s just strip away the confusing ideas and show you the real Japanese verb conjugation chart.

It takes me a quarter of an hour to explain it (mostly because I walk you through showing how the same principle applies to all “conjugations”). Once you understand it in all its brilliant simplicity you will never need a Japanese verb conjugation chart again.

Please enjoy this video.

If you want to ask questions, please go direct to the YouTube page and use the comments section. I will answer as soon as possible.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the KawaJapa Cure Dolly Channel while you’re there!

Mini Q&A

Why is the は ひ ふ へ ほ (ha hi hu[fu] he ho) column written as ば び ぶ べ ぼ (ba bi bu be bo)?

Because there are no verbs ending in hu (fu) or pu. Also, I thought it too obvious to mention, but for completeness, please note that where there is a ten-ten on the last kana of a word we use the same ten-ten on its transitions. So およぐ (oyogu, swim)  becomes およが、およぎ (oyoga, oyogi) etc.

Why do you have -そう (-sou) among the helper-words on the i-row chart but don’t talk about it?

Because for the sake of simplicity I am covering only the main so-called Japanese conjugations. However, since the -そう (-sou, “seems like”) helper also attaches to the i-stem  in the same regular manner as everything else, I included it in the chart for completeness.

https://www.amazon.com/Unlocking-Japanese-Making-simple-really/dp/1539485501/

Can the GA particle really become NO in subordinate clauses?

The textbooks tell you that the ga-particle can become no in subordinate clauses.

It’s true – kind of – but it is one of the most clumsy and unhelpful explanations in the long history of clumsy and unhelpful explanations that Western “Japanese grammar” has racked up.

It is also dangerous because it tends to fuzz up the nature of the all-important ga-particle (the core of every Japanese sentence) even more than the textbooks have fuzzed it up already.

This video lesson will explain what is really going on in these sentences and how it is much simpler and more intuitive than the standard explanation leads you to believe.

I am putting in some further explanation for people who want more details, and if you want still more, this note sparked a very full and interesting discussion in the YouTube comments section which you may want to read. I’ve pinned the thread to the top so you can find it immediately.

A quick nerdy note for those interested

I am not saying that “Ga can become no in subordinate clauses” is untrue. I am saying that it is an unhelpful description for the following reasons:

1. It gives a very abstract and complicated appearance to what is essentially a very simple and intuitive phenomenon. If you don’t happen to know what a subordinate clause is already, it is useless. And it isn’t a good idea to learn what a subordinate clause is just for the purpose (as I am sure many people do) because…

2. If you do know what a subordinate clause is, it is still inadequate and confusing because the point really isn’t that the clause is subordinate. The point is that it is adjectival. Using the general term “subordinate” just serves to make it fuzzy.

3. (And this is the crux of the matter) It gives the impression that ga is suddenly replaced by the unrelated particle no for no very apparent reason (other than “it just is, so learn it”). It also gives the impression that there is perhaps “another no” that means something completely different from the usual no. Actually no is doing something not all that different from what it usually does. We are in fact using the possessive/attributive function of no to attribute an (already stated or assumed) action or state to an already known person or thing. So in terms of practical grammar it does tend to de-emphasize the adjectival clause (marking it as “old news” as it were and throwing the spotlight more firmly onto the thing it is describing).

4. It just adds one more little twist to the process of obscuring ga. Ga is the heart and foundation of Japanese grammar, and Western descriptions seem to be almost willfully throwing obstructions in the path of understanding the very key to the language. Of course there is nothing willful about it but it there might as well be. While this is nowhere near as damaging to the foundations of Japanese understanding as saying that koohii ga suki desu really means “I like coffee”, it just helps to muddy the waters of ga that little bit more. Maybe not such a quick note after all. ごめんなさい。

Japanese Causative – what the textbooks don’t tell you

The Japanese Causative isn’t difficult but there are a few tricky aspects that the textbooks don’t explain very well.

Especially the problem of what particle to use where is presented as a set of “random facts” when it is all really very logical and understandable once you understand how these sentences are really structured.

Please enjoy this video lesson.

The Japanese Mo Particle -what the textbooks don’t tell you

The Japanese Mo particle is quite simple and limited in its functions. However there is a very important point about it that is simply not covered in the Western version of “Japanese grammar”.

It is an important point because it is central to how Japanese grammar works. It not only makes the mo particle easier to understand but it also clarifies where it stands in relation to the other major particles so that the whole structure of Japanese grammar becomes clearer.

Please enjoy this lesson on the Mo particle.

As usual, if you have questions please ask them in the comments section on YouTube and I will answer you.

The Potential Form of Japanese Verbs: What the textbooks don’t tell you

Japanese potential form of verbsThe potential form of Japanese verbs is really not difficult.

However, some of the things that the textbooks teach about it actually undermine our understanding of Japanese.

So let’s watch this short video lesson to learn not only how the potential form works – but even more importantly, how it doesn’t work!

And as usual, when the Doll is around Japanese gets easier than you thought!

If you want more information, we always recommend looking at the comments section on YouTube because there are often discussions going into more detailed points.

For example, in this case AzwraithPL-san wrote:

Is the emphasis placed on the hearer even when the が(ga) subject is left out in「鳥を聞こえる」(tori wo kikoeru)? I know that including the subject would necessarily include emphasis as が(ga) directs focus to what it marks, but is the implication of a subject alone enough to direct that focus as well? If it does indeed emphasise the subject in the same fashion is it simply of a lesser degree than the inclusion?

And The Doll replied:

The simple answer is yes, even the implication of hearer-as-subject by the use of wo does direct attention to it.

The reasons that particular forms are used can vary and can be quite subtle so it is hard to make a rule about all cases, but the grammatical point is that

鳥が聞こえる
tori ga kikoeru

does not necessarily imply a particular hearer. All we are really saying is that a bird is audible. Of course if we add (or the context implies)

私は
watashi wa

specifying oneself (or anyone else) as a particular hearer, that changes it (though still does not carry a strong emphasis unless the wa is distinguishing the hearer from someone else).

But in this construction the ga-marked actor is the bird itself, and that is where the emphasis naturally lies (if you remember, in the advanced wa/ga lesson we said that ga throws the emphasis back onto the thing it marks – when we think about this construction we start to see that it is not just some “rule” but is built into the way the grammar works).

鳥が聞こえる
tori ga kikoeru

could, for example, simply be describing a scene: “There were mountains and trees and a bird was audible” – i.e., anyone who had been there would have heard a bird, but we are not saying that anyone in particular was hearing it. Conversely,

鳥を聞こえる
tori wo kikoeru

must imply a particular ga-marked hearer. A wo implies a corresponding ga.

To say

鳥を聞こえた
tori wo kikoeta

is like saying “a bird was heard by” (or better “xx heard a bird” since it isn’t passive). We immediately have to ask who heard the bird? Who is the owner of the ga that corresponds to the wo? In the English equivalent you can’t leave that part unstated (which is why I had to use xx just to express it actively in English), but in Japanese you can – however, the assumption is that your hearer will know it and fill it in mentally. The reasons for using the less common

鳥を
tori wo

formation can be various. Some Japanese people do not even accept it as correct Japanese. I have heard it said that it is especially used by younger people in the Tokyo area. In these cases it may be influenced by foreign usage and feel somewhat “trendy”. But those speakers aren’t the only ones who use it.

However, whatever the circumstance or motivation, a speaker who chooses 鳥を is purposely throwing grammatical weight onto the hearer as opposed to the bird.

Naturally, if you have questions of your own you can pop over to the comments section and ask them!

The Japanese “Passive” – it isn’t difficult. And it isn’t passive!

Japanese passiveThe Japanese “passive” conjugation can be a real mind-bender.

The particles all seem to change places pretty much at random from what they usually do.

But the truth is that it isn’t complicated at all and it works just like every other Japanese sentence.

The particles are doing what they always do.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is the way the standard texts teach it. For a start they call it the passive conjugation.

It isn’t passive.

And it isn’t a conjugation.

Once you know what it really is, you can see that it is very simple and completely logical. There is nothing to “memorize”. If you know elementary Japanese grammar you already know how the passive works.

The books and sites just messed it up for you by describing it so confusingly.

Watch this seven-minute video to straighten out the “passive” in your mind forever.

If you have questions, please ask them in the comments on the YouTube page and the Doll will answer you!

Grammatical note

For those interested in a more detailed analysis of how the grammar of the Japanese receptive form works, this note may be of interest and help you to grasp the unfamiliar – but very simple and logical – way the Japanese works:

In

水が犬に飲まれた
mizu ga inu ni nomareta
Literally “The water drink-received from the dog”
(not “the water was drunk by the dog” – the meaning is the same but the structure is completely misleading).

The water does the action of the compound verb noma-reru. Reru/rareru essentially means “receive” so when we attach it to another verb (it can’t stand alone) the newly-formed compound means “receive the action of the original verb”.

So the water is the one doing the verb nomareru, which means drink-receive. And understanding this is what makes the whole thing fall into place.

It is tempting to say that reru/rareru modifies the verb it is attached to into meaning “receive the modified verb’s action”.

However, while this may clarify the matter, I would say that it is strictly incorrect because of the rule that in Japanese the modified always follows the modifier.

In other words, if we want to “deconstruct” nomareru into its two component verbs nomu and reru, then we have to say that it is nomu that modifies reru. The head-verb, the final action of the sentence, is reru – receive. Ultimately nomu is the modifier (shuushokugo) of reru, which is the actual jutsugo, or action, of the sentence.

So just as in

私はお店に行った
watashi wa omise ni itta
“I went to the shops”

the “skeleton sentence” is:

私は行った
watashi wa itta” = “I went”

and omise ni, “to the shops” is simply a modifier telling us something else about “went” (namely where I went)…

So in

水が飲まれた
mizu ga nomareta
(let’s leave the dog out for clarity) the “skeleton sentence” is:

水がれた
mizu ga reta
“the water received”

the noma “drink” is simply telling us more about “received” (namely what it received).

Admittedly this is somewhat theoretical since reru/rareru is never actually used on its own in modern Japanese, but I believe this is how the sentence should be analyzed.

If it is easier to see “reru” as modifying “nomu“, I don’t think that does much harm. But in the end I think it may be easier to see “nomu” as modifying “reru“, which I think is actually the case.