Category Archives: video

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

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)

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).

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,

tori wo kikoeru

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

To say

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

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:


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

watashi wa omise ni itta
“I went to the shops”

the “skeleton sentence” is:

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

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

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.

The NI Particle – making sense of Japanese

The Japanese Ni ParticleThe ni particle has a dizzying array of functions.

The standard textbooks don’t make it any easier by treating each function as a random “fact” that you just have to learn.

In fact, however, most of the uses of the ni particle are bound together by a simple underlying logic.

This not only helps you to know the various functions of ni but also to get a clearer grip on how Japanese grammar as a whole is structured.

As always, Japanese turns out to be clearer, simpler and more logical than any other language you’ve encountered!

Why not invest the next nine minutes of your life in discovering how?

If you have any questions or comments, please ask them in the YouTube comments section and the Doll will reply quickly.

We also recommend that you subscribe to the KawaJapa Channel.

Japanese Sentence Structure: the simple secret

Japanese-sentence-structureJapanese sentence structure is sometimes seen as complex. Actually it is one of the world’s simplest and most consistent structures.

In this video lesson, the Doll explodes the single biggest myth that makes Japanese seem far more confusing and irregular than it actually is.

It isn’t just what the textbooks don’t tell you that makes Japanese harder than it needs to be.

Sometimes it’s also what they DO tell you.

If you want to understand Japanese correctly, you need to watch this video.

If you have any questions or comments, please ask them in the YouTube comments section and the Doll will reply quickly.

We also recommend that you subscribe to the KawaJapa Channel.

WA vs GA – Advanced/Intermediate Japanese Secrets

Everyone knows that distinguishing the use of the Japanese WA and GA particles can be tricky. A lot of subtlety and implication can be packed into the choice.

However, understanding the principles will make this a lot easier. They aren’t secrets exactly, but no one seems to have noticed (or at least taken the trouble to teach) the fact that the various functions of these particles are not just random quirks of the language. They all flow naturally and logically from the basic functions of the particles, which we learned in the previous video lesson.

Here we go a bit deeper and cover some of what ought to be taught at intermediate level but mostly isn’t.

If you aren’t intermediate yet but understood the material of the last lesson, you should give this one a try. You’ll end up knowing things most of your senpai don’t know!

KawaJapa learners are super-learners!

If you have any questions, please post them on the YouTube page and I will answer very quickly.

We also recommend that you subscribe to the channel so that you never miss a lesson in this ground-breaking course that tells you the things the textbooks never taught you!

Japanese Particles Wa vs Ga – What the Textbooks Don’t Tell You

wa vs ga particles“Choosing between wa and ga” is often considered to be one of the most difficult things for foreign learners of Japanese to master.

One of the problems is that the very concept “choosing between wa and ga” is in itself something of a misunderstanding.

Wa and ga are not two similar particles.

They are not even just two very different particles.

They are two different species of particle.

If we understand this we can get a lot closer to knowing how they really work and why one rather than the other is used in any given case.

This is a fairly complex question so we are dealing with it over two lessons. This first lesson gives the foundation of how ga and wa really work.

Part 2: How to Choose Between wa and ga


If you have any questions, please post them on the YouTube page and I will answer very quickly.

We also recommend that you subscribe to the channel so that you never miss a lesson in this ground-breaking course that tells you the things the textbooks never taught you!

The WA Particle: What it REALLY does

The WA ParticleRight from the beginning standard textbooks get us off on the wrong foot with the wa-particle.

They tend to leave its real function rather loosely defined, and in some respects misdefined, which gives rise to a whole host of misunderstandings and unnecessary complications.

These complications and misunderstandings make Japanese more difficult than it needs to be for beginners, and they often persist long after the beginner stage. So students of all levels can benefit from the information in this video.

The wa-particle really has no equivalent in English or other European grammar. That is why the textbooks, which base themselves on European grammar ideas, tend to be unclear about it.

Nevertheless it is not difficult to understand if you go about it in the right way.

In this ten-minute class you will learn how WA really works, what it does, and just as importantly, what it doesn’t do.

If you have any questions about this lesson, please ask them in the comments on the YouTube page.

We also recommend that you subscribe to the KawaJapa channel so that you never miss a lesson.

The course-book for this course of lessons is Unlocking Japanese. If you  are taking the course seriously you need to get it!

Disclaimer: This video is not intended for the absolute beginner. If you’ve never even heard of the wa-particle, this probably isn’t the place to start. However, as soon as you are aware of the basic particles, this information can save you a lot of time, trouble and confusion. However this is information that most intermediate/advanced learners don’t have because it simply isn’t taught in regular westernized “Japanese grammar”. So everyone can benefit from learning this.

Ninja Japanese! – How to spot the Japanese Zero Pronoun and understand sentences clearly

Japanese zero pronoounNext in our video course we are going to tackle the mysterious Japanese Zero Pronoun.

It’s the Ninja of Japanese grammar. You can’t see it. You can’t hear it. But it’s in probably 75% of all Japanese sentences, and if you don’t know it’s there it makes life a lot harder than it needs to be!

This lesson is really very simple, I think. Everything in it should be pretty obvious once it is pointed out, but this ten-minute lesson lays the foundation for understanding much more complex things with ease.

I should say that this is not intended for the absolute beginner. You need to know a little basic grammar for it to make sense. If you do it will help some important things to fall into place.

On the other hand, if you are more advanced this can help you to put your knowledge on a sounder footing.

The zero pronoun is something the textbooks don’t talk about, and they really should. It makes life so much easier!

As usual, if you have questions do post them on the YouTube page where I will answer them.

If you like the lessons and want to follow the course it is a good idea to subscribe to our channel so you can see them the day they come out and never miss one!

Japanese – What the Textbooks Don’t Teach You … the movie!

People have asked me to teach personally the secrets the textbooks don’t tell you.

The things that make Japanese so much easier to understand if only you know them (and it really is fundamentally not a difficult language).

So finally I have started a video channel – not the fun Japanese-language videos we sometimes feature here, but actual English-language teaching of the “inside secrets” of Japanese that feature in my book Unlocking Japanese.

This is the first in a series of video lessons. And also you get to see what I am really like. Actually my sensei-persona surprised even me. Rather more majime than I usually am, and perhaps a teensy bit two-dimensional. See what you think.

If you never want to miss a class, subscribe to the channel here.

If there is anything you don’t understand in the video or you have other questions, please put them in the comments on the YouTube page. And I will answer them fully as soon as possible.