Japanese Grammar Quiz

The following 40 Questions and Answers explore some of the interesting twists and turns of Japanese grammar. You can learn more about Japanese grammar from the free JAFL Grammar Guide which you can access via the Lesson Download Portal on this site.

Question # 1: “Kore vs. Koko”

Riding on the shinkansen, you arrive in a new city. Turning to the person next to you, you want to say, “This is Osaka.”

Which one of the following Japanese sentences is correct?

  1. これは大阪です (kore wa oosaka desu)
  2. ここは大阪です (koko wa oosaka desu)
ANSWER # 1

Sentence # 2 is correct.

Don’t use the pronouns これ (kore), それ (sore) and あれ (are) to refer to places, like cities, countries and parks. Instead, use the pronouns ここ (koko), そこ (soko) and あそこ (asoko).

Question # 2:  “Ookii vs. Hiroi”

You are impressed with the size of your friend’s apartment. You want to say, “The apartment is big, huh.”

Which one of the following Japanese sentences is correct?

  1. アパートが広いですね (apaato ga hiroi desu ne)
  2. アパートが大きいですね (apaato ga ookii desu ne)
ANSWER # 2

Sentence # 1 is correct.

Don’t use 大きい (ookii = big) and 小さい (chiisai = small) to refer to the size of a physical space. Instead, use 広い (hiroi = spacious) and 狭い (semai = tight or narrow).

Question # 3: “Ga vs. No vs. Ja”

A lot of younger people in Japan don’t have cars.  Referring to them, you want to say, “People without cars always ride the train.”

Which two of the following Japanese sentences are correct?

  1. 車がない人はいつも電車に乗ります (kuruma ga nai hito wa itsumo densha ni norimasu)
  2. 車じゃないひとはいつも電車に乗ります (kuruma ja nai hito wa itsumo densha ni norimasu)
  3. 車のない人はいつも電車に乗ります (kuruma no nai hito wa itsumo densha ni norimasu)
ANSWER # 3

Sentences # 1 and 3 are both correct.

When modifying a noun using a clause, the subject of the modifying clause may be marked with either ga or no. For example, 足が長い人 (ashi ga nagai hito) and 足の長い人 (ashi no nagai hito) both mean “a person with long legs.”

In the example used here, 車がない人 (kuruma ga nai hito) and 車のない人 (kuruma no nai hito) both mean “a person without a car.” Therefore, both sentence # 1, which uses 車がない人, and sentence # 3, which uses 車のない人, are correct.

On the other hand, recall that じゃない (ja nai) = じゃありません (ja arimasen) = “something is not something else.” So 車じゃない人 (kuruma ja nai hito) means “a person who is not a car,” which doesn’t make much sense. Therefore, sentence # 2, which uses 車じゃない人, is incorrect.

Question # 4: “Omoimasu vs. Omotte imasu”

Referring to your mother, who is visiting you in Japan but is absent at the moment, you want to say, “Mother thinks Japanese prices are high.”

Which one of the following Japanese sentences is correct?

  1. 母は日本の物価が高いと思います (haha wa nihon no bukka ga takai to omoimasu)
  2. 母は日本の物価が高いと思っています (haha wa nihon no bukka ga takai to omotte imasu)
ANSWER # 4

Sentence # 2 is correct.

In Japanese, when you are conveying what another person thinks, you should only use と思っています(to omotte imasu) = “she is thinking.” Therefore, sentence # 2, which uses と思っています is correct.

On the other hand, when you are conveying what you yourself are thinking, you may say either と思っています(to omotte imasu) = “I’m thinking” or と思います(to omoimasu) = “I think.”

Also, if you are addressing another person and asking what he or she thinks, you may say either と思っています (to omotte imasu) or と思います (to omoimasu). For example, if you want to say “do you think it’s a problem?,” you may say either 問題だと思っていますか (mondai da to omotte imasu ka) or 問題だと思いますか (mondai da to omoimasu ka)。

Question # 5:  “Imasu vs. Arimasu when using Transitive and Intransitive Verbs”

You want to say, “The window is closed.”

Which two of the following Japanese sentences are correct?

  1. 窓が閉まっています (mado ga shimatte imasu)
  2. 窓が閉まってあります(mado ga shimatte arimasu)
  3. 窓が閉めています (mado ga shimete imasu)
  4. 窓が閉めてあります (mado ga shimete arimasu)
ANSWER # 5

Sentences # 1 and 4 are both correct.

In Japanese, you will often encounter transitive-intransitive verb pairs that resemble each other but have different endings.

As you probably know, a transitive verb is active, and it acts on a direct object. For example, 閉める (shimeru) = “close” is transitive. In the sentence, 窓を閉める (mado wo shimeru) = “I will close the window,” 窓 (mado) = “window” is the direct object of 閉める (shimeru) = “close.”

By contrast, an intransitive verb cannot act on a direct object. For example, 閉まる (shimaru) = “close” is intransitive. In the sentence 窓が閉まる (mado ga shimaru) = “the window will close,” the implication is that the window will somehow close by itself, and a direct object doesn’t exist.

When considering whether to use aru (arimasu) or iru (imasu) after the te or de form of a verb, there are are three rules that you should know:

RULE 1. The te or de form of an intransitive verb like 閉まる (shimaru) = “close” is always followed by iru (imasu), whether you are describing a fixed condition (like “closed”) or an ongoing action (like “closing”). Therefore sentence # 1, 窓が閉まっています (mado ga shimatte imasu), is correct, regardless of whether you mean “the window is closed” or “the window is closing.”

In contrast, sentence # 2, 窓が閉まってあります(mado ga shimatte arimasu), which also uses the intransitive verb 閉まる (shimaru), is incorrect because, according to Rule 1, you may never use aru (arimasu) after the te or de form of an intransitive verb.

RULE 2. The te or de form of a transitive verb like 閉める (shimeru) is followed by iru (imasu) when describing an ongoing action. For example, 窓を閉めています(mado wo shimete imasu) = “I’m closing the window.” This consideration doesn’t apply to any of the sentences listed in Question # 5 because they all describe a fixed condition (the closed window).

RULE 3 (the Transitive Aru Rule). According to the Transitive Aru Rule, the te or de form of a transitive verb like 閉める (shimeru) is followed by aru (or arimasu), when describing a fixed condition (like “closed”). Therefore, sentence # 3, 窓が閉めています (mado ga shimete imasu), is incorrect, since it combines the te form of this transitive verb with imasu when describing a fixed condition.

In contrast, sentence # 4, 窓が閉めてあります (mado ga shimete arimasu), is correct, since it combines the te form of this transitive verb with arimasu in describing this fixed condition, as required by the Transitive Aru Rule. If we compare sentence # 4 to sentence # 1,  窓が閉まっています (mado ga shimatte imasu), sentence # 4 suggests that someone nearby (like the speaker) has closed the window, while sentence # 1 implies that the speaker has no knowledge about who might have closed it.

By the way, a few transitive verbs (but not shimeru) are exceptions to the Transitive Aru Rule, in the sense that their te forms can be combined with imasu to describe a fixed condition. For example, 始めています hajimete imasu = it is begun (by someone). Also, 無くしています nakushite imasu = it is lost (by someone).

Question # 6: “The particle to use when writing on something”

You want to say, “I wrote my name on the paper.”

Which one of the following four Japanese sentences is correct?

  1. 紙を名前を書きました (kami wo namae wo kakimashita)
  2. 紙で名前を書きました (kami de namae wo kakimashita)
  3. 紙に名前を書きました (kami ni namae wo kakimashita)
  4. 紙へ名前を書きました (kami e namae wo kakimashita)
ANSWER # 6

Sentence # 3 is correct.

In English, we write “on the paper,” so at first glance it might seem that “paper” is an object in this sentence.  If that were true, the correct answer might be sentence # 2. However, in English, as in Japanese, the only object of the verb in this sentence is  名前 (namae) = “name.”

In the English phrase “on the paper,” “paper” is the object of the preposition “on.”  Japanese can be said to have prepositions in the sense that it has synonyms for words like “on,” but Japanese prepositions don’t have objects.  For example, 机の上 (tsukue no ue) means “on the desk,” but 上 (ue) has no object.  Therefore sentence #1, 紙を名前を書きました (kami wo namae wo kakimashita), is incorrect, since 紙 (kami) is not an object.

In Japanese, one of the meanings of で (de) is “by means of.”  So you could say  ペンで書きます (pen de kakimasu) = “I write by means of a pen.”  But you cannot say  紙で書きます (kami de kakimasu) = “I write by means of paper” in Japanese, even though you could get away with saying this in English.  So sentence # 2, 紙で名前を書きました (kami de namae wo kakimashita), is also incorrect.

It turns out that, in effect, we need to say something like, “I wrote my name to the paper.”

In Japanese, most of the time you may use either へ (e) or に (ni) to mean “to.”  へ (e) means “toward” and refers to the direction of movement, while に (ni) means “to” and refers to the destination itself. So, for example, if you want to say “she went to Tokyo,” you may say either  東京へ行きました (toukyou e ikimashita) or 東京に行きました (toukyou ni ikimashita). Both are correct in this case.

However,  it cannot be right to say “I wrote my name toward the paper.” Therefore sentence # 4, 紙へ名前を書きました (kami e namae wo kakimashita), is incorrect.

This leaves sentence # 3 as the correct answer:  紙に名前を書きました (kami ni namae wo kakimashita).

Question # 7: “Chikai and Chikaku”

You are telling your friend about an interesting museum you visited.  You want to say, “It’s close to Kyoto.”

Which two of the following Japanese sentences are correct?

  1. 京都に近いです (kyouto ni chikai desu)
  2. 京都の近いです (kyouto no chikai desu)
  3. 京都に近くです (kyouto ni chikaku desu)
  4. 京都の近くです (kyouto no chikaku desu)
ANSWER # 7

Sentences # 1 & 4 are both correct.

近い (chikai) = “close” (or “near”) is an i adjective. To make the adverbial form of an i adjective, you remove the final i and add ku. So the adverbial form of 近い ( chikai) is 近く (chikaku).

Using another adverb-adjective pair as an example, 早く (hayaku) = “quickly” is an adverb derived from the i adjective 早い (hayai) = “fast.”  早く歩きます (hayaku arukimasu) = “I will walk quickly.”

However, as you may have noticed, there is something unusual about 近く (chikaku). It is frequently used in places where you would not expect an adverb to be.  For example, someone might say  家の近くに店があります (uchi no chikaku ni mise ga arimasu) = “at close to the home, there is a store.” If you translate this sentence literally, they’re saying, “at the home’s closely, there is a store,” which doesn’t make much sense in English.

It turns out that 近く(chikaku) plays two different roles. It functions as an adverb some of the time. For example,  二時間近くかかります (nijikan chikaku kakarimasu) = “it takes nearly two hours.”  In this sentence, 近く (chikaku) means “nearly,” and it is clearly an adverb.

On the other hand, 近く (chikaku) also functions as the preposition “close to,” if Japanese can be said to have prepositions (see the answer to Question # 6 above). In her excellent book on Japanese Grammar, Senko K. Maynard refers to 近く (chikaku) as a “locative expression” meaning “close to.” Other locative expressions include 前 (mae) = “in front of,” 後ろ (ushiro) = “behind,” 上 (ue) = “above,” and so forth.

Of course, 遠い (tooi) = “far” is the opposite of  近い (chikai) = “close.” The adverbial form of 遠い (tooi) is 遠く (tooku).  But 遠く (tooku), unlike 近く (chikaku), does not function as a locative expression.  遠く (tooku) is only an adverb.  You can say 家の近くに店があります (uchi no chikaku ni mise ga arimasu) = “at close to the house, there is a store,” but you cannot say 家の遠くに店があります (uchi no tooku ni mise ga arimasu) = “at far from the house, there is a store.” Instead you must say 家から遠い所に店があります  (uchi kara tooi tokoro ni mise ga arimasu) = “from the house, at a far place, there is a store.”

Getting back to our question,

Sentence # 1, 京都に近いです (kyouto ni chikai desu), is correct.  It uses 近い chikai as an adjective and can be translated as, “at (or ‘to’) Kyoto it’s close.”

Sentence # 2, 京都の近いです (kyouto no chikai desu), is incorrect.  It can be translated as, “it’s Kyoto’s close” which doesn’t make sense in English or Japanese.

Sentence # 3, 京都に近くです (kyouto ni chikaku desu), is incorrect.  It can be translated as “at Kyoto it’s close to,” if you interpret 近く(chikaku) as a locative expression, but this construction doesn’t work in Japanese.

Sentence # 4, 京都の近くです (kyouto no chikaku desu), is correct, since it uses 近く(chikaku) as a locative expression meaning “close to.” It can be translated “it’s Kyoto’s close to” which means “it’s close to Kyoto.”

Question # 8: “Dore and Dochira”

You are asking your friend what sort of drink she likes.  You want to say, “Beer vs. wine, which do you like?”

Which two of the following Japanese sentences are correct?

  1. ビールとワインとどれが好きですか  (biiru to wain to, dore ga suki desu ka)
  2. ビールとワインとどれの方が好きですか (biiru to wain to, dore no hou ga suki desu ka)
  3. ビールとワインとどちらが好きですか (biiru to wain to, dochira ga suki desu ka)
  4. ビールとワインとどちらの方が好きですか (biiru to wain to, dochira no hou ga suki desu ka)
ANSWER # 8

Sentences # 3 and 4 are correct.

どれ (dore) means “which,” but it is only used when referring to groups of three or more items.  For this reason alone, both sentence # 1 and sentence # 2 are incorrect.

方 (hou) means “direction” or “side.”  の方が (no hou ga) is an expression used to compare two items, similar to the “er” that we tack on words like “fast” in English to show comparisons. For example, 電車より飛行機の方が早いです (densha yori hikooki no hou ga hayai desu) = “compared to a train, a plane is faster.”

However, の方が (no hou ga) is never used with どれ (dore) = “which,” or with 誰 (dare) = “who.”  For this reason also, sentence # 2, ビールとワインとどれの方が好きですか (biiru to wain to, dore no hou ga suki desu ka) is incorrect.

どちら (dochira) means “which” when referring to a group of only two items.  の方が (no hou ga) can be used with どちら (dochira), but this is optional.  Thus both sentence #3, ビールとワインとどちらが好きですか (biiru to wain to, dochira ga suki desu ka) and sentence # 4, ビールとワインとどちらの方が好きですか (biiru to wain to, dochira no hou ga suki desu ka), are correct.  By the way, どちら(dochira) is often shortened to どつち (dotchi).

Question # 9: “Ni vs. De Before Verbs”

You want to say, “There’s a meeting in this room.”

Which one of the following 2 Japanese sentences is correct?

  1. この部屋に会議があります (kono heya ni kaigi ga arimasu)
  2. この部屋で会議があります (kono heya de kaigi ga arimasu)
ANSWER # 9

Sentence # 2 is correct.

As a rule, います (imasu) = “exists” is used with animate objects, including people, animals and insects.  By contrast, あります (arimasu) = “exists” is used with inanimate objects, including plants.  For example, 犬がいます (inu ga imasu) = “a dog exists.”  車があります (kuruma ga arimasu) = “a car exists.”

Always use the particle  に (ni) with います (imasu) or あります (arimasu), when you want to say that an object, like a person or a house, exists at or in a particular place.  For example, referring to an animate object, you could say 外に犬がいます (soto ni inu ga imasu) = “at outside, a dog exists.” [For an inanimate object, you could say 外に車があります (soto ni kuruma ga arimasu) = “at outside, a car exists.”]

With this information in mind, you might think that the correct answer to this question would be # 1.  However, 会議 (kaigi) = “meeting” is not an object.  It is an event or occurrence.  In Japanese, the location of an event is marked with で (de).  Therefore, sentence # 2, この部屋で会議があります (kono heya de kaigi ga arimasu), is correct.

Question # 10: “Koto and Mono”

You want to say, “I’d like to go to France one time and see.”  You’ve been dreaming about visiting France for awhile, and you want to put some emotion into your statement.

Which of the following Japanese sentences is correct?

  1. フランスに一度行って見たいことです (furansu ni ichido itte mitai koto desu)
  2. フランスに一度行って見たいものです (furansu ni ichido itte mitai mono desu)
ANSWER # 10

Sentence # 2 is correct.

Generally speaking, こと (koto) = “intangible thing.” For example, 今日どんなことをしましたか (kyou donna koto wo shimashita ka) = “today what sort of things did you do?” In addition, こと (koto) has a number of idiomatic meanings:

1)  ことにする (koto ni suru) = “to decide.” For example, 食べることにします (taberu koto ni shimasu) = “I decide to eat.”

2)  ことになる (koto ni naru) = “to schedule.” For example, 大阪に行くことになりました (oosaka ni iku koto ni narimashita) = “I was scheduled to go to Osaka.”

3)  ことがある (koto ga aru), combined with past plain speech verbs,  = “something has happened.” For example, 日本に行ったことがあります (nihon ni itta koto ga arimasu) = “I have gone to Japan.”

4)  ことがある (koto ga aru), combined with plain non-past verbs, = “sometimes something occurs.” For example, お酒を飲むことがあります (osake wo nomu koto ga arimasu) = “sometimes I drink sake.”

5)  ことはない (koto wa nai) = “it isn’t necessary.” For example, 行くことはない (iku koto wa nai) = “you don’t have to go.”

In contrast, generally speaking, もの (mono) = “tangible thing.” For example, いろいろなものを買いました (iroiro na mono wo kaimashita) = “I bought various things.” In addition, もの (mono) has various idiomatic meanings:

1) もの (mono) can mean “because,” in colloquial speech only.  For example, you might ask your friend どうして食べませんか (doushite tabemasen ka) = “why don’t you eat?”, and she might reply おいしくないもの (oishikunai mono) = “because it isn’t delicious.”  This もの (mono) can be shortened to もん (mon) in very informal speech.

2) ものです (mono desu) or  ものだ (mono da) can convey a mild command or suggestion.  For example, 朝、人にあったらおはようと言うものです (asa hito ni attara ohayou to iu mono desu) = “morning, when you meet people you should say ‘Good Morning.’”

3) Finally, ものです (mono desu) or  ものだ (mono da) can be used to express emotion, such as excuses, exclamations, nostalgia, desire, and conviction.  For example, フランスに一度行って見たいものです (furansu ni ichido itte mitai mono desu) = “one time I would like to go to France and see.”   Here the term もの (mono) is used to express emotion (i.e., a strong desire), and it can be omitted without changing the basic meaning of the sentence.

Therefore, sentence # 2, フランスに一度行って見たいものです (furansu ni ichido itte mitai mono desu), is correct, since it uses もの (mono) rather than こと (koto) to express emotion.

Question # 11: “Using the Particle ‘wo’ before Suru”

You want to say, “I study the Japanese language every day.”

Which two of the following Japanese sentences are correct?

  1. 毎日日本語の勉強をします (mainichi nihongo no benkyou wo shimasu)
  2. 毎日日本語の勉強します (mainichi nihongo no benkyou shimasu)
  3. 毎日日本語を勉強をします (mainichi nihongo wo benkyou wo shimasu)
  4. 毎日日本語を勉強します (mainichi nihongo wo benkyou shimasu)
ANSWER # 11

Sentences # 1 & 4 are correct.

Many Japanese expressions combine an activity with the verb suru (shimasu) to describe what someone does.  In these expressions, the use of the particle “wo” before suru (shimasu) is usually optional. For example, 電話をする (denwa wo suru) = 電話する (denwa suru) = “I will do a phone call.”  Both sentences are correct.

However, if you use an adjective to modify the activity that someone does, you must use the particle “wo” before suru. The first two sentences above use 日本語の (nihongo no) = “Japanese language’s” as an adjective modifying 勉強 (benkyou). Therefore, sentence # 1, 毎日日本語の勉強をします (mainichi nihongo no benkyou wo shimasu), is correct, because it modifies the activity in question with an adjective and also uses the particle “wo” before suru (shimasu).

Sentence # 2, 毎日日本語の勉強します (mainichi nihongo no benkyou shimasu), is incorrect, because it modifies the activity in question with an adjective but fails to use the particle “wo” before suru (shimasu).

What about sentences 3 and 4?  From what we’ve said so far, you might think that they are both correct.  However, it turns out that the verb suru (shimasu) cannot be preceded by two instances of the particle “wo.”  Therefore, one “wo” has to be omitted, and that is the one just before suru (shimasu). As a result, sentence # 3, 毎日日本語を勉強をします (mainichi nihongo wo benkyou wo shimasu), is incorrect, since it uses the particle “wo” twice before suru (shimasu).

By the same token, sentence # 4, 毎日日本語を勉強します (mainichi nihongo wo benkyou shimasu), is correct, since it uses the particle “wo” only once before suru (shimasu).

Question # 12: “Ooi, Oozei and Sukunai”

You want to say, “A lot of people came.”

Which three of the following Japanese sentences are correct?

  1. 多い人が来ました (ooi hito ga kimashita)
  2. 人が多い来ました (hito ga ooi kimashita)
  3. 多くの人が来ました (ooku no hito ga kimashita)
  4. 大勢の人が来ました (oozei no hito ga kimashita)
  5. 人が大勢来ました (hito ga oozei kimashita)
ANSWER # 12

Sentences # 3, 4 and 5 are correct.

多い (ooi) = “many” and  少ない (sukunai) = “few.” These are different from other i adjectives in that they cannot be used before a noun to modify it directly. Therefore, one cannot say 多い人 (ooi hito) = “many people” or 少ない人 (sukunai hito) = “few people.” As a result, sentence # 1, 多い人が来ました (ooi hito ga kimashita), is not correct.

In some cases, one can use the adjectives 多い (ooi) and 少ない (sukunai) to modify nouns by moving them to the predicate (or verb) side of a sentence. This means that the following sentences are all correct: 人が多いです (hito ga ooi desu) = 人が多い (hito ga ooi) = “there are a lot of people.” 人が少ないです (hito ga sukunai desu) = 人が少ない (hito ga sukunai) = “there are few people.”

However, one may only combine 多い (ooi) and 少ない (sukunai) with です (desu), not with other verbs. As a result, sentence # 2, 人が多い来ました (hito ga ooi kimashita), is not correct.

[One may not combine 多い (ooi) and 少ない (sukunai) with だ (da) either, i.e., one may not say 人が多いだ (hito ga ooi da) or 人が少ないだ (hito ga sukunai da. This makes sense if you recall that you may not use da after an i adjective. For example, if you want to say that something is delicious, you may say either おいしい (oishii) or おいしいです (oishii desu), but not おいしいだ (oishii da).]

If you want to use 多い (ooi) to modify a noun directly, you must convert it to its ku form and follow it with the particle の (no). Therefore sentence # 3, 多くの人が来ました (ooku no hito ga kimashita), is correct.

Conversely, you may not use the ku form of  少ない (sukunai) to modify a noun directly.  There is no way to say “few people” by itself, if you want to use the adjective 少ない (sukunai).  Using 少ない (sukunai), one may only say things like 人が少ない (hito ga sukunai) = 人が少ないです (hito ga sukunai desu) = “there are few people.”

大勢 (oozei) is a noun, not an adjective, and it means “a crowd of people.” Like other nouns, it can be turned into an adjective by adding the particle の (no).  Therefore, sentence # 4, 大勢の人が来ました (oozei no hito ga kimashita), which can be translated as “a crowd’s people came,” is also correct.

You may also use 大勢 (oozei) on the predicate (or verb) side of a sentence, just as you might use an i adjective. For example, 人が大勢います (hito ga oozei imasu) = 人が大勢です (hito ga oozei desu) = “there are a lot of people.” Also, 大勢 (oozei) may be combined with 来ました (kimashita) = “came” on the predicate side. Therefore, sentence # 5, 人が大勢来ました (hito ga oozei kimashita), which can be translated at “people, a crowd came,” is also correct.

Finally, たくさん (takusan) is another adjective you might use when you want to say “a lot.”  Both of the following sentences are correct:  たくさんの人が来ました (takusan no hito ga kimashita).  人がたくさん来ました (hito ga takusan kimashita).

Question # 13:  “When or If’”

You want to say, “When or if there is time, please come to my home.”

Which three of the following Japanese sentences are correct?

  1.  時間があると家に来てください (jikan ga aru to uchi ni kite kudasai)
  2.  時間があったら家に来てください (jikan ga attara uchi ni kite kudasai)
  3.  時間があれば家に来てください (jikan ga areba uchi ni kite kudasai)
  4.  時間がある時家に来てください (jikan ga aru toki uchi ni kite kudasai)
ANSWER # 13

Sentences # 2, 3 and 4 are correct.

In Japanese, there are at least four ways to express the ideas of “when” or “if.”  They are illustrated by the four sentences above.

You may use the conjunction と (to) to mean “when or if.” For example, 時間があると (jikan ga aru to…) = “when or if there is time…” However, you may not use と (to) prior to a request, command or suggestion. Therefore, sentence # 1, 時間があると家に来てください (jikan ga aru to uchi ni kite kudasai) is incorrect.

You may use the たら (tara) form to mean “when or if,” and you may use this form with requests, commands and suggestions. Therefore, sentence # 2, 時間があったら家に来てください (jikan ga attara uchi ni kite kudasai), is correct, whether you mean to say “when you have time” or “if you have time.”

You may use the ば (ba) form to mean “if” (but not “when”), and you may use this form with requests, commands and suggestions if you use a non-active verb like aru (arimasu). Therefore, sentence # 3, 時間があれば家に来てください (jikan ga areba uchi ni kite kudasai), is also correct, if you mean to say “if you have time,” but not if you mean to say “when you have time,” since the ba form cannot be used to mean “when.”

You may use 時 (toki) to mean “when.” However, 時 (toki) is not used to mean a conditional “if.” With this in mind, sentence # 4, 時間がある時家に来てください (jikan ga aru toki uchi ni kite kudasai), is correct, if you mean to say “when you have time,” but not if you mean to say “if you have time.”

Facebook Exchange. The following exchange occurred on Facebook after the above answer was posted.

Question: 「場合」と言うこともできますから、説明してくれまんせんか (“baai” to iu koto mo dekimasu kara, setsumei shite kuremasen ka) = “since to say ‘baai’ is also possible, can you not explain and give?”

Answer:  I believe you’re asking whether 場合 (baai) = “case” can also be used to mean “when” or “if.” For example, is it possible to use baai to answer this question, saying something like, “in case there is time, please come to my home”? Good question.

My wife isn’t sure about this and wants to consult with one of her friends. I’ll get back to you with an answer as soon as she lets me know.

Question:  oh wow thanks for the quick answer! I think you explain these things very well and there are sometimes questions coming up in my mind that no normal book can answer. Then I mostly ask a Japanese friend. So it seems you have Japanese wife?! Seems you live my dream

and yes baai is more like “in the case of” but the books sometimes can hardly distinguish between these things sometimes.

Answer: My wife and her Japanese friend agree that both of the following sentences using 場合 (baai) are correct: 時間がある場合家に来てください (jikan ga aru baai uchi ni kite kudasai) = “the case when time exists please come to my home.” 時間がある場合は家に来てください (jikan ga aru baai wa uchi ni kite kudasai) = “as for the case when time exists, please come to my home.”

In other words, you’ve identified a fifth method for saying “when” or “if” by using 場合 (baai). This is in addition to the と (to), たら (tara), ば (ba) and 時 (toki) methods already described in Answer 5. Thank you!

Question:  Thanks for asking native speakers for first hand information in this case! If I may add the following.

My book says baai is an expression, in which you assume a situation. The following part of the sentence then expresses which countermeasure you choose or the resulting consequence (free translation, sorry for my English). Here is an example:
火事や地震の場合は、エレベーターを使わないでください (kaji ya jishin no baai wa, erebeetaa wo tsukawanai de kudasai) = “In case of fire or earthquake please don’t use the elevator!”

But unlike the others (~eba only for “if,” ~toki only for “when” and ~to, an automatically resulting consequence) it is hard to say when to use it since it could also easily be substituted by ~tara, couldn’t it?

Thanks for your really detailed answers and that you even asked your wife and friends for that. Keep going on like that! 頑張って下さい!(ganbatte kudasai)

Question # 14:  “Hajimete”

You encounter a Japanese festival while walking through town.  Your friend asks you, 日本のお祭りを見たことがありますか (nihon no omatsuri wo mita koto ga arimasu ka) = “have you ever seen a Japanese festival?”  You say, いいえ、ありません (iie, arimasen) = “no, I haven’t.”

Now you want to say, “This is my first time.”  (to see a Japanese festival)

Which three of the following Japanese sentences are correct?

  1. 初めてです (hajimete desu)
  2. これが初めてです (kore ga hajimete desu)
  3. 今度が初めてです (kondo ga hajimete desu)
  4. この時が初めてです (kono toki ga hajimete desu)
Answer # 14

Sentences # 1, 2, and 3 are correct.

As you probably know, 始めて (hajimete) is the te form of 始める (hajimeru), a transitive verb meaning “to begin something.” You use it in sentences like 日本語の勉強を始めています (nihongo no benkyou wo hajimete imasu) = “I am beginning Japanese study.”

However,  始めて (hajimete) = “beginning” and 初めて (hajimete) = “for the first time” are two different words. Notice that different kanji are used to write these two words.

初 めて (hajimete) = “for the first time” is an adverb that can be combined with the verbs です (desu) or だ (da). For example, 初めてです (hajimete desu) = “it’s the first time.” Therefore, sentence # 1, 初めてです (hajimete desu), is correct.

To expand on this, if you follow a noun with 初めてです (hajimete desu), you’re saying that someone is experiencing the noun for the first time. For example, 日本のお祭りは初めてです (nihon no omatsuri wa hajimete desu) = “as for Japanese festivals, it’s the first time.” This sentence means, “I’m experiencing a Japanese festival for the first time.”

You may also combine 初めて (hajimete) with verbs to express the idea of “doing something for the first time.” For example, 日本のお祭りには初めて来ました (nihon no omatsuri ni wa hajimete kimashita) = “as for to Japanese festivals, I came for the first time.” Here’s another example, お酒を初めて飲みました (osake wo hajimete nomimashita) = “he drank sake for the first time.”

これ (kore) means “this,” and 今度 (kondo) means “this time.” Both of these terms may be used with 初めてです (hajimete desu) = “it’s the first time.” Therefore, sentence # 2, これが初めてです (kore ga hajimete desu), and sentence # 3, 今度が初めてです (kondo ga hajimete desu) are also correct.

However, 初めて (hajimete) and この時 (kono toki) = “this time” should not be used together. The sentence この時が初めてです (kono toki ga hajimete desu) sounds awkward to a Japanese native speaker. Therefore, sentence # 4, この時が初めてです (kono toki ga hajimete desu), is incorrect.

In addition, 今 (ima) = “now” and 初めて (hajimete) should not be used together.  The sentence 今が初めてです(ima ga hajimete desu) would sound awkward and should not be used.

On the other hand, 今日 (kyou) = “today” works with 初めて (hajimete). So the following sentence would be correct:  今日が初めてです (kyou ga hajimete desu) = “today is the first time.”

Question # 15:  “Because”

You want to say, “Because I drank too much, the head hurts.”

Which three of the following Japanese sentences are correct?

  1.  飲みすぎたので頭が痛い (nomisugita node atama ga itai)
  2.  飲みすぎたから頭が痛い (nomisugita kara atama ga itai)
  3.  飲みすぎたで頭が痛い (nomisugita de atama ga itai)
  4.  飲みすぎて頭が痛い (nomisugite atama ga itai)
ANSWER # 15

Sentences # 1, 2 and 4 are correct.

In Japanese, ので (node) is one way to say “since” or “because.” Japanese people tend to use ので (node) when they want to convey a reason more objectively and not just to present their personal opinions or judgments. In this case, ので (node) is acceptable, and therefore sentence # 1, 飲みすぎたので頭が痛い (nomisugita node atama ga itai), is correct.

から (kara) is another way to say “since” or “because.” In addition, から (kara) can mean “from” or “after.” から (kara) is often used to express your personal opinion about the reason for a situation.  から (kara), rather than ので (node), should be used after だろう (darou) = “it probably is” or after でしょう (deshou) = “it probably is,” since these two words express an opinion. It’s also better to use から (kara), rather than ので (node), before suggestions, commands, requests and invitations.

For example, this sentence is correct:  雨が降るだろうから傘を持って行きます (ame ga furu darou kara, kasa wo motte ikimasu) = “because it will probably rain, I will take an umbrella.”

However, the following sentence is not correct:  雨が降るだろうので傘を持って行きます (ame ga furu darou node, kasa wo motte ikimasu), since you may not use ので (node) after だろう (darou), which expresses an opinion.

In the situation posed by Question # 15, から (kara) is perfectly acceptable, and therefore sentence # 2, 飲みすぎたから頭が痛い (nomisugita kara atama ga itai), is also correct.

A third way to say “since” or “because” is to use で (de) after a na adjective.  For example, すしが好きでよく食べます (sushi ga suki de yoku tabemasu) = “because I like sushi, I eat it often.”

で (de) may also be used after a noun, to convey the meaning “because.”  For example,  病気で学校を休みました (byouki de gakkou wo yasumimashita) = “because sick, I missed school.”

When you want to use で (de) to mean “because” after an i adjective, convert the i adjective to its “kute” form. For example, using the i adjective 多い (ooi) = “numerous,” you could say 車が多くてうるさいんです (kuruma ga ookute urusain desu) = “because cars are numerous, it’s noisy.”

Finally, in order to use で (de) to mean “because” after a verb, convert the verb to its “te” or “de” form.  For example, 電車が込んで大変です (densha ga konde taihen desu) = “because the train gets crowded, it’s terrible.” Therefore, sentence # 3, 飲みすぎたで頭が痛い (nomisugita de atama ga itai), is incorrect, since it fails to convert the verb 飲みすぎる (nomisugiru) = “drink too much” to its “te” form.

However, sentence # 4, 飲みすぎて頭が痛い (nomisugite atama ga itai), is  correct, since it does convert the verb 飲みすぎる (nomisugiru) to its “te” form.

Question # 16:  “He did it for me”

You want to say, “My friend bought a book for me.”

Which one of the following Japanese sentences is correct?

  1.  友達が私に本を買いました (tomodachi ga watashi ni hon wo kaimashita)
  2.  友達が私に本を買ってあげました (tomodachi ga watashi ni hon wo katte agemashita)
  3. 友達が私に本を買ってくれました (tomodachi ga watashi ni hon wo katte kuremashita)
  4. 友達が私に本を買ってくださいました (tomodachi ga watashi ni hon wo katte kudasaimashita)
ANSWER # 16

Sentence # 3 is correct.

Let’s start by reviewing the verbs of giving.  They include:

差し上げる (sashiageru) = “someone gives to a person of higher status who is not in my in-group” (showing extra respect).  For example, 先生に本を差し上げました (sensei ni hon wo sashiagemashita) = “I gave the teacher a book.”  (This could also mean “he gave the teacher a book” or “you gave the teacher a book.”)

あげる (ageru) = “someone gives to a person of equal or lower status who is not in my in-group” (showing normal respect).  For example, 隣の子供さんに本をあげました (tonari no kodomosan ni hon wo agemashita) = “I gave the neighboring child a book.”

やる (yaru) = “I give to a member of my in-group” or “I or someone else give to a person who is inferior to the giver, or to an animal or plant.”   やる (yaru) is a rough-sounding word, not normally used by women if the recipient is a human being.

Here are three examples:  子供に本をやりました (kodomo ni hon wo yarimashita) = “I gave my child a book” [a man must be speaking;  a woman would use あげる (ageru) in this situation].  犬にえさをやりました (inu ni esa wo yarimashita) = “I gave feed to the dog.”  (This could also mean “you gave feed to the dog” or “she gave feed to the dog.”)  花に水をやりました (hana ni mizu wo yarimashita) = “I gave water to the flowers.”

くれる (kureru) = “someone gives to me or to a member of my in-group.”  The giver may be someone in your in-group, or someone outside your in-group who has equal or inferior status. Here are three examples: 子供が本をくれました (kodomo ga hon wo kuremashita) = “my child gave me a book.”  友達が本をくれました (tomodachi ga hon wo kuremashita) = “my friend gave me a book.”  友達が子供に本をくれました (tomodachi ga kodomo ni hon wo kuremashita) = “my friend gave my child a book.”

くださる (kudasaru) = “someone of greater age or status gives to me or to a member of my in-group.” Here are two examples:  先生が本をくださいました (sensei ga hon wo kudasaimashita) = “the teacher gave me a book.”  先生が子供に本をくださいました (sensei ga kodomo ni hon wo kudasaimashita) = “the teacher gave my child a book.”

Whew!  With that out of the way, we can return to our question. In Japanese, when actions are done for the benefit of someone, you must express this benefit by using verbs of giving or verbs of receiving.

Sentence # 1, 友達が私に本を買いました (tomodachi ga watashi ni hon wo kaimashita), fails to use a verb of giving or a verb of receiving, and it sounds very awkward in Japanese, even though it may sound OK to our English-thinking brains.  Therefore, sentence # 1 is incorrect.

Sentence # 2, 友達が私に本を買ってあげました (tomodachi ga watashi ni hon wo katte agemashita), uses a verb of giving, but it uses あげる (ageru), which you should never use when the recipient is yourself or a member of your in-group.  Therefore, sentence # 2 is incorrect.

Sentence # 3, 友達が私に本を買ってくれました (tomodachi ga watashi ni hon wo katte kuremashita), uses くれる (kureru) which is the correct verb to use when someone gives to you or a member of your in-group.  Therefore, sentence # 3 is correct.

Sentence # 4, 友達が私に本を買ってくださいました (tomodachi ga watashi ni hon wo katte kudasaimashita), uses くださる (kudasaru) which would be fine if someone of greater age or status had given you the book. However, since it was just a friend, くださる (kudasaru) is too formal.  Therefore, sentence # 4 is incorrect.

Question # 17:  “He did it for me, part 2″

Just as you did in Question 16, you want to say, “My friend bought a book for me.”

In Question 16, you expressed this idea by using a verb of giving, くれる (kureru). This time, please try to say this in a different way, using a verb of receiving.

Which two of the following Japanese sentences are correct?

  1.  友達が本を買ってもらいました (tomodachi ga hon wo katte moraimashita)
  2.  友達に本を買ってもらいました (tomodachi ni hon wo katte moraimashita)
  3. 友達から本を買ってもらいました (tomodachi kara hon wo katte moraimashita)
ANSWER # 17

Sentences # 2 and 3 are correct.

Let’s start by reviewing the verbs of receiving.

もらう (morau), meaning “receive,” is used when you or another person receive something from someone who is socially equal or inferior. For example, 友達に本をもらいました (tomodachi ni hon wo moraimashita) = “I received a book from a friend.” The source can be marked with から (kara) or with に (ni).  Thus 友達から本をもらいました (tomodachi kara hon wo moraimashita) is also correct.

いただく (itadaku), also meaning “receive,” is used when you or another person receive something from someone who is socially superior. For example, 先生に本をいただきました (sensei ni hon wo itadakimashita) = “I received a book from the teacher.” Again, the source can be marked with から (kara) or with に (ni).  Thus 先生から本をいただきました (sensei kara hon wo itadakimashita) is also correct.

Note that もらう (morau) and いただく (itadaku) are used when the speaker is the recipient, or when the speaker is able to adopt the point of view of the recipient.  For this reason, if the speaker is the giver, もらう (morau) and いただく (itadaku) cannot be used.

For example, you may not say  私に山田さんは本をもらいました (watashi ni Yamada san wa hon wo moraimashita) = “Mr. Yamada received a book from me,” since you are the giver in this statement, and you cannot simultaneously adopt the point of view of the recipient. Instead, you must say something like 私は山田さんに本をあげました (watashi wa Yamada san ni hon wo agemashita) = “I gave the book to Mr. Yamada.”

On the other hand, you may say 友達に山田さんは本をもらいました (tomodachi ni Yamada san wa hon wo moraimashita) = “Mr. Yamada received a book from my friend,” since you are not involved in the statement and thus are able to adopt Mr. Yamada’s point of view as the recipient.

To express the idea of doing something for someone, as we are trying to do in answering this question, もらう (morau) and いただく (itadaku) may be combined with the て (te) or で (de) forms of active verbs.

For example,  友達に本を貸してもらいました (tomodachi ni hon wo kashite moraimashita) = “the friend lent me a book and I received it” or “the friend lent a book for me.”  Here’s another example:  先生に本を貸していただきました (sensei ni hon wo kashite itadakimashita) = “the teacher lent me a book and I received it” or “the teacher lent a book for me.”

Moving on to the three sentences listed above, we can see that sentence # 1, 友達が本を買ってもらいました (tomodachi ga hon wo katte moraimashita), is strange, since it uses が (ga) to mark the friend as the subject and therefore adopts the point of view of the friend. Although it’s true that the friend bought the book, the sentence is really about the speaker, as the one who received the benefit of the action. The sentence must be expressed from the speaker’s point of view if we are going to use もらう (morau) = “receive.” This means that the speaker must be the subject, or at least the topic, of the sentence. Therefore, sentence # 1 is incorrect.

By the same reasoning, sentence # 2, 友達に本を買ってもらいました (tomodachi ni hon wo katte moraimashita), is correct.  It uses に (ni) to indicate the source, and it uses もらう (morau) to mean “receive from someone who is equal or inferior.” Sentence # 2 is abbreviated, as is usual in Japanese, but clearly it’s written from the point of view of the speaker, who received the benefit of the action.

Finally, sentence # 3, 友達から本を買ってもらいました (tomodachi kara hon wo katte moraimashita), is also correct. It marks the source of the action with から (kara) rather than に (ni), and that is acceptable.

Facebook Exchange. After the Answer to Question 17 appeared on Facebook, the following question and answer occurred.

Question: Ok I have a very important question concerning receiving and giving. I choose a simple example to make my problem clear. Let’s say it is just between friends (so between me and a friend). So then I would choose morau and kureru. I just take your previous examples. There were actually 2 ways to say more or less one and the same thing. 友達が本をくれました 。 or 友達に本をもらいました 。 At the end the result is the same. A friend gave a book to me and I received it. The question is now when to actually use what? Is it just a matter of how to put emphasis on things? Or in whose favor the action is taken? Equivalent to that the example with me and my teacher: 先生が本をくださいました 。 or 先生に本をいただきました 。 So is it that my teacher is willing to give me the book with his/her own intention? Or do I put emphasize on the fact that I received it from a teacher? I don’t quite get it….

Reply:  I think a lot of people wonder about this.  According to what I have read, and this is confirmed by my wife, it doesn’t matter whether you use くれる (kureru) = “give” or もらう (morau) = “receive” in your first example.  And it doesn’t matter whether you use くださる (kudasaru) = “give” or いただく (itadaku) = “receive” in your second example. There doesn’t seem to be any difference in nuance or in degree of politeness, so you are free to choose to use either a verb of giving or a verb of receiving.

Just as you can choose to say either “my friend gave me a book” or “I received a book from my friend” in English, you can make the same choice in Japanese. The subject is “my friend” in the first sentence, and the subject is “I” in the second sentence, but the meaning is the same. In Japanese, of course, the subject is usually implied rather than stated in sentences like the second one.

Question # 18:  “Since”

You want to say, “Since you came to Japan, how many years will become?”  (meaning, “how many years have passed ?”)

Which one of the following 2 Japanese sentences is correct?

  1.  日本に来てから何年になりますか (nihon ni kite kara nan nen ni narimasu ka)
  2.  日本に来た後で何年になりますか (nihon ni kita ato de nan nen ni narimasu ka)
ANSWER # 18

Sentence # 1 is correct.

The てから (te kara) construction can be used to mean “after.” It combines the te or de form of a verb with から (kara) to indicate that one activity follows another. For example, 運動をしてからシャワーを浴びます (undou wo shite kara, shawaa wo abimasu) = “after I exercise, I take a shower.”

In addition, the てから (te kara) construction can be used to mean “since.” For example, 運動を始めてから元気になりました (undou wo hajimete kara, genki ni narimashita) = “since I started exercising, health developed.”

Therefore, sentence # 1, 日本に来てから何年になりますか (nihon ni kite kara nan nen ni narimasu ka), is correct.

後で (ato de) is another way to say “after.”  For example, 運動をした後でシャワーを浴びます (undou wo shita ato de, shawaa wo abimasu) = “after I exercised, I take a shower.”

[Note that you must use the past tense of  the verb that precedes 後で (ato de), even if you are talking about doing something in the future, or in general.  The following sentence is not correct:  運動をする後でシャワーを浴びます (undou wo suru ato de, shawaa wo abimasu).]

後で (ato de) can also mean “later.” For example, また後で来ます (mata ato de kimasu) = “I will come again later.”

However, 後で (ato de) cannot be used to mean “since.” Therefore, sentence # 2, 日本に来た後で何年になりますか (nihon ni kita ato de nan nen ni narimasu ka), is incorrect. 

Question # 19:  “You don’t have to”

You want to say, “You don’t have to go.”  Which three of the following Japanese sentences are correct?

  1. 行かなくてもいいです (ikanakutemo ii desu)
  2. 行かないならいいです (ikanai nara ii desu)
  3. 行くことはありません (iku koto wa arimasen)
  4. 行かなければいいです (ikanakereba ii desu)
  5. 行かなかったらいいです (ikanakattara ii desu)
  6. 行かないといいです (ikanai to ii desu)
ANSWER # 19

Sentences # 1, 2 and 3 are correct.

You can give someone permission to do something by using the ても temo or でも demo form. To do this, combine the て te or で de form of a verb with with も mo and add either いい ii = “good,” よい yoi = “good,” だいじょうぶ daijoubu = “OK,” よろしい yoroshii = “good,” かまいません kamaimasen = “it doesn’t matter,” or かまわない kamawanai = “it doesn’t matter.”

For example, 飲んでもいいです nonde mo ii desu = “it’s OK to drink.”  入ってもよろしいです haitte mo yoroshii desu = “it’s fine to enter.” 食べてもかまいません tabete mo kamaimasen = “it doesn’t matter if you eat.”

In the same way, you can give someone permission not to do something by combining the negative te or de form of a verb with ても temo, followed by いい ii, よい yoi, だいじょうぶ daijoubu, よろしい yoroshii, かまいません kamaimasen, or かまわない kamawanai. To form the negative te or de form of a verb, start with the plain speech negative form of the verb, remove the final i and add くて kute.

For example, to form the negative te form of 行く iku = “go,” start with 行かない ikanai = “will not go,” remove the final i and add くて kute.  The result is 行かなくて ikanakute.  If you add てもいい temo ii, you get 行かなくてもいい ikanakutemo ii = “you don’t have to go.”

Therefore, sentence # 1, 行かなくてもいいです (ikanakutemo ii desu), is correct.  (The です desu at the end is optional.  Also, in casual speech, も mo can be omitted.  For example, 行かなくていいです ikanakute ii desu is also correct.)

You may recall that, in the Answer to Question # 13, we discussed three conditional forms, meaning three ways to say “if” in Japanese. They are the ば ba, たら tara, and と to forms. These three forms are used in sentences # 4, 5 and 6.

Before getting to those forms, there is a fourth conditional form, なら nara, that can be used to mean “if.” なら nara is often translated as “in case.” It is used after a noun, an adjective or a plain speech verb. なら nara functions much like the topic marker は wa but implies a greater emphasis.

Sentence # 2, 行かないならいいです (ikanai nara ii desu), uses なら nara after a plain speech verb. Since なら nara means “if,” one might think that  行かないならいいです ikanai nara ii desu would mean “if you don’t go, it’s good” or “in case you don’t go, it’s OK.” However, my Japanese consultants tell me that, in colloquial speech, 行かない ikanai is roughly equivalent to 行きたくない ikitakunai = don’t want to go.  With this in mind, 行かないならいいです ikanai nara ii desu really means “in case you don’t want to go, it’s OK.”

Therefore, although sentence # 2 is basically correct, it doesn’t express the exact meaning we’re looking for.

You may recall that, in the Answer to Question # 10, we discussed five idiomatic meanings of こと koto.  One of them was ことはない koto wa nai or ことはありません koto wa arimasen.  When this phrase is used after a plain speech non-past verb, it means “it isn’t necessary.”

Sentence # 3, 行くことはありません (iku koto wa arimasen), is an example of the correct use of ことはありません koto wa arimasen. Therefore, sentence # 3 is correct.

Now let’s take a moment to discuss the ば ba form. To make the conditional form of an i adjective, using the ば ba form, remove the final i and add ければ kereba. For example, おいしい oishii is an i adjective meaning “delicious.” When you want to say “if it’s delicious,” first remove the final i from おいしい oishii. Now add ければ kereba, and you get おいしければ oishikereba = if it’s delicious. Then you can say something like おいしければ食べます oishikereba tabemasu = “if it’s delicious, I will eat it.”

Since ない nai, meaning “doesn’t exist,” is inflected like an i adjective, it can also be used with ければ kereba. When you want to say “if it doesn’t exist,” remove the final i from ない nai and add ければ kereba. The result is なければ nakereba = “if it doesn’t exist.”

With this in mind, sentence # 4, 行かなければいいです ikanakereba ii desu, appears to be saying “if you don’t go, it’s OK” or “you don’t have to go.” However, my consultants point out that the word いい ii sometimes means “OK,” meaning that it can be used to give permission, but sometimes it means “good” or “better,” meaning that it can be used to make a recommendation. To my consultants, sentence # 4 appears to be a recommendation, as in “I wish you wouldn’t go.” Therefore, sentence # 4 is incorrect.

Sentence # 5, 行かなかったらいいです (ikanakattara ii desu), uses the たら tara form to say “if,” and at first glance it seems to be correct. However, to my consultants, it appears to be a recommendation and actually means “if you hadn’t gone, it would have been good.” Therefore, sentence # 5 is incorrect.

Finally, sentence # 6, 行かないといいです (ikanai to ii desu), uses と to to say “if,” and it also looks correct on its face.  Unfortunately, my consultants tell me that this answer too, like sentences # 4 and # 5, seems to be a recommendation, meaning “I wish you wouldn’t go.” Therefore, sentence # 6 is incorrect.

Question # 20:  “I wish I could”

You want to say, “I wish I could go, but …”  Which three of the following Japanese sentences are correct?

  1. 行けるといいけど (ikeru to ii kedo)
  2. 行けた らいいけど (iketara ii kedo)
  3. 行ければいいけど (ikereba ii kedo)
  4. 行って もいいけど (itte mo ii kedo)
ANSWER # 20

Sentences # 1, 2 and  3 are correct.

Japanese employs the three conditional forms that we discussed in Answer 13 to express the idea of a “condition contrary to fact.” These are the と to, たら tara and ば ba forms.

Sentence # 1 uses the と to form. This can mean “I wish I could go, but …” Sentence # 1, 行けるといいけど (ikeru to ii kedo), is correct. 

Sentence # 2, uses the たら tara form. Sentence # 2, 行けた らいいけど (iketara ii kedo) is correct.

Sentence # 3 uses the ば ba form. Sentence # 3, 行ければいいけど (ikereba ii kedo) is correct.

Note that all three of these sentences end with けど (kedo), meaning “but,” which conveys a sense of regret. Without this word at the end, they could all be understood to mean “if you can go, it will be good.”

Sentence # 4 uses the ても temo form that we discussed in the answer to Question 19. As you recall, this form is used to give permission, and this sentence, 行って もいいけど itte mo ii kedo means “it’s OK if you go, but…” Therefore, sentence # 4 is incorrect.

What would happen if we used the plain non-past form of the verb, rather than the potential form, in the first three answers?  In other words, what would the sentences mean if we expressed them as 行くといいけど iku to ii kedo, 行ったらいいけど ittara ii kedo, or 行けばいいけど ikeba ii kedo? The answer is that all three of the sentences would then mean “if I go, it’s good” or “it would be better if I went,” rather than “I wish I could go.” Another way to express this alternative meaning is 行った方がいい itta hou ga ii = “it would be better if I went.”

Question # 21:  “Expressing Regret”

You want to say, “I should have gone to the party” or “it would have been better if I had gone to the party.”  Which three of the following Japanese sentences are correct?

  1. パーティーに行けばよかった (paatii ni ikeba yokatta)
  2.  パーティーに行ったらよかった (paatii ni ittara yokatta)
  3.  パーティーに行ったならよかった (paatii ni itta nara yokatta)
  4.  パーティーに行くとよかった  (paatii ni iku to yokatta)
  5.  パーティーに行ってよかった (paatii ni itte yokatta)
  6.  パーチーに行くべきだった (paatii ni iku beki datta)
ANSWER # 21

Sentences 1, 2 and 6 are correct.

As discussed in Answer 19, in Japanese there are four conditional forms that can be used  to mean “if.”   They are the ば (ba), たら (tara), と (to) and なら (nara) forms.  When you want to express regret about something that you or someone else did, you may combine とよかった (yokatta) = “it was good” with the ば (ba) and たら (tara) forms. Therefore, sentence # 1, パーティーに行けばよかった (paatii ni ikeba yokatta), and sentence # 2, パーティーに行ったらよかった (paatii ni ittara yokatta), are both correct.

However, to express regret, you may not use なら (nara).  Therefore, sentence # 3, パーティーに行ったならよかった (paatii ni itta nara yokatta), is incorrect.

Also, to express regret, you may not combine とよかった (yokatta) = “it was good” with the と (to) form.  That was the consensus of the Japanese students in my wife’s calligraphy class today.  However, the two students in the class who are from Kyushu do not fully agree with this conclusion.  Although they realize that this way of talking may not be standard Japanese, they feel comfortable with sentence # 4 as a way of saying “I wish I could go.”  Apparently this is related to differences in dialect between Kyushu and other parts of Japan. Therefore, sentence # 4, パーティーに行くとよかった  (paatii ni iku to yokatta), is incorrect, if you want to speak in standard Japanese.

Sentence # 5 has a completely different meaning.  パーティーに行ってよかった (paatii ni itte yokatta) = “going to the party, it was good” or “it was good that I went to the party.” Therefore, sentence # 5 is incorrect.

Sentence # 6 uses the suffix べき (–beki) which, when used after a plain speech verb, means “should” or “must.” Combined with the past verb datta, this means “I should have.” Therefore, sentence # 6, パーチーに行くべきだった (paatii ni iku beki datta), is correct.

Question # 22.  “Noni”

You want to say, “I wish it wouldn’t rain” or “if only it wouldn’t rain.”

Which three of the following Japanese sentences are correct?

  1.   雨が降らなければいいのに (ame ga furanakereba ii noni)
  2.   雨が降らなかったらいいのに (ame ga furanakattara ii noni)
  3.   雨が降らないといいのに (ame ga furanai to ii noni)
  4.   雨が降らないならいいのに (ame ga furanai nara ii noni)
  5.   雨が降らなくていいのに (ame ga furanakute ii noni)
ANSWER # 22

Sentences 1, 2 and 3 are correct.

The term のに (noni) has at least four different meanings in Japanese.  The first three meanings listed below are related to one other, but the fourth meaning is completely different from the other three.

Meaning # 1.  のに (noni) can mean “even though” or “in spite of the fact that.”  For example, このビールは高いのにおいしくない (kono biiru wa takai noni, oishikunai) = “even though this beer is expensive, it isn’t delicious.”

Meaning # 2.  のに (noni) can mean “too bad.”  For example, さっきまで晴れそうだったのに (sakki made, hare sou datta noni) = “until a while ago, it looked like it would be sunny, too bad.”

Meaning # 3.  のに (noni) can mean “if only.”  For example, タクシーが来ればいいのに  (takushii ga kureba ii noni) = “if a taxi comes, good, if only.”

Notice that these first three meanings are all somewhat emotional and suggest a sense of regret that things are different from expected.

Meaning # 4. のに (noni) can also mean “for the purpose of” or “in order to do.” This is similar to the meaning of ために (tame ni). For example, ご飯を作るのに水と米がいります (gohan wo tsukuru noni, mizu to kome ga irimasu) = “for the purpose of making cooked rice, water and uncooked rice are needed.”

The five sentences above all use のに (noni) in the sense of “if only.”  In addition, each of the first four answers uses one of the four conditional forms that were discussed in Answer 19.  These are the ば (ba), たら (tara), と (to) and なら (nara) forms.

Sentence # 1 is correct.  It uses  ば (ba) to mean “if.”   雨が降らなければいいのに (ame ga furanakereba ii noni) = “if it doesn’t rain, it’s good, if only.”

Sentence # 2 is also correct.  It uses たら (tara) to mean “if.”  雨が降らなかったらいいのに (ame ga furanakattara ii noni) = “if it doesn’t rain, it’s good, if only.”

Sentence # 3 is also correct.  It uses と (to) to mean “if.” 雨が降らないといいのに (ame ga furanai to ii noni) = “if it doesn’t rain, it’s good, if only.”

Sentence # 4, 雨が降らないならいいのに (ame ga furanai nara ii noni), is not correct.  It uses なら (nara) to mean “if.” However, 雨が降らないなら (ame ga furanai nara) = “in case it will not rain” is not an appropriate way to use なら (nara).  According to Makino and Tsutsui in “A Dictionary of Japanese Grammar,” this construction is wrong because it is nonsensical to suppose that it will not rain tomorrow, since no one can know.  Or, from another point of view, a Japanese friend tells me that this sentence seems wrong to him because it makes it seem as though humans could control the rain.

Using the same logic, you may not say 地震があるなら家を出てください (jishin ga aru nara, ie wo dete kudasai) = “in case if there is an earthquake, please leave the house.”

However, it is OK to say 寒いならストーブをつけてください (samui nara sutoobu wo tsukete kudasai) = “in case if it is cold, please turn on the heater.”  Although this might seem to be a situation that is similar to the ones involving rain and earthquakes, it is different, in the sense that the sensation of cold is defined by individual humans, and the temperature of a room can be controlled by humans.

It is also OK to say 雨が降らなかったならよかったのに (ame ga furanakatta nara yokatta noni) = “in case if it didn’t rain, it was good, if only” or “I wish it hadn’t rained.”  This is true since, once an uncontrollable event has already occurred, one is free to use なら (nara) to talk about it hypothetically.

Sentence # 5, 雨が降らなくていいのに (ame ga furanakute ii noni), is also not correct.  雨が降らなくていい (ame ga furanakute ii) means “not raining, it’s good” or “it will be good if it doesn’t rain,” and the addition of のに (noni) = “too bad” makes no sense in this context.

Question # 23.  “Ato and Go”

You want to say, “I will return in 2 weeks.”

Which three of the following Japanese sentences are correct?

  1. 後二週間に帰ります (ato nishuukan ni kaerimasu)
  2. 後二週間で帰ります (ato nishuukan de kaerimasu)
  3.  二週間後に帰ります (nishuukan ato ni kaerimasu)
  4.  二週間後で帰ります (nishuukan ato de kaerimasu)
  5.  二週間後に帰ります (nishuukan go ni kaerimasu)
  6.  二週間後で帰ります (nishuukan go de kaerimasu)
ANSWER # 23

Sentences 2, 3 and 5 are correct.

The character 後 can be read as あと (ato) = “later,” “rear,” “remainder,” “another” (with numbers), “after,” or “behind.”  後 can also be read as ご (go) = “later,” “after,” or “since.”  後 can also be read as のち (nochi) = “later” or “future.” Finally, when combined with ろ, 後 can be read as 後ろ (ushiro)  = “back” or “rear.”

In this discussion, we use the あと (ato) and ご (go) readings of 後.  We translate both of these terms as “later.”

In order to answer Question 23, we need to express the idea “in 2 weeks” or “2 weeks elapsing.” In Japanese, when referring to time, the meaning “in” or “elapsing” is expressed by the particle で (de). By contrast, the meaning “at” or “on” is expressed by the particle に (ni), when referring to time.

Sentence # 1, 後二週間に帰ります (ato nishuukan ni kaerimasu), can be translated “later, at 2 weeks, I will return.” This doesn’t make sense because you can’t logically say “at 2 weeks.”  “At” must refer to a specific time, not to an extended period of time. Therefore, sentence # 1 is incorrect.

Sentence # 2, 後二週間で帰ります (ato nishuukan de kaerimasu), can be translated “later, in 2 weeks, I will return.” This makes sense. Therefore, sentence # 2 is correct.

Sentence # 3, 二週間後に帰ります (nishuukan ato ni kaerimasu), can be translated “at 2 weeks later, I will return.” This makes sense, if we think of “2 weeks later” as a specific time. Therefore, sentence # 3 is correct.

Sentence # 4, 二週間後で帰ります (nishuukan ato de kaerimasu), can be translated “in 2 weeks later, I will return.” This doesn’t make sense because you can’t logically say “in 2 weeks later”; instead you must say simply “in 2 weeks.” Therefore, sentence # 4 is incorrect. 

Sentence # 5, 二週間後に帰ります (nishuukan go ni kaerimasu), is similar to sentence # 3. It can be translated “at 2 weeks later, I will return.” Therefore, sentence # 5 is  correct.

Sentence # 6, 二週間後で帰ります (nishuukan go de kaerimasu), is similar to the sentence # 4.  It can be translated “in 2 weeks later, I will return.” Therefore, sentence # 6 is incorrect. 

At this point, you are probably asking, “What is the difference between sentence # 3 and sentence # 5?  And what is the difference between sentence # 4 and sentence # 6?  They look identical, so how do Japanese people know how to pronounce them?”

The answer is that Japanese people will always pronounce 後 as あと (ato) when it is the first word in a sentence, as in sentence # 2.  They will usually pronounce 後 as ご (go) when it is preceded by another term, as in sentence # 5 but, generally speaking, both pronunciations are considered correct in this situation. However, in cases where 後 is combined with another word to form a compound word, like 食後 (shokugo) = “after meals,” only the ご (go) pronunciation is acceptable.

Question 24. “Reporting an Experience”

You hear a noise coming from outside your apartment. You want to say, “I hear a sound.”

Which one of the following Japanese sentences is correct?

  1. 音を聞きます (oto wo kikimasu)
  2. 音を聞いています (oto wo kiite imasu)
  3. 音が聞こえます (oto ga kikoemasu)
  4. 音が聞こえています (oto ga kikoete imasu)
ANSWER # 24

Sentence # 3 is correct.

In English, when we experience something and want to report it, we are likely to use sentences with transitive verbs, such as “I see it” or “I hear it.” In contrast, in the Japanese language, there is a strong tendency to describe events by using intransitive verbs, suggesting that the events occur spontaneously, rather than as a result of an active agent.

Here are two examples of Japanese intransitive verbs:  見える (mieru) = “to be visible” and 聞こえる (kikoeru) = “to be audible.” Instead of saying, “I see the station,” a Japanese person would say 駅が見えます (eki ga miemasu) = “the station is visible.” Instead of saying “I hear music,” a Japanese person would say 音楽が聞こえます (ongaku ga kikoemasu) = “music is audible.”

With this in mind, the first sentence, 音を聞きます (oto wo kikimasu), means “I listen to sound,” as though you intended to listen to it. Therefore, sentence # 1 is incorrect.

The second sentence, 音を聞いています (oto wo kiite imasu), means “I am listening to sound,” again as though you intended to listen to it. Therefore, sentence # 2 is incorrect.

The third sentence, 音が聞こえます (oto ga kikoemasu), means “sound is audible.”  This is what a Japanese person would be mostly likely to say. Therefore, sentence # 3 is correct.

The fourth sentence, 音が聞こえています (oto ga kikoete imasu), means “sound is being audible,” and it could be translated “I am hearing a sound.” Like sentence # 2, it suggests that you are intending to listen to the sound, and it is not what a Japanese person would say in the situation described by the question. Therefore, sentence # 4 is incorrect.

Question 25.  “Sugiru”

You have only eaten a few bites, but your friend has already finished his meal.  You want to say, “You eat too fast.”

Which one of the following Japanese sentences is correct?

  1.  早すぎる食べます (hayasugiru tabemasu)
  2.  早すぎに食べます (hayasugi ni tabemasu)
  3.  早く食べすぎます (hayaku tabesugimasu)
ANSWER # 25

Sentence # 3 is correct.

すぎる (sugiru) is an auxiliary verb. It can be combined with the stem (the pre-masu form) of another verb to mean that something is done excessively. For example, 食べすぎます (tabesugimasu) = “eat too much.”

すぎる (sugiru) can also be combined with the root of an i adjective (the part that remains after you remove the final “i”) to mean “too much.” For example, 早い (hayai) = fast.  Its root is はや (haya).  早すぎる (hayasugiru) = “go too fast.”

Note that, if you want to say that something is “too good,” you say よすぎる (yosugiru), not いすぎる (isugiru). For example, 家内は私によすぎる (kanai wa watashi ni yosugiru) = “my wife is too good for me.”

When you use すぎる (sugiru) after ない (nai), change ない (nai) to なさ (nasa). The combination of  なさ (nasa) and すぎる (sugiru) means “not enough.”  For example, 力がなさすぎる (chikara ga nasa sugiru) = “there isn’t enough power.”  野菜を食べなさすぎる (yasai wo tabenasa sugiru) = “ he eats too few vegetables.”

すぎる (sugiru) can also be combined with na adjectives to mean “too much.”  For example, 静かすぎる (shizuka sugiru) = “too quiet.”

With this in mind, how would you say “you eat too fast”?

Sentence # 1, 早すぎる食べます (hayasugiru tabemasu), might seem like a reasonable choice until you realize that it contains two verbs right next to each other. Literally, it means something like “you go too fast you eat.” Therefore, sentence # 1 is incorrect.

Sometimes you can make a noun from a Japanese verb stem. For example, 帰ります (kaerimasu) = “to return” and 帰り (kaeri) = “the return.” You can also make a noun from the stem of  早すぎる (hayasugiru) = “go too fast.”  早すぎ (hayasugi) means “too fast,” and you can use it to say things like 早すぎです (hayasugi desu) = “it’s too fast.”

However, there is no way to combine 早すぎ (hayasugi) with 食べる (taberu) to say “you eat too fast.” Therefore, sentence # 2, 早すぎに食べます (hayasugi ni tabemasu), is incorrect.

That leaves sentence # 3, 早く食べすぎます (hayaku tabesugimasu). To our English-thinking brains, this sentence may seem to mean “quickly you eat too much,” but to a Japanese person it means “you eat too fast.”  Therefore, sentence # 3 is correct.

By the way, another possible answer might be 早すぎて食べます (hayasugite tabemasu).  This seems plausible since the te or de form of a verb can be used as an adverb. For example, the de form of 急ぐ (isogu) = “I hurry” is 急いで (isoide), and this can be used to make a sentence like 急いで行きます (isoide ikimasu) = “I go hurriedly.”  Unfortunately, 早すぎて食べます (hayasugite tabemasu) is also incorrect.

Facebook Exchange. The following exchange occurred on Facebook after Answer # 25 was published:

Question:  well, already knew that, but have a small question which is not directly linked to the topic but to the content of your answer.

As you mentioned the part with なさ。is it the same thing as when you want to say e.g. the following:

これは出来そう (kore wa dekisou) = “that seems possible”
これは出来なさそう (kore wa dekinasasou) = “that doesn’t seem to be possible”

It is OK to use such forms isn’t it?

Answer: Yes. When we use そう (sou) in the sense “appears to be” and we want to say that it appears that something is not, using  ない (nai) = “does not exist,” we must change ない (nai) to なさ (nasa).

A somewhat similar example using そう (sou) is これはよさそうです (kore wa yosa sou desu) = “as for this, it appears to be good.”  When we use そう (sou) in the sense “appears to be,” and we want to say that something appears to be good, we must change the term いい (ii) = “good” to よさ (yosa).

As discussed in Answer # 25, we must also change ない (nai) to なさ (nasa) when we use  ない (nai) before すぎる (sugiru) = “too much.”  To repeat an example used above, 野菜を食べなさすぎる (yasai wo tabenasa sugiru) = “ he eats too few vegetables.”

By contrast, again as discussed in Answer # 25, when we want to say that something is “too good,” we say よすぎる (yosugiru), not  いすぎる (isugiru) and not よさすぎる (yosasugiru).  Here is another example used above:  家内は私によすぎる (kanai wa watashi ni yosugiru) = “my wife is too good for me.”

 In summary, perhaps we can try to remember these two guidelines:

1) ない (nai) = “does not exist” is converted to なさ (nasa) before both そう (sou) [meaning “appears to be”] and すぎる (sugiru).

2) いい (ii) = “good” is converted to よさ (yosa) before そう (sou), but it is converted to よ (yo) before すぎる (sugiru).

[In addition, of course, いい (ii) is converted to よ (yo) when forming the adverb よく (yoku) = “well” or “frequently,” and when forming the negative form よくない (yokunai) = よくありません (yoku arimasen) = “not good.”]

Reply:  and thanks again for making things clear! Great job

Question 26. “Ni vs. De before Desu”

You want to say,” They’re famous in Japan, but they aren’t famous in America.”

Which of the following Japanese sentences is correct?

  1. 日本では有名ですがアメリカでは有名じゃありません. (nihon de wa yuumei desu ga, amerika de wa yuumei ja arimasen)

  1. 日本には有名ですがアメリカには有名じゃありません. (nihon ni wa yuumei desu ga, amerika ni wa yuumei ja arimasen)

ANSWER # 26

Sentence # 1 is correct.

Earlier, in Question # 9, “Ni vs. De before Verbs,” we asked whether one should use に (ni) or で (de) before verbs in Japanese. In the answer, we pointed out that に (ni) is generally used with “inactive”  verbs like います (imasu) and あります (arimasu), except in cases where an event (such as a party or a meeting) is said to exist.  If one wants to say that an event exists, one uses で (de) before あります (arimasu).

We also pointed out that で (de) is generally used with “active”  verbs. However, there are a number of relatively “inactive” verbs that can be used with either (ni) or (de), depending on what you mean to say. Such verbs include  寝る (neru) = “sleep,” できる (dekiru) = “be able to” or “be finished,” 捨てる (suteru) = “throw away,”  落ちる (ochiru) = “fall,” 止まる (tomaru) = “stop, intransitive,” 止める (tomeru) = “stop, transitive,” 座る (suwaru) = “sit” and 立つ (tatsu) = “stand.”

In addition, there is another verb that we didn’t discuss in Answer # 9: the copula です (desu) [or だ (da)]. Should we use です (desu) [or だ (da)] with に (ni), or should we use です (desu) [or だ (da)] with で (de)?

The answer is that です (desu) [or だ (da)] should be used with で (de), as though it were an active verb, when (de) means “of,” as it does here. When linking concepts like “famous” and “summer” to a place, Japanese people don’t use に (ni), meaning “in.” For example, one can say オーストラリアでは夏です (oosutoraria de wa natsu desu) = “as for of Australia, it’s summer,” but one may not say オーストラリアには夏です (oosutoraria ni wa natsu desu) = “as for in Australia, it’s summer.”

On the other hand, when talking about quantities of people etc., either に (ni) or (de) may be used with です (desu). For example, わたしのクラスには旅行の好きな人が多いです (watashi no kurasu ni wa, ryokou no suki na hito ga ooi desu) = “as for in my class, travel-liking people are numerous.” In this sentence, に (ni) is correct, but で (de) could also be used, depending on what you want to say.  クラスには (kurasu ni wa) means “in the class,” while クラスでは (kurasu de wa) means “of the class.” The difference in meaning between these two phrases is insignificant in this case.

Therefore, sentence # 1, 日本では有名ですがアメリカでは有名じゃありません (nihon de wa yuumei desu ga, amerika de wa yuumei ja arimasen), is correct, since it means “of Japan, they’re famous…”

In contrast, sentence # 2, 日本には有名ですがアメリカには有名じゃありません. (nihon ni wa yuumei desu ga, amerika ni wa yuumei ja arimasen), is incorrect, since it means “in Japan, they’re famous…,” and this doesn’t make sense in Japanese.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, the particle は (wa) is mandatory in sentence # 1. If you omit this particle and just say, for example, 日本で有名ですが (nihon de yuumei desu ga), your sentence will sound awkward to a Japanese person.

The reason is that the particle は (wa) is needed to show contrast. A Japanese person will assume that, if you’re saying it’s summer in Australia, you must be intending to contrast Australia with other places where it isn’t summer. If you fail to use は (wa), your sentence will sound wrong. For more information on this topic, please refer to the “Ga vs. Wa” document.

Question 27. “A Noun Seems to Be”

You see an unusual bird in a park and want to say, “It seems to be a duck.”

Which two of the following 4 Japanese sentences are correct?

  1. あひるそうです (ahiru sou desu)
  2. あひるようです (ahiru you desu)
  3. あひるらしいです (ahiru rashii desu)
  4. あひる見たいです (ahiru mitai desu)
ANSWER # 27

Sentences 3 and 4 are correct.

In Japanese, there are at least four ways to say “seems to be.”  You may use そう (sou), よう (you), らしい (rashii) and 見たい (mitai).

そう (sou) has several meanings in Japanese. The two meanings that can be most easily confused with one another are “seems to be” and “reportedly.”

そう (sou), meaning “seems to be,” can be used with verbs, i adjectives and na adjectives, but it cannot be used with nouns. Therefore, sentence # 1, あひるだそうです (ahiru da sou desu), is incorrect as a response to this question. It means “reportedly, it’s a duck.”

よう (you), meaning “seems to be,” can be used with verbs, i adjectives, na adjectives and nouns. However, when you use よう (you) with a noun, you must use the particle の (no).  For example, あひるのようです (ahiru no you desu) = “it seems to be a duck.” Therefore, sentence # 2, あひるようです (ahiru you desu), is incorrect.

らしい (rashii) is an i adjective meaning “seems to be.” It can be used with verbs, i adjectives, na adjectives and nouns. Therefore, sentence # 3, あひるらしいです (ahiru rashii desu), is correct.

Finally, 見たい (mitai) also means “seems to be.” It can be used with verbs, i adjectives, na adjectives and nouns. Therefore, sentence # 4, あひる見たいです (ahiru mitai desu), is correct.

By the way, あひる (ahiru) means “tame duck” and 鴨 (kamo) means “wild duck.” Either term would be appropriate in this situation.

Question 28. “Seems NOT to Be”

You see a bird in the park, and you want to say, “It seems not to be a duck.”

Which four of the following Japanese sentences are correct?

  1. あひるじゃないそうです (ahiru ja nai sou desu)
  2. あひるじゃなさそうです (ahiru ja nasa sou desu)
  3. あひるじゃないようです (ahiru ja nai you desu)
  4. あひるじゃないらしいです (ahiru ja nai rashii desu)
  5. あひるじゃないみたいです (ahiru ja nai mitai desu)
ANSWER # 28

Sentences # 2, 3, 4 and 5 are correct.

As discussed in Answer 27, there are at least four ways to say “seems to be” in Japanese:  そう (sou), よう (you), らしい (rashii) and みたい (mitai).

Sometimes よう (you), らしい  (rashii)  and みたい (mitai), in addition to meaning “seems to be,” can mean “resembles.” らしい (rashii) is only used to say that people resemble things, whereas よう (you) and みたい (mitai) can be used to say that any noun resembles another noun.

For example, 子供のようです (kodomo no you desu) = 子供らしいです (kodomo rashii desu) = 子供みたです (kodomo mitai desu), and these sentences can all mean either “she appears to be a child” or “she resembles a child,” the difference being that in one case you are saying that she looks like a child, while in the other you might be saying that she is like a child or is child-like.

There are some important differences between そう (sou), よう (you), らしい (rashii) and みたい (mitai).

そう (sou) expresses the speaker’s guess, based on what he or she sees.

よう (you) expresses a judgment, based on evidence, and implies a certain degree of certainty.

らしい (rashii) is also based on some evidence, usually just hearsay, and implies less certainty than よう (you).

みたい (mitai) is essentially a colloquial version of  よう (you).

As discussed in Answer # 27, そう (sou) cannot be used with nouns in affirmative sentences, if you intend to say “seems to be.”  そう (sou) can be used with nouns in negative sentences, but only if the term ない (nai) is converted to なさ (nasa). In other words, you may say あひるじゃなさそうです (ahiru ja nasa sou desu) if you mean to say “it seems not to be a duck.”

ない (nai) is converted to なさ (nasa) whenever it is used with そう (sou) [meaning “appears to be” or “resembles”], whether or not nouns are involved. For example, in the sentence おいしくなさそうです (oishikunasa sou desu) = “it appears to be not delicious,” おいしくない (oishikunai) = “not delicious” is converted to おいしくなさ (oishikunasa).

Sentence # 1, あひるじゃないそうです (ahiru ja nai sou desu), fails to convert ない (nai) to なさ (nasa). Therefore, this answer actually means “reportedly it isn’t a duck,” and sentence # 1 is incorrect.

Sentence # 2, あひるじゃなさそうです (ahiru ja nasa sou desu), does convert ない (nai) to なさ (nasa). Therefore, sentence # 2 is correct.

よう (you), らしい (rashii) and みたい (mitai) can all be used with nouns in negative sentences. Therefore, sentence # 3, あひるじゃないようです (ahiru ja nai you desu), sentence # 4, あひるじゃないらしいです (ahiru ja nai rashii desu), and sentence # 5, あひるじゃないみたいです (ahiru ja nai mitai desu), are all correct. However, keep in mind that in sentence # 4, you are essentially saying, “according to what I’ve heard (or read), it seems not to be a duck.”

By the way, there are two other ways to say “it seems not to be a duck”:

1) あひるらいしくない (ahiru rashikunai)

2) あひるみたいじゃない (ahiru mitai ja nai)

Question 29. “Seems to be Expensive”

You want to say, “That car seems to be expensive.”

Which three of the following Japanese sentences are correct?

  1.  その車は高いそうです (sono kuruma wa takai sou desu)
  2. その車は高いようです (sono kuruma wa takai you desu)
  3.  その車は高いらしいです (sono kuruma wa takai rashii desu)
  4.  その車は高いみたいです (sono kuruma wa takai mitai desu)
ANSWER # 29

Sentences 2, 3 and 4 are correct.

Like Questions # 27 and 28, this question focuses on four ways to say “seems to be”: そう (sou), よう (you), らしい (rashii) and みたい (mitai).

In the Answer to Question # 28, we said that when ない (nai) precedes そう (sou) (meaning “seems to be”), ない (nai) must be converted to なさ (nasa).

Similarly, when いい (ii) or よい (yoi) = “good” precede そう (sou) (meaning “appears to be”), いい (ii) or よい (yoi) must be converted to よさ (yosa).

In addition, when an i adjective precedes そう (sou) [meaning “seems to be”], the i adjective must be converted to its stem form by removing the final i.

Sentence # 1, その車は高いそうです (sono kuruma wa takai sou desu), fails to convert 高い (takai) to 高 (taka). Therefore, it actually means, “reportedly, that car is expensive,” and sentence # 1 is incorrect. It should have read その車は高そうです (sono kuruma wa takasou desu).

Sentence # 2, その車は高いようです (sono kuruma wa takai you desu), sentence # 3, その車は高いらしいです (sono kuruma wa takai rashii desu), and sentence # 4, その車は高いみたいです (sono kuruma wa takai mitai desu), are all correct.  However, you should be aware of some differences in nuance between these answers.

Sentence # 4, その車は高いみたいです (sono kuruma wa takai mitai desu), means “that car looks expensive.” It is a judgment based on appearance only.

Sentence # 2 , その車は高いようです (sono kuruma wa takai you desu), and sentence # 3, その車は高いらしいです (sono kuruma wa takai rashii desu), both mean “according to what I’ve heard or read, that car seems expensive.” In other words, both are based on hearsay rather than just direct experience. Compared to らしい (rashii), よう (you) suggests a greater degree of certainty and may be based on the speaker’s direct experience, in addition to relatively reliable information and knowledge.

Question 30. “Doesn’t Seem that It Will Happen”

You want to say, “It doesn’t seem that it will rain.”

Which two of the following Japanese sentences are correct?

  1.  雨は降りそうじゃない (ame wa furi sou ja nai)
  2.  雨は降りそうもない (ame wa furi sou mo nai)
  3.  雨は降りそうにない (ame wa furi sou ni nai)
  4.  雨は降るようじゃない (ame wa  furu you ja nai)
  5.  雨は降るらしいじゃない (ame wa furu rashii ja nai)
  6.  雨は降降るみたいじゃない (ame wa furu mitai ja nai)
ANSWER # 30

Sentences # 2 and  3 are correct.

Once again, this question is about four different expressions that mean “seems to be” in Japanese.  By now, you probably know that those four expressions are そう (sou), よう (you), らしい (rashii) and みたい (mitai). In this question, we are combining those expressions with a verb, 降る (furu) = “precipitate,” rather than with a noun or an adjective as in previous questions.

When used with a verb, そう (sou) [meaning “seems to be”] must be combined with a verb stem, meaning the pre-masu form. In the case of 降る (furu) = 降ります (furimasu) = “precipitate,” the stem is 降り (furi).

In contrast, よう (you), らしい (rashii) and みたい (mitai) are combined with ordinary plain speech verbs, such as 降る (furu) = “precipitate.”

With this in mind, we can say 雨が降りそうです (ame ga furi sou desu), 雨が降るようです (ame ga furu you desu), 雨が降るらしいです (ame ga furu rashii desu) and 雨が降るみたいです (ame ga furu mitai desu) all mean “it appears that it will rain.”

In this question, however, we are dealing with the negations of these sentences.  How do we say that it doesn’t seem that something will happen?

It turns out that we have two different choices for negating the combination of そう  (sou) [meaning “seems to be”] and a verb stem. We may add either  そうもない (sou mo nai) or そうにない (sou ni nai) to the stem. Therefore, sentence # 2, 雨は降りそうもない (ame wa furi sou mo nai), and sentence # 3, 雨は降りそうにない (ame wa furi sou ni nai), are correct.

We can negate the idea that an i adjective seems to be true by following the adjective stem with そうでわない (sou dewa nai) or そうじゃない (sou ja nai). For example, we can say おもしろそうじゃない (omoshirosou ja nai) = “it doesn’t appear to be interesting.” However, we cannot use そうでわない (sou dewa nai) or そうじゃない (sou ja nai) to negate the idea that a verb seems to be true. Therefore, sentence # 1, 雨は降りそうじゃない (ame wa furi sou ja nai), is incorrect.

Unfortunately, we cannot directly negate よう (you), らしい (rashii) or みたい (mitai). Therefore, sentence # 4, 雨は降るようじゃない (ame wa  furu you ja nai), sentence # 5, 雨は降るらしいじゃない (ame wa furu rashii ja nai), and sentence # 6, 雨は降降るみたいじゃない (ame wa furu mitai ja nai), are all incorrect.

There is a way to say that “it doesn’t seem that it will rain,” using よう (you), らしい (rashii) and みたい (mitai), but you have to change the sentence slightly and say “it seems that it will not rain.” So you may say 雨は降らないようだ (ame wa furanai you da) = 雨は降らないらしい (ame wa furanai rashii) = 雨は降らないみたいだ (ame wa furanai mitai da) = “it seems that it will not rain.”

By the way, you may have noticed that the affirmative “it will rain” sentences in this answer employ the particle が (ga) after 雨 (ame) = “rain,” while the negative sentences employ the particle は (wa) instead. What’s the reason for this difference?

When we say “rain will fall,” we are referring to a particular rain, and therefore we use が (ga). On the other hand, when we say “rain will not fall,” we are referring to many different rains, and therefore we use は (wa).

In the same way, we say 質問があります (shitsumon ga arimasu) = “there’s a question,” but we tend to say 質問はありません (shitsumon wa arimasen) = “there aren’t any questions.”

This doesn’t mean that we should always use は (wa) in negative sentences. There are lots of negative sentences where が (ga) may be more appropriate. For example, お金がない (okane ga nai) = “there is no money” may be used when one is introducing the topic of money, while お金はない (okane wa nai) = “there is no money” may be used in other situations, e.g., when we want to stress that, while we have no money, we have other things.

To learn more about when to use は (wa) and が (ga), please refer to the “Ga vs. Wa” document.

Question 31. “Using ‘Seeming’ as an Adjective”

You want to say, “It’s an expensive-seeming car.”

Which one of the following Japanese sentences is correct?

  1.  高そうな車だ (takasou na kuruma da)
  2.  高いような車だ (takai you na kuruma da)
  3.  高いらしいな車だ (takai rashii na kuruma da)
  4.  高いみたいな車だ (takai mitai na kuruma da)
ANSWER # 31

Sentence # 1 is correct.

Once again (for the last time, I promise), this question is about four different expressions that mean “seems to be” in Japanese. As you know, those four expressions are そう (sou), よう (you), らしい (rashii) and みたい (mitai). The purpose of this question is to clarify when and how these four expressions may be converted into na adjectives.

Let’s start by discussing そう (sou). When we want to say that an i adjective seems to be, we remove the final “i” from the adjective and add そう (sou). For example, the i adjective 高い (takai) means “expensive.” If we remove the final “i” and add そう (sou), we get 高そう (takasou) = “it seems to be expensive.”

In Answer # 30, we mentioned that そう (sou) (meaning “seems to be”) can also be used after a verb stem, meaning the pre-masu form of a verb. In the case of 降る (furu) = 降ります (furimasu) = “precipitate,” the stem is 降り (furi), and we can combine a stem like this with そう (sou) to say things like  雨が降りそうです (ame ga furi sou desu) = “it appears that it will rain.”

In addition, we may use そう (sou) after na adjectives. For example, 賑やかそうです (nigiyaka sou desu) = “it appears to be lively.”

[However, as discussed in Answer # 27, we may not use そう (sou) (meaning “seems to be”) after nouns.]

To convert an expression using そう (sou) (meaning “seems to be”) to a na adjective, just add な (na) to the expression. For example, 高そうな車 (takasou na kuruma) = “an expensive-looking car.”  雨が降りそうな空 (ame ga furisou na sora) = “a sky that looks like it will rain.”  賑やかそうな店 (nigiyaka sou na mise) = “a seemingly lively store.” Therefore, sentence # 1, 高そうな車だ (takasou na kuruma da), is correct.

Next, let’s consider よう (you) = “seems to be.”  よう (you) may be used after i adjectives and plain speech verbs. For example, おいしいようです (oishii you desu) = “it appears to be delicious.”  食べるようです (taberu you desu) = “it appears that she will eat.”

In addition, よう (you) may be used after nouns and na adjectives. After nouns, add のよう(no you). For example, 車のようです (kuruma no you desu) = “it seems to be a car.”  After na adjectives, add なよう (na you).  For example, 賑やかなようです (nigiyaka na you desu) = “it seems to be lively.”

We can create a na adjective from an expression containing よう (you), but only when よう (you) follows a noun, not when it follows an adjective or a verb. So you may say something like 田中さんのような人 (tanakasan no you na hito) = “a person who looks like Tanaka” or 車のような形 (kuruma no you na katachi) = “a shape that looks like a car.”  However, you may not say things like 高いような車 (takai you na kuruma),  賑やかなような店 (nigiyaka na you na mise), or 雨が降るような空 (ame ga furu you na sora). Therefore, sentence # 2, 高いような車だ (takai you na kuruma da), is incorrect. 

Next, let’s consider らしい (rashii) = “seems to be.” You may use らしい (rashii) after verbs, i adjectives, na adjectives, and nouns. For example, the following four sentences are correct:  雨が降るらしい (ame ga furu rashii) = “it seems that it will rain.”  高いらしい (takai rashii) = “it seems expensive.”  賑やからしい (nigiyaka rashii) = “it seems lively.”  車らしい (kuruma rashii) = “it seems to be a car.”  [です (desu) is optional in all 4 of these sentences.]

However, you may not use らしい (rashii) to make a na adjective. Therefore, sentence # 3, 高いらしいな車だ (takai rashii na kuruma da), is incorrect. 

らしい (rashii) is actually an i adjective, and it can be used as an adjective after some nouns representing people. For example, 先生らしい人 (sensei rashii hito) = “a person who seems like a teacher.” Here’s another example:  男らしい女の人 (otoko rashii onna no hito) = “a woman who seems like a man.”

However, you should not use らしい (rashii) as an adjective after nouns that don’t represent people. For example, 車らしい形 (kuruma rashii katachi) sounds awkward.  You may not use らしい (rashii) as an adjective after verbs. For example, 雨がふるらしい空 (ame ga furu rashii sora) is not OK. You may not use らしい (rashii) as an adjective after other adjectives. For example,  高いらしい車 (takai rashii kuruma) and  賑やからしい店 (nigiyaka rashii mise) are not OK.

Finally, let’s consider みたい (mitai) = “seems to be.”  みたい (mitai) can be used after verbs, nouns, i adjectives and na adjectives. For example, the following four sentences are correct:  雨が降るみたい (ame ga furu mitai ) = “it seems that it will rain.”  車みたい (kuruma mitai) = “it seems to be a car.”  高いみたい (takai mitai) = “it seems to be expensive.”  賑やかみたい (nigiyaka mitai) = “it seems to be lively.”  [です (desu) is optional in all four of these sentences.]

Like よう (you), みたい (mitai) can be used to form a na adjective, but only after nouns, not after adjectives or verbs. So you may say things like 田中さんみたいな人 (tanakasan mitai na hito) = “a person who looks like Tanaka” or 車みたいな形 (kuruma mitai na katachi) = “a shape that looks like a car.”

However, you may not use みたい (mitai) after adjectives or verbs to form adjectives. Therefore, sentence # 4, 高いみたいな車だ (takai mitai na kuruma da), is incorrect. 

To sum up, you may not combine そう (sou) with nouns. However, you may combine そう (sou) with verb stems, adjective roots and na adjectives, and you may add な (na) to any of those combinations to form a na adjective.  Therefore, sentence # 1, 高そうな車だ (takasou na kuruma da), is correct.

You may combine よう (you) with i adjectives and verbs. Use のよう(no you) after nouns.  Use なよう (na you) after na adjectives. To create a na adjective, you may add のような (no you na) to a noun, but not to another adjective or to a verb. Therefore, sentence # 2, 高いような車だ (takai you na kuruma da), is incorrect.

You may combine らしい (rashii) with verbs, nouns, i adjectives and na adjectives. You may not use らしい (rashii) to create na adjectives. On the other hand, らしい (rashii) may be used as an i adjective, but only after nouns representing people, like 先生 (sensei) = “teacher.” It follows that sentence # 3, 高いらしいな車だ (takai rashii na kuruma da), is incorrect. 

You may combine みたい (mitai) with verbs, nouns, i adjectives and na adjectives. To create a na adjective, you may add みたいな (mitai na) to a noun, but not to another adjective or to a verb. Therefore, sentence # 4, 高いみたいな車だ (takai mitai na kuruma da), is incorrect.

Question 32. “I want”

You want to say, “I want to sleep a little more.”

Which one of the following Japanese sentences is correct?

  1.  もう少し寝てほしいです (mou sukoshi nete hoshii desu)
  2.  もう少し寝ることがほしいです (mou sukoshi neru koto ga hoshii desu)
  3.  もう少し寝たいです (mou sukoshi netai desu)
ANSWER # 32

Sentence # 3 is correct.

In Japanese, there are at least two terms that can be used to convey the idea that someone wants something:  ほしい (hoshii) and たい (tai).

Let’s start with ほしい (hoshii), which is an i adjective that is usually translated as “desire.” This term is used in two distinct ways:

1) when you desire an object, the object is usually marked with が (ga) and is followed by ほしい (hoshii).  For example, ミルクがほしい (miruku ga hoshii) = “milk is desired” or “I desire milk.”  [However, sometimes an object that precedes ほしい (hoshii) can be marked with は (wa) instead, if it functions as a topic.]

2) When you want a person of equal or lower status to do something, ほしい  (hoshii) is used after the te or de form of a verb. For example, 塩を取ってほしい (shio wo totte hoshii) = “I desire that you pass the salt.  取って (totte) is the te form of 取る (toru) = “pass” or “take.” [Unless you are talking with very close friends, it’s better to soften this sentence and to make it more hesitant. For example, it’s better to say 塩を取ってほしいんだけど (shio wo totte hoshiin dakedo) = “I desire the salt, but…”]

Looking at the three sentences above, we can see that neither sentence # 1 nor sentence # 2 is an appropriate way to use ほしい (hoshii). Sentence # 1 actually means “I desire that you sleep a little more.” In addition, although ことが (koto ga) can be used with verbs to make noun phrases, it is never combined with ほしい (hoshii) as seen in sentence # 2.  Therefore, both sentence #1, もう少し寝てほしいです (mou sukoshi nete hoshii desu), and sentence #2, もう少し寝ることがほしいです (mou sukoshi neru koto ga hoshii desu), are incorrect.

Next, let’s discuss the term たい (tai), usually translated as “want to” or “would like to.”  たい (tai) is used to form i adjectives from verb stems, meaning their pre-masu forms. For example, to say “I want to go,” start with 行き (iki), the stem of 行きます (ikimasu), and add たい (tai). The result is 行きたい (ikitai). To say “I want to stay,” start with い (i), the stem of います (imasu), and add たい (tai). The result is いたい (itai).

If a sentence that employs the たい (tai) form involves an object, the object is usually followed by を (wo). For example, 海を見たい (umi wo mitai) = “I want to see the ocean.”

Looking at sentence # 3, which doesn’t involve an object, 寝たい (netai) is derived from the stem form of 寝ます (nemasu) plus  たい (tai) and means “I want to sleep.” Therefore, sentence #3, もう少し寝たいです (mou sukoshi netai desu), is correct.

Both the ほしい (hoshii) and たい (tai) forms can be followed by です (desu), in polite speech, or they can be used without です (desu), in plain speech.

When you want a person of equal or higher status to do something, ほしい (hoshii) cannot be used.  Instead, you may use 下さい (kudasai). To be even more polite, use the te or de form of a verb followed by the たい (tai) form of a verb of receiving.  In other words, use もらいたい (moraitai) or いただきたい (itadakitai).

The following three sentences are all correct if you are asking a person of equal or higher status to pass the salt:  塩を取って下さい (shio wo totte kudasai) = “please pass the salt.”  塩を取ってもらいたい (shio wo totte moraitai) = “pass the salt, and I would like to receive.”  塩を取っていただきたい (shio wo totte itadakitai) = “pass the salt, and I would like to humbly receive.”

Since desire is an internal feeling that cannot be observed by others, both the ほしい (hoshii) and たい (tai) forms are generally used only for talking about your own desires, not those of other people. However, these forms can be used when asking other people questions. For example, the following two sentences are both correct:  辞書がほしいですか (jisho ga hoshii desu ka) = “do you desire a dictionary?”  海へ行きたいですか (umi e ikitai desu ka) = “do you want to go to the ocean?”

When you want to talk about the desires of a third person, you can combine either the ほしい (hoshii) or the たい (tai) form with がる (garu), meaning “seems to be.” To do this, remove the final i from either ほしい (hoshii) or たい (tai) and add がる (garu).  For example, the following two sentences are both correct:  田中さんは辞書をほしがっています (tanakasan wa jisho wo hoshigatte imasu) = “Tanaka seems to be desiring a dictionary.”  田中さんは海へ行きたがっています (tanakasan wa umi e ikitagatte imasu) = “Tanaka seems to be wanting to go to the ocean.”

Question 33. “A lot of things”

You want to say, “I’m learning a lot of things.”

Which three of the following Japanese sentences are correct?

  1. たくさんのことを習っています (takusan no koto wo naratte imasu)
  2. たくさんのものを習っています (takusan no mono wo naratte imasu)
  3. いろいろなことを習っています (iroiro na koto wo naratte imasu)
  4. いろいろなものを習っています (iroiro na mono wo naratte imasu)
ANSWER # 33

Sentences # 1, 3 and 4 are correct.

As we discussed in the answer to Question # 10, generally speaking, こと (koto) = “intangible thing,” and もの (mono) = “tangible thing.” A tangible thing is one that can be touched or directly perceived by the five senses.

たくさんのこと(takusan no koto) = “many intangible things,” such as ideas, and is OK in this situation. Therefore, sentence # 1, たくさんのことを習っています (takusan no koto wo naratte imasu), is correct.

In contrast, たくさんのもの (takusan no mono) = “many tangible things,” such as chairs and tables, and is not OK in this situation. Therefore, sentence # 2, たくさんのものを習っています (takusan no mono wo naratte imasu), is incorrect.

いろいろ (iroiro) is a na adjective meaning “various” or “many kinds of things.”  いろいろな (iroiro na) is often shortened to いろんな (ironna) in ordinary speech.  いろいろ (iroiro) implies greater variety than たくさん (takusan) but is equally appropriate to use if one is talking about “many ideas.”  いろいろなこと (iroiro na koto) = “many kinds of intangible things” and is OK in this situation. Therefore, sentence # 3, いろいろなことを習っています (iroiro na koto wo naratte imasu), is also correct.

From what we’ve said so far, you probably think that sentence # 4 is incorrect.  However, my Japanese consultants tell me that いろいろなもの (iroiro na mono) = “many kinds of things” is an idiomatic phrase that can be used even when one is talking about intangible things like ideas.

For example, the following three  sentences are all correct:  いろいろなものを教えています (iroiro na mono wo oshiete imasu) = “she is teaching many kinds of things.”  いろいろなものを書いています (iroiro na mono wo kaite imasu) = “I am writing many kinds of things.”  いろいろなものがわかっています (iroiro na mono ga wakatte imasu) = “he is understanding many kinds of things.”  [Of course, it’s also correct (and maybe safer for a beginner) to use こと(koto) instead of もの (mono) in all three of these sentences.] Therefore, sentence # 4, いろいろなものを習っています (iroiro na mono wo naratte imasu), is correct.

Question 34. “I shouldn’t have”

You want to say, “I shouldn’t have gone to Tokyo.”

Which four of the following Japanese sentences are correct?

  1. 東京に行くんじゃなかった (toukyou ni ikun ja nakatta)
  2. 東京に行くのじゃなかった (toukyou ni iku no ja nakatta)
  3. 東京に行くじゃなかった (toukyou ni iku ja nakatta)
  4. 東京に行かなければよかった (toukyou ni ikanakereba yokatta)
  5. 東京に行かなかったらよかった (toukyou ni ikanakattara yokatta)
  6. 東京に行かなかったならよかった (toukyou ni ikanakatta nara yokatta)
  7. 東京に行かなかったとよかった (toukyou ni ikanakatta to yokatta)
  8. 東京に行くべきじゃなかった (toukyou ni iku beki ja nakatta)
ANSWER # 34

Sentences # 1, 4, 5 and 8 are correct.

In Japanese, the phrase じゃない (ja nai) = じゃありません (ja arimasen) = “something is not something else.” For example, 椅子じゃない (isu ja nai) = 椅子じゃありません (isu ja arimasen) = “it isn’t a chair.”

This phrase can be contrasted with the similar phrase はない (wa nai) = はありません (wa arimasen) = “something doesn’t exist.” For example, 椅子はない (isu wa nai) = 椅子はありません (isu wa arimasen) = “there isn’t a chair” or “there aren’t any chairs.”

The past form of the phrase じゃない (ja nai) is じゃなかった  (ja nakatta), and the past form of the phrase じゃありません (ja arimasen) is じゃありませんでした (ja arimasen deshita). These phrases both mean “it wasn’t something else.” For example, 椅子じゃなかった (isu ja nakatta) = 椅子じゃありませんでした (isu ja arimasen deshita) = “it wasn’t a chair.”

In addition, じゃなかった (ja nakatta) [but not じゃありませんでした (ja arimasen deshita)] has another idiomatic meaning: “I shouldn’t have done something.” To form a sentence with this meaning, make a non-past plain speech noun phrase by using ん (‘n) and combine this phrase with じゃなかった (ja nakatta).  For example, take the sentence東京に行く (toukyou ni iku) = “I will go to Tokyo” or “I go to Tokyo.” This is non-past (meaning it’s in the present or future tense) and plain speech [meaning its verb 行く (iku) is in the plain speech form].

To turn the sentence 東京に行く (toukyou ni iku) into a noun phrase, you have three choices: 1) add ん (‘n) to the verb, 2) add の (no) to the verb, or 3) add こと (koto) to the verb. However, の (no) and こと (koto) cannot be used with じゃなかった (ja nakatta) if you want to say “I shouldn’t have.” This means that sentence # 2, 東京に行くのじゃなかった (toukyou ni iku no ja nakatta), which uses の (no), is incorrect. In addition, sentence # 3, 東京に行くじゃなかった (toukyou ni iku ja nakatta), is incorrect because it fails to turn 行く iku into a noun phrase.

On the other hand, sentence # 1, 東京に行くんじゃなかった (toukyou ni ikun ja nakatta), is correct, since it makes a noun phrase by adding ん (‘n) to 行く (iku).  It can be translated literally as “the go-to-Tokyo thing was not,” but the idiomatic meaning is “I shouldn’t have gone to Tokyo.”

Sentences # 4 and 5 illustrate a different way of saying “I shouldn’t have gone to Tokyo,” using the えば eba and たら tara verb forms to say “if.” They can both be translated “If I do not go to Tokyo, it was good.” Sentence # 4, 東京に行かなければよかった (toukyou ni ikanakereba yokatta), and sentence # 5, 東京に行かなかったらよかった (toukyou ni ikanakattara yokatta), are correct.

Sentence # 6 uses なら (nara), meaning “in the case,” to express the idea “In the case that I do not go to Tokyo, it was good.”  Although this sentence is OK grammatically, it sounds awkward to use なら (nara) to express regret. Therefore, sentence # 6, 東京に行かなかったならよかった (toukyou ni ikanakatta nara yokatta), is incorrect.

Sentence # 7 uses と (to) to mean “if” and could be translated “If I do not go to Tokyo, it was good.” However, と(to) may not be combined with よかった (yokatta) to express regret. Therefore, sentence # 7, 東京に行かなかったとよかった (toukyou ni ikanakatta to yokatta), is incorrect.

Sentence # 8 uses the suffix べき (–beki) which, when used after a plain speech verb, means “should” or “must.” Sentence # 8, 東京に行くべきじゃなかった (toukyou ni iku beki ja nakatta), is correct.

To review how to say “I should have gone to Tokyo,” please see Question 21, “Expressing Regret.”

Question 35. “Finish”

You want to say, “Please finish the work.”  Which three of the following answers are correct?

  1. 仕事を終わってください (shigoto wo owatte kudasai)
  2. 仕事を終えてください (shigoto wo oete kudasai)
  3. 仕事を仕上げてください (shigoto wo shiagete kudasai)
  4. 仕事を仕上がってください (shigoto wo shiagatte kudasai)
  5.  仕事を済ませてください (shigoto wo sumasete kudasai)
  6. 仕事を済ましてください (shigoto wo sumashite kudasai)
ANSWER # 35

Sentences # 2, 3, and 5 are correct.

終わる (owaru) means “finish,” but it’s an intransitive verb, meaning that it cannot act on an object. For example, you may not say 仕事を終わる (shigoto wo owaru) = “I finish the work.” Instead you must say 仕事が終わる (shigoto ga owaru) = “the work finishes.” Therefore, sentence # 1, 仕事を終わってください (shigoto wo owatte kudasai), is incorrect.

Many Japanese verbs exist as paired twins, with one transitive verb and one intransitive verb in each pair. The transitive twin of the intransitive verb 終わる (owaru) = “finish” is 終える (oeru) = “finish.” This verb can act on an object. Therefore, sentence # 2, 仕事を終えてください (shigoto wo oete kudasai), is correct.

By the way, it’s also appropriate to use the causative form of 終わる (owaru),  終わらせる (owaraseru), to say “please finish the work.” 仕事を終わらせてください (shigoto wo owarasete kudasai) = “please cause the work to finish.” This sentence might be addressed to the leader of a group, implying that he or she should make the group members finish, but it could also be addressed to an individual who is solely responsible for the work.  However, note that the exact same sentence 仕事を終わらせてください (shigoto wo owarasete kudasai) can also mean “please let me finish the work,” depending on the context.

仕上げる (shiageru) also means “finish,” and it’s a transitive verb, capable of acting on an object like 仕事 (shigoto).  仕上げる (shiageru) implies that we already started the work and want to finish it up. Therefore, sentence # 3, 仕事を仕上げてください (shigoto wo shiagete kudasai), is correct.

仕上がる (shiagaru) also means “finish,” but it’s an intransitive verb and cannot act on an object. Therefore, sentence # 4, 仕事を仕上がってください (shigoto wo shiagatte kudasai), is incorrect.

済ませる (sumaseru) and 済ます (sumasu) are both transitive verbs that mean “finish.”  Their intransitive fraternal twin (or “triplet,” to push this analogy a little further) is 済む (sumu) = “finish.” Both 済ませる (sumaseru) and 済ます (sumasu) can act on objects.  済ませる (sumaseru) is more polite and thus more appropriate to use when addressing older people, while 済ます (sumasu) is more direct and might be better used when addressing children. However, Noriko feels that 仕事を済ましてください (shigoto wo sumashite kudasai) sounds awkward and should not be used. Therefore, sentence # 5, 仕事を済ませてください (shigoto wo sumasete kudasai), is correct, but sentence # 6, 仕事を済ましてください (shigoto wo sumashite kudasai), is incorrect.

Please note that 済ませる (sumaseru) is also the causative form of 済む (sumu), so the sentence 仕事を済ませてください (shigoto wo sumasete kudasai) could also mean “please let me finish the work,” depending on the context.

By the way, 出来上がる (dekiagaru) is another verb that means “complete” or “become ready.” However, 出来上がる (dekiagaru) is an intransitive verb.  Apparently it has no transitive equivalent.

Finally, another transitive verb that can mean “finish” is まとめる (matomeru). Its intransitive twin is まとまる (matomaru). However, まとめる (matomeru) also carries the meanings “bring together,” “bundle,” or “arrange.” Therefore, 仕事をまとめてください (shigoto wo matomete kudasai) means something like “please arrange the work or put it together,” rather than “please finish the work.”

Question 36. “Ippai”

You haven’t finished the food on your plate.

You want to say, “I got full.”  Which one of the following sentences is correct?

  1.  お腹がいっぱくなった (onaka ga ippaku natta)
  2. お腹が一杯になった (onaka ga ippai ni natta)
ANSWER # 36

Sentence # 2 is correct.

一杯 (ippai) can mean “one cup” (or glass, bowl, spoonful etc.). You can also say 二杯 (nihai) = two cups, 三杯 (sanbai) = three cups, and so forth.

In addition, 一杯 (ippai) can mean “full.” For example, 人で一杯 (hito de ippai) = “full of people” and お腹が一杯です (onaka ga ippai desu) = “the stomach is full.”

一杯 (ippai), when it means “full,” resembles an adjective, possibly an i adjective. When you combine an i adjective with なる (naru) = “become,” you must change the adjective to its く (ku) form by removing the final i and adding ku. For example, 寒い (samui) = “cold.”  寒くなりました (samuku narimashita) = 寒くなった (samuku natta) = “it became cold.”

However, 一杯 (ippai) is actually not an i adjective. It isn’t a na adjective either. It’s a noun.  You may say things like 一杯のコップ (ippai no koppu) = “a full glass.”  You may not say things like 一杯なコップ (ippai na koppu). Therefore, sentence # 1, お腹がいっぱくなった (onaka ga ippaku natta), is incorrect.

Since 一杯 (ippai) is a noun, you must follow it with に (ni) when you combine it with なる (naru) = “become.” Therefore, sentence # 2, お腹が一杯になった (onaka ga ippai ni natta), is correct.

By the way, it’s also OK to simply say お腹が一杯 (onaka ga ippai) = “the stomach is full” in this situation.

Question 37. “As Expected”

You’ve just eaten some left-over food that had been stored in the refrigerator for 3 days.

Now you want to say, “As expected, it wasn’t delicious.”  Which two of the following answers are correct?

  1. やっぱりおいしくなかった (yappari, oishikunakatta)
  2.  思ったとおりおいしくなかった (omotta toori, oishikunakatta)
  3. さすがにおいしくなかった (sasuga ni, oishikunakatta)
ANSWER # 37

Sentences # 1 and 2 are correct.

やっぱり (yappari) is an expression commonly used by Japanese people. A somewhat more formal version of this term is やはり (yahari).  やっぱり (yappari) and やはり (yahari) can be translated as “when you think about it,” “I guess,” or “you know.” For example, やっぱり電車のほうが早いでしょう (yappari densha no hou ga hayai deshou) = “when you think about it, the train is probably faster.”

やっぱり (yappari) can also mean “after all.” For example, やっぱり結婚することにしました (yappari kekkon suru koto ni shimashita) = “I decided to get married after all.”

In addition, やっぱり (yappari) can mean “as expected” or “as I thought,”  as seen in the first answer to this question. Therefore, sentence # 1, やっぱりおいしくなかった (yappari, oishikunakatta), is correct. 

通り (toori) means “street,” “road” or “way.” In addition, 通り (toori) can be combined with other terms to mean “a way of doing.” For example, その通り (sono toori) or その通りです (sono toori desu) means “that’s the way!” or “that’s right!”  いつもの通り (itsumo no toori) = “the way things are always done.”  心配した通り (shinpai shita toori) = “what I worried about.”  思った通り (omotta toori) = “the way I thought.” Therefore, sentence # 2,思ったとおりおいしくなかった (omotta toori, oishikunakatta), is correct. 

さすがに (sasuga ni) means “as expected.”  It may be used with or without に (ni).  However, さすがに (sasuga ni) and さすが (sasuga) are primarily used to express compliments about other people or their affairs. They are not ordinarily used to refer to yourself or your own activities.

For example, you might say さすがに日本人はよく働く (sasuga ni nihonjin wa yoku hataraku) = “as expected, Japanese people work a lot.” In addition, さすがだ (sasuga da) and さすがね (sasuga ne) are often used as exclamations, meaning something like “Wow!  This is good, as expected.” With this in mind, sentence # 3, さすがにおいしくなかった (sasuga ni, oishikunakatta), is incorrect, since you are not complimenting anyone.

Question 38. “Difficult”

A man is digging a ditch, and you stop to talk to him.

You want to say, “That work is probably difficult, huh.” In this situation, which two of the following sentences are correct?

  1. その仕事は難しいでしょうね (sono shigoto wa muzukashii deshou ne)
  2. その仕事は大変でしょうね (sono shigoto wa taihen deshou ne)
  3. その仕事はきつそうですね (sono shigoto wa kitsusou desu ne)
ANSWER # 38

Sentences # 2 and 3  are correct.

難しい (muzukashii) is an i adjective meaning “difficult.” However, 難しい (muzukashii) is only used to describe tasks that are mentally difficult, not to describe physically demanding work. Activities such as learning a language and doing professional or office work can be 難しい (muzukashii). Digging ditches cannot be 難しい (muzukashii).  Therefore, sentence # 1, その仕事は難しいでしょうね (sono shigoto wa muzukashii deshou ne), is incorrect. 

大変 (taihen) is a na adjective commonly used by Japanese people. It has several meanings, including “serious,” “terrible,” “enormous,” “disastrous” and “difficult.” It would be appropriate to use 大変 (taihen) in this situation. Therefore, sentence # 2, その仕事は大変でしょうね (sono shigoto wa taihen deshou ne), is correct. 

きつい (kitsui) is an i adjective with several meanings, including “stern,” “strict,” “tight” (as in “tight shoes”), and “hard” (as in “hard or heavy work”).  きつい (kitsui) would also be an appropriate word to use in this situation. However, きついでしょう (kitsui deshou) sounds awkward. It’s best to use the form きつそうです (kitusou desu), meaning “it appears difficult,” as in sentence 3. Therefore, sentence # 3, その仕事はきつそうですね (sono shigoto wa kitsusou desu ne), is correct.

Question 39. “Welcome”

A friend comes to your apartment.

You want to say, “Welcome.” In this situation, which three of the following phrases are correct?

  1. よくいらっしゃいました (yoku irasshaimashita)
  2. いらっしゃい (irasshai)
  3. いらっしゃいませ (irasshaimase)
  4. よくいらっしゃい (yoku irasshai)
ANSWER # 39

Sentences # 1, 2 and 3 are correct.

いらっしゃる (irassharu) [or いらっしゃいます (irasshaimasu)] is a very polite verb meaning “to exist,” “to come” or “to go.” You can never use this verb when referring to yourself, but you will often use it to refer to other people in polite situations. For example, 先生がいらっしゃいます (sensei ga irasshaimasu) can mean either “the teacher is here,” “the teacher will come,” or “the teacher will go.”

When you are greeting your friend at your apartment, the phrase よくいらっしゃいました (yoku irasshaimashita) means “you well came honorably” or “it’s good that you came.” This is an excellent way to say “Welcome” in this situation. Therefore, sentence # 1, よくいらっしゃいました (yoku irasshaimashita), is correct. 

いらっしゃい (irasshai) is the informal imperative form of the verb いらっしゃる (irassharu). Another way to form the informal imperative form of いらっしゃる (irassharu) is to say いらっしゃってください (irasshatte kudasai), meaning “please exist,” “please come,” or “please go.” Sometimes いらっしゃって (irasshatte) is shortened to いらして (irashite), as in どうぞいらしてください (douzo irashite kudasai) = “go ahead, please come.”  In this context, いらっしゃい (irasshai) means something like “Be welcome!”

[By the way, ください (kudasai), which we usually translate as “please,” is also an informal imperative form, of the verb くださる (kudasaru), meaning “to honorably give to me or a member of my in-group.”]

Imperative verb forms may sound rude to English-speaking people. For example, the informal imperative form of 行く (iku) = “to go” is 行け (ike), meaning “go!” Certainly it would be rude to say 行け (ike) to a person who is outside of your in-group. However, the imperative forms of very polite verbs like いらっしゃる (irassharu) and くださる (kudasaru) do not sound rude to Japanese people.  On the contrary, they are thought to be extremely polite. Therefore, sentence # 2, いらっしゃい (irasshai) is correct. 

In addition to its informal imperative form used in answer 2, いらっしゃる (irassharu) = “to exist, come or go” has a formal imperative form:   いらっしゃいませ (irasshaimase) = “welcome.” This is the phrase that you will frequently hear when you enter a store or restaurant in Japan.

ませ (mase) is a very polite suffix that can be attached to certain already-polite phrases to make them even more polite. For example, if you wanted to invite someone to sit in a chair, you could say おかけください (okake kudasai) = “please honorably sit.” To make this even more polite, you could say おかけくださいませ (okake kudasaimase) = “please honorably sit.” With this in mind, sentence # 3, いらっしゃいませ (irasshaimase), is also correct (but it is really too formal to use when addressing a friend).

Unfortunately, sentence # 4 is a beginner’s blunder, combining aspects of sentence # 1 and sentence # 2 in a way that is completely unacceptable to a Japanese person. Therefore, sentence # 4, よくいらっしゃい (yoku irasshai), is incorrect.

Question 40. “You’re right”

It’s Mother’s Day. Your friend, who happens to be a mother, reaches for another piece of candy and, to justify this action, says 母の日だから (haha no hi dakara) = “since it’s Mother’s Day.”

In response, you want to say something encouraging, like “You’re right.” Which four of the following responses would be appropriate?

  1. もちろん (mochiron)
  2. そうですよね (sou desu yo ne)
  3. 正しいです (tadashii desu)
  4. どうぞ (douzo)
  5. やっぱり (yappari)
  6. そうなんですけど (sou nan desu kedo)
ANSWER # 40

Responses # 1, 2, 3 and 4 are correct, but response # 3 is somewhat awkward.

もちろん (mochiron) means “of course.” In this context, it would mean “of course, you can have another piece of candy.” Therefore, response # 1, もちろん (mochiron), is correct.

そうですよね (sou desu yo ne) means “that’s so, for sure, huh!” This is an encouraging remark, and it would be appropriate in this situation.

In contrast, if you said そうですね (sou desu ne), meaning “that’s so, huh,” it could still be appropriate, depending on how you said it.  If you said そうですね (sou desu ne) briskly, it would mean “I agree with you.” However, if you said it rather hesitantly, dragging out the ね (ne) at the end, it could come across as a somewhat skeptical remark, along the lines of “let me see…” In any case, response # 2, そうですよね (sou desu yo ne), is correct. 

正しいです(tadashii desu) means “it’s correct” or “you’re right,” but this response hits the wrong emotional note in this situation.  正しいです(tadashii desu) would be more appropriate if your friend had just said something like エベレストは世界で一番高い山です (eberesuto wa sekai de ichiban takai yama desu) = “as for Everest, it’s the world’s tallest mountain.” With this in mind, response # 3, 正しいです (tadashii desu), is correct, but it sounds awkward in this context.

どうぞ (douzo) means “go ahead.” In this case, this would mean “go ahead and have another piece of candy.” This remark would be very appropriate in this situation. Therefore, response # 4, どうぞ (douzo), is correct.

やっぱり(yappari) was discussed in the Answer to Question 37. It can be translated as “when you think about it,” “I guess,” “you know,” “after all,” “as expected” or “as I thought.”  None of these meanings would provide any encouragement to your friend, and やっぱり(yappari) could actually be interpreted as a kind of criticism, i.e., “I thought you were going to take another piece.” Therefore, response # 5, やっぱり (yappari), is incorrect.

そうなんですけど (sou nan desu kedo) means “that’s so, but …”   なん (nan) is a softening word here, intended to make the sentence less direct and assertive. However, the hanging “but” at the end implies that you don’t really agree with your friend’s decision to have another piece of candy, regardless of Mother’s Day. Therefore, response # 6, そうなんですけど (sou nan desu kedo), is incorrect.

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