What does this say お弁当を私は公園で食べた ? I think it says ‘I ate box lunch at the park’. I’m having trouble translating it because を is between watashi and park instead of between a verb and noun.
Unlike english, japanese sentence structure does not require specific word order to indicate the grammatical function of each word involved; を は and で fulfill that purpose instead, and the stuff they’re attached to can be rearranged for emphasis on whatever comes first. So your translation is fine.
Just a quick add-in to what @bblum said. While most words can be arranged however due to the use of particles, note that verbs are much more restricted and will almost always be at the end of phrases. There are also certain usual word orders that are much more natural, but, depending on what is needed to be said, you may end up with situations where the object precedes the topic. Pretty sure the most natural way to word that sentence in Japanese would be （私は）公園で弁当を食べた。
But yeah, you’re translation is fine. To produce a similar effect in English, one could also say, “At the park, I ate a box lunch.”
To add a bit to this, you should see the last part of a Japanese sentence as the most important, and everything before it just makes it more specific. Just 「食べた。」 is already a perfectly fine sentence. The particles を/は/に/で/… show that these other sentence parts will modify a verb, so you can use any order for those as long as they stay in front of the right verb.
Parts that can also modify nouns like の are not shiftable because you suddenly start modifying the wrong item (like 私の弁当を公園で != 弁当を私の公園で).
Is で should be に because the meal is eaten at the park, not via park?
In this case で is indicating location, not means (“at the park,” not “by park”). に is only used when the action taking place has some form of motion (whether figurative or literal). As eating is an action that has no “direction,” に would not be used here unless one were to say something along the lines of “I went to the park to eat a lunch box (私は弁当を食べるために公園に行った).”
Japanese is a bit confusing because the particle looks the same but has a different function.
In the Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar there is (so there are probably even more …):
- a particle which indicates location, except for location of existence
- a particle which indicates the use of s.t. for doing s.t.
- a particle (apparently derived from the te-form of desu) that indicates a weak causal relationship
- a particle which indicates the time when s.t. terminates or the amount of time a period or activity has taken
For に there are already seven definitions, you are thinking of:
- a particle which indicates the location where s.o. or s.t. exists
食べる is not a verb related to existence, so で is correct.
That sentence is from here. http://www.guidetojapanese.org/learn/grammar/clause
and there is a dedicated article that goes into further detail about it here. http://www.guidetojapanese.org/learn/debunking-the-japanese-sentence-order-myth/#comment-338
Woops, good catch, especially since that was the point of the example sentence! Fixed now.
Thank you for explanations.
I thought it was completely ungrammatical to not have the は particle noun as the first thing said?
The topic X wa normally appears at the beginning of a sentence, but it not wrong to put it somewhere else. It is a bit detached from the sentence, in XはY the focus of the sentence is on Y, so it seems more natural to separate it.
Note that は not only marks the topic but also contrastive elements, so you can also have it multiple times:
春子には人形を、明子には絵本をあげた。 (I gave Haruko a doll and Akiko a picture book.)
There are also constructs like AはBがC, like 私は英語が分かる。 (I understand English.) I think it would be problematic to shuffle around in set phrases like that.
Going to give you advice that helped me when first learning how to think out of order from english. Just think of particles as commas and pretend you are Yoda.
Example: A bento, I, at the park, ate.
Of course with particles like de, kara, made, etc. You want to add stuff like “at the”, “from”, “till”, etc.
Personally I hate how books and examples try to translate stuff into proper english. I prefer broken yodaish english because it helped me understand how to think more japanese and less english.
Fun fact: Yoda’s speech pattern was based on Japanese grammar (just like Darth Vader’s helmet was based on Samurai helmets etc. - there are lots of references to Japan[ese] in Star Wars).