で vs を usage

Are で and を interchangeable in these word combinations?



For some reason, using を here sounds a bit unnatural, but may be that’s just me. Considering the 海 example, the first sentence is using で while the other one is using を.


Sometimes both で and を can be used, but the meaning changes, so I wouldn’t call them interchangeable.

で marks a location where an action occurs
を marks a location where a movement-related action passes through

で can be very unnatural with these kinds of verbs in some cases. The person answering in the question linked below is native Japanese, and I feel they would disagree with を being unnatural. They do address why で is sometimes possible though (and specifically mention 泳ぐ).

With で you lose a lot of the traveling aspect, which doesn’t make sense with most of the motion verbs. With プールで泳ぐ and 海で泳ぐ, it works because there is a sense of recreationally swimming without travelling.


Perfect, thanks for clarifying. It makes a lot more sense now.

Man, what a terrific answer!

I wonder what it is about English that makes this so hard for us non-native speakers? I also want to use で incorrectly in these movement situations.

There’s a strong pull to use で to mark where something happens, regardless of motion.

I suppose it’s because “I walked on the path” is just as valid, if not more common than “I walked the path”. It’s weird to think of the path as a direct grammatical object.

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I think there’s a school of thought that says it isn’t a direct grammatical object in these Japanese sentences and that instead there is more than one thing that を might do :slight_smile:

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Serious question: do you think it’s doing something different in these examples?

This を is an indirect object marker and the verbs are still intransitive… if that’s what you mean by if it’s doing something different.

公園を歩く is like “walk through the park”

But it’s probably best to just leave English out of the comparisons.


Agreed, but I’m trying to understand why English speakers like myself find this usage of the object marker strange. It’s hard to do that without thinking about how we’d express things in both languages.

I thought @pm215 was saying the を was doing something different than indicating the object of an action in these sentences.

In this case, I’m specifically wondering whether 公園を歩く isn’t actually closer to “walk the park” than “walk through the park” (though the latter is more natural and automatic to English speakers). We seem to want to add something else (“in the park,” “at the park,” “through the park”) that isn’t present in the Japanese (and adds nuance not present in the original).

Not a big deal, I was just curious about why this seems strange to us.

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Well, I don’t think you can put the sentences into the passive so the o-marked location becomes the subject, for instance. And I don’t think プールで泳ぐ has an implicit omitted direct object also marking location. So I do prefer to think of を+verb-of-motion as a special case rather than thinking of these verbs as being transitive. But I haven’t gone looking for academic references to see how it’s analysed by actual linguists…

I’m not sure what you mean. Are you referring to how I said it’s “like” the English sentence I gave, as if I meant it’s only similar in some superficial way, but doesn’t mean that?

Okay, 公園を歩く means “walk through the park”

Just like に and まで and へ are particles for movement with intransitive verbs, so is を.


My guess is that it’s just that we learn the で-for-action-location first and we get plenty of reinforcement for that meaning because it’s the most usual way of specifying place-of-action; the を+movement-verb usage is taught later and is just less common overall so it takes a while to see enough in-context uses of it to override the more general で-marks-location pattern that we picked up first.

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No, not at all. “Walk through the park” expresses the same idea in English well enough.

I just meant there is no word in the Japanese original that connotes going “through” something.

The original has a word that means “park,” a word that means “walk,” and a particle doing the grammatical heavy lifting.

These all mean subtly different things:

  • “Walk through the park”
  • “Walk in the park”
  • “Walk at the park”

The subtle differences are all due to the choice of word we add (through/in/at). I only meant that the original doesn’t seem to contain any of them.

It could be due to this, but I’m not sure. To me, it feels like a difference in how we “think” in each language.

But there is – that is what を is doing…


The fact that を could correspond to multiple English words depending on the situation (along, in, over, under, through, etc) doesn’t mean it corresponds to none of them. To me anyway.

に can be at, in, to, and… probably other things as well. I wouldn’t expect a 1-to-1 correspondence for basic grammar words.

One thing to remember is that を expresses the idea of 移動. “Walk in the park” isn’t really expressing that to me in the same way. It’s more like the で uses with 泳ぐ we were discussing.


This perhaps gets to the heart of how we interpret things differently.

Correctly or not, I view particles as purely grammatical constructs that carry absolutely no semantic meaning.

You two seem to feel that particles can carry semantic meaning depending on usage: it means something like “through” in these examples.

Dunno which way of thinking about it is correct, but I don’t think it’s exactly wrong to translate 公園を歩く as “walk the park” or exactly wrong to translate it as “walk through the park.”

The intended meaning was probably similar to the latter, but I’m still unsure that “through” is any better than “in,” for example, even though “through” and “in” have two different semantic meanings.

We’ve fallen into the trap we wanted to avoid (English comparisons). :laughing:

This is the crux: does を express the semantic concept of 移動(いどう)? Doesn’t that come purely and only from the 動詞(どうし) 「歩く」?

(Genuine question, this is the first I’ve heard this expressed.)

I’m just reading from the dictionary.

Definition 3 is the one we’re discussing. 2 is similar but has to do with why you can say 家を出る, it’s just identifying a point not a space to move through.

Do you also say that に, から, まで, etc. don’t have any semantic meaning?

Sorry to keep editing, but I would just point to the use of 経由 in the definition.



(Also laughing that it never occurred to me to look up を in a J-J dictionary!)

FWIW, the actual linguists who wrote the Japan Times Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar call out four different senses for を:

  1. Direct object

  2. “indicates a space in/on/across/through/along which something moves.”

  3. “marks the location from which some movement begins.”

  4. “marks the cause of some human emotion.”

For sense 2, which is clearly the one we’re talking about here, it says that (compared to で) をcan only be used with motion verbs: walk or swim, but not study or think.

When either is grammatically possible, で implies there’s a choice between locations, を often implies that there’s another purpose for the action. John swims で the river because he doesn’t like the pool. John escaped by swimming を the lake.

(This is just a quick summary of a two page discussion. Go to the original source for full details.)


I think particles would be a lot easier to use correctly if that were true.


Going to bed soon, but just want to make one last point, I think if you aren’t walking though the park with travel in mind, and you’re merely using the park as a place to do the activity of walking, 公園で散歩する is probably best.