A small rant about Tae Kim's Guide

I regularly see Tae Kim’s guide suggested, and hearing it recently implied to be always or almost always correct kind of triggered me to write this, which I wanted to make my own post.

To start with an external somewhat authoritative force, the creator of Imabi posted this on r/LearnJapanese:

One quality that the creator of Tae Kim lacks which I’ve embraced for quite a lot time has been humility, and I believe it serves as the core difference between our philosophies and the stance of veterans here that disapprove of his work. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Shitsumonday thread in the past four years or so I’ve frequented here that didn’t have at least one Tae Kim reference that was not later scrutinized by very knowledgeable individuals and or native speakers. Yet, as many know, you could have a copy of Tae Kim’s work from 2008 and compare the same pages to what is there now and nothing will have changed. There is no evidence that he cares about the mistakes/critiques floating about. Sure, you shouldn’t dwell on people critiquing your work, but as for me, I’ve always shadowed remarks made about my work, and I make good on the commitment to fixing any flaws that are pointed out (and I don’t even make an income off my stuff when he does :/).

There is more for him not taking critcism well, like when he appeared in the comments here on an r/badlinguistics post pointing out his mistakes.

Of the 3 Tae Kim articles I have ever read (only 1 of these 3 were really selection biased), literally all of them were misleading, oversimplifying, or just outright wrong (according to Imabi creator, this is a trend that extends to the other articles). People will defend this by saying it is for beginners, but it is also often still confusing despite all of these things.

Let me just trace through the 3 I have read:

  1. Introduction to Particles

This is the worst of all of them. Its also literally the first actual grammar lesson (other than introducing だ as the copular). The worst part is the introduction to が:

This is where the 「が」 particle comes into play. It is also referred to as the subject particle but I hate that name since “subject” means something completely different in English grammar. Instead, I call it the identifier particle because the particle indicates that the speaker wants to identify something unspecified.

This, naturally doesn’t make any sense. The correct explanation would be something on the lines of “が typically marks the subject, but occasionally it marks other parts of speech. Generally, when something is marked, it is the important “thing” the speaker wants you to think about which is is either acting or being acted upon.” People may say that is wordy and confusing for a beginner, and fine, but Tae Kim’s explanation is just nonsense.

Then he tries to give the nuance between は and が (another point against being aimed at beginners) but gives an explanation that is simultaneously confusing and not helpful.

However, the second sentence is specifying who the 「学生」 is. If we want to know who the student is, the 「が」 particle tells us it’s 「私」. You can also think about the 「が」 particle as always answering a silent question. The second sentence might be answering a question, “Who is the student?” I often translate the topic particle as “as for; about” and the identifier particle as “the one; the thing” to illustrate the difference.

Like, what? Sure, は is literally something like “as for” but the literal English translation doesn’t help at all in giving the nuance. Generally, if one wanted to highlight the difference in oversimplified terms, just say that は is kind of like “the” and が is like “a.” A full detailed account on the differences could take several pages, at least, and would require more understanding of grammar to illustrate.

When I was learning, I actually tried using Tae Kim’s guide, and this is where I stopped, and man am I glad I did.

  1. Expressing “must” or “have to”

The main thing here is he gives ないとならない as a valid way of saying “have to.” The grammaticality of this is disputed. If you look it up, you will see some sources saying it is OK, some sources saying it is linguistically awkward, and some sources saying it ungrammatical (see this as an example). At the very least, one would expect some sort of warning about this. But nope, its included.

If you try to wave it away by saying it is for beginners and not to overwhelm them, then why include it in the first place? It isn’t a very common pattern (obviously given its linguistic status), and for speaking there are a ton of other patterns (like the 11 other ones listed by Tae Kim, along with their truncations).

And of course, he gives all of these patterns, but fails to actually convey any of the nuance between them as well.

I read this article originally because it was linked to by BunPro.

  1. Giving and receiving in Japanese: The guide says this:

Using 「やる」 to mean 「あげる」

Usually used for pets, animals, and such, you can substitute 「やる」, which normally means “to do”, for 「あげる」. You would normally never use this type of 「やる」 for people. I only included this so that you won’t be confused by sentences like the following.

Which is super misleading. やる and てやる are both used in other contexts. It generally has a vulgar feel to it (not just rude), so you typically mainly see it in media with action and stuff.

It also (though I don’t really fault it for this) really give the nuance between using あげる and やる for pets. Basically, older people tend to use やる for pets more than younger people, because やる used to not have the level of vulgarity/rudeness associated with it and was just normal to use when giving to inferiors, but slid down so far that あげる is just the default way for everything that isn’t a superior. But old people will still feel uncomfortable using あげる with pets.

I only read this article because I remember a learner asking me confusedly about やる based on what they saw in the guide. So this one is admittedly selection biased.

So, after all this, I don’t want to tell you that you can’t use Tae Kim’s guide. But please, if you do, use it with a grain of salt.

My own personal opinion is that there are much better sources than Tae Kim’s guide in the world of 2021, like Wasabi’s grammar guide (which serves Tae Kim’s exact intended purpose of being a pure beginner thing), Bunpro, Imabi, Maggie Sensei, The Dictionary of Japanese Grammar series, The Handbook of Japanese Grammar Patterns, and Pomax’s grammar guide.


Great post, but I’m afraid your criticism is invalid – It’s not in Japanese.



TIL Japanese language = sky diving


I wonder…

Does reaching level 60 in Wanikani make you a liscenced pilot too?


Yeah, reading Tae Kim’s は/が “disambiguation” when I was first starting out led me to think that they were more or less interchangeable, which is a big no-no. Turns out transitive and intransitive verbs are a thing. Oops.

It’s at least nifty learning about different grammatical minutia while trying to learn Japanese and, in the process, figuring out more about your native language. Knowing specific grammatical terms: the hottest party trick of 2021.


Not a pilot, it does qualify you to fly the spaceship to crabigator planet.


Then you get to sky dive onto an alien planet?


i read quite a bit of Tae Kim early on in this adventure (like, last april or so). and while i’m in no way qualified to discuss how correct he is, i did find that he explained stuff better than the green owl. so he was useful to me at the time.

this autumn i found imabi, which i generally prefer. however imabi is much denser and uses vocabulary which many readers won’t be familiar with. as such, it is probably less accessible, in particular to beginning students. back in april, imabi would have completely overwhelmed me.

so i think probably both have their uses? but Tae Kim gets mentioned more frequently because many learners never proceed far beyond where he’s useful.


I would argue that almost any grammar resource explains things better than that owl :laughing:


Yes. However, there doesn’t seem to be a way off. Not that I mind. :durtle_durverted_lvl2:


Wow, I never really realized the depths of which Tae Kim’s guide may actually be flawed. This is absolutely where, especially when explaining linguistics, that proper research, sources, and language background can help teach these concepts properly and not spread misinformation.

This reminds me that native speakers are not necessarily authorities on why certain grammatical constructs or linguistical syntax are as such; it’s just that they grew with it and it’s basically second-nature; and yet intuition is not the same as theory and cannot be explained as such.

I’m going to wholeheartedly stick to recommending the Japanese Grammar dictionaries to my Nihongo Benkyou bros.



You know what I heard? I’ve heard rumours that he might be… *sotto voce* Korean

I’m… I’m pretty sure that being an expert at jumping out of planes is the opposite of being a licenced pilot. Generally when you’re a pilot you need to stick with the plane the whole way.


Yes, and I will add, the only thing the green owl cares about is to get you to keep using the green owl and seeing his green ads.


I started taking his guide with a grain of salt when I watched the Cure Dolly critiques on them.

But, while flawed, they are a comprehensive and free resource. You get what you pay for. :wink:


And yet Dolly’s videos are free as well and much more understandable (in my opinion at least).


Yes. There is insight on natives being a good indicator on whether something sounds natural or not, but there is also importance in academic knowledge of explaining what natives would struggle to.

Edit: Uhoh, @Jonapedia is typing and hasn’t liked the OP, so I’m afraid of getting a 2000 word post that is going to get me BTFOed :stuck_out_tongue:


Years ago I wanted to learn how to code. I went to my local library and borrowed a book (yes, before the internet we had to rely on actual books ;)). Half the code examples didn’t even compile, there were many mistakes in spelling, horribly mistranslated coding terms and, as I’ve learned later on, many recommended practices were absolute garbage. Nonetheless, I’ve studied the book and did the excercises. I wrote code. Then I got more books, did more excercises, wrote more code. Eventually I became an intern, and then moved on to a permanent position. Now other programmers come to me to ask how to design their systems, how to debug tricky issues, how I would solve a particular problem.
Do you think I would’ve gotten to where I’m at today, if instead of learning, I worried more about finding the perfect book at the very beginning?

It’s the same thing with Tae’s guide. It might be far from perfect, but it’s free, there’s a pdf, and it’s a starting point.


The formatting is also well done with headings and sections.

Maggie-Sensei probably has better overall information but there’s no overarching organization.

And I personally am not a fan of the Angelfire/Geocities styling.

That was posted 20m ago. :joy:

@Jonapedia all in good fun, mate. :wink: I really do like the comprehensiveness of your posts.


I never said that people can’t use it and get value from it (I explicitly say so at the end). I just want to note

  1. Don’t consider Tae Kim to be authoritative/uncontroversial

  2. Learners really should be given a caveat to not fully trust the source (again, I’ve had to help learners who get very confused, like the one I mentioned not understanding why やる was used for something that isn’t a pet)

  3. At least be aware of the other resources that exist, since sometimes it feels sometimes that resource recommendation hasn’t progressed since 2008.



yes, and the 1,000th level 60 gets to decide once and for all, is the chocolate side the top or the bottom of the biscuit