Grammar learning

Hi all,
I’ve either never studied grammar or I’ve forgotten all about it. If you mention noun, adjective, verb, etc. - I’ll have a vague idea of what you’re talking about, but not anything specific. It’s usually a non-issue, since I have a decent feel for sentences structure and all that, but stuff like transitive vs intransitive verbs are tripping me up (eg. さげる vs さがる). For the moment, I’ve worked past the issue with rote memorization as it’s meaning is not sticking as well as others. My question is, is this something to worry about long term? If it is, would you have any suggestions to make the process smoother?

You should definitely get a solid foundation established before trying to go too much further. The longer you wait, the more it’s going to feel overwhelming. I think some kind of textbook is the best way to get the basics nailed down, and then you can move on to a process of attacking specific grammar points that you have questions on, using things like imabi or Stack Exchange or the Dictionary of Japanese Grammar series.


When reading, it doesnt matter. You will be able to tell what is and isn’t transitive by just seeing if it takes a direct object or not. Talking/writing however will depend on it a lot, but there is something you can do to help yourself. This is by no means 100% true for all words, but often stuff ending in ~aru is intransitive, ~eru is transitive. There are more endings like this, but they are escaping me at the moment for which belongs in what category. I would recommend looking it up to get an all inclusive guide. Its easier to just do this way, imo, and remember the rare cases this doesnt apply.

For example


Before you get worried, yes, I’d say it’s extremely important. This is why textbooks and grammar guides are so important to learning a language. A lot of textbooks will assume you don’t know what these terms mean, and so will explain to you what they are before launching into the Japanese.

This is the part where I plug Human Japanese for the 14th time. Skip over this if you don't care

I don’t know if you’re really looking for resources, but personally I’d recommend you check out an app called Human Japanese. This is how I started with Japanese, but the main reason I’m recommending it is because it is fantastic at breaking down grammar explanations. It certainly takes its time, but if you don’t know your adjectives from your adverbs (or your SOVs from your SVOs), the app will save your butt. It’s done in a textbook style as well, so it has full explanations, example sentences, the lot.

Not sponsored, just a big fan

Just remember that grammar is just as (I’d say more) important than the vocab and kanji. Even if you knew every Japanese word, you won’t have a clue of how to read stuff if you don’t understand much grammar more than the sentence “これはペンです。” contains.

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Unless the direct object is implied. In those cases you could misunderstand the meaning because you didn’t know the verb was transitive.


I guess it all depends on how you learn, but I find having a basic grammatical vocabulary helps a lot when it comes to talking about a language. I’m an English teacher, and even I sometimes forget what a structure is called.

By the way, transitive verbs are things that you do to someone/something (take a direct object), and intransitive verbs are things that you can’t do to someone/something. For example, in English, “raise” is transitive and “rise” is intransitive. I can raise a flag, but I cannot rise one; the sun rises, not raises. In Japanese, 下げる is “to hang” as in, “hang your stockings by the fireplace”, and 下がる is “to hang” as in, “Santa’s sack hangs down”.

Hope that helps!


I come bearing good and bad news!

The bad news is that you will need to learn grammar in order to learn Japanese effectively.

The good news is that Japanese is very dissimilar to English. You not knowing perfectly what a verb, an adjective and a noun is, could actually be benefitial, as the things people call verbs, adjectives and nouns in Japanese behave very differently from the way these types behave in English. Some authors go so far as to use different names for classes for Japanese words, ie “verbals”, “nominals” and “adjectivals”.

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Inconsistent naming is a pain, though. I learned Japanese with Genki, so I got used to that terminology. I recently completed an online course that used different words and it was so confusing!

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Indeed! This is just one more reason to stick to the resource you’ve chosen, if at all possible. Maybe you could try “An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese”. It is supposed to pick up essentially where Genki dropped off, and is also published by The Japan Times.

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