Grammar Predicament

I have spent 3500+ hours watching Anime, probably because of this I am able to understand most of the grammar without actually studying it. I’ve tried reading children’s books, other story books, some light novels too. As long as I have the vocabulary to understand the words, I don’t have any problems with grammar.

Now, I was wondering if I should let things go on the way they are currently, or formally study grammar.
Whenever, I encounter a new grammar construct, I look it up on the internet. But here, I have seen people saying stuff like, “this is a verb, you then use の to nominalize it” and other formal stuff which I don’t really understand.

I was wondering if this’ll cause me problems in the long run.

It will. Especially if you want to understand nuance and have a deeper understanding of Japanese sentences (all of which are important to reading novels). It will probably end up more muddied without proper exercise, even if you were to absorb a metric ton of material.


It depends what you want to do. Do you want to pass N1 or something some day?

If so, you might have trouble understanding the explanations of the N1 grammar if you don’t already know all the nuances of the simpler grammar.

A key point of higher level grammar is also knowing what things can and can’t connect to various grammar structures. You can learn what can connect through exposure, but you can’t learn what can’t connect through exposure. Because by definition those things never connect to it. Or they could just be rare and you never saw them.

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You seem to be in similar situation to native Japanese. I heard that not many of them take tests like N1, but when they do, they manage to study for it after they already have intuitive understanding of the grammar and ton of exposure. So, it seems that lack of conscious understanding of grammar rules is not a detriment to speaking Japanese and this knowledge can be filled in later.

I’m not really sure what you’re getting at… natives can’t take the JLPT at all. And if an adult native were to take N1, it shouldn’t pose them any difficulty.

A native understanding of grammar is much, much more ingrained than what I imagine the OP is referring to. They just have tens of thousands of hours more experience.


well I think if OP continue to immerse himself in japanese everyday by reading novels watching news, movies, talk in japanese and actually be in a japanese speaking environment then no “formal” study is needed as he’s doing what native is doing except not starting from when you were born (so expect it’s hard to acquire native-like accent). But ofc that requires tons of exposure and time, and maybe “formal” study from textbooks explanations and such might save you much more time than only exposure. well that’s just my 2 cents.

Hopefully this link will elaborate what I said better: How I Struggled with and Overcame Japanese Grammar - Japanese Level Up


And just to clarify, have you (OP) taken any tests to confirm that your self-assessment of “understanding all the grammar” is accurate? What do you score on J-CAT, for instance?

I do want a deeper understanding, well then the solution is clear :smiley:

I haven’t taken any tests. Understanding all the grammar is an overstatement, I didn’t mean that, I simply mean until now I haven’t really had any problems. Like when reading stuff, I don’t have to break stuff into nouns or adjectives or verbs or modifiers or stuff like that. I read it and understand what it means.

This could also mean, I haven’t encountered advanced stuff, which could very well be the case.

I don’t care about JLPT or speaking or writing Japanese. I’m not saying I want to completely ignore that, but my primary goal is being able to read light novels. A lot of anime’s I like don’t get more seasons and fan translations aren’t always available. So, I want to be able to read light novels. Might sound kiddish, but that’s my reason for learning Japanese.

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Well, I mean, if you aren’t going to be tested or produce Japanese, having a deep understanding of grammar isn’t that important.

In order to understand a grammar point in context you just usually need to look it up in a dictionary.

Like if you see a sentence with が早いか you can just look that up and see that it means “as soon as” or “no sooner…”

This is because you can trust that the native who used it knows how and when it can be used already.

But if you want to get it right on a test or use it yourself, there’s much more you need to know.

EDIT: Then again, I realized that maybe people who don’t know a lot of grammar wouldn’t even recognize that が早いか is one grammar point, rather than just が + 早い + か

That link explains it perfectly, it completely took the right words out of my mind.

To quote (from the website @aanhlle mentioned) a few lines of what I really wanted to say.
“This is where you learn how to conjugate 読む not because you read the Japanese conjugation list on Wikipedia ten times, but because a guy in this one video game is talking about all the arcane scrolls he read when he was young.”

I simply know the past form of 読む is 読んだ, not because I learnt that む ending verbs become んだ but because I’ve heard it so many times.

“But after all that fun, I still couldn’t figure out the difference between passive and potential and imperative and causative-form verbs, whatever those are anyway. To this day, I get scared if I see a られる. I could understand the gist of a lot of things, but a lot of the grammar just went over my head.”

This is my current state, exactly word to word.

Thanks for this wonderful link, it says to balance both methods of textbook learning and intuition. Now that I think about it, it was kinda obvious from the very beginning, guess I at least got to hear other people’s thoughts. hehe


Yeah, I’m not sure anyone would be able to grasp all the usages of られる without some kind of explanation.

Of course, everyone is probably aware of potential and passive, though the suffering passive is unique to Japanese and infamously tricky. Then there’s politeness, where られる is merely used as an honorific and not for any grammatical purpose. And then maybe the most rare is 自発 (spontaneity), usually seen in something like 思い出される.

I can’t really argue for learning conjugations by reading conjugation tables, but I kind of forgot about that stage of learning.


In general, I like to say that the rules of grammar are defined by the language, not the other way around. So it’s perfectly valid to learn the language organically without studying grammar. The catch is that it takes many years of constant immersion to really understand that language like a native.

I’m in a semi-similar situation to you, where I studied the language formally a little, but mainly my knowledge comes from exposure to my wife and her family and friends speaking Japanese. It was fine to a point, but in the last few years, I decided to get past that point, and that has meant taking classes and doing WaniKani.

How much grammar you want to study depends on your level of motivation, really. Sounds like at this point, it isn’t super high if your ultimate goal is only to read light novels and not converse or understand speech. So maybe you can get away with just looking up things you don’t understand as they come up on the Internet. Of you could try YouTube study rather than textbooks or classes. I find Kawajapa interesting, concise, and reasonably accessible, though I don’t 100% agree with some of her grammar interpretations.

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Knowing the basic conjugation patterns doesn’t mean much, it’s like knowing addition and subtraction and then believing you know mathematics. It’s just a tiny part of the whole thing so you should definitely study grammar. Especially since you said you had problems with verb nominalization, that’s a really elementary grammar function and while that doesn’t rule out that you know more advanced stuff, I’d rather be safe than sorry.

Check out, it’s awesome for studying grammar and while it will take some time to study them all, it will definitely be worth it in the long run. :wink:

The suffering passive is in Korean too :wink: ! However, luckily the conjugation is a bit different between the two.

I misspoke, it wasn’t my intent to comment on any other language. I meant to say “the suffering passive doesn’t exist in English.”


:smiley: ! Not a problem!

You could get to something like the equivalent of N4 level with only the most basic amount of study, no problem. Go anywhere beyond that and you will stumble every step of the way without having some real knowledge behind you. Something like understanding the difference between は and が is baby level Japanese. Even という and its variations pose some challenge and that’s still beginner Japanese. Okay, you could understand the most basic of casual conversations, but I’ve lived in Japan over two years, listen to it everyday, see it everyday and still struggle with regular daily life conversation, not to mention professional level stuff. It’s funny seeing dudes who lived here 10+ years without studying, think they know Japanese well because they are immersed in it, open up a beginner textbook like Kanzen Master N3 bunpou and realise how much knowledge they lack.

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So, I decided to watch KawaJapa and I really like the way she explains things (She’s kinda pretentious at times, but that’s fine). I’d like to know what are the things you don’t agree with her on.

I don’t know what Sezme is referring to, but I remember I watched the video on the passive tense, and the whole thing was that “the Japanese passive is not passive, it’s the receptive form”… okay… yeah, that’s what the passive is in English too.

The Wikipedia article for English passive voice even says “The subject of a sentence or clause featuring the passive voice typically denotes the recipient of the action (the patient) rather than the performer (the agent).

So, I don’t really get what the point of the video is. She seems to misrepresent what the passive is in English, or just not understand it, at least to me.

It’s fine if she thinks that she’s come up with a more effective way to explain it to English speakers than others, but sense of pretension is definitely high.

Also, the voice is absolute garbage. But that’s subjective, I guess.


That is subjective, but I believe 99% people can agree on her voice being crap. And yes, the pretension is unreal. It’s a good watch though, helps clear some misunderstandings imo.