How do you read a sentence?

That’s a weird question, but it’s not me saying ‘how can I eat cereal’ per say.

I mean more how do you, personally, step my step, get through a sentence to understand what you’re reading? I imagine for more experienced learners you do just ‘read the sentence, silly.’

But how did you go about it before you got to that point. Do you find the verb and follow the chain particles? Identify the words you know and work from there? Scan for unfamiliar grammar and start your research there?

What are your steps? What do you think is the best way to get there?


I’m still a beginner, so my method might sound a bit dull.

  1. Read the sentence and see if I can understand the main idea.
  2. Look up for the words I don’t understand/the kanjis I don’t recognize in the dictionnary (usually or a paper version). I find Tae Kim very useful for grammar issues.
  3. Identify the particles and divide the sentence according to them.
  4. Read the full sentence aloud a couple of times (I eventually write it down in a notebook if something new shows up).

I find the process quite long and sometimes a bit boring, but I can’t think of any other way to practise reading. It would be awesome if advanced learners could share some tip though!


That’s an excellent question! I’ll wait here to find out some algorithms too.


Study grammar.

Brilliant! I never would have thought of that!


I guess you start by breaking up the sentence into smaller chunks with the help of particles. Some of those chunks will be sentences in themselves, with their own set of particles inside them. So the trick for me has been to learn what particles to focus on first.

And I guess you need to keep an open mind about the context of the sentence, because the meaning might change at the end.

Here’s a longish sentence I just read from the book I’m reading now (「冒険者たち ガンバと15ひきの仲間」), with plenty of spoiler tags in case you want to read along :slight_smile:


(「潮路」 (しおじ) is the name of a character)

It helps that this has mostly already been broken into smaller pieces by the commas, but even so, there’s basically two sentences there:

[details=The main sentences]

  • 「ガンバは横になり、あごを入り口の岩にのせ、注意深く、しかし楽な姿勢で見はり」

  • 「潮路はきちんとすわるようなかっこうで見はっています」[/details]

The first one has parts as well:

[details=Parts in the first]* 「ガンバは」 Ganba is the topic

  • 「横になり」 lying on his side
  • 「あごを入り口の岩にのせ」 places his chin on the entrance rock
  • 「注意深く」 attentively
  • 「しかし楽な姿勢で」 but with an easy posture
  • 「見はり」 looks out[/details]

So does the second

[details=Parts in the second]

  • 「潮路は」 Shioji is the topic
  • 「きちんとすわるようなかっこうで」 sitting neatly
  • 「見はっています」 looks out[/details]

So putting it all together, it is something like

A clumsy translation of the whole thing

> Ganba lied on his side, rested his chin on the rock at the entrance and started keeping watch attentively but with an easy posture, while Shioji did the same neatly sitting down

As obvious as it sounds, I feel the trick is to recognise what parts to break down first, and how to put them back together in a way that makes sense. And that you only get to by reading.

At first, I had to translate everything as I went along. But the more you read, the more the meaning starts to take form in your head as-is, which is I guess a Good Thing ™. I guess that partly explains why my translation of this sentence in particular feels so clumsy. :sweat_smile:


Mostly by Tae Kim’s guide and by listening a lot. A bit by grammar and by vocab. A little more by guesswork.

I always tried to be as natural as possible while reading, so I just read the sentence from start to finish, stopping and looking for a word I don’t know in the dictionary and the continuing. If I feel the necessity to read again, generally when the phrase is long, I reread it after looking for all the words.

This is really good advice.

Do you read beginning to end now as you’ve started to get it more?

For anyone interested I found this step by step article, it’s pretty good.


Yeah. And the more you read, the more fluent it becomes, and the less backtracking you need to make to make sure what’s going on in a particular sentence.

The only other piece of advice I have is that pacing is really important. When I read example sentences to translate or whatnot, I make sure I know what everything means. But with longer things, like novels and such, trying to do the same grinds the reading to a halt, which makes it all but impossible to get into what I’m reading. It’s like watching a movie in slow motion… but with a lot more effort.

The first book in Japanese I read was 「アフターダーク」, and I didn’t really start to enjoy it until I decided I was only going to look up a word when it stopped me from understanding what was going on. I didn’t get everything, or even most of it, but I managed to get through it and enjoy it while I read it.

If this post had a title, it would be “How I learned to stop worrying and enjoy the story”.


I didn’t read through all of this, but I think this is not very helpful. Mainly because it tells you to start at the end, which is pretty useless when a) you don’t know when the sentence will end until you read it, and b) the end is the last thing you see.

So even in the example that’s listed there:


the way I’d read it is

My mental process... or something
  • 田中さんの: Ok, so Tanaka-san
  • 話によれば: Or according to what they said
  • 総理大臣は: It’s something about the prime minister
  • もうすぐ: And it will happen soon
  • 内閣改造を: It’s a cabinet reshuffle!
  • 行う: Which will take place
  • 予定です: Or at least that’s the plan

You don’t need to know that the sentence is “a statement of fact”. And in a way, assuming that you do is trying to fit a round peg into a square hole: don’t do it.

EDIT: I guess I should have read all the way to the end! They do something very similar to this. Carry on! :slight_smile:

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Yeah, I still read this way. There are time I’m able to speed through multiple sentences without stopping. This is great when it happens.

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