How Important Is Grammar?

Hey everyone :wave: I hope you are having an amazing day. I’m wondering, how important is grammar and how much should I prioritize it.

If you could know most Japanese words, or completely master grammar, which one would you choose? (I have a feeling vocab is definitely going to win here but oh well).

  • Master Grammar
  • Master Vocabulary

0 voters

Thank you for reading my post :slight_smile:

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Grammar up to an intermediate level, then vocab all the way.

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Bit of a weird hypothetical question, but as phrased: if you get a free wish from a genie, take the vocabulary, because there’s less grammar to learn and it’s easy enough to learn it in the traditional way.

For prioritization of real-world studies, the answer is that you need to make gradual progress with both at once. As @seanblue suggests, grammar studies are at their most important early on when everything you’re learning will appear all the time; they gradually reduce in importance as you work up through intermediate and advanced levels and are learning the more subtle and specific ways to say something. But at all levels you need vocab, and because vocab learning is such a tall mountain to climb you just have to keep plugging away at it gradually for the whole time you’re learning and using the language. Don’t put off studying the rest of the language under the theory you can learn the words first.

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Agreed, you need to learn and internalise the fundamental grammar as well as all common grammar patterns. After that studying advanced grammar points won’t add much. Actually, what textbooks call grammar points often can be called vocabulary IMO.

But at the end of the day, both are important. Vocabulary needs grammar to make sense. And good knowledge of grammar won’t suffice on its own to talk/read about non everyday topics.

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Native speakers also keep studying vocabulary throughout their lives btw. You can never really finish learning vocabulary.

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Here I am frustrated at how my poor grammar skills are causing problems at work… in my native language. Sure, vocab is a bigger and more frequently encountered problem, but it’s one that I’m fine solving with a dictionary and google. Problems with structure, tone, etc. are not as easily fixed.

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I’m better at learning vocab than grammar, so if I had a wish from a genie to have knowledge of one instilled into my brain, it would definitely be grammar

Also, you can know all the words, but it’s still meaningless if you don’t have the grammar to be able to fit them together. And it’s easier to look up unknown words than unknown grammar. Even though there’s much less of grammar than there is of vocab, it’s much more important imo

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Thank you very much for the response :slight_smile:

Thank you! I find these responses very helpful :slight_smile:

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grammar all the way. and not just formal grammar, but also the casual, lived in the street, grimy and never mentioned in textbooks grammar. the stuff which the textbooks say is wrong, but which is used all the time (and there’s a ton of that, in all languages).

learning vocab is easy. grammar, that’s what’ll allow you to think in the language.

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Vocab 100%. It’s the most accurate approximation of your proficiency in the language. ‘Advanced grammar’ is mostly just vocab anyway.

‘Mastering’ the grammar is a bit more vague than mastering vocab, though. Does it mean you can break down all grammar points or actually internalized it? If it means ‘master the grammar you study from grammar books’ you don’t even necessarily need that to be proficient.

Not as meaningless as knowing all the grammar without any vocab :laughing: (if that’s even possible). At least you could communicate with standalone words and body gestures; I’d hardly call that meaningless.

I’m surprised only about 1/3 answered correctly so far :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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Vocabulary is how a caveman would plow through language. The ideas are there, but they are unrefined. At a certain point, fancy vocabulary doesn’t matter anymore. Eat, devour, wolf, chow, gulp, consume. They all mean eat.

Grammar is how ideas are truly shared. Eaten, eating with your mouth open, devouring, will be swallowed, has yet to be consumed. Grammar shows you how ideas are related in time and space.

The easiest example of this in Japanese is the agglutination of almost all words. 食べる, 食べられる, 食べさせる are three very different words. Good on you if you know that the general idea is eating something. But without understanding even these grammar points, you’re gonna be in for a rough time.

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For a bit you’ll feel like grammar is holding you back, so you start learning it, then once you’re past the beginner to intermediate stages of that, you’ll feel like vocab is holding you back.

Imo this is because in the beginning searching for words is easier, so vocab seems harder, but because there’s just straight up less vocab than raw words, once you familiarise yourself with the most common ones, you’ll start to feel that you would totally understand the sentence if it wasn’t for the words you just don’t know

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The best way to learn vocab is through context. How are you going to understand the context without grammar?

If this is just a hypothetical question, you’d answer vocabulary, because it’s much harder and takes much longer to acquire it. But if this is a practical question, it’s definitely going to be grammar.

This is exactly how I feel about vocab. They’re just blanks you haven’t learnt yet. Grammar is a much more complex construct that allows you to actually understand the sentence

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Not quite sure about that. I think given ample context and knowing the words, you could piece together what the sentence is meant to be. It might even be a great grammar learning opportunity if you somehow find yourself in that situation

So if you’re reading something and you know all the words, that means you know what it says, right? Not without grammar, it doesn’t. You can take the exact same words and fit them together with different pieces of grammar, and that can vastly change the meaning of the sentence.

If you’re reading something and you know the grammar but you don’t know all the words, you can easily look up the words to fill in the blanks.

(Or listening, since they’re both input and don’t necessarily require active knowledge. You can read/listen with passive knowledge, but it needs to be moved into active knowledge before you can write/speak. You can communicate better with simple/limited vocabulary and the grammar [including the grammar that’s actually words] to fit them together than with a extensive vocabulary and little to no grammar.)

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Easel masterpiece artist poor paint seashell commerce boost failure cry.

There’s some really good vocabulary in that string!

But did the poor artist paint a masterpiece on an easel with paint made of seashells in an attempt to boost his personal commerce, only to fail to sell at a high price and cry?

Or is the artist crying while painting poor seashells engaging in failed commerce over the easel which formerly held his masterpiece?

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私は田中さんに花をもらった。
If you don’t know grammar, you’ll know the sentence is about I and Tanaka-san and someone getting flowers. You have no way of knowing of gave it to whom, and the fact that it happened it past tense you wouldn’t know either.

This is probably not even a good example and I bet many people here could come up with better examples where grammar completely changes the sentence, but it’s a simple example and the best I could think of off the top of my mind.

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That’s a very contrived example, most sentences aren’t like that, they are much shorter. Not even mentioning context.

Also, gotta remember, the common grammar points are much more concentrated than the common words. Even knowing just a small number of very common ones will let you understand most sentences, while the same can’t be said for vocab

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Fully agree with this. Some people are making the argument that grammar is richer, very fundamental, does more with less – and yes, that is 100% true. If you’re a beginner, learn your grammar. But when it comes to the hypothetical as asked, it’s like this:

There was a time when Japanese felt so foreign and unlike English I couldn’t wrap my head around how I could ever think in this totally different way. A tiny particle changed everything about the sentence, and all the grammatical function stuff looked nearly identical. Then, I trudged through reading a couple books, and that’s just gone now. Does grammar ever trip me up? Absolutely. No doubt there’s a higher ceiling if I read harder stuff, but I’m reading books and VNs and rarely ever seeing new grammar, and often only a few times per reading session will I really have to think hard about the structure of a given sentence. Vocab, though? Read the right thing and I’m encountering at minimum a new word in every single sentence. The amount of total work is so ridiculously far apart that I can’t imagine passing up free “vocab mastery.”

But for a beginner, which OP seems to be? Please learn your grammar.

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