Not Sure How Read Grammar

I have a dilemma and I just realized asking for help might be a good idea :sweat_smile:

Basically, I have trouble with grammatical structures. Oftentimes every vocabulary word in a sentence I’ll either know or be able to look up, but I just don’t understand how they fit together. I know that’s a grammar problem, but I find it hard to figure out which grammar point to apply in what situation. Additionally, a lot of reading practice websites don’t give translations, or only do so in complete sentences. Here’s an example of something that I find confusing (courtesy of NHK news):

日本レコード協会は毎年、日本で活躍した歌手やバンドなどのアーティストに賞を贈っています。

I’m pretty sure the first part is “Every year, the Japanese recording association”, but I start getting confused when there are verbs that are used in the middle of sentences. I can pick out pieces like in Japan/actively participated/singers and bands/such as/artists/awarded prize(s). If I had to guess, I would guess that the whole thing means “every year, the Japanese recording association awards prizes to actively participating artists, singers, and bands in Japan”, but I have no idea if that’s right and getting there is exhausting. Is reading supposed to be this hard and it then gets easier with practice? Should I stick to things like Satori Reader so I can check my translations?

Also, I looked up などの and found “such as”, but I get confused when looking up hiragana words because it’s often multiple grammar bits in a row that aren’t a whole word. Is there any easy way to look up grammatical parts (if I find another common grammatical use for の I might explode into a bunch of random particles).

Anyway, sorry for the rant and thanks for any help you can offer. This has been a problem for a long time and it’s honestly just cathartic to type it out :blush:

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日本で活躍した歌手 here is an example of a noun-modifying phrase - the verb 日本で活躍した is modifying the noun 歌手. It doesn’t have to be a verb, it could be an entire clause. We have them in English, too, though they usually come after the noun - “the book that is sitting on the chair”, “the man who is Koichi’s long-lost uncle” and so forth. Here, it’s “singers who are active in Japan”. Or probably the clause modifies “artists” instead.

Aye, this is two words - など “et cetera” + の (posessive particle)

Close, but rather than “artists, singers, and bands”, it’s “artists such as singers and bands”.

I reckon get your hands on a copy of the Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar. And Tae Kim, too.

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What have you done so far for grammar study? As mentioned, Tae Kim is a good guide, and I also recommend Bunpro, which is an SRS like Wanikani.

If you’re reading NHK News, rather than read the website straight, you can use the app Tangoristo. For this, it lets you click on words (including grammar points) to tell you what they mean. A similar website to parse any sentence you like is japanese.io

If you keep reading NHK Easy News, you will notice a lot of the same grammar points and sentence structures come up again and again and they will start to become more familiar.

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Here’s the Tae Kim lesson about that:

http://www.guidetojapanese.org/learn/grammar/clause

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Whenever I have trouble parsing a Japanese sentence, I step back for a second and try to do two things:

  1. Find the subject. This seems obvious, but you can accidentally brush past doing it if you aren’t careful. What is the thing that everything else follows. (Sometimes takes a bit of searching, and は/が delineation if the sentence is extremely complex.)
  1. Find all the modifiers/what they’re modifying. This sometimes means walking back from a noun or two later in the sentence to get the whoooole phrase that might be modifying it, which can sometimes be quite long. (In your example, the only one is 日本で活躍した, which is pretty manageable, but they can run for much longer.)

So: If you’re having trouble, take a minute to stop worrying about the overall sentence flow and just find the subject and modifiers/what they’re modifying. Once you can identify all of those, you’ll usually be able to parse the whole thing on a second pass.

And yes; it gets easier with practice.

I’m not sure where you are with your grammar-learning, but as posters above hinted, if you haven’t actually learned things like modifying structures going in front of nouns yet, rather than it just being trouble quickly identifying them when reading (which practice will take care of), then you might be getting ahead of yourself and just need to be a little further in foundational grammar material first. (I’m guessing it’s just lack of practice if you’re reading NHK news though.) Also, checking your own translations is never a bad idea, but at some point you also just have to throw yourself into the fire and read things that feel too hard until they don’t feel too hard anymore.

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I strongly recommend you use bunpro.
I’ve been using it for a while and though at first it didn’t convince me much, now I see how much I learn on it, and how much I’m able to understand thanks to it (looking vocabulary words up obviously). And I’ve only been learning Japanese for only a couple of months.
Plus, with your level of vocabulary and Bunpro’s grammar you should be able to go through things harder than NHK

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@Belthazar Thank you so much! I have been using Tae Kim, and I read Genki I and II, but it’s a question of internalizing the grammar rather than just having read and taken notes on them. I tend to forget things like grammar points quickly if I don’t use them. I think just being able to identify what the things that regularly confuse me are (such as relative clauses) makes it a lot easier to look it up or find the appropriate Tae Kim lesson.

@Darcinon Thanks! This is a common confusion for me, so I’m glad to have an easy way to refer back to it.

@iansacks That’s what I did for the example sentence I used, I was actually surprised at how close I got, but it’s a lot of work :sweat_smile: I’ve learned them before, I just don’t really remember them and there are certain grammar bits that I have a lot of trouble recognizing in the wild. I think I’m just nervous about rolling my sleeves up and doing real reading honestly, so thanks for telling me I need to :sweat_smile:

@bacci_j I used Bunpro for about a month a while ago and wasn’t sure how much it was doing. With that level of endorsement I’ll go give it another chance though, thanks ^^

@Jul3 Ooh, looks useful. Has been downloaded, thanks!

Also sorry for the multiple posts, y’all. I’ve been on WK for years but I have like three posts in my name. I humbly beg the Crabigator’s forgiveness.

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That means you need to read more! The only way for reading to become second nature is to, well… read. In addition to news, you could also try reading with the Absolute Beginner or Beginner book clubs. Then you get practice and support/help at the same time! Both clubs are starting new manga relatively soon.

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Yep, graded readers are great for absolutely beginner level. I can’t recommend enough things like the ASK graded readers. They have really helped me to internalize grammar points that I struggled with otherwise, because they keep coming up over and over again. And since the sentences start out with simple grammar and build with more complexity you’re building a good foundation for more difficult reading as you go along.

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Reading more like @seanblue said, but like other said you should still really hit that grammar again. You need to be able to break a sentence down by particles. Right now, it seems like you look at all the nouns and verbs in a sentence and just try to guess the most sensible way those words fit together. The ability to do that can be helpful, but at other times very misleading - you need to have mediocre understanding of the most common uses of が で を に に の and relative clauses, and then practice with real reading will reinforce that and teach you all the finer points of the particles, especially if you ask in the book clubs!

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I think this post from 80/20 Japanese is pretty good as a really quick overview of what to look for when parsing a sentence: Japanese Sentence Structure: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide Granted, I was already pretty familiar with basic Japanese grammar when I read that, so I don’t know how much sense it will make to a true beginner, but I think it should be pretty good. Definitely read something like Tae Kim or another more in-depth source if you want to go beyond the raw basics, though.

Counter to an earlier post on this thread, I think it’s actually most useful to start by finding the main verb in the sentence. (It’s pretty much always at the end in a grammatically proper sentence, so it’s not too hard to find.) That will tell you the primary action the sentence is talking about. It will help to learn the various verb conjugations, too, so you can recognize whether the verb is talking about something that happens continuously, or is happening now, or happened earlier, or is being humbly invited to be made to happen, or… whatever. Verbs get complicated.

Given the verb, you can start looking for all the standard particles that affect the verb. That will tell you what nouns are involved in the action. Hopefully, you should be able to pick up some combination of what’s doing the action (が or sometimes は), what’s being affected by the action (を or に), what means are being used for the action (で), and so on. There are plenty of funny ways of using particles that won’t make sense until you get a feel for it, but it’s a start.

And then, of course, you look for adjectives that modify those nouns… which is where you might start running into relative clauses. (Inevitably, because technically, all adjectives are basically relative clauses…) This is where Japanese really starts to feel completely backwards to me; putting the main verb at the end is nothing compared to putting the relative clause in the front. To make things worse, I get the sense that Japanese loves to stack multiple layers of relative clauses on top of each other in ways that start to get really tangly when you try to convert them into English. So I wouldn’t feel bad if you get confused by this point. It’s simpler than it sounds, but it’s awfully hard to keep track of in a lengthy sentence.

If you ever did sentence diagramming in school, trying to think in those terms might help. You might even find it helpful to draw out an actual diagram of what particles pertain to what verb, and what verb modifies what noun.

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Yeah, reading a sentence backwards can be helpful at first, and mentally (or physically!) diagramming a sentence is also a good skill to practice!

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Sadly, I’ve looked, and I actually haven’t seen any real resources for illustrating or practicing Japanese sentence diagramming (at least not English resources).

I’m honestly really surprised that sentence diagramming isn’t more common as a tool for language learning. It’s a bit silly to diagram sentences in your native language, since it’s just a convoluted way of expressing stuff you already know intuitively, but it seems like a completely natural fit to me for learning a new one, especially a language like Japanese with a radically different grammar from English. But maybe I’m just biased because I’m thinking like a programmer and my brain automatically packs things into data structures.

Edit: Had I looked a little more thoroughly at my Google results, I would have found this Reddit post linking some tools for Japanese sentence parsing and diagramming. Mostly more useful for machine learning purposes than for people learning purposes, though. That blog post linked there is now missing, but it’s accessible through the Internet Archive.

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Well luckily, Japanese uses post-positional particles, which makes breaking it down relatively straightforward.
I have a hard time using backets and such to pjysicallybreak things down so bear with me, but

日本レコード協会は subject
毎年 relative time expression, doesn’t take a particle (except は) but applies to the overall sentence
日本で in japan
活躍した were active
These are part of the same clause, so {(日本で)(活躍した)} = were actice in Japan
This is the modifier of a relative clause but we’re not there yet!
歌手や singers, with the inclusive “and” particle や
バンドなど bands, with the inclusive “and” particle など, which ends an inclusive lists
{(歌手やバンドなど)の} Singers, bands, and such. We have the の particle, so this whole phrase is about to modify something
アーティスト artist, we finally have the noun everything else is modifying
{(日本で活躍した)(歌手やバンドなどの)アーティストに}
Artists, such as singers and bands, who have been active in Japan. に, so we know these artists are about to be the indirect object of something!
賞を something is going to be done to this prize!
贈っています our main verb! Give. In this case, give regularly.
[{(〇〇)アーティストに}{賞を}{贈っています}]
(Someone) gives artists( who blah blah) prizes.
{(日本レコード協会は)(毎年)(〇〇)贈っています}
Every year, the Japanese Record Association gives (blahblah).

Hope that helps show how I think about a sentence. Note that I started at the front because that’s how I read now. But you can see how it could be easier to start at the end and work backwards if you’re used to English.

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Really, pretty much all grammar structures are backwards in Japanese compared to English, which is one reason that reading sentences in reverse, as @QuackingShoe suggested, can be helpful when you’re still getting the hang of it.

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Since it hasn’t been mentioend still I will recommend Cure Dolly as a great way to make sense on japanese grammar.

It’s a weird format, the character and all, but still, If you can look pass that, I think it’s one of the better resources out there to clarify grammar, specially If you already have gave it a look with a textbook or a more traditional resource.

Of course as others have said… it takes practice. So after a couple of articles, stories, etc, you’ll identify even unknown grammar much better.

I would advice against using SRS apps for grammar, I think reading it’s a better teacher in this regard, and actually after a point learning grammar it’s much more the same as learning new vocab… you get the gist first (looking in a dictionary or grammar reference book), and then after some more encounters with those grammatical structures, you get how they work. In general I don’t consider the SRS “coating” to improve the taste of everything while learning… nor the most efficient way for every single aspect of learning a language… only thing sure there, it’s gonna steal time for you to keep immersing in the language. :unamused:

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Thank you all so much for your help! I will check out the book clubs and set aside some time to really focus on reading.

@QuackingShoe Would you suggest I reread Tae Kim and Genki for the grammar or join up with one of the book clubs and figure it out with others? I’m not sure I have time/motivation to do both.

@NLeseul Looks like a useful article, I’ll take a look. I do remember diagramming in school, that’s basically what I tried to do for the example I gave. It worked surprisingly well, just pretty intensive.

@Ncastaneda “dolls do what doctorates don’t” …well I’m intrigued :joy:

Read with us and use the grammar sources to look things up when you’re confused : D

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I think this is sound, and to be honest, it’s probably something I do myself along the way to identifying the subject if I’m ever having trouble with something.

I also (to touch on a later point in your post) think it’s completely reasonable to draw actual lines between components to help identify what’s modifying what, what’s acting upon what, etc., if you have a physical print-out or book. I’m working on something for a contest right now, and it has some extremely complicated, literary sentences that have had me drawing lines between different parts just to make sure I have a quick reference for what part is actually being acted upon later.

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