Vocabulary or Particle?

I’m so new (esp. to grammar) so please forgive if this is the world’s dumbest question … but when I try to read Japanese, there is very little punctuation, and I encounter great long strings of hiragana. I cannot tell (because I’m new to this and know little Japanese) whether a word like (I’ve made it up) fumunomoni is really fumu no mo ni, with no and ni being particles for possession and location, or one long word, or a few words (eg fumu nomoni) … so it’s hard to work out the grammar since I don’t know what I’m looking at.

Do I just need to learn more words so it becomes obvious, are there certain particles rarely used in words, etc, … any hints for parsing greatly appreciated!

Ash

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I don’t know what materials you are reading from, but I remember having a similar experience when I started with Duolingo. They would often write words in hiragana instead of kanji, probably to make them more approachable initially, but this made the sentences harder to parse as you say. I think they moved away from this in one of their updates, or maybe I just made it to a high enough level that they stopped this practice, and it became much easier to tell what was a word and what was a particle. So if you are reading from something that replaces most kanji with hiragana, maybe try switching to another source, check if that changes in later levels, etc.

That doesn’t cover everything of course, there’s lots of words that are commonly written in hiragana, even if they do have kanji equivalents. So learning those words is a big help too. Wanikani often teaches them, in kanji form of course.

As for hints, I guess I’d recommend learning things that are commonly or always written in hiragana, so particles, verb endings and the like.

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The more words and grammar points you know the quicker you’ll parse new things you encounter. There’s no surefire remedy for it.

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I don’t think this is a dumb question at all. Some particles are hard to mistake but others can really get lost for me, also a beginner. Someone a while back really impressed on me how central to Japanese particles are and it really sunk in and inspired me to pay a lot of attention to learning how they’re used. Learning each particle’s natural habitat has meant I can use them like punctuation when reading, and getting comfortable with as many verbs as I can helps limit the number of possible particles that are going to hover nearby. I also use an app quizlet for kana-only vocabulary flashcards and even though I find it harder to memorise kana vocabulary than kanji-based vocabulary it is slowly helping me improve my kana deciphering skills.

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Plugging it into ichi.moe can help parse things for you. Also, just typing it out with a Japanese IME can provide suggestions for any kana -> kanji, which can help a lot.

As others have written, the more grammar and reading practice, the easier it will get.

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If you’re able to find texts that are written normally (e.g. with kanji, hiragana, katakana, in the way an adult would write it), that have furigana/ruby (i.e. the small pronunciation helper hiragana above kanji text), then those should be less ambiguous to read. Examples: https://www3.nhk.or.jp/news/easy

If you currently have troubles identifying the exact start and end of each noun, verb, i-adjective, na-adjective, particle, conjunction, sentence, noun phrase, etc., then it’s probably a sign that you need to learn or review:

  • basic grammar (JLPT N5 and N4 levels)
  • verb conjugation (i.e. you should eventually be able to read all forms in generated tables such as https://cooljugator.com/ja/食べる , and know how to generate these tables yourself, given only the basic dictionary form of a verb)

In normal adult-level Japanese text, hiragana is mostly only used in the middle and ends of conjugated verbs, particles, conjunctions, other miscellaneous parts of speech (demonstrative adverbs, demonstrative pronouns, etc.), and not so much in nouns. (Of course, even in adult text, some nouns are written only in hiragana, but they aren’t nearly as common as nouns written with only kanji or katakana.)

I would recommend that you avoid reading text written in 100% hiragana because it will just keep confusing you with its ambiguity in grammatical interpretation and parsing. I’ve even heard that 100% hiragana text is tiring and annoying for native Japanese speakers to read.

When I was at around your level of grammar a few years ago, I found this book to be very helpful for getting a grasp of the grammar basics (i.e. the knowledge needed to avoid ambiguities like you described): https://8020japanese.com/

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I think its just down to vocabulary size, it gets easier to tell apart particles and words when you read more and more but for words you dont know, it is possible to mix up with particles.

I was reading today and encountered this problem once or twice, but on the other hand it might help you remember the words because of the special trouble they caused you!

Sometimes things essentially start as particles, but become part of words as well.

Like, かものはし can literally be thought of as かも (duck) の ('s) はし (bill), but as a word it means platypus. You’re probably more likely to encounter it as カモノハシ, though, so that probably lowers the parsing difficulty of reading it.

If you actually wanted to say “duck’s bill” and not have it be possible to confuse it with platypus, the more common word for bill is くちばし.

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I agree, I’m trying to avoid 100% hiragana. Unfortunately I’m at that not-so-sweet-spot where normal Japanese text is much too difficult for me, but I suspect the children’s stories I’ve tried are delivering much of the Kanji in hiragana form. My Kanji reading is pretty good (thanks to Wanikani), it’s all the rest of it. Every so often I hit a word (or at least a sequence of sounds I suspect is a word), and am so pleased when I guess correctly, but annoyed that they didn’t just use the Kanji I know so well, so that I could have been certain at the time.

Will look into 8020 somewhat more. I didn’t love the free Chapter Two (there was a lot of what I now know to be slightly artificial statements that I will have to later relearn, e.g. I’m fairly sure I won’t be saying Watashi Wa as much as his example sentences, nor using Anata unless I’m writing a popular love song … which is great, really, that despite all the information I’m lacking, I’m aware of some of the nuances … considering I didn’t understand a lick of this language in July, I’m thrilled with my progress in general!)

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