Where can I find explanation for grammar points?

Though I’ll be honest with you, I’m not sure what you mean by ‘per historic principles’ in this context.

I spent most of the thread trying to explain to him what I could, and when it seemed like he still wasn’t satisfied, I said it’s probably not productive to agonize about it (keyword “agonize”)… that’s the sentiment you are against?

Would I have tried to explain it if I just wanted to dismiss it?


If anything, it’s easy to see how とすると is similar to the expression in English “if we go with…”

But as Leebo pointed out, you don’t necessarily need to understand every single piece of a grammar point the first time you learn it. You can always learn about its origins or why it means what it means later.

I feel like Cure Dolly is probably what you’re looking for. For me personally, I definitely feel like understanding why certain grammar works the way it does has been really helpful, and Cure Dolly’s been the main source where I’ve found that. Getting that kind of an explanation for every possible specific grammar point is probably unrealistic and impractical, sure, but I really don’t think I’d be anywhere near where I am now in Japanese without some of these videos.

Fair warning, the whole “android voice” thing is off-putting for some people, but all the videos have subtitles, and if you can get past that I think her style of teaching might be what you’re looking for!

Just another warning on my part, though I’ll try to be fair and civil: Cure Dolly has good content, and I appreciate how she tries to make things intuitive and break things down, but she also pushes certain controversial ideas very insistently, even though some of them don’t work in all cases, and using these ideas as your sole way of analysing Japanese grammar may make certain information impossible to find. I don’t want to start any arguments, but here’s one example: ‘が only labels subjects.’ Thinking that way will get you out of most situations, but there’s a need to at least recognise that there are different types of things が can be attached to, even if you decide to call them all ‘subjects’. Some Japanese dictionaries agree, and give the が particle multiple use cases, meaning that someone going in with a ‘subjects-only’ perspective will find it difficult to accept or even find this information while performing online searches.

In any case, I personally feel that it’s important to be aware of multiple perspectives, even if you prefer one above the others, because the truth is usually somewhere in between. (I’m saying this as someone who likes to break things down to improve my understanding.)

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Of course, trying to learn anything blindly from one source is going to leave you with a confused and flat understanding of the subject. The nice thing about learning a language is that nothing you learn is in a vacuum. Learning from a textbook or some other resource is very important (for most people, I’m not trying to make any claims here), but if you want to use the language then you’ll inevitably end up… using the language :joy:

Everything you learn will constantly be put up against every other source you see, every sentence you read or hear, any context or material you take in in any detail, and all of that together is what really builds your understanding. Something like Cure Dolly is just one jumping-off point among many, and certainly shouldn’t be trusted any more blindly than any other source.

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Ok, so, I see you got a few replies in this thread that didn’t quite satisfy your curiosity, and you came to this conclusion:

I personally disagree to a certain extent, but not because you should spend time agonising over every single expression. That’s not necessary for fluency, and Leebo, morteasd and phyro are right: always asking ‘why?’ may not help you. However, if you’re the sort of person who must know why expressions mean what they do, and who feels agony because you don’t know, even when you don’t consciously and intentionally ‘agonise’ about it… then welcome to the club. I’m like that too, even though I’ve definitely accepted my fair share of expressions without too many questions. The reason I disagree with the idea that there’s ‘no need to think about it’ is that you (and me) clearly need such explanations, and they can be useful for being able to use a language intuitively, because you’re attempting to understand how native speakers think. (French is my third language, and that’s how I learnt it. Now, I frequently outscore native French speakers in my class for literature. Granted, however: it doesn’t happen all the time. Also, I’m in a science-based course, so my classmates are hardly passionate literati.)

So… my turn to attempt to provide a satisfactory explanation, which I think will convince you as you get exposed to more and more Japanese.

とすると – there is a subject, but as is the case in most Japanese sentences (and in most dictionary entries in any language, honestly), the subject isn’t mentioned explicitly. As you said, と seems to modify what comes after it based on what comes before it. The real question is how. You’ll see that と is often called the ‘quotation particle’, but as you see more and more advanced Japanese, you’ll realise that its uses go far beyond mere ‘quoting’ of speech like in English. For example, compare と-adverbs to に-adverbs. You’ll notice that に adverbs are usually concepts that already exist and which are fairly clearly defined, to which に is added to express that the word describes how an action is performed. と-adverbs, however, are very often onomatopoeia – they describe sounds, and are often very colloquial: you have no clue what they mean unless you ask a Japanese speaker and are familiar with how Japanese people use sounds to express feelings. As such, と is used to ‘quote’ these sounds, capturing how they feel and using them to describe actions. Even in Classical Japanese poetry, you can find examples of と being used to capture the way the sun rises surrounded by clouds, turning entire phrases into adverbs.

In the specific case of とすると, you can get a sense of it using similar expressions in Japanese from other fields. If you do mathematics in Japanese (as my friend does at university in Japan), you’ll say things such as 直径をdと置く=‘put the diameter as d’ i.e. ‘let the diameter be d’. Similarly, AをBとする means ‘to take A as B’ or ‘to consider A as B’. If you say [sentence]とすると, it means something like ‘if we/I/you/they suppose that [sentence]‘. と simply frames something for consideration. Notice how it’s different from Aにする, which indicates that one’s actions tend towards A as a result. The second と in とすると isn’t the quotation particle: it’s just a time/condition marker similar to ‘if’ or ‘when’. As for what する is doing there, you need to look beyond the translation of する as ‘to do’. It’s a very general word meaning ‘to do/act/make’. It’s about taking action. What form that action takes depends on the rest of the sentence and the context. Thus, if you asked me for a literal translation as a breakdown, I would say …とすると means ‘if we act as though…’.

となると – similar reasoning, with the only difference being なる meaning ‘to become’. The subject here could be anyone, especially ‘the circumstances’. Example from a dictionary:

  • Ken broke his leg, apparently.
  • となると, he won’t be able to play this season.
    Idiomatically, it means ‘in that case’ or ‘if that is so’, but literally, 〜となると means ‘if things/the circumstances/the situation become like ~’. Same structure: [quotation/framing] verb [if/when]

匂いがする – as some people have said, this is basically an intransitive usage. する can be intransitive, or at least work without an obvious object. However, you can hang on to the idea that the smell is ‘doing something’: it’s stimulating your nose. Similarly, you can say 味がする=‘there’s a taste/I can taste it’. You can even say 変な気がする to say ‘I think that’s weird/That gives me a weird impression/That feels weird.’ Here, I would translate する as ‘to act’. The smell is affecting you. So is the taste. So is the state of mind (気). It’s completely logical, and I hope you can see why now.

The other examples you mentioned (考える、思う、嘘をつく) are all examples of forms of speech or expression, which require と to be nothing more than a quotation particle. Once again, nothing surprising.

While I understand your frustration, and I think that the way Japanese teaching is ‘formatted’ around the world is to blame to an extent – no other language is broken into so many ‘grammar points’ that are frankly just common structures and expressions – I think some of the things I’ve just said are extremely hard to teach in the early stages, because students don’t have enough experience with Japanese for these things to make sense. I’m pretty sure that some people might feel overloaded just reading the explanations I gave you above, because there’s a lot to take in and a whole bunch of analogies and links drawn across structures that a beginner may not have ever seen. These things aren’t really the basics of Japanese because you don’t need them to begin learning Japanese and may not be able to absorb them immediately as a beginner, and I’m pretty sure that to native speakers, many of the things I’ve just said are simply subconscious facts: they feel that certain particles need to be used in a particular way, or certain words, but they may only do so out of habit without knowing why. All you need when you start out is to have a vague idea of what each particle does (which is why they’re given names like ‘topic marker’, ‘subject marker’, ‘quotation particle’ etc) to help you look out for patterns and structure your thoughts. The rest will fall into place with time and experience.

Those grammar dictionaries are probably your best bet. Everything else I know of is in Japanese: Gogen-Allguide & googling ‘[expression] 語源’ for expressions, and dictionaries like 大辞林 and 大辞泉 for words and shorter expressions. (Entries often include breakdowns of how expressions were formed, along with historical meaning and the period in which an expression began to be used.) In English, you can try teachers like Maggie Sensei, who attempt to explain nuances (e.g. となる vs になる) with examples, even if they can’t/don’t explain why exactly the expressions work that way.

Ultimately, however, if my experience with French is anything to go by… you don’t need perfect historical knowledge in order to learn a language. At a conference organised at France’s highly respected École Normale Supérieure, the editor of one of France’s most influential dictionaries, Alain Rey, said that very frankly, our knowledge of etymology is incomplete, and we’ll never be able to trace words all the way back to the beginning of language, because the history of language is full of human error and meanings shifting, sometimes very illogically. It isn’t as dignified as we think. (I’m not quoting him verbatim, but I was there because I love the dictionary he edits, and I believe I’m capturing the gist of what he meant.) My objective in learning etymology is to enrich my understanding of words, strengthen my retention, and figure out underlying thought mechanisms. At the end of the day, however, the theory of how a specific language functions that I use is something I create on my own, and it simply has to work to explain as many questions as I feel the need to ask: it doesn’t have to be historically accurate. It’s like science: we don’t know whether we know all the laws of physics or if they are the whole truth about how the universe works. However, as long as they explain everything we observe, they’re good enough.


In the case of がする, there’s no deeper grammar involved - in this context, it just means “to be sensed” (meaning 7 on jisho).

とする is definitely best to treated as a single unit…と has a lot of uses as a particle and the various meanings of とする come from it’s various usages. If you’re curious search imabi. I’m not going to link all the pages on と because there are about ten of them :sweat_smile:

Even if you do look all that up it probably won’t make sense until you get enough exposure to all the ways と is used…and even then set phrases and expressions tend to end up meaning things that don’t equal their parts.

This is a great and comprehensible explanation, you actually made me understand this, thanks a lot, but how exactly do you know this, does this just come with practice or do you need to find some books and lectures? I really liked reading this and i would like to find more of this type of content, maybe it is actually inefficient to dig deep into the language but it makes me feel more stable going further into learning it. What I am really looking for is advanced explanation of basic ideas and nothing more. From that kind of knowledge I guess it should be possible to explain any grammar point with some room for imagination of course.

It is 1 a.m. in eastern europe now so I have to take some nap before having more fun on this board.

Thanks everyone for help. <3

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I don’t know if this is what you’re looking for but I use Tae Kim’s for grammar > Learn Japanese – Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese

It’s pretty in-depth for my purposes, and I’m like the others in that I need to understand the breakdown to grasp it easier; though with learning Spanish in the past I’ve had moments of “just accept that that’s how it is and move on,” and I expect to encounter such moments with Japanese too.

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Man, what a fantastic response. Thanks for taking the time to write up this extremely detailed breakdown. If you have the time I think it would be of great value to start a website to record this kind of information.

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@Jonapedia secretly invented the first working brain computer interface and uses it to download all the grammar textbooks and sites into their brain.

True story.

Take a look at that imabi link I posted before. That’s the most in depth free resource I know of, and it tends to give way more information than is strictly useful.

Uh… it’s a combination of reading dictionary definitions (especially definitions written in Japanese, because monolingual dictionaries usually explain nuances better), exposure, and a habit of looking for patterns. A lot of this is just stuff I make up myself based on common features I notice, which I then use to extrapolate general rules. I guess you could say it comes with practice? But only with a certain kind of objective. When I can’t seem to get a handle on a word and I have the time to sit down and think (so I have to be free for a while), what I tend to do is to open a dictionary and look for the meaning that fits the context that’s confusing me, and then to read all the definitions. I then try to hold them all in my head, and I ask myself one question: what links them? I have to find a way, even if it’s really vague and iffy, to get the gist of the word. There has to be a reason a single word can have all these meanings. I also look through examples sentences from dictionaries, because they usually provide examples of ‘good’ usage that I can use to improve my feel of how a word should be employed. After that, I use my summary, the ‘gist’, as a guide for all future understanding, at least until it gets proved wrong. I used this approach for かける, which has anything between 15 and 25 definitions, and I came to the conclusion that the common theme was ‘contact’.

My personal opinion is that the other key element to this approach, besides looking for patterns, is lateral thinking. You have to try to tie things together, even if the link is ridiculously fuzzy, as long as you can find a way for it to make sense. Analogies are a good way to do this. For instance, why does そのとおり mean ‘indeed’ or ‘that is so’? Well, とおり means ‘road’, right? And 通 is a kanji meaning ‘to pass through. Thus, if you follow (and thus pass through) the ‘road’ set out by what has just been said, you are saying that is the ‘way’ it is. See the analogy? A road is to physical passage as a way is to the act of reasoning. Both provide a path for the action to follow. Making such leaps may sometimes seem ridiculous, but you may just find that they line up perfectly with other things you discover later on.

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You flatter me. Thank you, but that sadly isn’t true. How I wish I were able to do that with the maths and physics I need to study (and the advanced Japanese I have yet to discover).

@DuncanDalas @Tael I’ll second this. I’d completely forgotten that Imabi existed. (Proof that I haven’t downloaded all the websites into my brain. :stuck_out_tongue:) Imabi may not be right about everything (I’m saying this as a general warning since, for instance, I’m not sure where the information about the acceptability of the usage of から and ので with ます forms came from, and it’s always good to fact-check sources anyway. Still, I have no examples of mistakes for now, which is a good sign), but it’s really detailed and full of interesting information for learners at any level. It’s really impressive how much there is on there (including stuff on Classical Japanese and kanji that were replaced by decree to make writing easier), and it’s free! I’m not sure how much etymology it covers, but the explanations are good.

Tae Kim’s guide is pretty good too, but he’s known for a few errors and strange ideas that don’t really fit what other resources show/say e.g. やる being a verb reserved for pets. I hardly use his site, so I don’t know much about the mistakes, but @MegaZeroX posted a little list of them a few days ago. You might be able to find them by searching the forums. It’s still worth checking out though, if you can’t seem to find detailed explanations elsewhere, and what Tae Kim’s Guide is good for (which some other sources lack) is the fact that it provides plenty of example sentences.


Imabi is also an online grammar resource that provides a ton of example sentences for the record.

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Fact. Thanks for pointing that out. I had the impression that Tae Kim’s Guide provides a few more per concept, but Imabi definitely provides enough examples as well, and I think the explanations are of higher quality on Imabi.

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