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Japanese Lessons

Lesson 10 - Word Order

Japanese is considered an SOV (Subject-Object-Verb) language, while English is an SVO language. That is, Japanese always ends with a verb or an adjective or a copula. The word order of adverbs or direct objects is not very strict, but the subject is normally placed in the beginning and the verb is placed in the end.

Watashi wa hon o yomimasu.
( "I" = subject) ( "book" = object) ( "read" = verb)

Watashi wa wakai
( "I" = subject) ( "young" = adjective)

Watashi wa sarar"man desu.
( "I" = subject) ( "salaried employee" + copula)

In English, you can tell if the sentence is going to be the question or the statement just by listening to the beginning of the sentence. In Japanese, however, in case of yes/no questions, you cannot tell if the sentence is going to be a question or a statement until you hear the sentence ending. In questions, "-ka" is placed at the end of the sentence as a question marker.

Tanaka-san wa gakusei desu. (Mr/Ms. Tanaka is a student)
Tanaka-san wa gakusei desu ka. (Is Mr/Ms Tanaka a student?)

Japanese word order in relative clauses is also reversed compared with English. In the English relative clause, the modifier comes after the word. However, in the Japanese relative clause, the modifier comes before the word.

The book which I bought
("book" - Word) ("I" - Modifier)

Watashi ga katta hon
(The book which I bought)
(I) (bought) (book)
("I" - Modifier) ("book" - Word)

In terms of the word order of adjectives and the nouns that the adjectives modify, the word order is the same as English.

New book
(Adj) (Noun)

Atarashii hon
(New) (book)
(Adj) (Noun)


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