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The Basics of Japanese Sentence Structures

May 9, 2022

The Basics of Japanese Sentence Structures

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The Japanese language sentence structure is a little different than English. It is an SOV language, which means that the basic word order in a sentence is S (subject)O (object)V (verb). English, on the other hand, is an SVO language with the order of  S (subject) – V (verb) – O (object)

         Watashi (Subject)   Ramen (Object)      Eat(Verb)

Japanese: 私はラメんを食べます。Watashi wa ramen o tabemasu. I eat ramen

             I (Subject) eat (Verb)   ramen  (Object

English: “I eat ramen.”

When learning Japanese parts of speech are usually followed by 助詞 (Joshi), or “particles,” that modify the words in a sentence and an essential part to the basic sentence structure..

 There are many kinds of particles that modify the different parts of the sentence. Let’s take a brief look at two particles that are essential to making a basic sentence.

これは焼き鳥です。これはやきとりです。Kore wa yakitori desu.

  •  Subject particles は/が (Wa/Ga) –  The subject is the person or thing that’s being discussed or described in a sentence, and the Japanese subject is usually followed by は (wa) or が (ga), which are 格助詞 (Kaku-Joshi) meaning “case markers” or 係助詞 (Kakari-Joshi) meaning “binding particles.”

彼女は寿司を買います。かのじょはすしをかいます。She is buying sushi.

  • Object particles を(wo)The object is usually a noun or pronoun that is acted upon by the subject. A Japanese object is followed by a particle, such as を (o) or に (ni), which are 格助詞 (Kaku-Joshi).

2. Verbs 

The verb expresses an action (eat, write, move, etc.), an occurrence (happen, change), or a state of being (be, seem, exist). Japanese verbs either end the sentence, or are followed by 丁寧体 (Teinei-tai) such as です (desu) or ます (masu) in the polite form.

Word Order                        SVO :  English


Example                                                 “I read the book.”                      
“I am a musician.”                         
“The book is about music.” 


SOV : Japanese


Literal translation following the word order             

Watashi wa hon o yomimasu.

I / the book / read.

Watashi wa ongakuka desu.

I / a musician / am.

Sono hon wa ongaku ni tsuite desu.

The book  / the music / about / is.

Word Order with Prepositional Phrases

While English uses prepositions (such as “at,” “on,” and “for”) to express a relationship to another word, Japanese uses postpositional particles. These particles come after the modified noun, verb, adjective, or at the end of a sentence. 

There are several types of particles, categorized by function. However, we’ll only introduce the most essential particle: 格助詞 (Kaku-Joshi) or “case maker.”  

When there are multiple objects, their order is flexible and variable as mentioned in the previous section.

Meaning/Function Reading Hiragana Example
Nominative particle -ga ーが 彼女一番です。 ga ichi-ban desu. 

“She is number one.”

Location particle -de ーで ここ食べます。

Koko de tabemasu.  

“(I) eat here.”

Destination particle -e                            ーへ                        彼は図書館いきます。

Kare wa toshokan e ikimasu. 

“He goes to the library.”

Destination/Dative /

Time particle

-ni ーに Dative:


Kare wa kodomo ni hon o agemashita. 

“He gave the kid a book.”



Watashi wa go-ji ni shuppatsu shimasu. 

“I depart at five o’clock.”

Origin -kara ーから 駅は家から徒歩5分です。

Eki wa ie kara toho go-fun desu.

“The station is a five-minute walk from home.”

Co-participant -to ーと 彼女は彼歌います。

Kanojo wa kare to utaimasu. 

“She sings with him.”

Object particle -o ーを 私は本読みます。

Watashi wa hon o yomimasu. 

“I read the book.”

Possessive particle -no ーの これは私カバンです。

Kore wa watashi no kaban desu. 

“This is my bag.”

End point -made ーまで 彼は駅歩きました。

Kare wa eki made arukimashita. 

“He walked to the station.”

Starting point / Comparative -yori ーより Starting point:


Kaigi wa ku-ji yori okonawaremasu. 

“The meeting will be held at nine o’clock.”



Kore wa are yori yasui desu. 

“This is cheaper than that.”

Japanese Word Order with Adjectives and Adverbs

With the basic Japanese word order rules in mind, let’s see how it works with modifiers to make more complex sentences.

A modifier is a word—such as an adjective, pronoun, or adverb—that expresses something about the word that follows it. Adjectives and pronouns modify nouns; adverbs modify verbs. 

Here’s the Japanese word order with modifiers by function.

1. With Adjectives

In Japanese word order, adjectives come in front of nouns to describe them.

  • 赤いりんご (akai ringo), “red apple”
  • 分厚い本 (buatsui  hon), “thick book”

In a sentence with a subject and verb, the format is: S (subject) – O (object) – V (verb).

  • 彼は赤いりんごを食べました。(Kare wa akai ringo o tabemashita.), “He ate a red apple.”
  • 私は分厚い本を読みます。(Watashi wa buatsui  hon o yomimasu.), “I read the thick book.”

2. With Possessive Pronouns

Japanese possessive pronouns—such as 私の (watashi no) meaning “my” and 彼の (kare no) meaning “his”—will come before nouns. The Japanese possessive particle is の (-no) which is the particle marked after a person or thing.

  • 私の車 (Watashi no kuruma), “my car”

彼女の家 (Kanojo no ie), “her house”

In a sentence with a subject and verb:

  • 彼は私の車を使いました。(Kare wa watashi no kuruma o tsukaimashita.), “He used my car.”
  • 私は彼女の家へ行きました。(Watashi wa kanojo no ie e ikimashita.), “I went to her house.”

3. With Adverbs

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. Japanese adverbs come in front of the words they modify.

  • 静かに話します (shizuka ni hanashimasu), “speak quietly”

ひどく疲れました (hidoku tsukaremashita), “terribly tired”

In a sentence with a subject and verb: 

  • 彼女は静かに話します。(Kanojo wa shizuka ni  hanashimasu.), “She speaks quietly.”
  • 彼女はとても静かに話します。(Kanojo wa totemo shizuka ni  hanashimasu.), “She speaks very quietly.”
  • 私はひどく疲れました。(Watashi wa hidoku  tsukaremashita.), “I got terribly tired.”

4. With Numerals

When numerals modify a noun, they come before that noun. When numerals are used as an object, they come before verbs. 

  •  一冊の本 (Issatsu no hon), “one book”
  • 二つのりんご (Futatsu no ringo), “two apples”
  • 5匹います (Go-hiki  imasu), “there are five (kinds of animals)”

In a sentence with a subject and verb: 

  • 私は1冊の本を読みます。(Watashi wa issatsu no hon o yomimasu.), “I read one book.”
  • 木から落ちたのは二つのりんごです。(Ki kara ochita no wa futatsu no ringo desu.), “What fell from a tree are two apples.”
  • 動物園にパンダが5頭います。(Dōbutsuen ni panda ga go-tō imasu.), “There are five pandas in the zoo.”

Asking Questions

Making an interrogative sentence in Japanese is surprisingly easy! It doesn’t involve changing the word order or adding an auxiliary verb to form a question, like in English (e.g. You swim. >> Do you swim?).

In Japanese, you only have to add か (ka), a question marker, to the end of a sentence and pronounce it with a rising intonation.

Polite / Basic Sentence

  • これは100円です。(Kore wa hyaku-en desu.), “This is 100 yen.”

          Question: これは100円ですか。 (Kore wa hyaku-en desu ka.), “Is this 100 yen?”

  • 彼女は肉を食べません。(Kanojo wa niku o tabemasen.), “She doesn’t eat meat.”

          Question: 彼女は肉を食べませんか。(Kanojo wa niku o tabemasen ka.), “Doesn’t she eat meat?”

Casual Sentence

In casual and colloquial speech, just change the pronunciation to have a rising intonation at the end of a sentence, without adding か (ka). 

  • 今日は寒い。(Kyō wa samui.), “Today is cold.”

   Question: 今日は寒い? (Kyō wa samui?), “Is today cold?”

  • (あなたは)犬が好き。[(Anata wa) inu ga suki.], “You like dogs.”

          Question:(あなたは)犬が好き [(Anata wa) inu ga suki?], “Do you like dogs?”

In this article, we introduced you to Japanese word order. Now you have the basic understanding in how the Japanese sentence structure works. At first, you might feel confused about the word order, but you’ll find it’s actually a lot easier to make complex sentences once you get used to it!   

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