Japanese Grammar

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Sentence structure
Japanese word order is classified as subject–object–verb. Unlike many Indo-European languages, the only strict rule of word order is that the verb must be placed at the end of a sentence (possibly followed by sentence-end particles). This is because Japanese sentence elements are marked with particles that identify their grammatical functions.

The basic sentence structure is topic–comment. For example, Kochira wa Tanaka-san desu (こちらは田中さんです). kochira (“this”) is the topic of the sentence, indicated by the particle wa. The verb de aru (desu is a contraction of its polite form de arimasu) is a copula, commonly translated as “to be” or “it is” (though there are other verbs that can be translated as “to be”), though technically it holds no meaning and is used to give a sentence ‘politeness’. As a phrase, Tanaka-san desu is the comment. This sentence literally translates to “As for this person, (it) is Mr./Ms. Tanaka.” Thus Japanese, like many other Asian languages, is often called a topic-prominent language, which means it has a strong tendency to indicate the topic separately from the subject, and that the two do not always coincide. The sentence Zō wa hana ga nagai (象は鼻が長い) literally means, “As for elephant(s), (the) nose(s) (is/are) long”. The topic is zō “elephant”, and the subject is hana “nose”.

In Japanese, the subject or object of a sentence need not be stated if it is obvious from context. As a result of this grammatical permissiveness, there is a tendency to gravitate towards brevity; Japanese speakers tend to omit pronouns on the theory they are inferred from the previous sentence, and are therefore understood. In the context of the above example, hana-ga nagai would mean “[their] noses are long,” while nagai by itself would mean “[they] are long.” A single verb can be a complete sentence: Yatta! (やった!)”[I / we / they / etc] did [it]!”. In addition, since adjectives can form the predicate in a Japanese sentence (below), a single adjective can be a complete sentence: Urayamashii! (羨ましい!)”[I’m] jealous [of it]!”.

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