Japanese is a unique language. Despite decades of research and investigation, Japanese has not been demonstrably proven beyond a doubt to be related to any other language on Earth, with the sole exception of the minority Ryukyuan languages spoken in Japan. Other than that, the language that comes closest to Japanese grammatically is probably Korean, which some linguists at one point believed might possibly be a distant relative of Japanese, as part of the Altaic Language Family Hypothesis, which has since been discredited. No genetic relationship between the two languages has ever been conclusively proven.
As a result, Japanese grammar can be quite jarring to learners, especially to learners whose native language is an Indo-European language such as English. On the one hand, Japanese lacks many of the features that are traditionally considered to make a language hard such as grammatical case, noun genders, and an abundance of irregular verbs and plural forms. Not having to worry if 椅子 (chair) is masculine or feminine or how to make ネズミ (mouse) plural can be quite the relief.
On the other hand, Japanese has many features that will be brand new to you. For example, a well formed Japanese sentence will likely contain zero pronouns, and a complete, complex thought such as I no longer wanted to go can be expressed as a single word. The rabbit hole can go quite deep, and the best advice I can give is to keep an open mind and resist the temptation to try and map everything back onto English.
As I post new articles on grammar, I will categorize them into beginner, intermediate, advanced and classical. Within each section, I will do my best to logically build upon material step by step in a way that does not overly rely on English concepts.
The order in which I will introduce concepts will be very different from the order in which they are typically introduced in other grammar guides. Generally, there is a tension between wanting to provide grammar explanations that will be immediately useful and grammar points that can be understood in terms of previously understood grammar. For example, many textbooks will teach that adding “~なければならない” to the end of a verb means “must do”, and treat it as a singular phrase, believing that saying “I must do something” is a very useful phrase a learner would want to know as early as possible. But “~なければならない” is not a singular phrase, it is the combination of several other grammar points, including 2 negations and a conditional. So using this approach, a leaner would be able to use the phrase right away, but they would be scratching their head as to *why* it means what it means. What I want to attempt to do instead is to build up grammatical foundation that results in the ability to create a phrase like ~なければならない so that once a learner comes across it, the meaning can be instantly deduced and understood on a much more fundamental level, even if it means delaying introducing the phrase altogether until much later.
In my opinion, both opinions have merit, and there is no one singular approach that universally works best for everybody. For people who want to speak as effectively as possible as soon as possible (for example, a businessman who has a limited time to learn Japanese in order to converse with Japanese clients ASAP), and aren’t as interested so much in the *why*, then the approach I am going with here may not be the best for them. However, if you’re not in a rush, and feel at home with linguistic terminology, then it’s my hope that perhaps my experimental attempt at a linguistic deep-dive might be wind up being of some use.
Lastly, before diving into the grammar though, I’d heavily suggest familiarizing yourself with the basics of Hiragana and Katakana as well as the fundamentals to good pronunciation. This way you can avoid the pitfalls that you may run into when studying purely with Rōmaji.
Remember, even though Japanese can at times be difficult, it is nowhere near impossible to learn. It simply requires patience, consistency and an open mind. So がんばって (Do your best)！