In this article, we’ll be going over a relatively simple particle that has a couple of straightforward uses, with a minor exception.
- ナイフ・ Knife
- 切る（きる）・To cut
- カメラ・ Camera
- 取る・To take
- 空港（くうこう）・ Airport
- 飛行機（ひこうき）・ Airplane
- コーヒー・ Coffee
- 買う（かう）・To buy
Meaning 1: Showing Instrumentation.
で can be used to show how, or by what means, a verb is carried out. This is analogous to the instrumental case that appears in certain Indo-European languages like Russian. For native speakers of English, it is similar to saying “with” or “by”. For example:
- ナイフでパンを切る (Cut the bread with a knife)
- バスで学校に行く (Go to school by bus)
- ペンで作文を書く（Write an essay with a pen)
- カメラで写真を撮る (Take a picture with a camera)
- タクシーで空港に行く(Go to the airport by cab)
While the English translation changes slightly for some of the sentences (i.e. using “by” vs “with”), the takeaway in Japanese is that で indicates the means by which an action is carried out. It points out what is used to carry out an action.
Meaning 2: Showing an action’s location
Earlier we learned that the location of a person or thing can be indicated using the particle に. For example:
空港に飛行機がある – There are planes at the airport.
However, に can only be used to show location when we are simply talking about something existing in a certain location. If we instead are talking about the location where an action takes place, we have to instead use で.
- 空港でコーヒーを買う（To buy coffee at the airport)
- 家で本を読む（To read a book at home)
Since verbs like “to read” or “to buy” describe actions, the location in which they take must be marked with で and NOT に.
So compare the difference:
- 公園に猫がいる (“To exist” is not an action. It is a state of being. The location should use に）
- 学校で作文を書く（書く is an action, and so the location should use で）
Exception ー Using で With ある
Marking the location of the verb ある can sometimes take で instead of に when it’s being used to describe an event that is taking place, such as a concert or a convention. This is because these events are large-scale “actions”
For example, compare the two different usages of ある below:
- 机の上にペンがある (There’s a pen on the desk )
- 東京でコンサートがある (There’s a concert in Tokyo)
The first example uses に because we are simply describing the existence of the pen on the desk, and no action is taking place. The second example uses で because a concert is an “event” and an event is a type of “action”.