Lesson 5 – Instrumentation and Locations of Actions with で

In this article, we’ll be going over a relatively simple particle that has a couple of straightforward uses, with a minor exception.

Useful Vocabulary

  • ナイフ・ Knife
  • パン・Bread
  • 切る(きる)・To cut
  • バス・Bus
  • タクシー・Taxi/Cab
  • カメラ・ Camera
  • 写真・Picture/Photo
  • 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
  • コンサート・Concert

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:

  • ナイフパンを切る (Cut the bread with a knife)
  • バス学校に行く (Go to school by bus)
  • ペン作文を書く(Write an essay with a pen)
  • カメラ写真を撮る (Take a picture with a camera)
  • タクシー空港に行く(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.

For example:

  • 空港コーヒーを買う(To buy coffee at the airport)
  • 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 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:

  • 机の上ペンある (There’s a pen on the desk )
  • 東京コンサートある (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”.


Lesson 4 – The particles に and へ

By now you should be familiar with some of the very basic concepts of Japanese, namely the fact that the relationships between words are marked with grammatical particles, and that verbs and copulas come at the end of the sentence. So far, the particles we’ve gone over, が、を、and の, have had relatively clear cut meanings. It’s easy to see where you should use が vs を vs の as their usages (at least at this stage of learning) do not overlap*. However, these next two particles, に and へ have usages that appear to overlap when translated into English, thus making them the source of confusion for Japanese learners whose native language is English.

So in this article we will be going over these two particles, examining their most common uses and seeing how they resemble each other and how they differ.

Useful Vocabulary

  • ボール・Ball
  • 友達(ともだち)・Friend
  • ける ・To Kick
  • なげる・To throw
  • 行く(いく)・To go
  • 会う(あう)・To meet
  • 乗る(のる)・To ride
  • 待つ(まつ)・To wait
  • 入る(はいる)・ To enter
  • 送る(おくる)・To send
  • かける・To hang
  • 帰る(かえる)・ To go home
  • うち・ home
  • 自転車(じてんしゃ)・Bicycle
  • 車(くるま)・ Car
  • 学校(がっこう)・ School
  • 東京・(とうきょう)・Tokyo
  • 道(みち)・ Road
  • 公園(こうえん)・Park
  • テーブル・Table
  • 机(つくえ)・ Desk
  • テレビ・ TV
  • 靴(くつ)・ Shoes
  • ドア・Door
  • 窓(まど)・Window
  • 壁(かべ)・ Wall
  • 絵画(かいが)・ Painting
  • 手紙・(てがみ)・Letter
  • お母さん(おかあさん)・ Mother

Showing Indirect Objects of Verbs With に

So earlier we learned that the direct object of a verb is marked with を. However, in addition to the direct object, verbs can also have an indirect object, which is something that is affected by the verb, but isn’t directly acted upon by the verb itself.

For example, in English if you were to say “I throw the ball to Tom”, “I” would be the subject, “the ball” would be the direct object, and “to Tom” would be the indirect object. This is because the act of throwing is directly done to the ball, but “Tom” is still indirectly affected by the ball being thrown, which is what makes him the indirect object.

In Japanese, the indirect object is marked by the particle に. So for example, our sentence “I throw the ball to Tom” becomes:


If we instead wanted to say “Tom throws the ball to me”, all we have to do is change which words are marked by which particles:

トムボールなげる (“Tom throws the ball to me”).

Notice that the nouns themselves do not change form, nor does the verb change depending on the person. So while in English we have the distinction between “I” and “me” and the verb “to throw” becomes “throws” in the third person, the Japanese versions stay the same. So 私 is both “I” and “me” and なげる is both “throw” and “throws”.

Here are some other example sentences:

  • 壁に絵画をかける – (I) hang a picture on the wall
  • お母さんに手紙を送る (I) send a letter to (my) mother.

Please note, that as mentioned in an earlier lesson, the subject of the sentence can be omitted if it is obvious from context. So we don’t always have to say「Xが」to start off with.

There are also plenty of verbs in Japanese which only have indirect objects and no direct objects. Some of the most common ones include 会う (to meet)、乗る (to ride) and 入る (to enter). Although the English versions of these verbs use direct objects, the Japanese version uses indirect objects. So for example:

I meet my friend → 私が友達会う

I ride my bike → 私が自転車乗る

I enter the building → 私がビル入る

(Note that the Japanese translations for the first two sentences don’t contain the word “my” ・私の, because it is implied from context and adding it in would make the sentence way too wordy).

You can think of the reason these verbs use indirect objects instead of direct objects as relating to the fact that these verbs do not do anything to change the objects in question. Meeting your friend, riding your bike, or entering a building doesn’t actually directly do anything to alter your friend, your bike or the building. They are only indirectly affected by your actions, and thus are marked as the indirect object.

Showing direction of motion with に and へ

The particles に and へ can both be used to indicate the direction a person is heading in when used together with a verb of motion. The particle へ is pronounced here as ‘e’ the same as the hiragana え, despite being written with へ. (へ is pronounced normally as ‘he’ in all other contexts).

So take for example the following sentences:

私が学校行く・私が学校行く ・I go to school

私がうち帰る・私がうち帰る ・I go home (Literally: “I go to home”)

The difference here between に and へ is that に puts more emphasis on the specific location that you are headed to, whereas へ puts more emphasis on the general direction that you are headed to. For example, take the following two sentences:

  • 東京に行く
  • 東京へ行く

The first sentence sounds more like you are specifically going to Tokyo with a particular purpose in mind. Maybe you’re going to a specific bar, or meeting up with a friend in Tokyo. Whatever the case may be, Tokyo is the specific destination you have in mind. The second sentence on the other hand sounds more like you’re traveling in the direction of Tokyo, but Tokyo is more of a point of reference for the direction you’re headed rather than your final destination. You might have other stops along the way and your final destination just happens to be somewhere within the Tokyo area.

The particle へ can also be combined with the particle の to indicate a noun that references a direction towards some other place. For example:

日本への旅行 – A trip to Japan

友達への手紙 – A letter to a friend.

Essentially what’s happening here is we have two nouns which need to be connected via の、where there is also a sense of “directionality” that exists between the two nouns. So to cover both of these nuances, the two particles へ and の are combined into one. In this case, へ always comes before の.

Showing Static Location with に

Lastly, the where something exists can be marked by に. Typically the pattern used is 「YにXがいる・ある」to express the idea of “There is X in/at Y”.

For example:

公園に猫がいる – There is a cat in the park

家にペンがある – There is a pen in the house.

This idea can be extended further to make use of location words like “in front”, “behind”, “near”, etc by using the following pattern: 「YのZにXがある」to mean “There is an X in [front/behind/below/etc] Y”.

For example:

  • テーブルいる – A cat is under the table
  • トムいる – Tom is in front of me.
  • ペンある – A pen is on top of the desk
  • テレビある – The shoes are next to the TV
  • ドアある – A window is to the left of the door.

Since words like 上・下・左・右・前・後ろ etc are considered to be nouns, they attach do other nouns via the particle の. So this is why phrases like “Next to the TV” and “In front of me” are 「テレビの隣」and「私の前」respectively. Once these two nouns have been combined via the particle の, they act together as a single noun phrase and the particle に attaches to the end of the entire noun phrase.

Pronunciation – おう And Morphemic Boundaries

In another article on how to read HiraganaI discussed how to pronounce certain vowel combinations such as おう、えい、and いい. Most often, textbooks and other Japanese language learning resources will tell students that おう and おお are pronounced exactly the same, and the difference is merely due to historical orthography. In most cases, this is true. However, this simplification is not entirely accurate and ignores a crucial distinction that all native Japanese speakers intuitively make.

Continue reading “Pronunciation – おう And Morphemic Boundaries”