Tae Kim‘s A Japanese guide to Japanese grammar “was created as a resource for those who want to learn Japanese grammar in a rational, intuitive way that makes sense in Japanese. The explanations are focused on how to make sense of the grammar not from English but from a Japanese point of view.” The Introduction says:

The problem with conventional textbooks is that they often have the following goals.
1. They want readers to be able to use functional and polite Japanese as quickly as possible.
2. They don’t want to scare readers away with terrifying Japanese script and Chinese characters.
3. They want to teach you how to say English phrases in Japanese…
This guide is an attempt to systematically build up the grammatical structures that make up the Japanese language in a way that makes sense in Japanese. It may not be a practical tool for quickly learning immediately useful Japanese phrases (for example, common phrases for travel). However, it will logically create grammatical building blocks that will result in a solid grammatical foundation. For those of you who have learned Japanese from textbooks, you may see some big differences in how the material is ordered and presented. This is because this guide does not seek to forcibly create artificial ties between English and Japanese by presenting the material in a way that makes sense in English. Instead, examples with translations will show how ideas are expressed in Japanese resulting in simpler explanations that are easier to understand.

That makes a lot of sense to me, and if I ever decide to really learn Japanese, I think I’ll give it a try. (Via Plep.)


  1. I wish something like this existed when I first started learning Japanese. My first course was a lot like the textbooks he complains about in the intro, in that it focused on learning polite forms first and on learning phrases and topics of conversation that would be useful as a tourist or study-abroad student in Japan. (They did do a good job of teaching us early on about kanji and kana, though). This ended up making it a lot harder for me later on when I learned more advanced grammar (such as relative clauses, and passive and causative verb forms) because I had to unlearn a lot of bad habits I picked up in my intro class; for example, my tending to produce the polite form of verbs when I really needed to use the dictionary form (which, despite being more “basic” than the polite form, I never learned until well into my second semester!).

  2. This book looks terrific. I’m struggling to gain fluency in the language, and I discovered some time ago that translating my English thoughts into Japanese doesn’t really work. Japanese will approach the same idea in a totally different way, and the grammar will be just as different.

  3. Funny, but the comments here sound like an indictment of the situational/functional approach to learning language.
    To which I wholeheartedly agree. I learnt Japanese over 30 years ago, and apart from the obligatory greetings, my memories are of learning how to use Japanese on its own terms, figuring out how the language ticks. This was much more interesting than learning situational conversations (which we did also, but our teachers were very good). The thing is, once you’ve learned how the language is put together, the formulaic greetings, situational language, etc., are much easier to pick up.
    By way of contrast, my first attempts at Vietnamese (as found in many Vietnamese textbooks) never seemed to get past those incredibly boring ‘Chao chi’ conversations. For functioning in Vietnam, polite language is absolutely essential (the Vietnamese are very sensitive to that kind of thing), but I would have done better if the textbooks would get on with the language, not just the greetings!

  4. That should be “site”, not “book”. 🙂

  5. This site does have some very good pointers – very helpful on the use of particles. Also very interesting point on “da” vs. “desu”. After 6 years of Japanese study I had also erroneously internalized the idea that “desu” is the polite form of “da”, but Kim shows that they are actually not interchangeable.

  6. A very nice site indeed – and he sneakily avoids the entire topic of sentence-final particles (the infamous ne and yo, for instance), as well as the “multiple subjects” phenomenon, probably both wise decisions. However, no mention of case-marking changes in the causative – odd, since it’s nearly always mentioned in grammars -and- textbooks.
    As for the situational approach to learning, it worked OK for me, though I didn’t start with it. After self-learning a bunch of vocab and constructions (similar to the ones on his site, though not as many nor as full in detail) over a year, I took an intensive summer class that used a great textbook (A Course in Modern Japanese, Nagoya University Press) where each chapter had themes like Praising/being humble, showing regret, giving encouragement, persuading someone, and so on. There was a short dialogue, vocab, exercises on the grammar of the situation-related material, then on other new material. Really a great book, at least for the way the course was taught.

  7. he sneakily avoids the entire topic of sentence-final particles (the infamous ne and yo, for instance)

    I’m not entirely sure what you mean, but they are mentioned. They’re listed under “gobi”. Ne and yo are introduced here, for example.

  8. Well, here’s a long, long, long-delayed reply.
    I guess I must have missed the topic, since I’m used to sentence-final particles being called shuujoshi (‘terminal auxiliary’), as gobi just means ‘suffix.’ My mistake.

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