Japanese Grammar Fundamentals: Declarative Sentences

Welcome to our first grammar lesson on the site.  In today’s lesson we’re going to kick things off with one of the most fundamental elements of Japanese sentence structure: the Declarative Sentence.

Declarative Sentence Basics

Declarative sentences are used to state facts in a direct manner.  The following examples are declarative sentences:

わたしはPaulです。
Watashi wa Paul desu.
I am Paul.
わたしはアメリカじんです。
Watashi wa Amerika-jin desu.
I am an American.

To change a declarative sentence into a question, add the question mark particle か (ka) to the end:

わたしはPaulです
Watashi wa Paul desu ka?
Am I Paul?
わたしはアメリカじんですか。
Watashi wa Amerika-jin desu ka?
Am I an American?

While this set of examples may seem a bit unnatural since they’re in the first person, we can change them to the second person by changing the word for “I” (わたし watashi) into the word for “you” (あなた anata), or replacing it with the name of whomever we wish to address the question to:

あなたはPaulですか。
Anata wa Paul desu ka?
Are you Paul?
あなたはアメリカじんですか。
Anata wa Amerika-jin desu ka?
Are you an American?

So to recap, the structure for the most basic declarative sentences in Japanese is as follows:

A + は + B + です。
A + wa + B + desu.

Where A is the person, place, or thing you are talking about and B is the predicate containing the attribute you wish to attach to A.  です “Desu” is the polite form of the Japanese verb for “to be”.

A is followed by the grammatical particle “wa” (written as は).  Particles in Japanese are used to identify the role played by the preceding word in the sentence.  “Wa” is what is known as the “subject marker”.  It is being used to indicate the subject of the sentence in a broad sense.  We’ll cover more on this topic in a later lesson.

Declarative Sentences with Verbs Other Than Desu

Declarative sentences aren’t limited to using です “desu” for their verbs.  Any verb can work here.  Let’s look at the following two sentences:

Raphaelはにほんごべんきょうします。
Raphael wa Nihongo wo benkyou shimasu.
Raphael studies Japanese.
せんせいすしべます。
Sensei wa sushi wo tabemasu.
The teacher eats sushi.

Many times when using a verb other than です “desu” there is a direct object involved, which is affected by the action being performed.  In the first sentence, Japanese is what is being studied; in the second sentence sushi is what is being eaten.

Answering Yes/No Questions

Questions derived from declarative sentences often lend themselves to yes/no answers.  While a simple はい “hai” works for “yes” and いいえ “iie” for “no”, sometimes we want to restate the sentence for clarity or to make a correction.

Continuing the theme of introductions, one question that might come up during an introduction is one’s nationality.  Consider the following question:

Johnはフランスですか?
John wa Furansu-jin desu ka?
Is John French?

If John is French, then we’d reply as follows:

はい、Johnはフランスです。
Hai, John wa Furansu-jin desu.
Yes, John is French.

As you can see, we dropped the question particle か (ka) at the end of the sentence and added はい (hai, “yes”) to the beginning.  If someone were asking the question about me (e.g. “Anata wa Furansu-jin desu ka?”) then we would also change the pronoun as appropriate (in this case, “Hai, watashi wa Furansu-jin desu.”

If John is not French, however, then we have two choices.

Option 1: Add いいえ (iie, “no”) to the start of the sentence and negate the verb:

いいえ、Johnはフランスではありません
Iie, John wa Furansu-jin de wa arimasen.
No, John is not French.

We’ll cover how to negate verbs in a later lesson once we’ve established more of a foundation.  For now, let’s look at our second choice.

Option 2: Add いいえ (iie, “no”) to the start of the sentence and restate the question using the corrected fact:

いいえ、Johnはアメリカです。
Iie, John wa Amerika-jin desu.
No, John is American.

Side Topic: Nationalities!

Nationality in Japanese is fairly straightforward.  If you know the name of the country, all you need to do is add the -person suffix じん (“-jin”) to the country and you have the nationality.

Most country names in Japanese are direct borrowings from English, however the names of some of Japan’s neighbors and a couple of the countries that Japan interacted with heavily up through the Meiji period (1868-1912) have forms that are different from what we’re used to seeing in English.  Here are some of the most common ones:

Country (English) Country (Japanese) Nationality
Japan にほん
Nihon
にほんじん
Nihon-jin
America アメリカ
Amerika
アメリカじん
Amerika-jin
England/Great Britain イギリス
Igirisu
イギリスじん
Igirisu-jin
France フランス
Furansu
フランスじん
Furansu-jin
Germany ドイツ
Doitsu
ドイツじん
Doitsu-jin
China ちゅうごく
Chuugoku
ちゅうごくじん
Chuugoku-jin
South Korea かんこく
Kankoku
かんこくじん
Kankoku-jin
Brazil ブラジル
Burajiru
ブラジルじん
Burajiru-jin

Did we miss your nationality?  Mention it in the comments and we’ll add it to the list!

Vocabulary

In order of appearance

  • わたし (watashi) I
  • です (desu) to be
  • アメリカじん (Amerika-jin) American
  • あなた (anata) you
  • にほんご (Nihon-go) Japanese (language)
  • べんきょうする (benkyou suru) to study
  • せんせい (sensei)
  • すし (sushi) sushi
  • べる (taberu) to eat
  • フランスじん (Furansu-jin) French (nationality)
  • はい (hai) yes
  • いいえ (iie) no
  • アメリカ (Amerika) America
  • イギリス (Igirisu) England/Great Britain
  • イギリスじん (Igirisu-jin) English/British (nationality)
  • フランス (Furansu) France
  • ドイツ (Doitsu) Germany
  • ドイツじん (Doitsu-jin) German (nationality)
  • かんこく (Kankoku) South Korea
  • かんこくじん (Kankoku-jin) South Korean
  • ブラジル (Burajiru) Brazil
  • ブラジルじん (Burajiru-jin) Brazilian

Thanks!

Thanks for checking out our first lesson!  If you have any suggestions on how to improve things or topics you’d like us to write about, please feel free to mention them in the comments!

Be sure to check back in next week when we discuss how to talk about “this” and “that” in Japanese!

Kanji Usage Data
Jouyou中、人、先、勉、国、強、日、本、生、私、語、韓、食
Jinmei-You
Hyougaiji

Published by

Paul Baptist

Paul Baptist

Japanese linguist, web developer, bassist, teacher, and long-time anime fan.

6 thoughts on “Japanese Grammar Fundamentals: Declarative Sentences”

  1. I very much appreciate the organization you have here. A quick question: is it considered offensive to refer to Nippon/Nihon as ‘Japan’ in that country? Will people correct you?

    1. You mean referring to Japan as “Japan” when speaking in Japanese, instead of using the native Japanese word? Haven’t found myself in that situation, but to my knowledge the name “Japan” isn’t viewed as offensive. That said, if you’re speaking Japanese and use it you might get a strange look or a question back confirming whether you meant to say “Nihon”, perhaps.

  2. Looks great! I will share with some others. One suggestion is to potentially consider adding audio clips. For example, 私はアメリカ人です vs 私はアメリカ人ですか look so similar in structure but the intonation is very different. I understand the focus is grammar. This would just be a nice bonus.

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