に and で

Every now and then, you'll come across someone talking about how Japanese is soooooo hard.

To read Japanese, you have to learn over 2,000 different characters.

And the grammar is completely different from English.

And they have these things called particles, which don't even exist in English, and they don't make any sense!


First, I should confess: I've probably said all of these at some point in my life. My relationship with the Japanese language was not always as healthy as it is now.

I mean, I've always loved Japanese, but for a long time there I hated that I wasn't very good at it. And, like a child, I complained about it.

Needless to say, my views have changed a bit.

Yeah, we need to be able to recognize over 2,000 characters, but we can already recognize thousands and thousands of full words (as images) thanks to our "sight vocabulary" in our native languages (see this article for more on that), so there's no reason why we can't do the same for kanji.

Yeah, the grammar is certainly different than English, but that does not mean that it's more difficult. Spoken "grammar" is actually rather basic by comparison.

And finally, we have particles. I think Japanese classrooms are a big cause of the general stress that people feel about particles.

Schools need to test you on something, and it's really easy to test someone using questions about particles. No, no, no. You wrote when you should have written で. You don't understand Japanese! You fail!

I think it's good to teach people how to use particles, but I think it's a waste of time to test them on their understanding and usage of particles. They are so common that it is impossible for you to not learn them if you continue studying Japanese consistently for several years. So why stress about them in the early stages of learning?

This is the same thing that really bugged me about Duolingo when I played around with their Spanish and Portuguese courses a few years back. Their app kept quizzing me on the gender of nouns. What a waste of time! You can master the noun genders naturally once you get your comprehension up to a high enough level to understand what people are saying (and by putting noun genders in your vocab flashcards ^^).

Specifically, if you have a good enough vocabulary, then you can understand most of what people are saying... which means that you can get extremely high volumes of language input... which means that you can expose yourself to the little (though important) things like noun genders (or, in the case of Japanese, particles) tens of thousands of times... which means that you can master those little things naturally, much like a native speaker would.

I'm digressing, but my point is that increasing comprehension is more important than nitpicking about small things. And generally speaking, the best way to increase comprehension is to increase your vocabulary.

 

👹 💀 Sudden, Hypocritical Quiz! 💀 👹

*laughs maniacally*

Decide which particle, に or で, should be entered into the blank in the following sentences.

 0 
その靴かわいいね。どこ( )買ったの?
その くつ かわいい ね。 どこ ( ) かった の?
Those are cute shoes. Where did you get them?
Literally: “those + shoes + cute + ね. + where + ( ) + bought + の?”

 0 
今駅( )向かっています。
いま えき ( ) むかっています。
I’m on my way to the station right now.
Literally: “now + station + ( ) + am heading for.”

 03  
電車( )行きます。
でんしゃ ( ) いきます。
I’ll go by train. // We’ll go by train.
Literally: “train + ( ) + go.”

 04  
昨日駅( )先生( )会いました。
きのう えき ( ) せんせい ( ) あいました。
I saw [ran into] my [the (our)] teacher at the station yesterday.
Literally: “yesterday + station + ( ) + teacher + ( ) + met.”

 05  
今彼氏の家( )いる。
いま かれし の いえ ( ) いる。
I’m at my boyfriend’s house right now.
Literally: “now + boyfriend + の + house + ( ) + am.”

 06  
八時( )行く。
はちじ ( ) いく。
I’ll go at eight.
Literally: “eight o’clock + ( ) + go.”

 07  
お母さん( )言わないでね。
おかあさん ( ) いわないで ね。
Don’t tell Mom, OK? (Don't say anything to Mom, OK?)
Literally: “mother + ( ) + don’t say (and) + ね.”

 08  
静か( )して。
しずか ( ) して。
Will you be quiet?
Literally: “quiet + ( ) + do (and).”

 09  
毎日iPad( )新聞を読んでいます。
まいにち アイパッド ( ) しんぶん を よんでいます。
I read the news(paper) on my iPad every day.
Literally: “every day + iPad + ( ) + newspaper + を + am reading.”

 10  
綺麗( )書いてね。
きれい ( ) かいて ね。
Write neatly, OK?
Literally: “clean / pretty / neat + ( ) + write (and) + ね.”

 11  
お釣りをスカートのポケット( )入れました。
おつり を スカート の ポケット ( ) いれました。
I put the change in my skirt pocket.
Literally: “change (i.e. money) + を + skirt + の + pocket + ( ) + inserted.”

 

👹 💀 Quiz Answers 💀 👹

Let's see how you did...

 0 
その靴かわいいね。どこ買ったの?
その くつ かわいい ね。 どこ で かった の?
Those are cute shoes. Where did you get them?
Literally: “those + shoes + cute + ね. + where + で + bought + の?”



 0 
今駅向かっています。
いま えき に むかっています。
I’m on my way to the station right now.
Literally: “now + station + に + am heading for.”



 0 
電車行きます。
でんしゃ で いきます。
I’ll go by train. // We’ll go by train.
Literally: “train + で + go.”



 0 
昨日駅先生会いました。
きのう えき で せんせい に あいました。
I saw [ran into] my [the (our)] teacher at the station yesterday.
Literally: “yesterday + station + で + teacher + に + met.”



 0 
今彼氏の家いる。
いま かれし の いえ に いる。
I’m at my boyfriend’s house right now.
Literally: “now + boyfriend + の + house + に + am.”



 0 
八時行く。
はちじ に いく。
I’ll go at eight.
Literally: “eight o’clock + に + go.”



 0 
お母さん言わないでね。
おかあさん に いわないで ね。
Don’t tell Mom, OK? (Don't say anything to Mom, OK?)
Literally: “mother + に + don’t say (and) + ね.”



 0 
静かして。
しずか に して。
Will you be quiet?
Literally: “quiet + に + do (and).”



 0 
毎日iPad新聞を読んでいます。
まいにち アイパッド で しんぶん を よんでいます。
I read the news(paper) on my iPad every day.
Literally: “every day + iPad + で + newspaper + を + am reading.”



 10  
綺麗書いてね。
きれい に かいて ね。
Write neatly, OK?
Literally: “clean / pretty / neat + に + write (and) + ね.”



 11  
お釣りをスカートのポケット入れました。
おつり を スカート の ポケット に いれました。
I put the change in my skirt pocket.
Literally: “change (i.e. money) + を + skirt + の + pocket + に + inserted.”


 



👹 💀 Explanations 💀 👹

...will be covered in the next lesson.

For now, this uber-brief guide may help:

When to use で:
Use で when talking about the means of doing something or the place that something happens or is done.

When to use に:
Use に when talking about a destination (both literal and figurative) or a recipient of an action. A "destination" includes the place where something has ended up (i.e. where something is now or where something was put). に can also change na-adjectives into adverbs.

We'll get more into the specifics in the next lesson, but for now that should be enough for you to get a general idea as to why we use で or に in the above sentences.

While we're at it, note that we have already covered every single type of conjugation appearing in this lesson. If you've mastered our lessons so far, then feel free to start getting amazed at the variety of Japanese you can now comprehend. If you have not mastered them yet, then maybe it's time for some review, yo!



Noticed any typos we've missed or other issues?
Report them here at this link.

Have questions about something in this lesson? Something not quite clicking yet? Join our discord community and discuss any questions / comments with us and fellow students.
You can join by heading to this link.