Uh... Who Are You, Again?
Yo, I’m Niko. I’m the founder of NihongoShark.com, and the author of all these, uh, words…
The vast majority of Japanese lessons that you'll find on NihongoShark (1,000+ and counting) were written by me (and always with the help of at least one native speaker of Japanese). I used to also work full-time as a translator and writer for major publishing companies in Japan, mostly working on English study materials (e.g. books on English grammar, vocabulary, TOEIC tests, etc.). But those jobs have fallen to the wayside thanks to the growth of NihongoShark.
Long story short, my life has revolved around exploring the differences between English and Japanese grammar for 5+ years now—more, if you count all those years studying Japanese and English grammar separately before that.
...which brings me to my next point...
Let's Be Honest: Grammar Sucks
I hate grammar.
There, I said it.
In 2014, I had this gig writing sample test questions for TOEIC. I was stoked. Or I should say, I was jaded at my English-teaching job, and a writing job sounded like salvation. Well, any job without a suit or shaving every day sounded like salvation. So I really, really wanted to impress my new employer.
Perhaps you can imagine, then, how much I panicked when my new boss said this during one of our first meetings:
“See how this sentence is using the past participle? I need another sentence like that.”
"Oh, yeah…” I said, “…the past participle…” And I was thinking S%#*, what’s a past participle?! I’m screwed.
When in doubt, though, play it cool.
I sat up straight, took a deep breath, and gave myself a silent, Niko-pep talk. You got this, babe. No worries. No sweat. Just wing it.
And I winged it like a boss.
Later, that editor told me I was “a natural.” Pro-status. Perfect for this type of work.
Guess what, though? I did that job for years without knowing what a past participle was. Because it doesn’t matter. The person that has to explain that stuff needs to know what it is, but it’s more or less useless for communication with fellow human beings.
(Note: After several years of writing jobs, I'm now pretty well-versed in grammar lingo. So "past participle" is no problem... though when my editor writes 関係代名詞 [かんけいだいめいし // relative pronoun], I still need to go look up what it is... for the 74th time...)
We’re not grammar robots. We’re humans. We make sounds by wiggling our tongues around, and by some magic witchcraft, people make meaning from the sounds. Then we try to explain what’s happening, and it’s a total mess. So we put the mess in neat piles and call it “grammar.”
Well, my goal with this guide is to give you the neatest little piles of Japanese in the world. And we’ll keep piling those little piles on top of one another until we have a mountain of Japanese grammar under us. And you’ll be like, Oh snap! How did I learn me all them grammars?! And I’ll be like, I don’t know, man. But that was crazy! And we’ll drink ale. And sing songs like the warriors of old.
If you tell people you’re studying Japanese, roughly 77% of them will say:
“Japanese, huh? My cousin Derpus lives in Japan. He loves it over there."
The other 23% or so of people might say something like...
"Isn't Japanese, like, impossible? I heard the grammar is nuts!”
The truth is, though:
Japanese grammar is not especially convoluted.
Rather, grammar itself is a flawed, human attempt to apply rules to a messy communication process. Language itself is convoluted. And that’s chill. Because we don’t have to understand how it works. We just need to understand how to use it. Like a smartphone. Or a TV. A keyboard. The ocarina of time.
In this guide, which is a never-ending work-in-progress, I'm going to try to break down, in minute detail, the building blocks of Japanese "grammar." That is, we're laying the foundation for a 500-story grammar factory. If you think that one of my explanations sucks, then keep it to yourself. My fragile ego can't handle the criticism.
I'm kidding. Come talk to us about it in the NihongoShark chat community. We'll figure this stuff out together.
Grammar is boring and confusing. I'll try (and often fail) to make it entertaining and understandable. You got this, yo. I’m sure you can handle it… at least as much as I can handle the past participle in English.