Building a Grammar Mind-Map

Let's say that your goal is to learn every grammatical construction needed to pass JLPT N5.

Here’s a list to stress you out:

JLPT # Japanese English (Simple)
JLPT N5 - 01 です to be (ex. is, are, am)
JLPT N5 - 02 too, also, as well as
JLPT N5 - 03 at, in, on (action place)
JLPT N5 - 04 に / へ to (goal of movement)
JLPT N5 - 05 at, on, in (time ref.)
JLPT N5 - 06 (direct object maker)
JLPT N5 - 07 v -ませんか won't you?
JLPT N5 - 08 as for, about (topic)
JLPT N5 - 09 があります there is, there are
JLPT N5 - 10 がいます there is, there are
JLPT N5 - 11 and (list of nouns)
JLPT N5 - 12 v -ましょう let's (future action)
JLPT N5 - 13 v -てください please do (request)
JLPT N5 - 14 v -てもいいです you may (permission)
JLPT N5 - 15 v -てはいけません you may not (denial)
JLPT N5 - 16 から because (reason)
JLPT N5 - 17 v -ている -ing (progressive action)
JLPT N5 - 18 にいく to go do (something)
JLPT N5 - 19 v -ないでください please do not (request)
JLPT N5 - 20 のがすきです I like to do (something)
JLPT N5 - 21 のがじょうずです to be good at (action)
JLPT N5 - 22 のがへたです to not be good at
JLPT N5 - 23 まだv -ていません have not done yet
JLPT N5 - 24 a のほうが b より a is more (adj.) than b
JLPT N5 - 25 x のなかで among (comparison)
JLPT N5 - 26 がいちばん the best
JLPT N5 - 27 つもりです I intend to
JLPT N5 - 28 i-adj. くなる to become
JLPT N5 - 29 na adj. になる to become
JLPT N5 - 30 v -たいです I want to
JLPT N5 - 31 v -たり v -たり do such things as
JLPT N5 - 32 v -たことがある has the experience of
JLPT N5 - 33 a や b and (list of examples)
JLPT N5 - 34 んです because of
JLPT N5 - 35 v -すぎる doing in excess
JLPT N5 - 36 ほうがいい it is better to do
JLPT N5 - 37 ので because
JLPT N5 - 38 v -なくちゃいけない must, have to do
JLPT N5 - 39 でしょう probably
JLPT N5 - 40 まえに before doing something
JLPT N5 - 41 v -てから after doing something

Don’t hate me. Hate the list!

Japanese schools and books let lists like these throw their syllabi into disarray. They force overly complicated grammar constructions onto low level students before they’re ready. They completely ignore simpler, more useful grammar constructions, because they don’t show up in standardized tests… or in their competitor’s textbooks. It’s madness! And as a result, Japanese grammar lessons become a marathon of memorization.

I’d like to take a different approach in this text, though. In this guide, we’ll be building grammar constructions on top of one another.

For example, let's say we're studying conjugations for Japanese verbs. We learn that the te-form of the verb 飲む (のむ), "to drink," is 飲んで (のんで).

Old school learning materials will probably teach you the following construction when looking at te-form: ~てください.

ください basically means "please." Attach it to 飲んで (のんで) and we get:

のんで ください。
Please drink (it).

The hard part of this is learning that verbs that end in む (mu) change to んで (nde) in the te-form. So the un-conjugated verb 飲む (のむ [nomu] // to drink) becomes 飲んで (のんで [nonde]).

Most textbooks will do a pretty good job of teaching this, I think. The problem is that they don't teach you the potential for building on this conjugation.

With this specific example, by adding a few simple syllables to the end of our te-form verb, we can say ALL KINDS of things:

Japanese Kana English Formality
飲む のむ to drink N/A
飲んで のんで Drink (it). Casual
飲んでください のんで ください Please drink (it). Formal
飲んでくれ のんで くれ Drink (it), will you? Casual
飲んでくれませんか のんで くれませんか Won't you please drink (it)? Formal
飲んでもらえますか のんで もらえますか Could I get you to drink (it)? Formal
飲んでよ! のんで よ! Drink (it)! Casual
飲んでいます のんでいます I am drinking (it). Formal
飲んでいます のんでいます I have been drinking (it). Formal
飲んでいますか のんでいますか Are you drinking (it)? Formal
飲んでいますか のんでいますか Have you been drinking (it)? Formal
飲んでいません のんでいません I am not drinking (it). Formal
飲んでいません のんでいません I have not been drinking (it). Formal
飲んでいませんか のんでいませんか Are you not drinking (it)? Formal
飲んでいませんか のんでいませんか Have you not been drinking (it)? Formal
飲んでいる のんでいる I'm drinking (it). Slightly Casual
飲んでいる のんでいる I've been drinking (it). Slightly Casual
飲んでいる? のんでいる? Are you drinking (it)? Slightly Casual
飲んでいる? のんでいる? Have you been drinking (it)? Slightly Casual
飲んでいない のんでいない I'm not drinking (it). Slightly Casual
飲んでいない のんでいない I haven't been drinking (it). Slightly Casual
飲んでいない? のんでいない? You're not drinking (it)? Slightly Casual
飲んでいない? のんでいない? You haven't been drinking (it)? Slightly Casual
飲んでる のんでる I'm drinking (it). Casual
飲んでる のんでる I've been drinking (it). Casual
飲んでる? のんでる? Are you drinking (it)? Casual
飲んでる? のんでる? Have you been drinking (it)? Casual
飲んでない のんでない I'm not drinking (it). Casual
飲んでない のんでない I haven't been drinking (it). Casual
飲んでない? のんでない? You're not drinking (it)? Casual
飲んでない? のんでない? You haven't been drinking (it)? Casual
飲んでいました のんでいました I was drinking (it). Formal
飲んでいました のんでいました I had been drinking (it). Formal
飲んでいましたか? のんでいましたか? Were you drinking (it)? Formal
飲んでいましたか? のんでいましたか? Had you been drinking (it)? Formal
飲んでいませんでした のんでいませんでした I was not drinking (it). Formal
飲んでいませんでした のんでいませんでした I had not been drinking (it). Formal
飲んでいませんでしたか のんでいませんでしたか Were you not drinking (it)? Formal
飲んでいませんでしたか のんでいませんでしたか Had you not drunk (it)? Formal
飲んでいた のんでいた I was drinking (it). Slightly Casual
飲んでいた のんでいた I had been drinking (it). Slightly Casual
飲んでいた? のんでいた? Were you drinking (it)? Slightly Casual
飲んでいた? のんでいた? Had you been drinking (it)? Slightly Casual
飲んでいなかった のんでいなかった I wasn't drinking (it). Slightly Casual
飲んでいなかった のんでいなかった I hadn't been drinking (it). Slightly Casual
飲んでいなかった? のんでいなかった? Were you not drinking (it)? Slightly Casual
飲んでいなかった? のんでいなかった? Had you not drunk (it)? Slightly Casual
飲んでた のんでた I was drinking (it). Casual
飲んでた のんでた I'd been drinking (it). Casual
飲んでた? のんでた? Were you drinking (it)? Casual
飲んでた? のんでた? Had you drunk (it)? Casual
飲んでなかった のんでなかった I wasn't drinking (it). Casual
飲んでなかった のんでなかった I hadn't drunk (it). Casual
飲んでなかった? のんでなかった? You weren't drinking (it)? Casual
飲んでなかった? のんでなかった? You hadn't drunk (it)? Casual

Most Japanese courses will take years to slowly drip-feed you all of those sentences and meanings. That seems crazy to me, because most students pick up the foundation to form and use all of those sentences within only a couple of months of studying.

My goal in this guide, then, is to teach whatever is easiest to learn based on our current knowledge/foundation of Japanese grammar at a given time.

It’s kind of like we’re building a Mind Map of Japanese Grammar. Instead of learning long lists of grammatical formations, we’ll build on simple grammatical formations until we have one coherent, interconnected web of sentence formations. Something like this:

OK. Maybe that mind map image and all of these lists are extremely intimidating. But this grammar is not too intimidating when you take this stuff one step at a time. We're easing into the pool. Not diving into it.

Bunkai Beast Grammar Principle: Every single grammatical construction introduced must be built on constructions that we have already seen.

If none of that makes sense, just try reading on, and you should start to understand what I mean.

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