Japanese Grammar, some meta-rules

A while back, I had a small epiphany about Japanese language. I had been studying for the JLPT N2, and focusing on grammar. Like all languages, Japanese has many rules for grammar. Until then, I had been studying each grammar rule individually and how to use adjectives, verbs, etc. However, I realized that these individual rules fell into patterns, which I call meta-rules.

So, I wrote down all the meta-rules I could think of:

  1. A verb directly modifies a noun.
  2. “ii” Adjectives directly modify nouns.
  3. “na” Adjectives modify nouns by putting a な in front.
  4. Nouns modify other nouns with の. Or sometimes compound-nouns are used.
  5. Adjectives modify verb by becoming adverb.
  6. Adverbs directly modify verbs, no conjugation or anything.
  7. Sub clause before main, no matter how long it is, not after like English.
  8. Verbs modify another verb by becoming a noun first (add こと).

So, once I realized these rules, I noticed that new grammar I learned tended to fall into one of these rules. Not always, but the vast majority. It has helped me quite a bit with the JLPT exams also, because of the new questions where you have scrambled sentences you have to fill in the right order. Compared to other sections, I find those questions pretty easy (not so the rest of the test). It also helps me in conversation by correctly putting sentences together on-the-fly more often than before.1

Try it when you look at Japanese grammar, and you’ll see patterns pretty much these.

If you’re learning another language (English, Korean, whatever), it helps to figure out the meta-rules for that language too. If you’re just starting out, it may be too soon to know the meta-rules, but after you gain some familiarity, they should become more evident. Good luck!

1 Still a work in progress. ;p


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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