Discussion of a tricky で vs に question (mini quiz 2: で and に)

By | February 24, 2015

In my second mini quiz (Japanese particles で and に), there was one question which was answered incorrectly more than half the time, so I’d like to review it in this post.

(If you haven’t taken the quiz yet, you can do so here: testmoz.com/450945)

The problem goes like this:


今晩、床「 」寝る

今晩:こんばん tonight
床:ゆか floor
寝る:ねる sleep

Choose the most appropriate particle(s) which fit in the above 「  」:

  1. に or で
  2. neither


You may be surprised to learn the answer here is actually ”3. に or で”, because either particle can be used here.

If で is used, performing the action of ‘sleeping’ at the location of ‘floor’ is emphasized, while usage of に would emphasize existing   at the location ‘floor’ while sleeping.

Besides 寝る, there are some other verbs where you could probably safely use either で or に, including 眠る (ねむる)、待つ(まつ)、立つ (たつ)or 滞在(たいざい)する.  You may have noticed all of these verbs involve staying in one place, hence the overlap with the concept of ‘existing’ at a certain place.

My general advice is to use で in all cases except for a few specific verbs like ある, いる and 住む, where you would typically use に. Of course if you hear a native speaker use に with some other verb, it’s probably best to mimic them next time you say a similar phrase.

If you use に to express “existence” for a verb or situation where it doesn’t make sense, you could end up with an awkward phrase. For example, the following sentence sounds unnatural.

  • 部屋勉強しています.   (unnatural)

Here using で would be best.

  • 部屋勉強しています.   (natural)


1) Although I’ve heard from native Japanese speakers that に is the right particle to use with 住む (i.e “日本に住んでいます”), I have seen で used as well.



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4 thoughts on “Discussion of a tricky で vs に question (mini quiz 2: で and に)

  1. behappyxxx

    Very interesting~ i love your blog and i think itll definitely be helpful to me in learning japanese again. I spoke a little when i was young but never used it often so i lost it :/ im trying to relearn the language.

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Thanks for reading my blog and it’s good to have you!

      Since some part of your mind probably remembers Japanese grammar and vocabulary, I’m sure you’ll relearn Japanese quickly, and be speaking better than me in no time (:

      Let me know if you have any questions, I’d be glad to help.

  2. narutovu207

    I think if the sentence has a subject, the emphasis on existence will make more sense. Like 猫が床に寝ている. Without the subject, people will wonder 誰が? most of the time. Although the reduction of subject may automatically point to 私 perhaps, but if the speaker wants to focus on his own existence then he normally will not forget to add the pronoun. Otherwise, I totally agree with your explanation about existence-focus and location-focus.


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