One aspect of Japanese grammar that is easy to overlook is the omission of subjects and other words which would normally be included in English. If you’re not careful about subject omission you can end up with grammatically “correct” sentences that sound awkward. Let’s start with a simple example:
- When I got home, my television was missing, so I called the police.
How would you translate this into Japanese? If you don’t know some of the vocabulary that’s ok, just use the words you know and focus on grammar for now.
If you tried to literally translate all the cases where “I” or “my” is present, you would end up with something like this:
However you probably feel there is something not quite right about this. In fact, there are way too many “僕”s being used!
The general rule is that whenever something can be inferred from context by the listener, you should omit it. In this case, the first “僕” is the only one you might need depending on what you were previously talking about. For example, if you were just having a conversation about your dad (who you live with), then it would be best to specify “僕は”, or at least change subjects with a phrase like “そういえば。。。”
Of the three “僕”s, the last “僕は” sounds the most unnatural since the “は” give the impression you are comparing yourself with somebody else. It is as if you called the police, but somebody else didn’t. The television is assumed to be yours, you can leave out the middle “僕の” as well.
Removing all the unnecessary words cleans up the sentence as follows:
This reminds me of the time I heard a Japanese person say something like “Husband is not here”. This is because typically in Japanese you would say “旦那(は)” or “妻（は）” in Japanese, without “僕の” or “私の” before it. That’s especially true if you are making a statement. If you were asking a question about someone elses wife, you might use a word like ”奥さん” which is a bit more polite than ”妻”
On to a second example. Let’s say someone points at a book and asks you about it. How would you say the following?
- Somebody bought me that book for Christmas.
Since the “〜してもらう” expression implies someone did something for the speaker and “somebody” is implied, we can write this sentence cleanly as such:
The ”〜してもらう” , ”〜してくれる” , ”〜してあげる” expressions (and other similar ones) all give information about what parties were involved and reduce the need to use objects in many cases.
- I’ll read this book to you.
In this example it’s very clear the subject is the speaker who is offering to read the book to the listener, so its most natural to omit both. Saying “僕は貴方に本を” would just sound awkward.
Objects of verbs can also be omitted if they are obvious from context. One clue is that if you can abbreviate that word using “it” in English, it’s likely safe to omit it in Japanese.
Let’s say someone asks you why you didn’t bring your PS4 to their house, and you answer as:
- Because its heavy!
You could answer with the more simple ”重いから” but I think the above expression is more natural. [Regarding “だって重いんだもん”, One of my readers has noted that this expression sounds feminine, and I agree that it’s probably better for most men to shy away from it. So I’d revise to say “だって重いから” is better.