50+ Japanese Grammatical Patterns: an experiment in translation

By | April 21, 2020

Grammar is undoubtedly a core part of any language, and mastery of the ins-and-outs of various grammar patterns is required for any reasonable level of fluency. 

Japanse grammar is especially unique because of the omission of parts of speech like subjects or objects, resulting in short phrases that can have a lot of meaning. Furthermore, Japanese particles are little bundles of nuance that add a lot to a sentence with a single character, and multiple particles can be combined in various ways. These sorts of things make understanding and translating Japanese a real challenge.

In many of my posts I drill down into a specific word or grammatical pattern, but I had the idea of making a list of short phrases using the same object and verb, and providing accompanying translations to give a sense of the nuances involved. For the most part there is only a change of a verb tense, a particle of two, or some other word added. However, as you can see, these small changes can have major semantic impact.

I want to emphasize that each translation is just a rough approximation of the nuance of each Japanese phrase. They should not be taken as the only possible (or “correct”) translations, and some may feel there is a better way to convey it in English. Putting these phrases into context would give even more translation options, partially because of the tone of the passage or character speaking the phrase. But if you have suggestions for any better translations, feel free to let me know in the comments.

To keep the sentences natural I have omitted the subjects, but depending on the context and nuance intended, a subject could be added at the beginning, optionally with a が or は particle (ex: 僕がゲームを買う). Because of this ambiguity, technically the implied subject can be “I”, “You”, or “He/She”. However, in practical usage many of these phrases will most likely tend to be about only one of these subject categories, and I have made my translations with those in mind. But, depending on the context, the subject could be different than my translation. For example, ゲームを買うんだ can refer to an first-person assertion (that’s how I translated it below), but it can also signify a command to a second or third person.

Regarding the object in these sentences (ゲーム), I’ve translated it in most cases as “the game”, but depending on the situation it could also be translated as “a game”.

I’ve decided to keep to mostly the plain forms, but many of these phrases could be expressed with desu/masu forms (ex: ゲームを買います), with a corresponding polite nuance. I’ve also chosen to use more colloquial forms when there is a choice (ex: 買わなきゃ vs. 買わなければ)

Asserting an action

  • ゲームを買う
    • I will buy the game.
  • ゲームを買うよ
    • I will buy the game!
  • ゲームを買うんだ
    • I am going to buy the game.
  • ゲームを買うね
    • I will buy the game, ok?
  • ゲームを買うぜ
    • I will buy the game, dude.
  • ゲームを買うわ
    • I will buy the game, darling.
  • ゲームを買うわよ
    • I will buy the game, darling!

Asking for confirmation

  • ゲームを買うの?
    • Are you really going to buy the game?
  • ゲームを買うよね?
    • You’re going to buy the game, right?
  • ゲームを買うのか?
    • So you’re gonna buy the game, huh?
  • ゲームを買うかよ  (used more as a rhetorical question here)
    • I don’t believe you’re going to buy the game!

Making a positive request or command

  • ゲームを買ってください
    • Please buy the game.
  • ゲームを買ってくれ
    • Come on, buy the game for me.
  • ゲームを買え
    • Buy the game!!!
  • ゲームを買っちまえ
    • F****** buy the game!!!!!
  • ゲームを買って
    • Buy the game.
  • ゲームを買ってね
    • Buy the game, ok?
  • ゲームを買ってよ
    • Buy the game already!
  • ゲームを買っといて
    • Buy the game for later.
  • ゲームを買いな
    • Buy the game.
  • ゲームを買いなさい
    • I order you to buy the game.
  • ゲームを買うんだよ
    • I am buying the game!
  • ゲームを買うべき
    • You must buy the game.
  • ゲームを買わなきゃいけない
    • You should buy the game.
  • ゲームを買うといい
    • It would be good if you bought the game.
  • ゲームを買っていいよ
    • It’s OK for you to buy the game.
  • ゲームを買うこと
    • One must buy the game.
  • ゲームを買わない?
    • Do you want to buy the game?

Making a negative request or command

  • ゲームを買わないでください
    • Please don’t buy the game.
  • ゲームを買うな
    • Don’t buy the game.
  • ゲームを買うなよ
    • Don’t you dare buy the game!
  • ゲームを買うんじゃないよ
    • You aren’t going to buy the game.
  • ゲームを買わない方がいい
    • It’s better to not buy the game.
  • ゲームを買わなくていいよ
    • You don’t have to buy the game.
  • ゲームを買うべきじゃない
    • You must not buy the game.
  • ゲームを買っちゃいけない
    • You shouldn’t buy the game.
  • ゲームを買うんじゃなかった
    • I shouldn’t have bought the game.
  • ゲームを買わなければよかった
    • I shouldn’t have bought the game.

Volitional form

  • ゲームを買おう
    • Let’s buy the game.
    • (or) I’ll buy the game.
  • ゲームを買おうね
    • Let’s buy the game, ok?
  • ゲームを買おうかな
    • Maybe I’ll buy the game…
  • ゲームを買おうよ
    • Let’s buy the game already!
  • ゲームを買おうか
    • I guess I’ll by the game.
  • ゲームを買いましょうか?
    • Shall I buy the game for you?
  • ゲームを買うな
    • Don’t buy the game

Other ways to express intention

  • ゲームを買おうと思ってる
    • I’m thinking of buying the game.
  • ゲームを買う予定
    • I have plans to buy the game.
  • ゲームを買うつもり
    • I intend to buy the game.

Expressing (un)certainty or possibility

  • ゲームを買える
    • I can buy the game.
  • ゲームを買う事ができる
    • I am able to buy the game.
  • ゲームを買うかもしれない
    • I might buy the game.
  • ゲームを買うだろう
    • I guess I/he/she will probably buy the game.
  • ゲームを買うだろうね
    • You know, I guess I/he/she will probably buy the game.
  • ゲームを買う可能性がある
    • There’s a chance I/he/she will buy the game.
  • ゲームを買うはず
    • I’m certain I/he/she will buy the game.
  • ゲームを買うことはない
    • There won’t be anyone buying the game.
  • ゲームを買うわけがない
    • There is no way I/he/she is buying the game.
  • ゲームを買うかと
    • I thought that you were maybe going to buy the game.

Other forms

  • ゲームを買うんじゃない  (said with neutral tone)
    • He/she isn’t buying the game.
  • ゲームを買うとも
    • Of course I’ll buy the game.
  • ゲームを買う事がある
    • Sometimes I buy games.
  • ゲームを買った事がある
    • I’ve bought a game before.
  • ゲームを買いますように
    • I pray that you/he/she buys the game.
  • ゲームを買って良かった
    • I’m glad I bought the game.
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2 thoughts on “50+ Japanese Grammatical Patterns: an experiment in translation

  1. Jim Miles

    This is awesome! A lot to process for a n00b like me, but I really like it and it’s fun to see which forms I recognise, and how well or not!

  2. Bonnie

    That is fantastic!!! it really helps to see the big picture and small details as well 😀


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