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日本語 Essential Japanese Grammar: A Comprehensive Guide to Contemporary Usage

Essential Japanese Grammar is a study guide for students of the Japanese language at all levels.

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"Essential Japanese Grammar" is a complete revision of the Handbook of Japanese Grammar (Tuttle Publishing 1994). The book consists of two parts (Part 1 is "Japanese Grammar: An Overview and 2nd part Dictionary of usage"); while the first part has 21 chapters, the second part contains two.

The first thing to say is that this book is a reference material, and although the book states that it is “indispensable reference for students of Japanese at all levels” if you are beginner you probably will not completely understand the example sentences, because even if the sentences are translated, and the parts of interest are in bold, the word order is different. So if you don’t know what those words mean you won’t be able to completely understand the structure of the sentences. Apart from that, the book is very useful in conjunction with Japanese language text books and want to better understand the construction of the sentences and the word order.

Now little more about first part, which as mentioned before consists of 21 chapters :

  • Introduction
  • Accents
  • Adjectival nouns
  • Adjectives
  • Adverbs
  • Auxiliary verbs & Adjectives
  • Clauses
  • Comparisons
  • Conditionals
  • Conjoining
  • Demonstratives
  • Honorifics
  • Interrogatives
  • Linking verb (da/desu)
  • Numbers and Counters
  • Particles
  • Predicative phrases
  • Questions
  • Requests
  • Verbs

All of these chapters have brief explanations about their usage, if there are exceptions, and what those exceptions are. There are several examples with different forms and usage, but as I already mentioned it is quite difficult for a beginner to understand the vocabulary, so I recommend using a trustworthy dictionary just to be on the safe side.

The only exception are the first and the second chapters. The “Introduction” tells how even if Japanese language uses more than 2000 Chinese characters in common written forms it is quite different from Chinese language. How word order and particles in Japanese are different from English, and that the word order in Japanese is generally more flexible; how verb morphology in Japanese is very different from English, because Japanese verbs are not conjugated based on number or person, but does change based on tense and polarity (whether they are affirmative or negative) as well as what follows them. Another interesting thing about Japanese counters is that they change form based on what you are counting, for example go-nin no hito means “five people” and go-hiki no inu means “five dogs”, and as you see counters are different, for people nin is used and for dogs hiki. In addition, there is a small introduction to Japanese honorifics.

“Accents” tell how high and low pitch sounds can change the meaning of words, for example はし(hashi) can mean "chopsticks" if the ha sound is high-pitched and the shi is low-pitched, but will mean "bridge" if the ha is low-pitched and the shi is high-pitched.

Finally, the second part, the "Dictionary of usage" has two chapters – the first one is not really presented as one part, since its content is an explanation of the exact usage of 300 adjectives, adjectival nouns, adverbs, etc. And the second part consists of appendices: lists of common adjectival nouns, adjectives, adverbs, counters, verbs and nouns.

Another thing I liked about this book is that its content is arranged in alphabetical order which makes it easy to find what you are looking for.

Latest reviews

  • Clean layout that is nice to look at, MASSIVE amount of example sentences (pretty much for everything, really...), Romaji alongside 日本語 whenever you feel lazy or can't read a word
  • No index on what is essential and what is advanced
I don't really have a chance to use it often, but when I do, its alphabetical order helps in looking up grammatical terms. The book also talks about components of Japanese, including tones in words, which aren't addressed very much in Anki decks and online beginner's Japanese courses.
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Masahiro Tanimori, Eriko Sato
Tuttle Publishing
Year of publication
Number of pages
19.95 USD

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