Learning Japanese Particles – “に”

2011 August 3
by PaulBenson

Welcome back! This is the third article in my series on Japanese language particles. The goal of these articles is to look at Japanese particles from a birds-eye perspective; that is, to look at their general functions and uses and how theirs differ from other particles. In the first article, we looked at the topic-marking particle は wa (written with the hiragana character for “ha”). In the second article, we looked at the subject-marking particle が ga. If you jumping into the series midway, I highly recommend you go back and take a look at those articles.

This time we’ll be looking at the particle に ni, which does a lot of different things. To go through the all, に can indicate a point in time, a place, an indirect object, or an agent/source in passive and other sentence constructions. に plainly wears many different hats, but I like to think of に as a grammatical targeting reticule as its usual function is to point at specific times, places, and things. Let’s look at some examples:

Targeting a Time:

明日、二時電話します。                                I’ll call you tomorrow at 2pm.

ashita, niji ni denwa shimasu.

私は昭和57年生まれました。                I was born in the 57th year of the Showa period [1982].

watashi wa shōwa 57 ni umaremashita.

Targeting a Place:

本は机の上ある。                                                The book is on the desk.

hon wa tsukue no ue ni aru.

この公園は桜の木がない。                          There are no cherry blossom trees in this park.

kono kōen ni wa sakura no ki ga nai.

These first two uses are pretty self-evident. You can use に to target a specific time, and you can use に to specify where something is/is not. This last point is important because にonly “targets” a location where something is/is not; にdoes not target locations where an action takes place (that’sでde, another particle for a future article). Lastly, indirect objects:

Targeting Things/People:

木村先生は高校生国語を教える。          Kimura-sensei teaches Japanese to high school students.

kimura sensei wa kōkōsei ni kokugo wo oshieru.

お母さんは太郎、犬餌をやるのを命令した。 The mother told Tarō to give food to the dog.

Okasan wa tarō ni, inu ni esa wo yaru no wo meirei shita.

The first sentence is pretty clear. Ms. Kimura teaches kokugo 国語 (“Japanese,” lit: the “national language”), and に marks the high school students, the people being taught.

The second sentence is a little more complicated as we have two に, which actually both do the same thing. There are a couple of ways of parsing this out. You could look at this and say, “well, who’s getting the food, and who’s being bossed around?” It doesn’t make much sense for the mother to order the dog to give Tarō the food!! We can also look at this visually:

お母さんは太郎に犬に餌をやるのを 命令した

As you can see, the middle sentence犬に餌をやる acts as its own “chunk” and can stand on its own. The verb 命令する (“to order”) goes with Tarō, targeted by に. If you’ve my other articles on “chunking,” this might make a little more sense. In any case, first-in-last-out is a good rule to follow when trying to make sense of which direct objects goes with which verb.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article! Please join me next time when we visit another Japanese particle. As always, if you’re aiming for a higher understanding of Japanese, don’t hesitate to sign up for Japanese language courses at Hills Learning in New York City!

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