Grammar is what glues it all together. You can call it the lifeblood of a language. It essentially helps form the main meanings of a particular sentence.
And it is also one of the hardest things to wrap your head around. It’s not like vocabulary where you can build a mnemonic, write a good example sentence or simply drill it with an SRS, like Anki or Memrise. It is more complicated than that.
It actually involves rules that you have to learn. And that would be fairly easy to do; I think most people can manage that. BUT, there are, of course, some small exceptions to those rules. And then there are small faint nuances to those rules that, of course, will come up on the test.
Because you might think grammar is a simple little thing, but it really isn’t it. You have to know just a lot more than the meaning of the grammar. You have to know its usage, what forms it can take and its possible connotations.
Okay, so this is the very first thing you learn about a grammar point. And at lower levels, just knowing the meaning of the grammar point is pretty much all you need. After all, there is nothing complex about the fact that いく means ‘to go’ and いった means ‘went’. For the most part, and I’m generalizing here, you can use the Japanese past tense like you would in English to mean something that happened in the past.
Simple stuff, right?
Well, it gets a little more complicated when there isn’t a good match between the English and Japanese. For instance, there are a few grammar points and phrases that mean ‘as soon as’ that each have their different nuances to overcome.
This is where English translations aren’t the most helpful, so always check the Japanese rewording if one is available. When in doubt, be sure to check a few example sentences to work out the meaning.
This is something I tended to overlook a lot when I first started studying for the JLPT. I think we all understand that we need to know the meaning, but tend to overlook how the grammar point is used. For lower levels, again, this is pretty straightforward.
However, starting around N4 and all the way to N1 you will have to keep a close eye on the different situations in which the particular grammar point can be used. Is it used to talk about guesses? Or is it used to talk about things that are more certain?
You also need to know if it is used for past situations or present situations. Can you use it with a noun or just verbs? If you do use a na-adjective, do you have to put na after it or do you have to put dearu after it?
Some of the more advanced grammar points can come in different forms. There a lot of these starting with N3. For instance, there are a variety ways to use ところ, わけ, もの and こと. These grammar points can take a variety of particles and mean different things depending on what particle you use.
This kind of falls under usage, but is a little different. At the N3 and above levels, you will often times study books where the grammar points are defined in Japanese. In other words, they will present you with something that is suppose to be ‘equivalent’ to the grammar point you are learning.
But, of course it isn’t the exact same because if it were, there wouldn’t be two different grammar points now would there? So, what is the difference between the two? Well, a lot of times it is the connotation of the particular grammar point, or in layman terms the ‘feeling’ of the grammar point.
Certain grammar points might be casual, polite, formal or unbelievably stiff and formal. They could also be negative, positive or completely neutral. They might carry a bit of a tone of complaining, or one that conveys gratitude and thankfulness.
Know the Whole Grammar Point
So before you go marching off to the test thinking that you are completely prepared to tackle the grammar section, be sure to double-check you know the whole grammar point and not just a piece of it. When in doubt, try to make a few sentences yourself and have a native speaker check them for you. You might be a little surprised by what you find out.
Are you an amateur Japanese Grammarian?
What is your take on studying grammar? How do you go about tackling it? Let me know in the comments below.