The Top 5 JLPT N5 Grammar Points

The Top 5 JLPT N5 Grammar Points post image
top5 JLPT N5 Grammar

Which one of these makes your head hurt?

The JLPT N5 level might be called the beginner’s test, but there is a lot that is covered at this first level. The grammar, especially, is a little tough because there is a lot of ‘real’ grammar that involves rules and structure. At the higher levels (N3+) grammar could actually be called something more like phrases or expressions because that is basically what they are.

So, what all does N5 grammar involve? Well, after you complete the N5 level you should be able to have a fairly simple conversation and describe most basic situations with the grammar that you have. After passing N5, you should be able to talk about past events as well make well-formed short sentences.

It all seems pretty simple right? Almost too simple…

Actually the test will really push you to the edge with the fine differences between a few of these grammar points, as well as how and where to use them. There 5 big grammar points that are especially tricky and there is usually at least one if not several questions about on the test. Here they are in order of easiest to hardest.

5. Counters

Counters themselves seem to be pretty easy in concept. All you have to do is add 本, 冊 etc… behind a number and you are set. Unfortunately, there are several of these little guys and some can be used for somethings that aren’t exactly intuitive. Like 本 or hon can be used for long cyndrical objects and not books, which is what it means if it is by itself.

Where these often come up is in the listening section because they have different pronunciations depending on how many numbers of objects. So make sure you know what they sound like by doing some listening practice before the test. I know JapanesePod101 has a few good beginner units that focus on this.

4. Conjugating Verbs

At the N5 level, you will learn how to conjugate verbs into their basic forms. For example, past tense, negative tense, past negative tense, polite form, etc…

The thing you need to focus on is how each type of verb is conjugated. Verbs ending in ~う are different than verbs ending in ~る for instance. The polite form or ~masu form is pretty easy to be honest, but the casual form is a little trickier. Be sure you know how to conjugate it, and again what it sounds like, so you can pick it up in the listening section.

3. Conjugating Adjectives

These are very similar to the verbs, you can conjugate adjectives to talk about the past, non-past, negative, etc… There is no polite form that you have to conjugate, just have to add desu or datta, which is pretty easy.

The main thing to look out for here is the little more advanced uses, for example, the くて form where you are combining several adjectives together. Also, be aware that you can nominalize the adjective, change it into a noun, by putting の at the end of it.

2. Time / Distance Particles

These things can especially be a pain in the butt. I’m talking about から, まで, に, くらい, and ごろ. These are essential to being able to talk about time as well as distance in some cases, but they can easily get confused.

For example, take a look at the following sentence:

駅 __ どのぐらいかかりますか?

Can you guess what particle goes in the blank? Your first guess might be に because it is a place we are going to. But, in fact, the answer is まで.We can’t use に because, に is used to mean ‘to’ or ‘toward’ something.  Since there is no actual movement going on in the above sentence we can’t use に.  まで indicates the limit of something in terms of time or space, so it is a better choice.

Be sure to go over the differences and practice a few of these types of questions.


1. Subject/Topic/Object Particles

I always wondering how something so small could be so confusing and difficult to learn. I specifically remembering sitting through an entire one hour class where my professor attempted to explain the difference between は(wa) and が(ga). I walked out of that class only with a brief understanding of the difference.

And even at the N2 level, these difference can be pretty difficult to wrap your head around. There is a small section of the New Kanzen Master N2 Grammar book that goes over this very difference. So, I would say it is almost crucial that you get a good understanding of the difference early on in your studies.

For more in depth look at the particle wa, read about the topic-marking wa and the contrastive wa.

To a slightly lesser extent, is also important to have a good feel for when to use the object marker を. They can sometimes pull a fast one on you with this little guy as well.

Which one of these Keeps you Up at Night?

Which of these do you struggle with the most? If you are above N5, which one of these still gives you trouble? By all means, let me know in the comments below.

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Amanda September 18, 2013, 5:27 am

    Can you explain it to me about the example you gave in no. 3? Thank you! 🙂

    • Clayton MacKnight September 19, 2013, 11:33 pm

      We can’t use に because, に is used to mean ‘to’ or ‘toward’ something. Since there is no actual movement going on in the above sentence we can’t use に. まで indicates the limit of something in terms of time or space, so it is a better choice.

  • rebecca June 18, 2015, 3:05 pm

    I have a note on how I remember 本 as a counter for long/ cylindrical objects! It is easy to remember that it means book, but back in the day Japan didn’t use books- they used scrolls! Scrolls serve the same purpose as books, scrolls are long and cylindrical! 🙂

    • Clayton MacKnight June 18, 2015, 3:21 pm

      Yeah, I’ve always wondered if that was how 本 came to be the counter for cylindrical objects. Sounds very plausible.

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