When Japanese blew my mind

When I was learning grammar in school, I thought I knew what a preposition was. I couldn’t really define it, but I thought I knew what it was. I knew that they were about connecting concept (“about”, “concerning”), or about helping to express location (“in”, “on”), or direction (“to”, “from”), or time (“during”, “after”). But I never thought much about them. They just were.


And then earlier this year, all that changed.

Japanese, though it has its analogue, doesn’t have prepositions. Hebrew does, Spanish does, JSL does, Patois does; but not crazy Japanese. No; it decided to flip the script.

Japanese has postpositions.


I couldn’t believe I didn’t see it sooner. Prepositions are so called because they usually precede the noun or verb or whatever; that’s their position.

All those things that my Japanese teachers simply called “particles” (in Japanese, 助詞, joshi, helper words) were postpositional words and suffixes. Damn… How did I not see it sooner?

It’s easy enough to find examples:

time marker
shichiji ni okiru
wake up at 7:00

destination marker
gakkou e iku
go to school

location marker
uchi ni imasu
to be at home

And there’s some that have no analogue in English:

object marker
chikin wo tabemasu
eat chicken

subject marker
boku wa gakusei desu
I’m a student

And here’s another that’s not always expressed as a separate morpheme in English:

possession marker
Akiko no hon
Akiko‘s book

possession marker

watashi no haha
my mother (the mother of me)

All of these come after the words they “govern”; the exact opposite of English. I wonder how many other languages do this…



Anyway, prepositions and postpositions are together called adpositions in linguistics. And strangely enough, even though there are postpositions (most common one: “ago“) in English, they’re usually just called prepositions. I guess since there are so few of them.

Learnt something new, I did.

This entry was posted in 日本語 and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to When Japanese blew my mind

  1. Robyn says:

    Ooh, nifty! I never would have thought of that.


  2. Pingback: Explaining the Situation: Patwa and Japanese | Mr Multilingual

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