Often in lessons students begin to speak with “Nihon de…” or “Nihon ni…” and pause. Then, they ask me “Is de correct?” or “Is ni correct?” before restarting the rest of the sentence. I always answer, “If you don’t continue your sentence, I can’t tell whether your particle is correct or not. Say the sentence until the end.” We don’t know which is right, “Nihon de…” or “Nihon ni…”, before hearing the verb at the end of the sentence. In other words, you decide "de" or "ni" depending on the verb.
First of all, we divide verbs into three groups, which is an important process.
- three verbs: ikimas (go), kimas (come), kaerimas (return)
- verbs of action: tabemas (eat), mimas (see, watch, look), nomimas (drink), kaimas (buy) and so on. There are many of verbs of this kind.
- verbs of state: arimas, imas (be somewhere), sundeimas (live), and so on. Only these three are good to look at first.)
- watshi wa nihon ni ikimas. (I will go to Japan.)
- watashi wa nihon de hatarakimas. (I work/will work in Japan.)
- watashi wa nihon ni imas. (I am in Japan.)
I made a chart of these examples.
1. ikimas, kimas, kaerimas
2. tabemas, mimas, nomimas
place where an action happens
3. arimas, imas, sundeimas
location or position of someone or something
If you think about it in English, group 1 is obviously different, but group 2 and 3 may be confusing since they are the same. However, throw away the English way of thinking here and acquire a way of thinking that groups Japanese verbs. I wrote this before, too, but it is important. I hope you can get to the point of distinguishing between “action” and “state”. This will really help you learn Japanese in the future.
When we speak our mother tongue, probably no one speaks while thinking of its grammar. The words come out of one’s mouth naturally. But, when it comes to a foreign language, we need to be aware of that language’s grammar. Some people think that they want to learn Japanese how kids do.” But, I believe that when adults learn Japanese, it is important to understand Japanese grammar and/or distinguish Japanese from your first language in your brain.
Of course, there is also hope. I occasionally hear some non-Japanese say “This doesn’t sound right.” while they are speaking Japanese. These people are usually advanced students and/or have lived in Japan for a long time. They have gotten this instinct/ sense naturally through a lot of study and experience. Keep on studying until you get this feeling!