Useful Tools for Studying Japanese Grammar

As any student of Japanese knows, wrapping one’s head around the intricacies of Japanese grammar can be a real headache, especially for beginners. But now, more than any other time in history, exist a huge number of quality resources for native English speakers that help demystify this topic. In this article, we’re going to go through a host of recommendations to help you gain confidence in this area, from websites, to apps, to old-fashioned books.

Websites

They’re free, they’re easy to access, and they don’t require taking up valuable shelf space (at least for those of us addicted to purchasing physical books— but that might just be me). Here are some of the current top sites that focus on Japanese grammar:

1) Tae-Kim’s Guide to Japanese

This is the place that most students of Japanese end up at after a quick Google search— and for good reason, because Tae Kim has comprised one of the most useful references for Japanese grammar available online. And for free! In fact, many other websites and apps refer their users back to this resource. Students totally new to Japanese should start with the section of the site called “Complete Guide to Japanese”, which is organized into interesting lessons that try to avoid bogging beginners down with too much info, and instead teaches simple concepts with ample examples and practical uses.

For more intermediate students, the other half of the website titled “Grammar Guide” does a deep dive into just about every major grammar point imaginable. His lessons in this section are a great supplement to whichever textbook the student is learning from and can provide extra context and practice. Definitely not a resource to miss out on.

2) Imabi

For those of us who are obsessive about our knowledge of Japanese grammar (just me again…?), Imabi is an excellent resource for getting more information than you probably were asking for about a topic. Lessons on this site tackle everything from complete beginners with zero prior study of the language all the way up to those who wish to learn Classical Japanese, and more. If you’re a fan of TMI (or just being thorough), this is the place for you!

3) Maggie Sensei

Every now and then a resource comes along that is not only in-depth, but also entertaining. Maggie Sensei approaches learning the language from the perspective of a cast of cute animals and focuses not only on standard grammar topics, but real-life situational Japanese and modern slang. Want to impress your Japanese friends by knowing exactly what to say when visiting their homes? What about how to make excuses for your embarrassing lack of time management? This is the place to go. The lessons are geared more towards intermediate students, but are great for anyone who is looking to speak more naturally.

4) Tofugu

This blog has become a powerhouse of information on almost every aspect of Japanese language learning and they even have their own apps and specialized courses that they have developed in-house. Their articles on numerous grammar topics are as funny as they are informative, and they provide a one-stop shop for every level of Japanese learner.

Apps

1) Obenkyo

This app is a good one-stop shop for all sorts of topics for Japanese learners, but one of the unique strengths of it is that it integrates with Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese grammar, which we discussed in more detail above.

2) Learn Japanese!!

For complete beginners, this one is a nice place to start. What is nice about this app is that it breaks down its grammar topics into simple overarching categories—such as verbs, adjectives, etc.— to help students get targeted focus on each topic. It also has the bonus of teaching hiragana and katakana. However, to access all the app has to offer, users must pay $7.99, but you can try out some of the intro lessons for free.

3) DuoLingo

DuoLingo has become a popular choice for many students because it provides an engaging way to learn languages via a game-like format in which you earn rewards, unlock levels, and raise your overall score. Their teaching system prefers to keep lessons bite-sized, with each activity taking only about 5 minutes. Best of all, it’s free! It shines more for vocabulary rather than grammar overall, but students with a little experience under their belt can get some good value here.

4) Human Japanese

This app is a comprehensive beginner’s course in Japanese that aims to teach natural-sounding Japanese with a touch of humor while getting away from the dry style that many textbooks are guilty of. All areas of a beginner’s study are covered and supplemented by thorough explanations, audio, animations, photos, and interactive games. Students can try it for free up until the 8th lesson, after which they’ll have to pay $14.99 to unlock the full app. One other limitation is that it is best viewed on an iPad, so students who want to use their smartphones will have a harder time taking advantage of this resource.

Books

1) A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar by Seiichi Makino & Michio Tsutsui

Students of Japanese at any level would do well to invest in the trilogy of grammar books put out by Seiichi Makino and Michio Tsutsui. This series provides one of the most in-depth and comprehensive resources available specifically for grammar and should be able to help clear up confusion on any structures that come up during a beginner’s study, especially for students who are focusing on mastering the lower levels of the JLPT. The Basic edition helps beginners by providing examples in both romaji as well as kanji, so that the writing system does not get in the way of the learner at this level. At 634 pages long, this is not a book meant to be read from start to finish, nor is it structured as such, but rather serves as a reference for students to look up topics and structures organized in alphabetical order. Highly recommended.

2) A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar by Seiichi Makino & Michio Tsutsui

Like its sibling book mentioned previously, this is another meaty tome of grammar knowledge— this time focused on a wide range of intermediate topics. Students are expected to have a working knowledge of common kanji, although furigana appears above each word to help cover the gaps in one’s knowledge. If you’re studying for the higher levels of the JLPT, this book is indispensable. If you want to go for super-extra credit, you could even get the last book in the series, A Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar— but its content is usually out of the scope of most of our students.

3) A Dictionary of Japanese Particles by Sue A. Kawashima

Yet another dictionary style grammar book! However, this one focuses exclusively on particles, which is usually a notorious topic for students to master. Detailed breakdowns and example sentences are given for each particle and this book tries to group all the possible usages of that particle in one section to make not on looking information up easier, but also giving the student a birds-eye overview of all the ways they might encounter it in the wild. Examples are given in both romaji and kanji, which helps cover both ends of the spectrum of learners, and there are even quizzes available for those who want to test out their new knowledge.

4) A Guide to Japanese Grammar by Tae Kim

Simply put, this is the Tae Kim grammar website in printed form. For the student who prefers a physical copy of their study materials, this is not a bad way to go. Unlike the other books on this list, it is more of a structured course that will walk you through your studies instead of just being a reference in which you look up previously encountered information.