May 2017 Japanese Grammar Nuances And Coffee

Following up on my March Japanese Grammar nuances, here are some more that I felt were interesting while studying for my upcoming exams.

A basic knowledge of Japanese and Japanese reading is required to follow along.

Let’s go! 行きましょう!

ように vs ために

Both express a target but ために handles actions which are controllable, while ように is used for things not under your control. Both need a second clause and can’t be used as a predicate.

車を買うためにずっとお金を貯めてきました。In order to buy a car I saved up money the entire time.

授業に間に合うように早く起きた。 I got up early in order to be on time in class.

Diving a bit deeper, ように is used with verbs that aren’t under your control, intransitive verbs, potential verb forms and expressions with naru. Although ために can be used in conjunction with a potential verb + なる


To get even better at (being able to) speak Japanese, making Japanese friends is the best thing. (true)


I’m studying with utmost effort in order to become better at Japanese.

ために is a really concrete target, goal or motivation, while ように is more abstract and aimed at a resulting state.


To win the gold medal, he prays at the temple


To win the gold medal, he runs every day.

ようとする vs ようにする

I often mixed these two, but they have slightly different meanings. First of all, ようとする follows a volitional verb form and indicates that you try and attempt something, or that you’re about to do something. (which is philosophically the same thing as trying)


I tried to open the door, but it wouldn’t open.

In conjunction with a time expression, you can say something like “when I was about to X, Y occurred”. Again, freely this can also be translated as “trying”


When I tried getting on the train (i.e when I was about to get on the train), the doors closed and I couldn’t board it. :(


When I was just about to go out, a friend came over.

ようにする just follows the dictionary form of a verb and has the nuance of “make sure to do something”, which again can be seen as a form of “trying” It’s similar (actually it’s exactly the same) as ように above where you have a resulting state that should be achieved. Here, there’s no second sentence clause and ようにする is the end of the verb. It’s often used in negative verbs too:

甘い物を食べないようにしています。 I’m making sure (trying) to not eat sweet food.

忘れ物をしないようにしてください。 Please make sure to not leave anything behind.

つもりだった vs ~たつもりだ vs volitional +と思う

つもりだ indicates your plan/intent and is always preceded by a verb in the present tense (未完了刑動詞) and is only used when talking about yourself. ( the third person can be expressed using つもりだそうだ=つもりらしい=つもりのようだ)

夏休みに日本に滞在するつもりです。 I plan on staying in Japan during the summer holidays.

With つもりだった there was an intent, which in reality wasn’t realized, while with ~たつもりだ the intent was realized but the result was completely different from your expectations.



I was going (lit: I had the intention to) study but my friend came so I couldn’t


I intended to cook it according to how it was written in the cooking book, but it ended up tasting completely different from what I had anticipated.

(note how つもり isn’t put in past tense, only the sub-clause and predicate).

Literally つもり translates to “intent” and conveys a strong sense of conviction and determination. It’s slightly more natural to use the volitional form + と思う in less important cases.

夏休みに日本に滞在しようと思っています。I am thinking of staying in Japan during the summer holidays.

You can just write 思う when you come up with a plan on the spot, but the 思っている form indicates that this has been a plan for a while and is a very natural usage.

It’s considered a bit rude to use つもり or the volitional + と思っている in questions. Consider this:

夏休みに日本に滞在するつもりですか Are you intending to stay in Japan during the summer holidays?

There’s a strong sense of justice here and it’s more natural to use the plain verb form here like:

夏休みに日本に滞在しますか? Are you staying in Japan during the summer holidays?

For more on this, see this web page


When nominalizing you can either use の こと. の is used the most because it is used to nominalize concrete and directly visible things, while こと is more broad, abstract (抽象的) and frequently used with verbs of thought (信じり、考える,…) and transmission (話す、知らせる、…) and abstract verbs in general with the underlying intent that it is part of a broader whole.

火事があったのを知っていますか?  Did you know there was a fire?

火事があったことを知っていますか? Did you know there was a fire? (and do you know more about it?)

And the infamous drama cliché:


Don’t forget about me! (and all the things we’ve been through and all the fun we’ve had).


こと can be twisted in various formats depending on the tense, using なる/する verbs, etc. They each have a specific nuance that I often see lost in anime translations, so it might be handy to include:

  • る + ことがある “sometimes something happens”
  • る + こともある “occasionally something happens”
  • た + ことがある “something happened” (having had the experience of)
  • る + ことにする “someone has decided”
  • る + ことにした “someone had decided”
  • る + ことにしている “someone has decided” (and this became a habit)
  • る + ことになる “it’s been decided” (it’s not important or clear by whom)
  • る + ことになっている “a decision has become a rule”
  • た + ことにする “do as if something is the case” (pretend)


Some example sentences for some of them:

早く起きることもある。It happens occasionally that I wake up early.

日本に何度も行ったことがある。 I’ve been to Japan numerous times.

体に悪いから、たばこをやめることにした。Because it’s bad for the health, I decided to give up smoking.

来週会社の同僚とパリに行くことになった It’s been decided that next week I’m going to Paris with fellow coworkers.

日本の家に上がる時は、靴を脱ぐことになっている。 You’re supposed to take off your shoes when you enter a Japanese house.


Actually I heard, but I’ll pretend as if I didn’t hear that story.

 Thansk for reading! Nick~



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