I forget where I first heard about it. I don’t even remember what compelled me to buy it. But no matter the cause, I somehow stumbled upon one of the best resources ever for learning Japanese grammar.
Its official name is 日本語文型辞典. It’s a grammar dictionary that is 695 pages long. And I love it. Anyone who wants a clear and precise understanding of Japanese, or who wants to seriously level up their Japanese skills, may love it, too.
The book covers 3000 different grammar points. That means that whether you’re wondering what exactly かな means or want to see some more examples of たとえば, chances are high, very high, that it’s included.
It has Sample Sentences Galore
The book has sample sentences for every word like あんまり or だって that you look up. These are well-chosen to convey their exact meaning and use. They include furigana over every single kanji within them. And they are usually around five of them, so you don’t even have to understand every sentence to get a good feel for what something means.
Take one of the entries on だって as an example. The entry has four sentences, or rather four short dialogs. I’ve copied them below as they appear in the book (only without the furigana):
For most people, reading these sentences alone will probably clarify what だって means and how it is used. As with other entries, however, the dictionary provides still more information.
It has Clear Explanations
The book follows the sample sentences with a clear explanation in Japanese of what the term means. In the case of だって above, for example, the book says:
These explanations are a gold mine of information. They connect the term you looked up with other terms you may (or may not yet) know, including its more or less formal equivalents. They share how the term is being used in a slightly different way in the example sentences. They let you know whether the term is typically used by men or women, by old people or young people. And, among other things, they tell you whether the term is usually spoken or written.
Of course, understanding these explanations takes some effort, at least initially. くだけた話しことば is not exactly a word that pops up in novels much. And the Japanese words for parts of speech are not likely to occur in your favorite anime, either.
To get the most out of this book, then, you have to learn those. In doing so, I found this post of twenty words you need to know to use a Japanese-only dictionary helpful. I also found a section at the start of the book, which I initially skipped over, immensely useful. It contains all those parts of speech and gives examples of each one.
Fortunately, this struggle, such as it is, is both short-lived and totally worth it. In fact, the only way that the book can provide as much value as it does is by keeping everything in Japanese. That’s how it’s able to share so much information, and so many example sentences, over so many grammar points—all in one book.
This simply wouldn’t be possible if the authors had chosen to include English explanations—or English, Chinese, and Korean explanations—and it certainly wouldn’t have been possible if it included explanations in another language plus romaji. That would have taken three volumes and it still wouldn’t have been as good.
It Gives Examples of What Not to Say (or Write)
In addition to all of the above, the book tells you when it’s proper to use the term being explained as well as when it’s not. For example, at the end of the entry for かならず it has two sentences, one marked wrong and the other marked correct. Like this:
At the end of the entry for 。。。だけしか。。。ない it includes three short dialogs, again marking a wrong response and a correct one. Here, for example, is one of them showing when だけ cannot be used:
I found these of immense value. It’s like the author hopped into my brain and knew the mistakes I was going to make before I made them and then told me what I should say or write.
But is it Really the Ultimate Resource?
You may see now why I think 日本語文型辞典 is the ultimate resource for mastering Japanese grammar.
I have read it through two times now, and each time I felt my level of understanding either rise substantially or consolidate strongly—so that I truly understood what I only hazily did before. It did more in this respect probably than reading 10 novels.
For learning grammar in particular, and for learning it in Japanese, I don’t know any other book that comes close. I think it’s the perfect companion to JALUP’s series of Anki decks, the go-to source for almost any grammar question, the best resource of its kind I’ve ever used. Needless to say, I highly recommend it.
I love reading books in Japanese and plan to start translating them into English in 2015.