13 Best Japanese Grammar Books for Language Learners

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Not a lot of people enjoy studying grammar. While you don’t give it much thought in your native languages, it’s a completely different story when you’re learning a new language.

Without grammar, there’s no comprehension. Without comprehension, you can’t have effective communication in your target language.

Woman studying a Japanese grammar book

And so, if you’re learning a decidedly complex language like Japanese, it’s important to come to grips with grammar. And while you can do these with the help of Japanese learning books, you can be a little bit more specific by reading Japanese grammar books.

Why learn Japanese grammar from books?

Japanese has the reputation of being one of the hardest languages to learn for English speakers, partly because of grammar. While I believe it’s not necessarily harder than other languages, the Japanese sentence structure is very different from English.

The basic sentence structure in English is SVO (subject-verb-object) but in Japanese, it’s SOV (subject-object-verb). Here’s a sample to illustrate:

English: Anna bakes a cake.
Japanese: アンナはケーキを焼く (Anna a cake bakes.)

That’s just one of the things you have to get used to when learning Japanese. The language also heavily relies on particles and there are 188 of these in Japanese! Plus, there are multiple levels of politeness. But it’s also nice to not worry about noun genders, plural forms, and complicated conjugations.

Given all these, why study using Japanese grammar books? Why not just settle for fun apps?

Japanese textbooks teach the fundamentals of the language in a well-structured way. While apps to learn Japanese often tackle vocabulary and help you gain confidence in listening and speaking (though many also contain good grammar lessons), books are often more comprehensive as they explain concepts in much more detail.

This is especially true for Japanese grammar books. A good Japanese grammar textbook explains the intricacies of grammar in a way that’s easy to follow by providing multiple examples and illustrations of concepts.

Textbooks are designed for long-term use, with each chapter or unit progressively building on previous topics. With motivation and discipline, you can master Japanese grammar with your chosen book.

So, without further ado, here are our recommended Japanese grammar books for all learning levels.

The best Japanese grammar books for beginners

1. A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar

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A mainstay in lists of best Japanese grammar books, A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar is a highly-recommended reference for learners.

Designed for beginners, this dictionary features around 200 key grammar items, along with an analysis of sentence patterns, collocations, usage, and in-depth explanations. It also includes notes on casual and formal speech, abbreviations, particles, and more.

This book also takes the time to thoroughly explain common mistakes and pitfalls learners make when using similar expressions or grammatical elements. Pretty handy, right?

This book is best for:

  • Beginners and lower intermediate learners
  • Extensive grammar explanations
  • Quick reference, if learning using other platforms

2. Practice Makes Perfect: Complete Japanese Grammar (Premium Second Edition)

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This book, along with lots of practice, is what you need to master Japanese grammar, according to some glowing reviews and author Eriko Sato.

Practice Makes Perfect is part textbook, part workbook. It combines lots of practical examples and clear explanations with 200 exercises covering all aspects of Japanese grammar. There are even helpful comparisons to English grammar and recordings of answers available on the McGraw-Hill Language Lab app.

What’s great is that the sample sentences are written in Japanese, with romaji on the side. While the romaji helps with pronunciation, you’re not being short-changed in terms of Japanese script.

This book is best for:

  • Real-world examples of grammar usage
  • Engaging exercises
  • Hands-on practice to improve reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills

3. Basic Japanese Grammar: Learn the Grammar You Need to Speak Japanese Correctly

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One of the most helpful Japanese grammar books out there, Basic Japanese Grammar teaches colloquial, everyday Japanese grammar and leaves out unnecessary or little-used forms. Simply put, it covers what is essential.

Designed for learners with limited time but who want to communicate with native Japanese speakers as naturally as possible, this book features short chapters, straightforward explanations, and clear examples that help you understand the underlying principles behind each grammar point.

This book uses Japanese words and phrases written in kanji, kana, and romaji to cater to beginners. Explanations are in English.

This book is best for:

  • Simple and compact guide to everyday Japanese grammar
  • Concise explanations and practical examples
  • Self-study or classroom use

4. Japanese Grammar 3rd Edition (Barron’s Foreign Language Guides)

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Don’t let its size fool you — Barron’s Japanese Grammar guidebook may be small but it’s brimming with useful reference information for understanding the nuts and bolts of Japanese grammar.

One of the smallest Japanese grammar books out there, this one covers parts of speech, sentence structure, punctuation, idioms, and even advice on pronunciation. It’s also organized in an easy-to-follow way for quick look-up. The explanations and samples are also easy to grasp.

Thanks to its size, you can bring it anywhere!

This book is best for:

  • Busy learners who want to learn quickly and whenever possible
  • Well-structured sections and samples
  • Essentials covered in a compact guide

5. Japanese Grammar for JLPT N5

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Whether you are planning to the JLPT N5 or just need some Japanese grammar practice, Boutwell’s Japanese Grammar for JLPT N5 is a handy resource for learning the basics.

This book teaches the most useful particles, counters, and grammatical patterns in a digestible manner. Explanations are written in plain English and several examples are provided with literal word-by-word translation to help with comprehension.

For a more holistic learning experience, this book also comes with downloadable MP3s for listening and speaking practice.

This book is best for:

  • JLPT N5 takers
  • Getting a solid start on the essentials of Japanese grammar
  • Additional listening and speaking practice

6. Japanese Sentence Patterns for Effective Communication: A Self-Study Course and Reference

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One of the most user-friendly Japanese grammar books for English speakers, Japanese Sentence Patterns for Effective Communication presents 142 essential Japanese sentence patterns in a way that even absolute beginners can comprehend.

This book starts by giving equivalents in English, followed by Japanese translations. Each sentence pattern is accompanied by a straightforward explanation and several Japanese examples with kanji, kana, and romaji.

What’s more, this book includes a lot of practice sections to allow the reader to test his or her understanding of the lesson.

This book is best for:

  • Breaking down Japanese sentence patterns for beginners
  • Concise, easy-to-follow explanations and sample usage
  • Extensive grammar index and practice sections

The best Japanese grammar books for intermediate learners

7. A Guide to Japanese Grammar: A Japanese approach to learning Japanese grammar

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A favorite of Japanese learners worldwide, Tae Kim’s A Guide to Japanese Grammar has the same content available for free on its official website. It also has unofficial iOS and Android apps. The book was published for those who want a physical copy.

That said, Tae Kim’s guide is popular online for a reason. It explains pesky grammar concepts using informal speech, which is rarely done in textbooks. This is especially useful for beginners who want to easily understand the natural way of speaking Japanese.

Learning polite forms is also important though, and this Japanese grammar guide doesn’t skip that. Tae Kim moves on to the more polite forms after establishing essential complexities in the most comprehensible way possible.

This book is best for:

  • Self-studying intermediate to advanced learners
  • Learning casual speech patterns, slang, and colloquialism in Japanese
  • Easy-to-follow and comprehensive grammar explanations

8. Japanese the Manga Way: An Illustrated Guide to Grammar and Structure

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Let’s face it: Japanese grammar books aren’t exactly what comes to mind when we think of “fun” ways to learn a language. Entertaining materials such as manga, on the other hand, don’t come across as “academic”. But what if you can combine the two?

That’s exactly what Japanese the Manga Way does. Taking a “real manga, real Japanese” approach, it teaches basic sentence types, complex constructions, and other grammar essentials through actual manga to show how the language is used in real life.

This book is one of the most entertaining ways to learn Japanese grammar. It’s best suited for intermediate learners but it can also be used as a refresher for advanced learners.

This book is best for:

  • A fun way of learning Japanese grammar
  • Fans of manga
  • Non-linear learning style

9. Essential Japanese Grammar: A Comprehensive Guide to Contemporary Usage

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Providing clear, jargon-free explanations and abundant example sentences, Essential Japanese Grammar is among the most indispensable Japanese grammar books you can get your hands on.

This book teaches parts of speech, sentence constructions, conjugation forms, speech styles and tones, accentuation rules, essential words and functional elements, and a helpful appendix for cross-referencing. There are hundreds of samples, all written in kana and kanji, followed by romaji and English translations.

What makes this book unique is that it also covers some rare Japanese verbs, adjectival nouns, clauses, adverbs, and more. You may not have an immediate use for some of them but it’s nice to have them handy.

This book is best for:

  • Comprehensible explanations of grammar concepts
  • Abundant practical examples
  • Easy referencing for grammar usage

10. A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar

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If you previously used A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar (book no. 1 on this list), it would make sense to continue your learning journey with A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar.

Just like the previous book, this one presents grammar concepts in dictionary format, accompanied by rich example sentences that will help students understand the necessary knowledge to master intermediate Japanese. The explanations are in-depth but not intimidating.

The difference with this volume is that the entries are written in kanji and kana. There is very little romaji, compared to the first book, making it more apt for those who also want to memorize kanji and kana.

This book is best for:

  • Learning as many grammar items as possible with in-depth explanations
  • Notes on casual and formal speech
  • Realistic sample sentences

11. All About Particles: A Handbook of Japanese Function Words

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Remember that I said there are 188 particles in Japanese? It’s easy to understand why you’d need a separate book just to study this tricky unit of Japanese grammar.

All About Particles is a handbook that covers more than 70 commonly used particles as well as less frequently used ones. Various uses of the particles are given along with numerous examples that are neither dumbed-down nor too difficult to grasp.

Overall, one of the best Japanese grammar books if you want to pursue more difficult concepts in the future.

This book is best for:

  • Learning often used particles and their uses
  • A plethora of sample usage per particle
  • Learning additional vocabulary in kana and kanji

The best Japanese grammar books for advanced learners

12. A Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar

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Completing the must-have trio of Japanese grammar books is A Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar. This is the next step if you’re ready for more challenging grammar concepts.

Like the two previous books in the series, this one presents grammar points in easy-to-reference dictionary format. Apart from advanced-level grammar expressions with detailed explanations, this book also helps deepen your understanding of ambiguous related or similar terms.

By understanding the critical and subtle differences in meaning and usage between the target expressions and other synonymous terms, you minimize the confusion and achieve an almost-native level of clarity.

This book is best for:

  • Advanced level understanding of more complicated grammar concepts
  • Comparisons between similar expressions
  • Learning grammar in pure kanji and kana format

13. A Handbook of Japanese Grammar Patterns for Teachers and Learners

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Containing about 3,000 sentence patterns and samples with complete explanations and comparisons with similar expressions, A Handbook of Japanese Grammar Patterns for Teachers and Learners is among the most comprehensive Japanese grammar books today.

This book covers grammar concepts in great depth, probably more than any other book on this list. Densely packed with sample sentences on each page, it clearly illustrates usage as well as common misuse.

Highly recommended for teachers, learners, and takers of JLPT N4 or N5, this is a thorough, well-organized handbook that you’d be able to use for a long time.

This book is best for:

  • Reference material for advanced JLPT levels
  • A comprehensive collection of grammar concepts with clear explanations and ample examples
  • Convenient searching through three indexes

Conclusion

Woman studying at home

Japanese grammar may be daunting, especially if you’re a beginner. But with the help of these Japanese grammar books, you’ll have a more organized and hopefully easier way of tackling tricky grammar concepts.

If you’re looking for a holistic approach to Japanese, do consider getting a comprehensive Japanese textbook as well. And for more hands-on practice, find Japanese workbooks that test your target skill. With all these reading materials available for you, Japanese fluency shouldn’t be far from becoming a reality!

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