The Particle De で I

第40課: The Particle De で I

This lesson will be about yet another crucial particle in Japanese: de で. Many students confuse it with the particle ni に because of overlap that they have, but with what you will learn in this lesson, you will have a good founding knowledge for distinguishing them properly. 

The Case Particle De で: “At”

The particle de で and the particle ni に both roughly translate as “at/in” when expressing the location of an action. With de で, however, there is no deep connection implied between the action and the place of said action as there is with ni に. The best example of this contrast between the two particles can be seen with the concept of “to work.”

1a. ここで働いています。
Koko de hataraite imasu.
I’m working here.
1b. ここに勤めています。
Koko ni tsutomete imasu.
I work here. 

1a implies that you are only working somewhere. Perhaps you are a side hand or you are working at a temporary job. Your focus is on the labor and not being a part of the establishment. 1b, on the other hand, does imply that you have been at the establishment as an employment for a length of time and that you view yourself as a part of that entity. For reasons regarding English grammar, neither 1a nor 1b utilize the words “at” or “in,” but this doesn’t change how these particles are being used.

This difference is rooted in how ni に relates to states of being whereas de で just relates to occurrences. This is why ni に is used frequently paired with verbs such as aru ある (to be (inanimate things)), iru いる (to be (animate things)), and tsutomeru 勤める (to work for) and de で is used frequently paired with verbs such as hataraku 働く (to work), au 会う (to meet), etc. 

2. 学校で勉強します。
Gakkо̄ de benkyо̄-shimasu.
I’ll study at school.

3. 図書館で勉強しました。
Toshokan de benkyо̄-shimashita.
I studied at the library.

4. 駅前で買い物もの(を)する。
Ekimae de kaimono (wo) suru.
To shop in front of the train station.

5. 事務所でお客さんに電話をかけます。
Jimusho de o-kyaku-san ni denwa wo kakemasu.
I will make a call at the office to the customer.

6. 彼女は海【で 〇・に X】泳いだ。
Kanojo wa umi [de 〇/ni X] oyoida.
She swam in the sea.

Particle Note: 海に泳ぐ is incorrect to the majority of speakers. When you use で, you are specifying the location of swimming. Otherwise, you would say umi wo oyogu 海泳ぐ to mean “to swim through the sea.”

7. 子供たちが庭で遊んでいる。
Kodomotachi ga niwa de asonde iru.
The children are playing in the garden.

8. 北海道で地震がありました。
Hokkaidо̄ de jishin ga arimashita.
There was an earthquake in Hokkaido.

The Grammaticality of ~に働く

Due to the nature of ni に indicating an existential presence to an action, ~に働く is generally felt to be a grammatical mistake. If, though, the speaker uses 働く in a more casual sense to refer to their profession/occupation, ~に働く may be heard, although this is not advised. 

9. うちはとある店に働いてます。(△)
Uchi wa to-aru mise ni hataraitemasu.

I’m working at this certain store. 

10.  お金の両替えはどこでできますか。
Okane no ryо̄gae wa doko de dekimasu ka?
Where (at) can I exchange money?

The Case Particle De で: “With” as in Method

Another major meaning of the particle de で which it does not share with the particle ni に is indicating the method/means by which something is done. This may translate into English depending on the sentence as “with,” “in,” “by,” or other related prepositions for the same general meaning. 

Grammar Note: In older language, the particle ni に does also share this meaning, but such instances in Modern Japanese should be treated as archaisms, and due to the difficulty of those sort of phrases, they are not touched on here. 

11. 日本語で話してください。
Nihongo de hanashite kudasai.
Please speak in Japanese.

12. いまびというサイトで日本語を勉強しています。
“IMABI” to iu webusaito de Nihongo wo benkyо̄-shite imasu.
I’m studying Japanese with a website called IMABI. 

13. ステレオで音楽を聴くのが好きです。
Sutereo de ongaku wo kiku no ga suki-desu.
I like listening to music with a stereo.

14. 彼は早口はやくちで喋った。
Kare wa hayakuchi de shabetta.
He spoke [rapidly/in a rapid manner].

15. 着物で結婚式に行きます。
Kimono de kekkonshiki ni ikimasu.

I will go to the wedding in a kimono.

16. 雨の日(に)はバスで学校に行きますか。
Ame no hi (ni) wa basu de gakkо̄ ni ikimasu ka?
Do you go to school by bus on rainy days?

17. 紙でカモを作ったよ。
Kami de kamo wo tsukutta yo.
I made a duck out of paper.

18. 地下鉄で行きます。
Chikatetsu de ikimasu.
I(‘ll) go by subway.

19. このCDを3千円で買った。
Kono shiidii wo sanzen’en de katta.
I bought this CD for three thousand yen.

20. もはやデパートで働いていませんよ。
Mohaya depа̄to de hataraite imasen yo.
I no longer work at the department store.

21. ナイフで肉を切りました。
Naifu de niku wo kirimashita.

I cut the meat up with a knife.

22. 店の新聞でその記事を読みました。
Mise no shimbun de sono kiji wo yomimashita.
I read that article in a newspaper in the store.

23. これは電気で動きます。
Kore wa denki de hatarakimasu.
This works with electricity.

24. お茶は要りません。水でけっこうです。
Ocha wa irimasen. Mizu de kekkо̄ desu.
I don’t need/want tea. I’m fine with water.

25. いつも(お)箸で食べます。
Itsumo (o-)hashi de tabemasu.
I always eat with chopsticks.

Culture Note: Some things not do with chopsticks include putting them vertically in a bowl of rice or passing food with them as this conjures up imagery of handling cremated remains. Pass food by placing it on a small plate or using the ends. Mismatched chopsticks should also not be used and pointing chopsticks at someone may be considered a threat.