1. In short: The particle “ni” (に) has four main functions among many more
  2. A bit more on the four functions of the particle “ni” (に)
  3. Bonus: A general character of “ni” (に)


1. In short: The particle “ni” (に) has four main functions among many more

(1) It can be the time expression marker  (with many different kinds of verbs)

An image to explain the particle “ni” in context
“Yanaka Ginza e sanpo ni ikimashoo! (Let’s have a walk in Yanaka-Ginza!)” When you go to Tokyo, you may take the Skyliner Express Train at Narita Airport. Get off at Nippori station, the first stop in Tokyo, and follow this sign and take a short sightseeing stroll around the station. It is a nice mixture of old-fashioned downtown, residential area with a lot of Buddhists temples.

Example 1:  1がつほんきます。Ichi-gatsu ni Nihon e ikimasu. (I am going to Japan in January.)

(2) It can mean “to” or “from” a person with =>a Verb of Giving or a =>Verb of Receiving

Ex. 2:  ともだちにでんをかけました。Tomodachi ni denwa o kakemashita. (I called a friend.)

Ex. 3:  ともだちにあたらしいでん番号ばんごうをもらいました。Tomodachi ni atarashii denwa-bangoo o moraimashita. (I got a new phone number from a friend.)

(3) It can be a destination marker with a =>Verb of Going in One Direction

Ex. 4:  あたらしいえいかんきました。Atarashii eiga-kan e ikimashita. (I went to the new movie theater.)

(4) It can be a location marker with a =>Verb of Existing

Ex. 4:  コンビニにトイレがあります。Konbini ni toire ga arimasu. (There is a bathroom at the convenience store.)

2. A bit more on the four functions of the particle “ni” (に)

On Function (1): Note we say “ni” only after a specific, historical time expression. For example, “8:30A.M.”, “October 20th (of a specific year)”, “the month of May (of a specific year)”, “the 19th century”, will take “ni” after them.

On the other hand, we don’t say “ni” after a time expression which shows unspecific time. Examples are: Today, a while ago, next week, last month, this year, etc.

To help you remember, there is an interesting analogy with English. You don’t say a preposition such as “at”, “on” or “in” with unspecific time expressions, right? It is just like we don’t say the particle “ni” with those expressions.

On Function (2), the [Person + “ni”] block means “to [the recipient]” or “from [the giver]” depending on the verb following it. It means “to (someone)” if the verb is one of the =>Verbs of Giving, and “from (someone)” if the verb is one of the =>Verbs of Receiving. Therefore if you hear the [Person + “ni”], carefully listen for the verb.

On Function (3), “ni” means the same as “e”. However, “ni” has a wider usage. You can also use “ni” after an ACTIVITY, the purpose of your going somewhere.

Ex. 5:  さんきました。Sampo ni ikimashita. (I went to have a walk.)

Ex. 6:  しゅっちょうきました。Shucchoo ni ikimashtia. (I went on a business trip.)

On Function (4), “ni” shows a location of something or someone with a Verb of Existing.

3. Bonus: A general character of the particle “ni”

The particle “ni” has several meanings and is used in a lot of idiomatic expressions. In remembering them, it helps to know that many of them are related to one of its big characters. Very often “ni” shows a movement toward something (and as a result often actually having reached it). Observe Ex.  7-10.

Ex. 7:  つくえほんきました。Tsukue ni hon o okimashita. (I put a book on the desk.)

Ex. 8:  えききました。Eki ni tsukimashita. (I arrived at the station.)

Ex. 9:  ここにすわりましょう。 Koko ni suwarimashoo. (Let’s sit down here.)

Ex. 10:  むねにポケットがついています。Mune ni poketto gat suite imasu. (There is a pocket attached to the chest.)

It also shows a position facing a particular direction as follows:

Ex. 11:  えきかってまっすぐあるきました。Eki ni mukatte massugu arukimashita. (I walked straight toward the station.)

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