Monday, August 19, 2019

で vs. に

WIP : this article is incomplete and might change in the unforeseeable future.
In this article I'll explain the difference between the de で particle and the ni に particle. Note that one particle has a mountain of different functions, while the other one has a Mt. Fuji of different functions, and not all of them will be discussed in this article.

Check the particles' respective articles for further details.


When creating adverbs, de で creates adverbs for manner, while ni に is the adverbial copula. This is kind of complicated to explain, since at first glance they're both doing the same thing:.
  • honki de itta
    [He] said it seriously.
  • hontou ni itta
    [He] really said it.
  • hitori de kaeru
    To return alone.
  • hitori ni naru
    To become alone.

To begin, the reason ni に is the adverbial copula, sometimes called the ren'youkei 連用形 form of na-adjectives, is that it comes between such adjectives and verbs, while the attributive na comes between such adverbs and nouns, and da だ is simply predicative.
  • hontou da
    It is true.
  • {hontou na} hanashi
    A story [that] {is true}.
    True story.
  • {hontou ni} naru
    To become so {it is true}
    To become true.
  • {hontou ni} itta
    To have said [it] {truly}.
    {Really} said it.

With i-adjectives, this would be the ~ku ~く adverbial form.
  • omoshiroi
    It is entertaining.
  • {omoshiroi} hanashi
    A story [that] {is entertaining}.
  • {omoshiroku} naru
    To become so {it is entertaining}.
    To become entertaining.

One confusing point is with te-forms.

The te-form of i-adjectives is ~ku-te. This te-form means "and" and joins one adjective to another.
  • omoshirokute hontou na hanashi
    A story [that] {is entertaining and is true}.

The problem is that the te-form of na-adjectives is de で. Sometimes you'll have an adjective and de で after it, and it won't be an adverb, because it's ni に that makes them adverbs in this case. Note the difference:
  • {hontou de omoshiroi} hanashi
    A story [that] {is true and is entertaining}.
  • {{hontou ni} omoshiroi} hanashi
    A story [that] {is {truly} entertaining}.

The same thing works if the final adjective is predicative.
  • {ii} yatsu da

    It is a guy [that] {is good}.
    [He] is a good guy.
    • zen
      Good. (in the sense of not evil.)
  • {ii} yatsu de hito-goroshi da
    It is a guy [that] {is good} and is a murderer.
    [He] is a good guy and a murderer.
    • —Manga: Dr. Stone, Chapter 5: Yuzuriha 杠.

So, sometimes, de で means "and is." That's not the adverb-like, manner de で. That's just a conjunctive copula.

The most similar yet distinct usage of de で would be to mark instruments.
  • enpitsu de kaku
    To write using a pencil. (instrument.)

This can't be replaced by ni に since saying "to write pencil-ly" doesn't make any sense. However, sometimes you find stuff that translates like this:
  • oogoe de iu
    To said loudly.

This looks like de で has an adverbial function like ni に. It doesn't, really, since the phrase literally translates to "to say using a big-voice." A big-voice, that is, a loud voice, is the manner "how" you say it.

Another case is with hitori, "alone." In this case, the verb naru always takes ni に, so of course it's going to be hitori ni naru. But why with other verbs it is hitori de?

This, too, is manner. The de で particle can be used to say among how many something is divided.
  • yon-nin de yon-ko wo wakeru
    To divide four things using four people.
    To divide four things among four people.

In the same sense, it can be used to say among how many people an action is done.
  • hitori de kaeru
    To return as one-person.
    To return alone.
  • futari kiri de hanasu
    To talk as at-most two-person.
    To talk just us two.
    To talk just me and you.
    To have a conversation in private.

Lastly, the de で particle can mark the condition you're in while doing an action.
  • kizu darake de tatakau
    To fight while covered in injuries.

Similarly, it can mark how you feel while doing something.
  • honki de itte-iru
    To say it seriously.
    • To not be joking. This is your honki, your real feeling.
  • hontou ni itte-iru
    To be really saying it.
    • Here, it's not "you" who is "really." It's the activity that is really happening. So you don't use de で.

I guess this is pretty much the only confusing case because it translates to "seriously" in English. There are other adverbs that end up like that too, like:
  • shinken de
  • maji de
    Seriously. (slang.)
  • gachi de
    For real. (slang.)


When marking places, de で marks the area where an event or activity happens, while ni に marks where something exists statically, the destination of an action of movement, the place where something ends up, or is placed at, besides other functions.

Let's start with a simple one:
  • gakkou ni iku
    To go to the school.
    • gakkou - destination.
  • {Kasei kara Chikyuu ni kita} uchuujin
    An alien [that] {came from Mars to the Earth}.
    • Chikyuu - destination.

With iku, "to go," and kuru, "to come," the way it works is pretty obvious. The problem is literally every other verb in the Japanese language. For example:
  • jitensha ni noru
    To ride a bicycle.

In English, when a noun comes after a preposition like "to," it's said to be the indirect object. When it comes right after the verb, it's said to be the direct object.

Thus, a lot of resources will say ni に marks the indirect object, because it just ends up translating to the indirect object most of the time.

However, in "to ride a bicycle," the bicycle is the direct object of the verb "to ride." Why does that happen?

The verb noru 乗る actually means "to board," "to get on top of." So it takes a destination. It's an unaccusative verb and takes no object. The accusative variant is noseru 乗せる, "to place something on top of something else."
  • ressha ni noru
    To board a train. To get into a train.
    • ressha - destination.
  • ichigo wo keeki ni noseru
    To place a strawberry on top of a cake.
    • keeki - destination.

With verbs that mean movement, the de で particle marks the instrument, manner, etc. used through the movement.
  • hitori de jitensha de ie ni kaeru
    To return home by bicycle by yourself.
    • ie - destination.
    • jitensha - instrument.
    • hitori - manner.

Every verb about placing things on things or taking things to other places uses ni に as the destination.
  • yubi ni yubiwa wo hameru
    To put a ring in [your] finger.
    • yubi - destination.
  • banana wo teeburu ni oku
    To place a banana on the table.
    • teeburu - destination.

Since placing things on places is expressed by ni に, leaving things on places is expressed by ni に too.
  • randoseru wo gakkou ni wasureta
    To have forgotten the backpack at school.
  • aisu kuriimu ga reizouko ni nokotta
    The ice cream remained at the freezer.
    There was still some ice cream left in the freezer.

And so is things simply being at places.
  • rouka ni tachi-nasai
    Stand in the corridor. (imperative.)
    • rouka - destination.
  • rouka ni tatte-iru
    To be standing in the corridor.
    • rouka - position.
  • rouka ni iru
    To be in the corridor.
    • rouka - position.
  • gakkou ni iru
    To be at school.
  • doko ni mo inai
    To not be anywhere.

The problem is, although ni に marks where you go, where something goes, where they're left, and finally where they are, the de で particle marks the place where something is done.
  • faasuto-fuudo-ten de hataraku
    To work at a fast food shop.
    • hataraku - activity.
    • faasuto-fuudo-ten - place where activity happens.
  • isekai de hareemu wo tsukuru
    To build a harem in another world.
    • hareemu wo tsukuru - activity.
    • isekai - place where activity happens.
  • {gakkou de mananda} koto
    The thing [that] {[I] learned at school}.
    • manabu - activity.
    • gakkou - place where activity happens.

As you can see, whether you use de で or ni に depends mostly on the verb.
  1. The verb means you or something ends up somewhere.
    ni に marks the destination.
    de で marks instrument, manner, etc. (adverbs.)
  2. The verb means you do something in a certain place.
    de で marks the location.
    ni に marks to whom you did it, or makes an adverbs.

As I've mentioned before, each particle has multiple functions, so you can technically have a monstrosity like this:
  • kare wa kokuhaku shita
    He confessed.
  • kanojo ni
    To her. (target, destination.)
  • oogoe de
    Using large-voice. (instrument, manner.)
    Shouting. Yelling.
  • {ki no} shita de
    At below {of the tree}. (place.)
    Under {the tree}.
  • hontou ni
    Really. (adverb.)
  • kare wa {hontou ni} {ki no} shita de oogoe de kanojo ni kokuhaku shita
    He, {really}, below {of the tree}, shouting, confessed to her.
    He really confessed to her shouting under the tree.

The de で particle is also used when a statement is limited to a certain area. For example:
  • sekai de ichiban no himesama
    The number one princess in the world.
    • —Song: World is Mine ワールドイズマイン.
  • {nihon de yuumei na} basho
    A place [that] {is famous in Japan}.
    • The Tokyo Tower is famous in Japan, but the Tower of Pisa is famous in the world.

In some cases, however, no particle is used:
  • Shijou Saikyou no Deshi: Ken'ichi
    History's Strongest Disciple: Ken'ichi.
    • shijou de saikyou
      Strongest in history.

にある vs. である

One of most confusing consequences of this is the verb aru ある, "exists," and its negative form nai ない, "nonexistent." In essence, they can be used to say where an inanimate thing is or is not.
  • sore wa koko ni aru
    That exists at here.
    That is here.
  • sore wa koko ni nai
    That is nonexistent here.
    That isn't here.

When you have de aru you have "how" something exists or not. This translates to "is," too.
  • sore wa neko de aru
    That exists as a cat.
    That is a cat.
  • sore wa neko da
  • sore wa neko dewa nai
    That is nonexistent as a cat.
    That isn't a cat.
  • sore wa neko janai

Although ni aru and de aru both translate to "is," there's a pretty big difference between them. The de aru says "what something is," while ni aru says "where something is."

Unfortunately, it's not that simple. For instance, aru ある can also mean "to happen." A happening isn't a static event, it's a dynamic one, so it takes the de で particle.
  • gakkou de nani ga atta?
    What happened at school?

Worse yet, if we were to say something happen to something, then we have to use ni に, since who is affected by something happening is a like destination for the consequences and effects.
  • kanojo ni nani ga atta?
    What happened to her?

でいる vs. にいる

The verb iru いる means "to exist" just like aru ある—except it's used with animate things, like animals and people—so it's also used with the ni に particle.
  • kanojo wa gakkou ni iru
    She exists at school.
    She is at school.

Also similar to aru ある, when it's used with the de で particle, the particle marks the manner "how" something exists. This ends up translating as how you're staying like.
  • reisei de iru
    To exist as calm.
    To exist calmly.
    To be calm.
    To stay calm.
  • reisei de irarenai
    To not be able to be calm.
    Can't stay calm.

に住む vs.で暮らす

It's important to pay attention to the real meaning of the verb, since in some cases whether you use ni に or de で depends on that. This is particularly tricky when English translations come to play. Observe:
  • Toukyou ni sumu
    To live in Tokyo.
  • toukyou de kurasu
    To live in Tokyo.

Although both sentences translate to the same thing, the verbs actually have different meanings.[「東京に暮らす」「東京で暮らす」はどれが正しいですか? -, accessed 2019-07-24]

The verb sumu means "to reside," as in an address. You end up in Tokyo and end up residing there. So it's destination, position.

By contrast, kurasu means "to live" in the sense of daily life. Sleeping, eating, working, and so on. Since this meaning implies an activity, the particle used is de で.

に止まる vs. で止まる

With the verb tomaru 止まる, "to stop," the ni に particle expresses where something is stopped at, while the de で implies something deliberately stopped at place, usually a place it shouldn't have stopped at. Observe:
  • hoteru ni tomaru
    To stop at the hotel.
    To pass a night at the hotel.
  • {asoko ni tomatte-iru} kuruma
    The cat [that] {is stopped there}.
    The cat [that] {is parked there}.
  • soko de tomaru na!
    Don't stop there! (out of all places!)

This deliberate nuance of de で, of choosing the place where to do something, is sometimes found in other verbs.

に寝る vs. で寝る

With the verb neru 寝る, we have a similar situation:
  • beddo de neru
    To sleep on the bed.
  • beddo ni neru
    To lie on the bed.

The Japanese verb is polysemous: neru 寝る has two different meanings, and the particle used highlights that.[「ベッドで寝る」「ベッドに寝る」の違いはなんですか -, accessed 2019-07-24]

When neru 寝る means "to sleep," nemuru 眠る, the de で particle marks the place you use to sleep, in this case, the bed. When it means "to lie down," yokotawaru 横たわる, then the particle used is ni に.

vs. Other Particles

When you're talking about the place itself, the particles wa は or ga are used instead.
  • Toukyou wa utsukushii
    Tokyo is beautiful.
  • doko ga itai?
    Where is painful?
    Where hurts?
  • atama ga itai
    The head is painful.
    [My] head hurts.

The wo を particle can mark a place as a medium. In this case, the idea is that you're going from point A to point B by passing through C, traversing C. For example:
  • michi wo aruku
    To walk the street.
    • You go from point A to point B by walking through the street.

Consequently, you can end up with a situation where you think you want the de で particle, but what you really want isn't even the ni に particle, it's the wo を particle.
  • rouka de hashiru na!
    Don't run in the corridor!
    • This makes sense, right? You're running, and the location is the corridor.
  • rouka ni hashiru na!
    Don't run to the corridor!
    • The ni に particle can't mark position here because "running" is a dynamic activity, it's not static, thus the corridor must be the destination, then.
    • We don't to say this, so, OBVIOUSLY, if you can't use ni に, you must use de で, right?
  • rouka wo hashiru na!
    Don't run through the corridor!
    • Unfortunately, the common way of saying "don't run in the corridor," like you sometimes see in anime, is using the wo を particle.
    • That's because people run through the corridor to get somewhere else. So the corridor isn't the destination, however, they don't stay confined within the corridor area either, they're going somewhere else.
    • You would use de で in this case if someone is running forth and back around the corridor but not going anywhere.

Another situation is where the de で particle expresses choice. Just like you can choose to write with pencil, rather than with a pen, you can choose to do something in a certain place rather than somewhere else.
  • umi de oyogu
    To swim in the sea. (as opposed to the river.)
  • umi ni oyogu
    To swim in the sea.
    • This can be used with fishes, because they're statically in the sea, and automatically they're swimming in there, because they couldn't be standing in the sea, or sitting in the sea, so of course they're swimming in the sea.
    • It isn't common in modern Japanese, as the next one is preferred:
  • umi wo oyogu
    To swim through the sea.
    • Logically, a fish swims through the sea the same way people walk through the atmosphere.
    • This kind of phrase can also be used if you're traversing the sea to get to the other side. Alright, with a whole sea that seems kind of difficult, but if it's with a river, or a pool, you can swim through it to get to the other side.
  • Source: ”海に泳ぐ”、”海を泳ぐ”、”海で泳ぐ”どう違う? - accessed 2019-07-12.

Since fishes don't deliberately choose to perform the swimming activity in the sea, it doesn't make sense to use de で with them. People, on the other hand, deliberately choose to swim in there, so they use de で.


When marking time, the difference between de で and ni に is that de で has a restricting function while ni に has an appointment function. This shows in different ways depending on whether the time marked is a date or an time period.

Let's start with a time period.
  • ichi-nichi ni ichi-wa wo yomu
    To read one chapter in one day.
  • ichi-nichi de san-juu-wa wo yomu
    To read thirty chapters in one day.

Although both sentences above translate to practically the same thing in English, there's actually a different in what they mean.

The first phrase, with ni に, means "in one day" in the sense of "per one day." We read one chapter per day. That's our ratio per period of time. In 30 days, we read 30 chapters.

The second phrase, with de で, means "in one day" in the sense of "within one day." Depending on context, this can mean three things:
  • We can read 30 chapters in one day. That's a feat, because most people can't.
  • We need to read 30 chapters in one day. That's our time limit and we must achieve it somehow.
  • We may only read 30 chapters in one day. Maybe we wanted to read 50 chapters, but we're limited to reading only 30, or only allowed to read 30 for some reason.

Of course, if we say "I read 30 chapters per day," that also logically means "I can read 30 chapters in one day," because if we couldn't do that we wouldn't be doing that. The difference is in nuance.

When the emphasis is on recurrence, on a ratio between time period (one day) and a number every time period (per one day), we use ni に, when the emphasis is on a time limit, it's de で.

For many phrases, the ni に isn't necessary. For example, mai-nichi 毎日, "every day," mai-shuu 毎週, "every week," and so on make more sense than ni に. Other times, the ni に can end up being omitted completely.
  • bakuretsu mahou wa ichi-nichi ni ippatsu shika utenai
    Explosion magic can only be shot once per day.
    • ippatsu 一発
      One hit. One punch.
      One shot.
    • utsu 撃つ
      To shoot. (in this case, to shoot one shot per one day.)
    • shika しか
      Not anything other than.
      Not more than. (one shot.)
  • bakuretsu mahou wa ichi-nichi ippatsu shika utenai
    (same meaning.)

The de で particle also works with things that aren't numbers.
  • rokkagetsu de perapera ni naru
    To become fluent in six months.
    • You can become fluent in six months, or:
    • You need to become fluent in six months.

This function also works on fixed dates. In this case, it's normally used to say with the verb "to end," owaru 終わる. The limitation now is a time limit in the sense of a deadline, but it could also be the time required for something to complete.
  • juu-gatsu de owaru
    It ends in the tenth month.
    It ends in October.
    • It won't last any longer than October. That's its limit.

Similarly, the de で particle can be used to mark a date as reference in order to calculate the time span of something else. For example:
  • doyoubi de ni-shuukan desu
    By Saturday, it's been two weeks.
    • Here, the date being Saturday is the time required for something to have been going on for "two weeks," for it to have started "two weeks" ago, or to ended "two weeks" ago, or whatever.
  • shi-gatsu de san-juu-sai ni naru
    By the fourth month, to become 30 years old.
    To become 30 years old in April.
    • You're required to wait until April to turn 30.

By contrast, the ni に particle is generally used to make appointments in the future. Just like it can mean "for" sometimes, it means "for a certain date, will do something."
  • nyuugaku shiken wa ni-gatsu ni okonawareru
    For the second month, the entrance exam will be carried out.
    The school entrance exam will be carried out in February.
  • hachi-ji ni okoshite kudasai
    For the eighth hour, wake me up.
    Wake [me] up at eight o'clock.
  • natsu ni umi ni iku
    For summer, to go to the sea.
    [I'll] go to the beach in summer.

Some words that mean times work as temporal adverbs and don't need to be marked. Observe:
  • ashita umi ni iku
    To go to the sea tomorrow.
  • ashita san-juu-sai ni naru
    To become 30 years old tomorrow.

These include today, tonight, tomorrow, yesterday, the day after tomorrow, the day before yesterday, next week, last week, next month, last month, next year, last year, and so on. They're all words about relative time (relative to the speaker) rather than absolute time (dates).[日本語の時を表す言葉に助詞をつけるルール? -, accessed 2019-08-19]

In some sentences, the line between "requirement" and "appointment" gets blurred and either particle can be used.
  • juu-ichi-gatsu de sotsugyou suru
    To graduate by November.
    • You can't graduate before it, you need the time to be November to finally graduate.
  • juu-ichi-gatsu ni sotsugyou suru
    To graduate in November.
    • That's when you plan to graduate or you're scheduled to graduate.

Note that when talking about the date itself, wa は or ga が are used instead.
  • doyoubi wa hima desu ka?
    Saturday is not-busy?
    Are you free Saturday?
    Do you have anything to do Saturday?

When talking about the date itself changing, the date generally becomes the destination for the verb and you use a ni に particle.
  • shi-gatsu ni naru
    To become April.
    It's April now.
    • Although you can interpret ni naru as a ni adverb, it's basically indistinguishable from a destination, except for the fact that ~ku naru exists for i-adjectives.
  • shi-gatsu ni hairu
    To enter April.
    We're in April now.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave your komento コメント in this posuto ポスト of this burogu ブログ with your questions about Japanese, doubts or whatever!

All comments are moderated and won't show up until approved. Spam, links to illegal websites, and inappropriate content won't be published.