I've been searching up words like '~の近く' (near), '~の裏側' (behind), '~より先' (further away). Basically words related to the position of an object or thing. The term I've been using is 前置詞 in Japanese, but I'm not sure this is right.

The thing is, even though I search up '前置詞', I'm always given a list of websites of foreign language prepositions translated to Japanese. So my question is, are grammar-related terms such as 前置詞, 動詞, 名詞, something that was created because of the influx of foreign languages study in Japan or did these terms already exist natively in the Japanese language?

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    Correct me if I'm wrong, but that's not what a 前置詞 is. A 前置詞 refers specifically to prepositions that you find in English and other languages. As far as I know Japanese doesn't have prepositions. I don't know what the term for a word about location is, but that's not a preposition. At least not in Japanese. Note that it literally means something that comes 'before'a clause (like "to the store") with "to" being the 前置詞. Japanese doesn't have that kind of positioning.
    – ssb
    Sep 3, 2013 at 7:48
  • @ssb You're right, I kind of mixed up the meaning with the English 'preposition'. So I'm understanding that such grammar-related words could possibly have been created just for the purpose of explaining the concept of 'prepositions' in other languages?
    – ishikun
    Sep 3, 2013 at 7:57
  • @ssb Also, what about particles like 'に' or 'で' when they indicate the location of something 店「に」あるお菓子, aren't these kind of like prepositions?
    – ishikun
    Sep 3, 2013 at 8:01
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    前置詞 does appear to be a straightforward calque of preposition. corresponds to pre-, and corresponds to position, while the suffix indicates that it's a type of word (implicit in the English). But combinations of particles with nouns such as 「~の近く」「~の裏側」「~より先」 aren't single words in Japanese and don't form a distinct class, so I don't think you'll be able to find a ~詞 label for them.
    – user1478
    Sep 3, 2013 at 16:53
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    The sorts of things you're thinking of in Japanese (上、下, etc) are called 'relational nouns' by English-speaking linguists. I don't know what the Japanese term is.
    – Sjiveru
    Sep 3, 2013 at 19:16

1 Answer 1


You're right that these terms were added to describe linguistic phenomena in general that are not necessarily in Japanese. It seems you were taking the concept of an English and translating it to Japanese, but this does not work because they are approximations of the same meaning without being the same grammatically. So something like 前置詞 refers to a word (such as "in" or "to" or "on") that comes at the start of a phrase to modify it. This doesn't exist in Japanese. This also, as you seem to believe, does not refer explicitly to words that show "where something is." It can describe spatial relationships (on the table) or temporal relationships (at 3:00) or reasons (for no reason at all) or anything really. The point is that it comes before a phrase and modifies it.

Things like に and で can help to approach the same meaning as a preposition in English, but grammatically they are not the same. They are particles, and I think that they are, by definition, postpositional rather than prepositional. The fact that they can express location is irrelevant.


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