Ok, so I'm still trying to get used to the に particle and how it has many functions that make it easy for it to appear many times in a sentence and thus get confusing...

But I am specifically looking at its function in these two sentences: 1・お土産にチョコレートをもらった。 2・先生に友達を紹介した。

Doesn't that get confusing?

Like, if the first example can be interpreted as "I received chocolate as an omiyage" doesn't that mean the second example can be interpreted as "I introduced my friend as a teacher (As in you said "This is my friend who is a teacher")"

How do you reconcile this? If I wanted to say that I introduced my friend AS a teacher how do you do this?

1 Answer 1


Yeah, に can have that "as" meaning like in sentence one there. In the second, however, it does not have that meaning. It might be a little confusing, but only if you try to attach one meaning to each particle. に has many different uses. In fact, it has at least 15 distinct definitions. Here you're dealing with definitions 8 and 3 respectively (I'm pretty sure, anyway).

The fact that there are many ways to use に may seem confusing, but generally context and a more thorough familiarity with sentence patterns and how it is usually used will be more than enough to know the correct interpretation. Just treat it like any other homophone.

If you really want to break に down to its purest essence and not just take the many meanings for granted, there are some general categories you can break it into that some of the definitions could be grouped into.

For example you have the に of location, which describes where something is. For example, 本は机の上にある. You have the に of literal or perhaps metaphorical direction, a category in which I would include sentences like スーパーに行った and 友達にプレゼントを上げた. You have a に that represents the agent in passive constructions, like in 男に殴られた. You have the に that determines something's role, what it is and the purpose it serves, as in your おみやげにチョコレートをもらった. You have the に that marks the way something is done, as in with adverbs, like 嬉しそうにケーキを食べた. There are probably more, but I think this illustrates the point. These are all distinct and have obvious applications and are easily understood within their respective contexts.

So does it get confusing? Actually, it doesn't really. Not usually, anyway. Of course you can always find examples of ambiguous sentences, but that doesn't mean communication in general is difficult, even in longer sentences. You'll have enough hints based on the words in the immediate vicinity of the に to understand what's going on.

Look, for example, at your sentences. You wonder if 先生に友達を紹介した could be interpreted in such a way that the に in this sentence is saying what your friend is, i.e. a teacher, like in the omiyage sentence. It is true that に used like this can mean the same thing as として, in which case it would be as you thought. But when used with people it does not have this meaning. As such it is unambiguous. I cannot think of a context in which someone could possibly interpret it the other way (any native speakers can chime in here if they would like). 先生に友達を紹介した deals with humans, so its meaning is set.

As for the alternative ways to say it, I'm a little unsure at the moment with regard to the exact nuance that you're trying to convey in English, but here are some ways you can say it in Japanese.

You could say 先生である友達を紹介した. The nuance of this one is that you introduced (to someone) your friend, and incidentally that friend also is a teacher. The emphasis however is that you introduced your friend.

Next, you could just say 先生の友達を紹介した, which has a similar meaning to the above.

Another way that I think gets more to the heart of what you want is to turn the に overtly into a として and say 先生として友達を紹介した. In this case, you would be saying "I introduced my friend as a teacher" in the way I think you mean, where the person is your friend, but in this situation you emphasize the fact that he is a teacher. You can switch it around as well to say 友達として先生を紹介した.

  • Thankyou for your input bu is that really answering my question? I mean, I know に has many different uses but the meaning has to be roughly the same. I refuse to believe they wait until the very end of a sentence to understand it because then long sentences wouldn't be possible. There has to be some inherent nuance に has right? Second, "I introduced my friend who is a teacher" is not what I wanted to say. I wanted to say something like "I introduced him AS my friend" not "I introduced him who is my friend" which serves a different purpose of describing what he is not what role he fills.
    – Nathan
    Dec 18, 2013 at 3:34
  • Sorry, the sentence you wanted translated was a little unclear I think. But what exactly is it that you want? My understanding is that you want to say something along the lines of "This is someone (who happens to be my teacher) who is my friend." Is that accurate? To address your first point, I don't think there has to be one unifying meaning to に. Several of the usages fall into the same general categories, sure, so like you'll have your "directional" に like in スーパーに行った or 友達に言った. But that に is fundamentally different from the に in 先生に言われた which is also distinct from ごほうびにお金をもらった.
    – ssb
    Dec 18, 2013 at 4:31
  • "I introduced him as 'the teacher'", "He came to me as a friend", "I received chocolate as an omiyage" It is sort of like として... I was under the impression that the に in 先生に言われた was simply being paired with the える that is in 言われる... And in that way に sort of acts as a connector of indirect objects and direction and method was only a secondary nuance. 友達に読める = 友達に+ 読み+える Friend receives by reading 友達に押された = 友達に +押さ + える I don't push but receive (push) from friend. Maybe everyone is right and Japanese doesn't make any sense and they are aliens who can communicate psychically.
    – Nathan
    Dec 18, 2013 at 7:05
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    @Nathan English prepositions are equally as tricky as Japanese particles, in my opinion. They have all sorts of idiomatic usage that you have to memorize rather than make sense of, and you have to be able to tell all the various meanings apart by context. If they seem like they just "make sense" to you, it's probably because you grew up speaking English :-)
    – user1478
    Dec 18, 2013 at 7:29
  • Of course. English "to" for example differs a lot in meaning. But, even still, if the meaning is different it doesn't appear in the same part in the sentence. The problem with "To" is one of memorizing the different uses, but that's easy to do because it is only a matter of effort. If "to" appears five times in a sentence, meaning can be gathered from what it is connected to. People tell me に does not offer this, but yet I think it has to or the language wouldn't work. に cannot mean both to and from, it has to simply show a connection to another actor and direction is given by the end verb.
    – Nathan
    Dec 18, 2013 at 7:49

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