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こんにちは! I'm new to this site and Japanese language. I haven't learnt the entire Hiragana alphabet yet and don't know any Katakana. I'm trying my best to stay away from Romaji, so please be aware that I am working at a very basic level!

I want to be able to understand the structure of sentences, first and foremost. I have been told that Japanese sentences are structured using SOV.

Is this sentence correct? If so, could it be improved? If not, where did I go wrong?

わたし は にほんご へた

As far as I know, it translates to '[Subject] - I am / [Object] - Japanese / [Verb] - bad at'

Thanks!

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    it translates to '[Subject] - I am / [Object] - Japanese / [Verb] - bad at' I think your basic mistakes are these: a) へた is not a verb, b) most noun-like words need a particle (にほんご is missing one), c) objects are marked with the particle を, but d) you generally need a verb to 'have' an object (which you don't have) – oals Apr 19 '16 at 12:58
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    Just so you know, there's no need to edit your question title to contain the word 'ANSWERED'. The software will automatically show the question to everyone as answered once you've given an answer the green check mark, as you've done below :-) – snailcar Apr 21 '16 at 8:21
  • Oh! Thank you! I'm new here, I didn't know that. :) – Kitty Apr 21 '16 at 8:31
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Regarding the comments on your posted answer:

I think @sombrero's examples may be confusing you because he uses です in two different ways. Let's start simply:

これは犬{いぬ}です
As for this, dog is
This is a dog

In this sentence です is indispensible. It means 'is'. Dog is a noun. Whenever we want to say something is a noun we use です.

私の日本語は下手です
As for my Japanese, poor is
My Japanese is poor

Again です is indispensible. In English 'poor' is an adjective. However, in Japanese it is something called a na-adjective which behaves a little differently. When a na-adjective is not directly modifying a noun (e.g. hetana hito, unskillful person) it behaves like a noun. Hence we have the 'something is noun' structure again and we must use です to mean 'is'.

Now let's take one of @sombrero's examples.

This apple is red = このりんごは赤{あか}いです

Red is an adjective in English. In Japanese 赤い is something called an i-adjective. Unlike English these adjectives have the word 'is' built in to them. So

このりんごは赤{あか}い

is a complete perfectly grammatical sentence which contains the meaning 'is'.

So why did @sombrero add a です to the end? It's because です has another meaning. It can be put after an i-adjective to make the sentence polite. In this usage です cannot be translated. It just changes the tone of the sentence without adding extra words/meaning. Without です the sentence is correct but informal.

Regarding @dainichi's answer, it seems that the Japanese love to miss out as many words/particles as they can. It is good to know this for comprehension but at this stage in your studies you should not be doing this. Only start to drop words/particles when you have a firm understanding of the grammar and have become familiar with the contexts in which natives drop them.

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わたし は にほんご へた

is absolutely correct, so you shouldn't be surprised if you hear it.

But it's colloquial and informal, so you should only expect it in speech and very informal writing. You could consider it a colloquial version of

わたし は にほんご が へた だ 

Dropping が is very common in speech in matrix clauses (e.g. outside of relative clauses and subclauses). Dropping だ (copula) in matrix clauses is also common, mostly in colloquial female speech. If you're a beginner, I recommend learning the versions without particle-dropping first.

Here, にほんご is actually not the object, but the subject. The literal translation would be "As for me, (my) Japanese is bad". This construction is extremely common in Japanese, at least as common as わたし の にほんご は へた だ.

In the above, you could replace だ (the non-polite copula) with です (the polite copula).

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私{わたし}は日本語{にほんご}下手{へた} -> × (incorrect)

私{わたし}の日本語{にほんご}は下手{へた}です -> ○ (correct)

私{わたし}の = My
日本語{にほんご} = Japanese
は下手{へた}です = is bad/clumsy

Some examples with simple sentences:

This apple is red = このりんごは赤い{あかい}です

Your dog is cute = あなたの犬{いぬ}はかわいい

I will go to eat with my friends in Shibuya = 私は渋谷{しぶや}に友達{ともだち}と食{た}べにいきます

I hope it could help.

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    You can also say 「私日本語下手です。」^^ (Will this thread be of some help, maybe?) – Chocolate Apr 19 '16 at 9:27
  • I've talked to a few people and heard particles be referred to as 'connectives'. Are they different, or the same? I thought those particles weren't really needed. That thread was incredibly helpful, thanks! :) – Kitty Apr 19 '16 at 23:12
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    @Baka Neko I am not what made you think particles weren't needed, but they are an essential part of the language. They are similar to prepositions in English, except they are postpositions, in the sense they "connect" the individual words in the sentence to create a coherent meaning. – user11589 Apr 20 '16 at 5:04
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I'm going to put this here, for posterity:

Literally speaking you would want to say

"私の日本語は下手です" (わたし の にほんご は へた です)

so you're incredibly close, but missing out the 'connectives' :L

But in my opinion you could get away with it, especially with what you're trying to say :P
(It could me interpreted as "I am a poor Japanese" but you should be fine).

わたし は にほんご へた。
わたし の にほんご は へた です。

I'm not sure if you want me to explain why but I'll do so just in case:

わたし は = I am/As for me
わたし の = My/Mine

You'll have to say "My Japanese..." instead of "I am poor..." (I'm not sure why D: )

が = As/Is/But/Are (Basically any new information).

You're basically saying "My Japanese [NEW INFORMATION] poor." (I kinda love it because it's just one word for just about all the connectives).

です = It is/is/are (What a glorious anime phrase; it's really just formal/polite, but I think in this case you probably ought to say it).

It's really just "My Japanese is poor, it is." Though I don't really know how to put it into an English example, (you probably know) it always goes at the end of a sentence.

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    Your translation "My japanese is poor, it is" is misleading and will cause you problems in the near future. が and は do not mean is. is comes from です which is the verb 'to be'. です is not an anime phrase, it is very very standard Japanese. It is also not optional as you state. Missing it out would be like saying "my Japanese poor" in English. .... – user3856370 May 6 '16 at 14:18
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    ....There should be no repeat of the word 'is' in your translation. は is used to bring up a topic of converstion. Word for word the translation is (I) (belonging to) (Japanese) (as for) (poor) (is) -> (my Japanese) (as for) (poor) (is) -> (as for my Japansese) (poor) (is) -> (My Japanese is poor). Don't forget that Japanese particles always act on the thing that comes before them. – user3856370 May 6 '16 at 14:18
  • So would the correct translation would be 'わたし の にほんご は へた' because I've already specified that it's my Japanese that's bad? – Kitty May 7 '16 at 4:27

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