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I have noticed that both the particlesで and に tend to mean the same thing (in / on). What ous the exact difference between these two, how do I know when to usr I've or the other, and what are some differences between hire these propositions are used I English versus Japanese, and what are some of the most common gotchas/catches?

marked as duplicate by Chocolate, istrasci, macraf, user3856370, virmaior Oct 14 '16 at 14:33

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    I like to think of に as essential to understanding what happens with the verb. Take away whatever that is marked with に and your understanding of the situation changes dramatically. While whatever marked with で is additional to your understanding; removing it changes your understanding, but it doesn't augment the situation. – Flaw Oct 12 '16 at 14:59
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    Consider 道に絵を描く, it means "to draw on(to) the street" where the drawing's surface is the street. Then consider 道で絵を描く, it means "to draw in the street" where the artist is in the street drawing (on some unknown surface). Then consider 道で紙に絵を描く, it means "to draw on a piece of paper, in the street". – Flaw Oct 12 '16 at 15:13
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This is a good question, I think I can help with some examples.
The meaning is actually quite different but it can be confusing.

I usually think of で as the particle ¨at¨ in English. Which means that you do an action at a place. For example, you will use it to say:

I eat sushi at a restaurant.
わたしは レストラン すしを たべます。
or Let's meet at the cinema.
映画館 会いましょう。

Whereas に is more like the particle ¨in¨ in English (it can also imply direction). So you can say:

Don't park your car here.
ここ くるまを 止めないでください。
Or Insert your card there.
カードを あそこ 入れてください。
or Go to the coffee shop.
喫茶店 行ってください

Sentences that might be tricky are:

わたしは 京都 住んでいます。 
I live in Kyoto.

hence the ¨in¨ particle reference.

Hope this helps.

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First I think it helps to start by thinking of the verb involved. It is important to know if the verb is capable of licensing a に argument.

I like to think of に as essential to understanding what happens with the verb. Take away whatever that is marked with に and your understanding of the situation changes dramatically. While whatever marked with で is additional to your understanding; removing it changes your understanding, but it doesn't augment the situation.

Consider:

  1. 道に絵を描く, it means "to draw on(to) the street" where the drawing's surface is the street.
  2. Then consider 道で絵を描く, it means "to draw in(or on) the street" where the artist is in the street drawing (on some unknown surface).
  3. Then consider 道で紙に絵を描く, it means "to draw on a piece of paper, in(or on) the street".

I specifically chose this example because in English you can be both on the street and in the street and I think it is relevant to your question since it asks about in/on.

Notice that if you remove 紙に from example 3, the interpretation of draw on changes drastically and reduces to the case of example 2 - "to draw on the street" (but not on the street in the sense of example 1).

Keep in mind that 描くis capable of licensing a に argument, if you try to select a different verb that cannot take on a に, you will realise that this confusion ceases to exist since if you include a で argument it becomes immediately clear that the verb does not interact with it.


It might look a little confusing, but here's how I try to clear up the confusion - by intentionally creating a nonsense sentence.

Consider:

  • 本を読む - "to read a book"
  • 図書館で本を読む - "to read a book at(or in) a library" 
    here the verb's situation has not changed compared to the previous case, you've only gained information about where the reading happens.
  • 図書館に本を読む - "to read a book to the library"
    here the verb's situation has changed, you're not just reading a book now, you're standing outside reading the book to the building as though the building was a intended recipient of storytelling.

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