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I don't understand how Japanese space their words in a sentence. Can someone explain it? I've looked around online but haven't really read something that made me understand it completely. Is it case by case or is there a general rule?

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    The only exception I've seen is children's books, where sometimes spaces are used. – Locksleyu Jun 26 '18 at 0:10
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    @Locksleyu Manga, subtitles, and lyrics all also come to mind. They all tend to use spaces differently than in children's books or video games, though. – snailcar Jun 26 '18 at 2:13
  • @snailboat Good points. However, in my memory subtitles don't use spaces much (I just checked 2 on Youtube and there was almost no spaces). How have you seen them used different in subtitles? – Locksleyu Jun 27 '18 at 22:17
  • @Locksleyu Subtitles tend to avoid using commas and periods, using spaces instead. But they aren't used to separate accent phrases like they are in writing for children, so there aren't as many spaces overall. Since it's very frequent it shouldn't take you long to find an example with spaces. If you have trouble, ping me in Japanese Language Chat and I'll find and paste a whole bunch of screen shots for you. – snailcar Jun 27 '18 at 22:22
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Ordinary Japanese sentences for adults do not have spaces at all. The only exception is after a western-style question/exclamation mark at the end of a sentence, where a small space is usually inserted. This is because the combination of kana and kanji will usually give us enough hint to tell word boundaries.

When kanji is not available for whatever reason, spaces are often used to help readers. See: Spaces in children's books. You may see sentences including spaces in beginner textbooks. In addition, lyrics, haiku and poems tend not to have punctuation marks, so they use spaces instead.

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Simple answer:

Japanese writing does not use spaces, except for special cases (children's books come to mind). I think the other answer covers this well, so I won't go into it.


Potential Explanation:

In addition to the other answer I would like to add a little more. The Japanese understanding of the word 言葉{ことば} is different from the English understanding of word.

The second definition for 言葉 on Jisho.org is word; words; phrase; term; expression; remark​. I find this significant because it represents (in my mind) a different understanding of how words fit together. The fact that 言葉 can mean both word and phrase is significant because it implies that the English speaker's understanding of the two words/definitions is different from the Japanese speaker's understanding. In essence, a 言葉 is just part of a sentence.

While I have no scientific proof of this, I would not be surprised if this difference in understanding is part of the reason why Japanese writing does not use spaces.

That being said, the Japanese word 単語{たんご} is pretty close in meaning to the English translation word; vocabulary.

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