I have progressed pretty far in Japanese, but when I construct Japanese sentences, I still get these two particles mixed up. For example, when talking about being inside something, I don't know when to use "の中に" and when to use "の中で." Likewise, when speaking about being next to something, I sometimes don't know if I should use "となりに" or "となりで." How do you know which one to use in a sentence?

Which of these is correct?





8 Answers 8


In general, で is where an action is performed and に is the "direction" toward/to/into which the result of an action happens.

  • 部屋の中で泣いています → I'm crying in the room / "The place where I'm at while I'm crying is in the room"
  • 部屋の中に泣いています → I'm crying into the room (meaning like, your tears are flowing from your face into the room). This doesn't make sense unless you happen to be talking about where your tears flow when you cry. In the case of the English saying "crying in my beer", ビールの中に泣いています would make sense, although that's an idiom that you probably wouldn't directly translate.

The other example

  • 部屋の中にいます → I'm in the room ("My existence results in something being in the room (namely, me)" -- ??)
  • 部屋の中でいます → "The place where I am doing my existence is the room" - Since existing is not really a (one-time) "performable" action, this doesn't make sense.
  • 1
    Hi istrasci, thanks a lot for your explanation, it's really helpful. However, one example in my text book: "日本語のクラスには日本語を話しましょう". Instead of に, it should be で in this case, am I correct?
    – Andree
    Commented Jul 6, 2013 at 12:20
  • No to be precise as here "Japanese class" is not acting in the sentence as a place but a recipient (indirect object) for the verb to speak i.e. speak to the class wherein class is receiving the "speaking" , and the sentence is not speak in the class, had it been that, で (as per me) would have been used
    – APK
    Commented Aug 14, 2020 at 15:17

What I have been taught in the college is that に is only used for verbs that imply motions which destination/position is required to be specified.

For example, if you say "ikimasu" (I'm going), unless already in the context, you need to specify the destination otherwise the sentence does not make sense. So, you use "ni": "asoko ni ikimasu"

On the other hand, で is used when the location of the action verbs is just additional information. For example, you can say 泣いています without specifying where you are crying and the sentence still makes sense.

  • 11
    This is the only answer that makes sense to me. Other answers don't. To complement, is historically derived from に+て (nite > nte > de). is the dative case marker, and is a postposition meaning something like at, etc. So the question reduces to whether or not to add a postposition. This conincides with whether the phrase in question is an argument of the verb or is an additional adverbial element. So your explanation is correct.
    – user458
    Commented Jul 7, 2011 at 2:07

に and で can be confusing in other uses as well, but since the example is about location, I will focus on that.


specifies a location into/toward which a movement takes place:

  • 部屋に入る enter the room
  • 学校に行く go to school

specifies a location where something exists (used with verbs いる, ある and 住む, but not only). Focus is on existence, not action:

  • 彼は部屋にいる he is in the room
  • 本は机の上にある the book is on the table
  • 庭に木が立っている a tree is standing in the garden
  • 空に雲が浮いている clouds are floating in the sky


specifies a location where an action takes place (Focus is on action, not existence):

  • 彼女は部屋で泣いている she is crying in the room
  • 子供が川で泳いでいる children are swimming in the river

Note that there are cases where both で and に are possible, but the nuance is different:

  • 東京にアパートを借りた I rented an apartment in Tokyo (an apartment located in Tokyo)
  • 東京でアパートを借りた I rented an apartment in Tokyo (when I was in Tokyo)

This can depend on the arguments a verb takes. For example, いる uses に for location. かべでいる would make no sense. 書く takes an argument for something to be written on; 「壁に書く」 means "write on a wall", and 「壁で書く」 means "write at a wall".

For the 泣く example, you really could use either one, but で may be clearer because 泣く can take an argument marked by に to indicate cause, object or monetary amount. For example, 「彼が{借金・訃報・千円}に泣く」(From LCS database distributed by Okayama University). 「部屋に泣いている」 could potentially mean "he's suffering for/because of room".

  • 9
    Programmer spotted! :)
    – sartak
    Commented May 31, 2011 at 21:09
  • 5
    Linguists use theta roles, too, you know! :)
    – Nate Glenn
    Commented May 31, 2011 at 21:13
  • 6
    lol 'arguments that verb takes. I'm pretty sure Japanese is dynamically typed so the verbs method signature should be irrelevant :P
    – Ali
    Commented May 31, 2011 at 21:31
  • 1
    Edited to explain naku.
    – Nate Glenn
    Commented May 31, 2011 at 21:50
  • 2
    @NateGlenn: Would 部屋で書く = I'm writing in the room and 部屋に書く = I'm writing on the room?
    – dotnetN00b
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 3:17

They are pretty similar, but で usually indicates that an action took place at that location. So you use に when you're talking about being inside or next to something, etc. and で when you talk about doing something inside or next to something.

Edited to add: 部屋の中で泣いている is correct, because the room is the location of an action (crying).

  • に is to indicate an interaction between two objects that are noticeably separate, initially, and that remain somewhat separate.

  • で is used to indicate objects from or becoming to similar groups, working in close unison to form some result.

Between English and Japanese, the most accurate analog I have found is: に:で;each other:themselves.



is correct because 泣いている is an action which takes place in 部屋の中.

A good check for whether a short phrase is correct is to just Google it. Google has over 200,000 hits for the correct で version, and none for the incorrect に variation. Although.. I imagine Google will soon index this page! :)

  • Yeah I usually use google a lot for things like this but I figure it's easier to just learn the rules so that I don't have to always use google. Commented May 31, 2011 at 22:03
  • eeeeeh as much as I also use google to confirm grammar, sometimes the top pages are by those who use incorrect grammar. I dunno, maybe I should quote before the particles? Like "で泣いている" vs "に泣いている"
    – syockit
    Commented Jun 2, 2011 at 2:44
  • 2
    Be careful with Google counts! See: Google result counts are a meaningless metric and the answers to a post on meta.english.stackexchange.com. Commented Jun 6, 2011 at 21:51

I think the use of の中 here is anti-idiomatic. I would just say 部屋で泣いている。

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