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In Chapter 11 of the Genki textbook, it's stated that に can be used to indicate the role you want something to play. The example sentence given was:

お土産絵葉書を買いました。

However, I am a bit confused as I was unable to find this particular usage of the に particle elsewhere. Could someone please clarify this issue for me?

Also, I was under the impression that the で particle is used to give context to things. So is it possible to replace に with で in the example sentence above?

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I was unable to find this particular usage of the に particle elsewhere.

Maybe you could try a monolingual dictionary...? For example, 明鏡国語辞典 says:

に 🈩〘格助〙
➊㋖資格や見立て、名目などを表す。…として。 [...] 「本を[枕]{まくら}する」「お土産菓子をもらう」「お礼ひとこと」

This に can usually be rephrased as として. It can usually be translated to "as~" or "for~".
本を枕にする -- use a book as a pillow
お土産に菓子をもらう -- given sweets as a souvenir/gift
お礼にひとこと -- a word as expression of gratitude -> say something to show one's gratitude
So.. as your textbook says, the に is used to indicate the role one wants something to play: one makes 本 play the role of 枕, 菓子 the role of 土産, and ひとこと the role of お礼.

Or maybe you could try プログレッシブ和英中辞典:


7 〔…として〕as; for
親切にしてもらったお礼 (の印) 彼らを招待した
He invited them 「as a token of his gratitude for [in return for] their kindness.
誕生祝い時計をもらった
He was given a watch for his birthday.

I was under the impression that the で particle is used to give context to things. So is it possible to replace に with で in the example sentence above?

Grammatically speaking, I think 「お土産/プレゼント/お礼~」 is the correct usage, and using に sounds more correct to me (of course..), but I occasionally hear/say things like 「お土産XXをもらった」「これ、誕生日のプレゼントもらった」 etc. in casual conversation... (I don't hear/say 「お礼ひとこと」「XXをYYのお礼差し上げる」, though...) So.. I think it'd be probably okay to say 「お土産・プレゼントで~~あげた・もらった」 in casual speech but you should use ~~に in formal speech, writing, exams, etc.  

  • You say に usually can be rephrased as として. When would be a case where you cant? – Ringil Feb 12 at 13:10
  • @Ringil 「本を枕する」とか・・?( 「本を枕として使う」would be fine, though.)「お礼にひとこと(述べる、添える etc)」「お礼としてひとこと」 mean the same thing but I think 「お礼に~」 sounds far more natural. – Chocolate Feb 12 at 14:24
  • 『本を枕とする』? Anyways, I was just hoping you would make it clear that the final example would one case where it would be unusual to use として. – Ringil Feb 12 at 15:14
  • @Rin あ、「本を枕とする」でもいいんですよね。~に in all the examples here has the same meaning as ~として. I think ~に would sound more natural, depending on the context.. – Chocolate Feb 12 at 16:23
  • @HING Word order can be quite flexible. (It would depend on the context). お土産に絵葉書を買いました、絵葉書をお土産に買いました both sound good. – Chocolate Feb 12 at 16:25
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に cannot be replaced by で in the above sentence.

It is really hard to pin down the exact translation of に because it has many, many usages. As a rule of thumb though, に emphasizes the goal / end point of an action. You could formulate it as purpose in your case. Another similar example would be:

  • 父の遺産は家のリフォームに使いたいと思います。I want to use my father's heritage in order to renovate my house (goal)

On the other hand, で means "to use" and / or emphasizes the usage of something as a means to an end. For instance:

  • 2時間で走りきった。I "used" two hours to run the entire distance
  • お金で買いました。I used money to buy it.

As you can see from the last example, using で in お土産ハガキを買いました sounds like you used souvenirs in order to buy postcards...

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