This may be a bad question, since it's not very specific and I am very long winded.

I've studied Japanese on and off 7 years, though my level is very low and I never had much immersion besides a year of language exchange once a week and 2 weeks of travel.

I find I have a lot of trouble getting a true sense of the meaning of words which become the elements of enormous numbers of grammatical phrases. Even if I believe I know at least some meaning of the words and particles in a phrase, I can't intuit the complete meaning. To me it always ends up seeming like these grammatical phrases are more than the sum of their parts.

In my head the word ところ means place. Because some Pimsleur audiobook drilled it into me that I should say わたしのところ、あなたのところ 7 years ago.

But I know another meaning of ところ。ところで - By the way. I have it memorized, I'm not confused when I hear it.

And there's ところから - because of...

にしたところで - even for, also.

Is this a different ところ which is just a homophone? What's the connection? It starts to have a meaning like こと and の.

ように can mean like, as, or in order to. Is it the same word, or is it a homophone?

How can I determine the essential meanings of these important words? I have the Japan Times series of Grammar books, Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. Certain particles and words appear again and again, but I don't have a sense for why in composite they form the meanings that they do. So I find myself lost when I come across one I don't know, and surprised when I learn the real meaning of it, and rather than happy I found it, feel very lost. I'm also vulnerable to the trap of trying to assign an English word to a Japanese word. いつのまにか - before I knew it. None of the parts match the English, but I can't understand the meaning and context otherwise. I don't know why いつのまにか means what it does, even though of course I know 何時、間、の、に、か individually in one or more meanings.

To make this question answerable, I guess I want to know A: are these basic elements of Japanese grammar homophones that have nothing to do with each other and B: If not is there a good guide for me to not just find an individual meaning of these words in terms of their usage in grammatical structures, but a more holistic approach which tries to explain why and how they combine into this wide set of usages. I was sold on the Japan Times Grammar books as a bible of Japanese grammar for learners, and they are good, but I end up with a long list of specific examples and their english counterparts, rather than an explanation that would help me intuit their usage, let alone build up those more nuanced and complex meanings myself.

  • 1
    "I find I have a lot of trouble getting a true sense of the meaning of words which become the elements of enormous numbers of grammatical phrases" I know that feeling, bro. Don't have an answer for you, but my suggestion is to try to focus more on acquiring and less on understanding that tricky words. Through the experience of putting to use these difficult expressions in the different situations they can be used in, you will eventually get a better feeling on how to use them. By that time it would be easier to figure out that essential meaning you talk about, if that makes sense.
    – jarmanso7
    Jun 29, 2019 at 10:17
  • TL; DR: I suggest you to focus more on the "How" and less on the "Why"
    – jarmanso7
    Jun 29, 2019 at 10:18
  • No need for TLDR of 100 words. Yes I understand what you mean, that's my thought too, that if I know 20 distinct ways a word is used in I'll probably be able to reason out what connection there is if any, just like I can reason about with weird parts of English. Just I wondered if I could get the quick answer on if they're homophones or not. I guess even Japanese people probably don't really know or think about it, since it's so core to the language.
    – Wumbo
    Jun 30, 2019 at 16:06
  • 1
    @Wumbo: nice to meet a person as wordy (this you already admitted), irritating and as arrogant as me ;-) For A: I think you may be right about even the Japanese people not knowing. While the native English speakers probably say that the 2 likes in "I like men/women who are like X" are not homophones, part of your examples were trickier. As for ところ I think the line between homophone/non-homophone would basically be surrounding the ところで ie ところ is a "place in 4D" with time included. As for B: I have used the same books, and while I share your view, I have at least not found the "ideal" book.
    – Tuomo
    Jul 1, 2019 at 15:02
  • I imagine my confusion is the same as if someone thought 'for' means 'for the sake of x' and then encountered the duration version of the word for 'for [duration of time]' and started getting frustrated how you can do something for the sake of a duration of time. Of course you can't, it's a different word, even though it seems like a simple word with one function. I think it's just one of many situations where learning from books is terribly inefficient. By the time I'm looking something up in the third book or electronic dictionary, I'm ready to give up :) We can close this question, thanks.
    – Wumbo
    Jul 1, 2019 at 15:27


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