Why is the sentence 「紙で書きます」 not correct?

Is it not the case that the 紙 is where the writing action takes place?

  • Related? – sbkgs4686 May 27 at 0:55
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    「紙で書きます」 makes it sound like you're extremely small on a piece of paper (or normal size on a gigantic piece of paper) writing something. – istrasci May 27 at 6:23

Edited: Only 紙に書きます is correct, when you mean "write on paper". 紙で書きます is by no means a normal saying. This is because when they are used to indicate a location, で means "static" place while に means "directional" place. This is not an exceptional distinction among languages while English generally lacks it, but I am not sure whether you already know about it while you are asking this question.

If you don't:

  • に is (mostly) for the location as destination of an action i.e. the action leads you or something to that place

    いすに座る "sit on/onto chair" (before you sit, you were not on the chair)
    壁に貼る "stick to wall" (before you stick, it was not on the wall)

  • で as the background when the action takes place

    食堂で食べる "eat at cafeteria" (you do whole eating at the cafeteria)
    道で遊ぶ "play on(/*onto) street" (you do whole playing on the street)

But there are two exceptions that may confuse you. (1) A very few verbs that mean statically being somewhere only take に for the location, most notably ある/いる, as well as 住む, 立つ, 滞在する etc. (2) Classical Japanese had no で, so sometimes you see に used in bookish expressions: 現代生きる我々.

Writing on paper is an action of putting ink onto the surface of paper, thus in this mental image, paper can only be a destination of an act.

If you say 紙で書きます, I think most of us would imagine either of the following as a result of a reasonable inference.

  • "on paper form" as opposed to any electronic medium or audio record etc.
  • "with paper" as if you have paper in your hand instead of pen and write something

But strictly speaking, it is not totally impossible to activate で's "location" sense in the mind. In this case, yes, it means "where the writing action takes place", only that as @istrasci says in the comment, it has to be a location compared with a "room" or "lot". That means the "paper" is really big relative to you.

It reminds me of an episode of Looney Tunes, where as I remember Sylvester the Cat somehow got a genie that allowed him a wish, and he wanted to lunch on the canary. At the next moment, he found himself in front of a dining table......set on the top of Tweety's head, shrinking to that size. If my memory serves me well, the Japanese translation that carried the two-way meaning was カナリアメシにする.

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  • So do you mean to say “紙で書きます" means i wrote in paper form is grammatically correct ? – PeacockIris Jun 1 at 0:49
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    I don't say you can use it normally, just when you say it, they likely guess that it's what you mean. – broccoli facemask - cloth Jun 2 at 5:49

Because this で is interpreted as "with" which marks a "method", as in 鉛筆で書く (to write with a pencil). So 紙で書きます is unnatural.

However, 家で書きます makes sense. This で is interpreted as "at" which marks "place". It means "to write at home".

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