Consider the first example:

~like, as if meaning:


You can make a delicious dressing if you make it as written in this book.

Further, in the next example:

~in order meaning:


I left home early in order to be on time for the first train.

In a random phrase, I never know which direction to follow. I try, in my mind, the different meanings, until reaching the one that fits in context. But it leads to a really slow reading. Is there any hint?

  • 3
    Personal opinion but, I think any grammatical hints will take as long, or longer, to consider than doing what you are currently doing, i.e. deciding the meaning from context. English (and I'm sure your native language too) are full of potential ambiguities like this but you don't notice them due to experience with the language. The only real solution is to read more. The more you read the easier it will get. Jun 27, 2020 at 14:25
  • I'm legitimately curious as to how you propose you would translate each of your sentences given the other of the two meanings you give.
    – sbkgs4686
    Jun 29, 2020 at 12:05
  • @sbkgs4686 I don't think the OP is suggesting that there are alternative translations. Just that having to read the whole sentence before determining which meaning of ように to use from context is inefficient for them. Jun 29, 2020 at 18:33

1 Answer 1


I don't have enough rep to comment, but as a rule of thumb I usually look at the part of the sentence before ように and gauge if this will require any effort from my side. If it does, then I expect the ように to denote purpose, otherwise I expect the ように to denote a likeness or state. There are, of course, ambiguous cases.

Examples of purpose


花瓶 is a vase, 落とす means to drop, 気を付ける means to pay attention. A vase will not drop itself, which means I should be careful in order not to drop the vase.


壺 is a decorative urn, 輝く means to shine, 磨く means to polish. The urn will not polish itself to shine more brightly, so I will have to polish it in order to make it shine more brightly.


合格 means to pass an exam, 頑張る means to do an effort. I will have to work hard to pass an exam.

Examples of likeness or states


石 means stone, no other information can make me believe I am required to do anything. Therefore, it will likely refer to something like a stone.


昨日テレビで見た means "Something I've seen on TV yesterday." This alone does not express a purpose or obligation, so it's likely to refer to the likeness of what I saw.


草の中に蛇がいる means "There is a snake in the grass." Again, there is no indication for any effort or obligation from my side. ホースだった reveals that the I saw something that looked like a snake in the grass, but it was just a garden hose.


あの人はお金がある means "That person has money." Which again does not require an effort from your side, it just means the speaker makes an assumption about that person's state.

Ambiguous examples

Consider these two sentences that start with 「日本語{にほんご}が読{よ}めるように」, which means being able to read Japanese. Here, the context of whatever comes before ように is not enough.


He learns how to read Japanese. (his "state" changes from not being able to read Japanese to being able to read Japanese)


He studies in order to learn how to read Japanese.

Here, I rely on the fact that なる is often used to describe a passive change, whereas する refers to an active effort.

Mixed example

Finally, you can combine the different meanings of ように to get interesting constructions.


Firmly fix something in order to prevent if from moving, like a rock. (the rock being something that is hard to move)

As I said, it's just my personal rule of thumb.

  • I think the OP's concern is with 辞書形 + ように. However, you only use such structure in the first section "Examples of purpose", and you don't give any example of "Examples of likeness or states" with 辞書形...
    – jarmanso7
    Jun 30, 2020 at 18:42
  • that's fair, I'll add some examples, but it's also good to keep in mind that 辞書形+ように is just one subset of expressions using the 〜よう〜 structure Jun 30, 2020 at 19:06

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