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Be careful of Japanese verbs that have a direction

When speaking or writing in Japanese, you must pay attention to verbs that have a direction, e.g. 電話する (make a phone call), 運ぶ (carry), 送る(send), etc. When someone calls you, the phone call goes from where the caller is to where you are; on the other hand, when someone carries something to you, he also goes from where he is to where you are. We can see that these verbs have a direction in their actions. You need to do it “TO” someone else.

In English, the sentence structures between “I call him” and “he calls me” are exactly the same. We only need to change the subjects into objects and add the “s” after the verb when necessary. The structure does not change at all.

But if you think that the same goes for Japanese, you are seriously wrong. (Sorry for using the same writing style again and again. ^^) For example, “I call him” can be translated as “私は彼に電話する” or simply as “彼に電話する” with the subject omitted. When you translate “He calls me” into Japanese, however, you CANNOT write “彼は私に電話する”, which is simply grammatically incorrect.

Why is it wrong? It looks grammatically perfect!

It is because in Japanese, when a verb has a direction, you MUST indicate such direction when the direction is “to yourself” (I means when you say “to me”). In other words, when the action starts from somewhere and goes to you, you need to indicate so in Japanese.

So how to do that? Isn’t “私に” already an indication of the direction?

I am sorry that Japanese is much stricter than English in this regard. You must change the sentence to “彼は私に電話してくる”, in which “くる” means “come” and clearly shows listeners that the action “comes” to you. In fact, you can even omit “私に” and just write “彼は電話してくる” because “くる” already shows us the direction is “to me”.

If you say “彼は私に電話する”, even though it is grammatically funny, native Japanese should be able to catch what you mean. But if you are “smart enough” to omit the object and say “彼は電話する”, your Japanese listeners will 100% interpret as “he calls someone”. It will sometimes cause serious misunderstanding.

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