Use Of When Where Who How Why In Grammar ‘Toki Ni’ – Using ‘When’ in Japanese Sentences!

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‘Toki Ni’ – Using ‘When’ in Japanese Sentences!

This is the first in a series of articles to help you learn useful grammar techniques to master conversational Japanese more quickly.

In today’s article we are going to look at the grammar pattern for ‘when I (verb)’ or ‘when I was (noun)’, a very useful grammar pattern that I learned for the first time. In Japanese it is represented by ‘toki’ or ‘toki ni’.

We need to identify which base/tense is used for the grammar pattern. Japanese verbs have 7 bases. B1,2,3,4,5,to,t. For a full explanation of the bases and a detailed explanation of how to conjugate verbs correctly in Japanese, please see our guide.

This grammar pattern uses the verb in its simple form (without conjugation except for the tense). This makes it very easy to use. I’ll use some example sentences below to illustrate how to use it in several ways.

Use with verbs

iru (or ita in the past tense) goes immediately before the verb toki ni to show that when I was in Japan I did…. in this case ate sushi.

Nihon ni ita toki ni sushi o Tabeta/Tabemashita.

(I ate sushi when I was in Japan)

Another example is:

Jitensha o noru toki ni herumeto o kaburu/kaburimasu.

(I wear a helmet when I ride a bike).

Again in this example I was wearing a helmet while riding a bike so the verb for noru (ride) goes before ‘toki ni’.

See how it can be used with either tense by changing the verb in front of toki to its past tense.

Use with adjectives

You can use adjectives to describe when something is noisy or quiet.

Shizuka na Toki Ni / Shizuka Dutta Toki Ni…

(When something is calm/quiet…)

When the adjective is in its present tense, ‘na’ is added between the adjective and ‘toki ni’.

Use with Noun

No watashi or daigakuse/datta toki ni…

(When I was a university student…)

When using nouns you use the pattern above. Where there is no past participle, you put ‘no’ between the noun and ‘toki ni’. When it is past tense, you simply use desu or da, the past tense of datta.

Other useful tips about ‘toki ni’ grammar

You can drop ni following toki because it creates a little extra emphasis that isn’t always necessary.

You cannot use this grammar pattern to indicate that someone will be surprised because ‘when’ you must use one of the others when the patterns we will explain later are used for example BTa ra.

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