Many Japanese learners get confused about how to use the に particle because Japanese has particles like で that are similar in meaning.
Each Japanese particle has a meaning and concept. Understanding the concepts and meaning helps you correctly use Japanese particles.
The に (ni) particle can be mostly used for describing a place, time, and action with some verbs. The concept of the に particle is "point" and "direction," which we will explain later in the article!
The basic concepts of the に particle are “point” and “direction.”
These concepts "point" and "direction" are sometimes separated from each other and sometimes used together.
Let’s see how to use the concept “point” of the に particle first.
The Point Concept
There are two types of point concepts. One is the Existence Point and the other is the Landing Point.
Both concepts look similar but there are some differences in "movement" and the "verb that is used with."
An existence point is a point in which something is being or existing. You can use this when you are in a place or living somewhere. (You are "existing" in these places.) The image of the concept is as follows.
The に particle as an existence point is used with the existence verb like いる, ある.
For example, you say 私は日本にいる when you want to say "I’m in Japan."
It's sometimes confusing which is the right particle to use. Do I say にいる or でいる? In this case, it's not correct to say 私は日本でいる because it will mean that "you're being Japan." Are you a country or a human?
When you want to say that you're at somewhere, に is the right particle that can be used with the existence verb.
You can learn about the で (de) particle in Japanese grammar で(de) particle【JLPT5】. Check it out if you haven't read it yet!
I'm in Japan.
Let's learn about the に particle of the existence point with example sentences.
I’m in Japan
Live in an apartment
Work in a company
Existence Point (Time)
The existence point can be used for time too. It expresses that something is done at a point in time.
For example, you say ７時に朝ごはんを食べる when you want to say "I have breakfast at 7." The action of having breakfast is done at the point of 7’o clock.
You can also change the position of ７時に (7 o'clock) to in front of 食べる in the sentence like 朝ごはんを7時に食べる.
Let's learn about the に particle that describes a point of time with example sentences.
Have breakfast at 7.
Go to bed at 11.
Arrive at a station at 15:00. (3:00 PM)
The concept of the Landing Point is a movement that goes towards the existence point.
The landing point is used with a normal verb and expresses the point that the action goes toward.
For example, when you want to say "I ride a horse," you say 馬に乗る. The action of riding a horse is done on the back of a horse (landing point).
Ride a horse
Get on a train
Go to the sea
Put a mug on a table
The Direction Concept
The Direction Concept expresses change.
The に particle shows the change from one state to another.
For example, the に particle can be used when a traffic light turns green. You say 信号が青になる. Note: in Japan, the green traffic light is called blue, even though technically it is green.
The light changes from red to green. The に particle is used for this change of state.
Day breaks and the sun rises. (Lit. Night brightens and turns to morning)
Become 21 years old this year
Maple leaves turn to red
The Direction that Goes to a Purpose
The に particle can be used with verbs like 行く (go), 来る(come), 帰る (go back).
The concept of the に particle when it’s used with those verbs is "a direction that goes to a purpose."
For example, when you go to see your friends, you say 友達に会いに行く.
An action is done for a purpose.
Go see one’s friends.
My brother comes to help me.
Go back home to see one’s parents
The concept of the に particle is “point” and “direction.
The existence point is the one point, place, or time that something is happening and something is done.
The landing point is the point that the verb goes to. It is also becoming a purpose of the verb.
The direction concept of the に particle is expressing the change from one state to another.
○いちばんやさしい日本語教育入門 by 今井新悟
Easiest Introductory Japanese Teacher's manual by Shingo Imai, published in 2019