This is the first in a series of articles to help you learn useful Grammar patterns to help you master conversational Japanese much quicker.

In today’s article we will look at the Grammar pattern for ‘When I (verb)’ or ‘When I was a (noun)’ this is a very useful grammar pattern one of the first I ever learned. In Japanese it’s represented by ‘toki’ or ‘toki ni’.

The first thing we need to identify is what Base/Tense are used for the grammar pattern. There are 7 Bases in Japanese verbs. B1,2,3,4,5,Te,Ta. For a complete explanation of bases and detailed explanations on how to conjugate verbs properly in Japanese please check out our guide.

This grammar pattern uses the verb in its plain form (without conjugation except for tense). This makes it very easy to use. I will use some example sentences below to explain how to use it in a number of ways.

Using with a Verb

The verb iru (or past tense ita) goes immediately before 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.

(When I was in Japan I ate sushi)

Another example is:

Jitensha o noru toki ni herumetto o kaburu/kaburimasu.

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

Again in this example the helmet wearing was taking place when I ride 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.

Using with an Adjective

You can use to connote when something was an adjective such as noisy or quiet.

Shizuka na toki ni / Shizuka datta toki ni …

(When something is/was quiet …)

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

Using with a Noun

Watashi wa Daigakusei no /datta toki ni…

(When I am/were a University student….)

When using it with a noun you use the above pattern. Where it is NOT past tense you place a ‘no’ between the noun and the ‘toki ni’. When it is past tense you just use the past tense of desu or da which is datta.

Other useful notes about the ‘toki ni’ grammar pattern

You can drop the ni that follows toki as it creates a little additional emphasis that is not always necessary.

You cannot use this grammar pattern to indicate that someone will be surprised as a result of the ‘when’ you must use one of the other when patters we’ll explain later for instance BTa ra would be used.


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