Particles #5: Use で, を, or に to Indicate Place

Updated: May 21, 2021

Main Points

  • In Japanese, で is ised to mark the location where an action occurs.

  • One exception is you can't use で if it is followed by a verb indicating existence (e.g., いる, ある).

  • Another exception: で is replaced by を when the following verb indicates movement (e.g., 歩く (to walk), 飛ぶ (to fly)).

 

Use で to Indicate Where an Action Is Performed


Just like the particle に covers several English prepositions when referring to time (see Particles #4: Use に, から, and まで to Explain When Something Occurs), で covers multiple words (e.g., "at" and "by") when referring to place.


As shown below, there are times when で can't be used to mark the place where an action occurs. Still, it is quite versatile in this regard, as shown in the following examples.



Examples


郵便局で会いました。

ゆうびんきょくであいました。


We met by the post office.



車の中で食べましょう。

くるまのなかでたべましょう。


Let's eat in the car.



あの本を図書館で見つけなかった。

あのほんをとしょかんでみつけなかった。


I didn't find that book at the library.



When Not to Use で


Use に when the verb indicates existence.


If you simply want to express where something is (as opposed to describing an action), you should mark the place with に instead of で. Most often, this is the case when the verbs いる and ある are involved. However, this rule applies to some other verbs, such as 住む (to live) and 行く (to go).



Examples


冷蔵庫にミルクがあります。

れいぞうこにミルクがあります。


There's milk in the fridge.



去年の夏、本屋に勤めました。

きょねんぬなつ、ほんやにつとめました。


I worked at a bookstore last summer.



Use を when the verb indicates movement.


You also can't use で to mark the location where an action occurs if that verb indicates movement through, over, past, etc. that location. In such cases, you should mark the location with を.



Example


毎土曜日、私の近所を走る。

まいどようび、わたしのきんじょをはしる。


I run through my neighbourhood every Saturday.



This rule is a bit confusing since 行く and 来る indicate movement, but sentences containing these verbs include に, not を. So, it's better to think of this as a general rule. As a beginner, I suspect I'll make lots of mistakes with these as I learn.


Also, sometimes, bothで and を are grammatically correct, with the correct choice depending on your intended meaning. This is illustrated in the examples below.



Examples


娘は公園タンスした。


My daughter danced in the park.



娘は公園タンスした。


My daughter danced through the park (i.e., she danced her way from one side of the park to the other).

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