Verb Conjugation #5: Asking How to Do Something
To change a verb into the expression "how to [verb]," drop ます from the polite form of the verb and add 方 (かた).
For other components besides the verb in such phrases, particles either need to be replaced or augmented by の.
The "How-to" Construction in Japanese
Making "how-to" phrases in Japanese involves combining a verb with 方 (かた), which means "way of doing" but translates as "how-to."
Step 1: Drop ます from the polite form of the verb and add 方 (かた).
This step is straightforward. Simply drop ます and add 方 (かた).
For example, 行きます (いきます) (to go) becomes 行き方 (いきかた) (how to go / how to get to).
For compound verbs (i.e., those that take the form of a noun+する), you need to place the particle の after the noun.
For example, 料理します (りょうりします) (to cook) becomes 料理のし方 (how to cook).
Step 2: For non-verb components marked by を or に, replace these particles with の.
Phrases containing 方 are rarely found simply as in the examples above. There is usually more to them—people don't usually just say "how to cook." They usually say something like "how to cook dumplings."
In such phrases, all particles that come before 方 are marked by the particle の. If the particle in question is either を or に, then the particle の replaces the original particle.
For example, 東京国立博物館に行きます (to go to Tokyo National Museum) becomes 東京国立博物館の行き方 (how to get to Tokyo National Museum).
Step 3: Add の after components marked by any particle other than に or を.
All particles other than を and に in these kinds of phrases do not get replaced by の—instead, の is inserted after the original particle.
For example, 電車で東京国立博物館に行きます (to go to Tokyo National Museum by train) becomes 電車での東京国立博物館の行き方 (how to get to Tokyo National Museum by train).
Using the "How-to" Construction in Practice
Often, you'll want to use the "how-to" construction in Japanese to ask someone to show you how to do something.
Please teach/show me how to cook miso soup.
(Notice that the particle を that comes after 方 is not changed to の.)
Below is a somewhat more polite way of making the same request.
Will you teach me how to cook miso soup?
In addition to asking someone to explain how to do something, this construction can be used in many other contexts, just like it is in English.
When did you learn how to play the piano?