‘Toki Ni’ – Use of ‘When’ in Japanese sentences!

This is the first in a series of articles to help you learn useful grammar patterns that will help you master conversational Japanese much faster.

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 learned. In Japanese it is represented by ‘toki’ or ‘toki ni’.

The first thing we must 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 full explanation of the basics and detailed explanations on how to conjugate verbs correctly in Japanese, check out our guide.

This grammatical pattern uses the verb in its simple form (without conjugation, except in time). This makes it very easy to use. I will use some example sentences below to explain how to use it in various ways.

Use 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 …

Nihon ni ita toki ni sushi or tabeta / tabemashita.

(When I was in Japan I ate sushi)

Another example is:

Jitensha or noru toki ni herumetto or kaburu / kaburimasu.

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

Again in this example, helmet use was occurring when riding a bicycle, so the Verb for Noru (to walk) comes before ‘toki ni’

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

Use with an adjective

You can use to connote when something was an adjective such as loud or silent.

Shizuka na toki ni / Shizuka datta toki ni …

(When something is / was quiet …)

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

Use with a noun

Watashi wa Daigakusei no / datta toki ni …

(When I was / was a university student …)

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

Other useful notes on the grammatical pattern ‘toki ni’

You can remove the ni that follows toki as it creates a bit of extra 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’ to use one of the other patterns that we will explain later, for example BTa ra would be used.

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