The difference between に and で when focusing on location vs. action



Consider these sentences (scenario 1):

  1. (私は)公園花を植える。(I) plant flowers IN the park. (focus on the park)


  1. (私は)公園花を植える。(I) PLANT flowers in the park. (focus on planting)

First of all, I would like to know if this interpretation is accurate:

the first sentence emphasizes the location that is the park.

  • This means that I will plant flowers in the park and in the park only. I won't plant anywhere else, and I won't take the flowers anywhere else. (But I could be doing other things like taking a walk, sitting on a bench etc.)

The second sentence emphasizes the action of planting.

  • This means that I plant flowers at the park and I'm not doing anything else. (But I could be taking the flowers to plant somewhere else other than the park.)

Now, following that logic (if it is correct),

consider these next two sentences (scenario 2):


This can either be translated as:

  • (I) telephone/call the office. ✔ correct
  • (I) make a call INSIDE the office. (and nowhere else) ✘ wrong


This can only be translated as:

  • (I) MAKE a phone call inside the office. (And I'm not doing anything else)

Now for my main question:

Why unlike the first scenario, I can use the に particle to say that I plant INSIDE the park but I can't use the に particle to indicate that I make a call INSIDE the office for the second case?

The only reason I could think of is because オフィス can only be treated as the object the verb (電話をかける) interacts with when using に and that takes priority over the に particle used as an indicator of location.

Is 電話をかける a special type of verb exclusive to this scenario or would there be other verbs that are similarly translated like that under a different context when using the に particle?

I have a very similar example to the second scenario that also uses the office:



They both mean (I) install the phone inside the office with different emphasis on location and action like the first scenario.

Can someone please explain the logic behind this use of particles?


Posted 2018-03-09T09:11:54.760

Reputation: 1 926



I think you seem to be a little confused about the respective functions of に and で.

While it's true that their use in the sentences you provided could be seen as altering the emphasis in some of the ways you suggested, this is not because they have the function of providing the same meaning with different emphasis. Neither of them inherently add any notable emphasis to a sentence, but they do have fundamentally different meanings.

The particle で is straightforward; it indicates where someone is located when they perform an action. The particle に, on the other hand, does not indicate the location where an action takes place, but rather the location towards which an action is directed.

In the case of 花を植える, the distinction is somewhat awkward to express in English - in order to plant flowers into a specific spot you have to be in that spot yourself, so English would usually express both meanings using "in". But in essence 公園花を植える indicates "I am in the park and I plant flowers", while 公園花を植える indicates "I plant flowers into (the soil of) the park".

Using a more compact location makes the distinction clearer - 花を鉢植える is a normal expression meaning "plant flowers into a plantpot", but 花を鉢植える is strange - if we interpret it as a statement of location, it indicates that you are in the plantpot while planting the flowers, which is nonsensical, so we would have to interpret it as a different meaning of で, such as "plant flowers using a plantpot".

This same distinction in meaning is what separates the two 電話をかける sentences you described. オフィス電話をかける indicates the location where you are going to be when you make the phone call. オフィス電話をかける, on the other hand, indicates the target of the action of "calling on the phone", in other words the location of the person you're making the phone call to.

One natural outcome of this distinction is that while で can be used with any verb, に can only be used with verbs that have some kind of target location. You can't, for instance, say 部屋にドーナツを食べる, because the action of 食べる isn't directed towards any specific location - the only location that you would want to specify is your own location while performing it, in which case you would use で.

Ben Roffey

Posted 2018-03-09T09:11:54.760

Reputation: 6 733