A Guide to Japanese Particles

Particles are those little words that hold a Japanese sentence together. Have you ever been confused about how a sentence is built in Japanese? Well, we are here to help! Going over a few basic particles can help you master creating sentences in Japanese. 

Introduction to Particles: What are they?

In Japanese grammar, particles are essential components that add nuance and clarify the relationships between words and phrases within a sentence. Unlike English, where word order often dictates meaning, Japanese heavily relies on particles to convey specific information and context. Understanding particles is crucial for mastering the language and expressing ideas accurately. 

Japanese particleEnglish particles/meaning
Subject marker / Indicator for a specific item
Topic marker / Indicator for contrast or emphasis
へ(え)To (indicating direction or goal)
To / In / At (indicating location, time, or recipient)
At / In / By (indicating location or means)
Object marker (indicates the direct object of a verb)
And / With (indicating a person, tool, or means)
Possessive marker / ‘s (indicating possession or association)
Also / Too (indicates inclusion or addition)
Question marker (indicates a question)
Right? / Isn’t it? (seeking agreement or confirmation)
Explanatory / Confirmatory (seeking attention or giving emphasis)

The difference between は and が and why it sometimes doesn’t matter

The difference between は (wa) and が (ga) is one of the most common and challenging aspects of Japanese grammar for learners. Both particles are used to mark the subject of a sentence, but they have different nuances and usage patterns.

If you’d like to learn more about the differences between ‘は’ and ‘が,’ please take a look at this article, where we explain it in detail.

は (wa) is a topic marker and is used to introduce a new topic or to talk about something that is already known to the listener. It helps to establish the context of the conversation. When は is used, it puts emphasis on the topic and is often translated as “as for” or “regarding.”

  • 日本は食べ物が美味しいです。(Nihon wa tabemono ga oishii desu.-As for Japan, the food is delicious.

The は comes after the topic “Japan” to mark it as the topic of the sentence. Almost all particles in Japanese come after the part of the sentence they are identifying. 

が (ga), on the other hand, is a subject marker and is used to mark the subject of the sentence, which is the doer of the action.

  • 彼が学校に行きます。 (Kare ga gakkou ni ikimasu.) – He goes to school.

In this case, the が is marking the subject, which is 彼 or “him.”

Of course, both particles can be used in one sentence and this illustrates the difference a little more clearly.

  • 私は先生が好きです。(Watashi wa sensei ga suki desu.) – I like the teacher.

Additionally, there are situations where the choice between は and が may not significantly impact the meaning of a sentence, leading to interchangeable usage. So don’t worry too much if you get confused by these two. Here are a few more examples of how は and が are used:

  • 私は学生です。(Watashi wa gakusei desu.) – I am a student. (Using は to introduce the topic “I.”)
  • 彼がピアノを弾きます。(Kare ga piano o hikimasu.) – He plays the piano. (Using が to emphasize “he” as the doer of the action.)

Direction particles へ and に

Particles へ (e) and に (ni) are crucial for indicating direction and movement in Japanese. へ (e) generally points to the direction of an action or movement. 

  • 学校へ行きます。(Gakkou e ikimasu.) – I am going to school. (Using へ to indicate the direction of movement.)

Again the particle へ comes after the thing it modifies. In this case “school” and 学校へ can be translated as “to school.”

に (ni) can also indicate a direction, and へ and に can sometimes be used interchangeably, but another use of に is the destination or target of the action.

  • 駅に着きました。(Eki ni tsukimashita.) – I arrived at the station. (Using に to indicate the destination of the action.)

There are a few more uses of に but starting out, just focus on how this particle indicates direction.

The usage particle で

The particle で (de) has a few different meanings, but the main two are to indicate the means or method of an action or the location where an action takes place. Whether you want to express “by train,” or “at a cafe,” the particle で plays a role in forming these sentences. 

  • 電車で学校に行きます。(Densha de gakkou ni ikimasu.) – I go to school by train. (Using で to indicate the means of transportation.)

In this example, で is highlighting “train” and can be translated as “by” or “using.” You use the train to get to school. 

  • 公園で遊びます。(Kouen de asobimasu.) – I play in the park. (Using で to indicate the location where the action takes place.)

In this sentence, で is indicating a place where something is happening. In this case, it can be translated as “in” or “at.”

The object particle を

The object particle を (wo) is used to mark the direct object of a verb in a sentence. This might sound complicated, but it is just saying that it indicated the object that is being used by the subject. It highlights the noun that receives the action of the verb. 

  • 果物を食べます。(Kudamono o tabemasu.) – I eat fruit. (Using を to mark the direct object “fruit.”)

You can see here it is marking the “fruit” as the direct object. The easiest way to use を is to ask yourself “verbing what?” So if you want to make the sentence “I bought a pen” the verb is “bought” so our question is “buying what?” The answer to this question is “a pen” so the pen is the direct object of the sentence and needs to be marked by を.

  • ペンを買いました。(Pen o kaimashita.) – I bought a pen. (Using を to mark the direct object “pen.”)

と for “and” and “with”

The particle と (to) has multiple functions, but it is primarily used to indicate the conjunction “and” or to express “with” someone.

  • 友達と映画を見ます。(Tomodachi to eiga o mimasu.) – I watch movies with my friends. (Using と to express companionship.)

In the first sentence, we are marking the noun “friends” with と to indicate “with friends.”

  • 果物と野菜を買いました。(Kudamono to yasai o kaimashita.) – I bought fruits and vegetables. (Using と to connect nouns.)

More simply, this sentence uses と to mean “and” which is used exactly like we use the word “and” in English. Just place と between the two things you want to talk about. 

The possessive particle の

The particle の (no) is used for showing possession and forming possessive expressions in Japanese. Whether you want to say “my book,” “the company’s logo,” or “Japan’s culture,” the particle の is used. 

  • 私の車は新しいです。(Watashi no kuruma wa atarashii desu.) – My car is new. (Using の to indicate possession.)

Simple place の after the subject that has ownership to indicate what someone owns. So in this sentence “I” is the subject and we own a car.

  • 田中さんの本を読みました。(Tanaka-san no hon o yomimashita.) – I read Tanaka’s book. (Using の to show possession.)

When you see の you can also think of it as “apostrophe s.” So in this case it would be “Tanaka-san’s book.”

Saying “also” with も

The particle も (mo) is equivalent to the English word “also” and replaces は or が in a sentence to include additional items, people, or actions. Whether you want to say “I also like sushi” or “He can speak Spanish too,” you use the particle も. 

  • 私も日本語を勉強します。(Watashi mo Nihongo o benkyou shimasu.) – I also study Japanese. (Using も to indicate “also.”)
  • 彼もコーヒーを飲みます。(Kare mo koohii o nomimasu.) – He also drinks coffee. (Using も to indicate “also.”)

As you can see in the above examples, instead of using the topic marker は or the subject marker が, you can replace it with も to say “also.”

The question particle か

The particle か (ka) is used to form questions in Japanese. It serves as a question mark at the end of a sentence and indicates that the sentence is interrogative. It’s super simple, just place か at the end of a sentence, the same way we use a question mark in English.

  • 何を食べますか?(Nani o tabemasu ka?) – What will you eat? (Using か to form a question.)
  • 日本に行きたいですか?(Nihon ni ikitai desu ka?) – Do you want to go to Japan? (Using か to form a question.)

Sentence ending particles ね and よ

The sentence-ending particles ね (ne) and よ (yo) add nuances to sentences, expressing different emotions, seeking agreement, or offering new information. ね is often used to seek confirmation or agreement. We can sometimes translate it as “isn’t it?” though it is sometimes a rhetorical question.

  • 明日は試験ですね。(Ashita wa shiken desu ne.) – Tomorrow is the exam, right? (Using ね to seek agreement.)

よ is used to emphasize new or important information. We use it when we are introducing something new that someone might not know. It can sometimes be translated as “you know” but it doesn’t need a direct translation most of the time.

  • 明日はピクニックに行くんですよ。(Ashita wa pikunikku ni iku n desu yo.) – We’re going on a picnic tomorrow, you know.

Learning and mastering Japanese particles is an important part of becoming a master of the language. By understanding their functions and how to use them, you will be well on your way to making your own sentences in Japanese and being able to effectively communicate with Japanese people!

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