How to Differentiate Location Particles で(de), に(ni), and へ(e)
In May 2017, we posted an article on Japanese particles and their purposes. That article provided a general summary of the differences between the particles は (wa), が (ga), で (de), に (ni), と (to), も (mo) , へ (e) , を(wo), の (no) , から (kara), まで (made), より (yori), よ (yo), ね (ne), や (ya), and か (ka).
However, every Japanese particle has many purposes and uses, and we did not have the time in that article to cover the uses of each particle completely. So, beginning with our article on の (no), よ(yo), ね (ne), and か (ka), we will continue with Japanese location particles で(de), に(ni), and へ(e). We will be doing a series of particle articles (how many times can you say that in a row?) that go into depth on the uses of three to five particles at a time.
Japanese Particle De (で)
USes of De
1. To indicate location
One of the first uses of de that students of Japanese often learn is marking the location of a particular action. For example:
図書館で本を読みます。Toshokan de hon o yomimasu
(I read books in the library).
2. to indicate tools or means
De is also used to indicate the tools or means by which an action is done. This tools or means can be an implement such as a pencil, a vehicle such as a train, a body part such as one’s eyes, and etc.
手で触りました。Te de sawarimashita
(I touched it with my hand).
電車で行きました。 Densha de ikimashita
(I went by train).
3. to indicate “AND”
You will sometimes also see de placed after nouns or na-adjectives, in which case it means “and.” Note that this is done with na-adjectives but not with i-adjectives.
かわちゃんは元気で可愛いです。Kawa-chan wa genki de kawaii desu
(Kawa-chan is energetic and cute).
(Remember, “genki” looks like an i-adjective, but it is a na-adjective (“genki na”) – the “na” may not appear in a sentence, depending on the grammar patterns used in that sentence).
かわちゃんは真面目で、毎日勉強します。Kawa-chan wa majime de, mainichi benkyou shimasu
(Kawa-chan is diligent, and studies every day).
However, be careful of using de to mean “and” – there are many ways to say “and” in Japanese, but their usages are more particular than the word “and” in English.
A noun or na-adjective followed by de can be followed by another adjective or by a statement (as in the examples above), but you cannot use de between nouns to make sentences. Examples are “Kawa-chan and her friend studied” or “Kawa-chan went to Tokyo and Kyoto.”
Japanese particle Ni (に)
Ni is one of the most multi-purpose of particles. We will not be able to cover all of its uses in this article, but we will try to go over enough of them to give a well-rounded picture of ni.
Uses of Ni
1. As “at”, “in”, “on” and “to”
Generally speaking, ni encompasses meanings such as “at,” “in,” “on,” and “to.” Because it can mean so many different things, you will find multiple に(ni) particles in a single sentence more frequently than you will find multiples of other particles such as は(wa) or を(wo) in a single sentence.
Above, we described using で(de) to mark the location of an action. に(ni) is also frequently found after location words. When choosing a particle to mark the location of an action, it is frequently confusing whether it would be better to choose で(de) or に(ni). For example, both of the following sentences end with a verb, and both use de/ni in seemingly the same way:
東京に住んでいます。Tokyo ni sunde imasu (I am living in Tokyo).
東京で働いています。Tokyo de hataraite imasu (I am working in Tokyo).
A good rule of thumb is that while both particles can mark the location where a verb occurs, de tends to be used when the verb is an action, and ni tends to be used when the verb has more to do with just being or existing.
If sentences with verbs like あります (arimasu , to be (for things)), います (imasu, to be (for people/animals)), 住みます (sumimasu, to live/dwell somewhere), or 泊まります (tomarimasu, to stay somewhere (temporarily)) have a location word or phrase in them, the location word or phrase will probably have a ni after it.
2. As indication of time
Ni can be used with certain time words to indicate when something occurs. As a rule of thumb, ni is used with words that indicate a specific time (such as two o’clock, Monday, or June), but not with words that indicate nonspecific time periods (such as today, next month, or every evening).
かわちゃんは９時に学校に行きます。Kawa-chan wa kuji ni gakkou ni ikimasu
(Kawa-chan goes to school at 9:00).
3. as indication of motion
Some verbs must be paired with ni rather than with the object particle wo. Most verbs to do with motion (to go, to run, to return, etc) are paired with ni, and most verbs that would be paired with words like “to” or “on” in English are paired with ni (to sit, to get on [a vehicle], to go in, etc).
In sentences using verbs of giving or receiving, recipient people are marked with ni. Below are a few examples.
駅に走って、電車に乗りました。Eki ni hashitte, densha ni norimashita
(I ran to the station, and got on a train).
椅子に座って、友達に電話しました。Isu ni suwatte, tomodachi ni denwa shimashita
(I sat in a chair, and called my friend).
かわちゃんは友達にプレゼントをあげました。Kawa-chan wa tomodachi ni purezento o agemashita
(Kawa-chan gave her friend a present).
Japanese Particle E (へ)
When used as a particle, へ (“he”) is pronounced え (“eh”). E is similar to ni in that it is used with verbs of motion. However, it has a more poetic nuance to it than ni does, and its use is very limited compared with ni.
Uses of e
1. To indicate motion
Use with verbs of motion is only one of ni’s many functions, but e is used with verbs of motion and little else. Most sentences with a verb of motion and ni can use e instead with little change in the sentence’s essential meaning. However, while ni is a rather utilitarian word, e has a more vague and/or expressive sound.
東京に行きます。Tokyo ni ikimasu.
東京へ行きます。Tokyo e ikimasu.
Both these sentences essentially mean “I will go to Tokyo,” but the first sentence has the sound of a simple statement of what you will do, and the second sentence could be thought of as meaning “I will head for Tokyo” or “I will travel toward Tokyo.”
2. To indicate welcome
Along with meaning “to” as in “go to [place],” e can also be used as “to” as in “welcome to [place].”
私の町へようこそ！Watashi no machi e youkoso!
(Welcome to my town!)
3. to indicate giving, conveying or toward a goal
Because of its somewhat poetic nuance, e is often used in the titles of songs, movies, comics, or novels. In titles, e can be used to indicate giving or conveying something to someone (often with no verb attached), as well as motion toward a place.
In titles, e can also indicate figurative motion, such as toward a goal. For example, 花盛りの君たちへ (Hanazakari no Kimitachi e, “For You in Full Blossom”) and テラへ… (Tera e…, “Toward the Terra”) are the titles of two manga series (published in the 2000s and the 1970s, respectively), and 最強への道 (Saikyo e no Michi, “The Path to Power”) was the title of one of the “Dragon Ball” movies.
That’s everything on de, ni, and e for now! If you have any questions about these particles, or if there are any uses of these particles that we neglected to go over in this article, please leave us a comment below!