How to Use Japanese Particles の(no), よ(yo), ね(ne), and か(ka) in the Endings of Your Sentences
In May 2017, we posted an article on Japanese particle 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 this article on the Japanese particles no, yo, ne, and ka, we are 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: No の
No is an extremely important particle that functions in very different ways depending on its place in a sentence.
Functions of NO
1. Possessive particle
The first function that most students learn for no is its function as a possessive particle. When placed after a noun, it serves the same purpose as an apostrophe+s in English:
これはかわちゃんの車です。Kore wa Kawa-chan no kuruma desu
(This is Kawa-chan’s car).
However, because the functions of possessive no are a good deal broader than the functions of apostrophe+s in English, it is perhaps better to think of possessive no as being similar to the English word “of.”
For example, the Japanese title of the Studio Ghibli film “Ponyo” is 崖の上のポニョ (“Gake no Ue no Ponyo”), or literally “Ponyo of above of the cliff.” In this fashion, an alternate translation of the sentence about Kawa-chan’s car could be “This is the car of Kawa-chan.”
2. Explanation particle
If you listen to Japanese music or watch Japanese tv shows, you have probably also noticed that no is frequently placed at the end (or near the end) of statements. This is no’s second function, as an explanation particle.
When no is placed at the end of a statement, it often indicates that the statement is intended to explain something or to provide information. This function can be used in casual speech as well as polite speech:
かわちゃんは大学生なの。 or かわちゃんは大学生なのです。
Kawa-chan wa daigakusei na no (desu) (Kawa-chan is a college student).
This statement could be a response to any number of things, such as “Why is she so busy?” or “Wow, I didn’t realize Kawa-chan had already graduated high school!,” etc.
かわちゃんはピアノを弾けるの。 or かわちゃんはピアノを弾けるのです。
Kawa-chan wa piano o hikeru no (desu) (Kawa-chan can play piano).
This statement also could be a response to any number of things, such as “That’s impressive that she can sight-read music,” etc.
If your statement ends in a noun or a na-adjective, the “na” before the no must be included. Also, note that if your statement ends with a verb, the verb will be in short form whether you are speaking politely or casually – when speaking politely, a “desu” will simply be added after the no particle.
3. Question Particle
The third function of no is a question particle. The sentence structure for this function is the same as the explanation function, but is only used when speaking casually. For example, we can re-use the exact same sentence as above, but simply change the intonation:
かわちゃんはピアノを弾けるの? Kawa-chan wa piano o hikeru no?
(Kawa-chan plays piano?).
However, it would sound strange to use no as a question particle with polite -masu verbs. No as a question particle can sometimes be combined with the other question particle ka. Using both question particles at once as opposed to no alone makes the question sound somewhat more masculine, and also more surprised:
かわちゃんはピアノを弾けるのか? Kawa-chan wa piano o hikeru no ka?
(Kawa-chan plays piano??).
4. Combination with other particles
The fourth function of no is combining it with other particles to allow verb phrases to go where other parts of speech such as objects or subjects would usually go.
For example, a direct object is marked with the particle o (を), as in the sentence 宿題を忘れた (shukudai o wasureta, I forgot the homework). A direct object is generally a noun, so to make a verb phrase a direct object, we must combine no with the direct object particle:
宿題をするのを忘れた。 Shukudai o suru no o wasureta
(I forgot to do the homework).
Similarly, we can combine no with the subject particle ga to make a verb phrase into a subject, since subjects (like direct objects) are typically nouns:
ピアノを弾くのが好きです。 Piano o hiku no ga suki desu (I like to play piano).
Japanese Particle: Yo よ
Yo is used primarily at the very end of sentences. It can be used with any kind of sentence, causal or polite. When a sentence ends with yo, it causes the sentence to sound more emphatic. For example:
今日は土曜日です。 Kyou wa doyoubi desu (Today is Saturday).
今日は土曜日ですよ。 Kyou wa doyoubi desu yo (Today is Saturday).
Usage of Yo Particle
1. For extra emphasis
When yo is added, the meaning of the sentence doesn’t necessarily change, but takes on a nuance of telling someone something they were not aware of or had forgotten. Or, it may simply indicate that you are placing extra emphasis on that sentence for a different reason.
Yo is a fairly mild-sounding emphatic particle, and is used by people of all ages and genders. You may sometimes hear zo and ze used instead of yo; these particles have a rougher and less polite sound and therefore tend to be used by men more than by women.
Like many sentence-ending particles, yo is sometimes used with semi-rhetorical question-statements. For example, the commonly heard exclamation なんだよ (nan da yo) literally means “What is it?!,” but is used similarly to the English “Seriously?” or “Aw man, how come?”
2. When invoking or calling something or someone
In rare cases, you may also see yo placed after a name or a noun. When yo is used this way, it is indicating that the speaker is invoking or calling upon the person or thing. This usage of yo is mostly seen in music, fantasy movies, titles, and et cetera.
Japanese Particle: Ne ね
Usage of Ne Particle
Ne can be used with any kind of sentence, polite or casual, and is often elongated to nee. It is usually used either as a stand-alone attention-getting sound before a sentence, or as a semi-rhetorical sentence-ending particle. When used before a sentence, it may be paired with “ano”:
Nee? and Ano ne? when used before a sentence can be used to initiate an exchange, or to get someone’s attention.
When ne is used at the end of a sentence, it turns a statement into a semi-rhetorical statement. There is a myriad of different ways to translate ne at the end of a sentence, such as “don’t you think?” “isn’t it?” “right?”, and so on.
Sometimes the addition of ne at the end of a sentence indicates that the speaker desires confirmation of something, but more often than not ne at the end of a sentence is simply a prompt for the listener to agree, or a prompt for the listener to produce Aizuchi.*
その試験は大変でしたね。Sono shiken wa taihen deshita ne
(That test was tough, huh?).
*The term Aizuchi refers to the various sounds and short words vocalized by a listener in between a speaker’s phrases or sentences to show that they are indeed listening and/or agreeing, similar to going “uh-huh, uh-huh” while listening to someone speak in English.
In many cases, ne requires no response from the listener. For example, そうですね (sou desu ne, literally “right, huh?”) is often said when thinking about what to say, and requires no response. Depending on the circumstances, long sentences ending with ne may also be completely or mostly rhetorical, similarly requiring no response.
Ne can be combined with yo to make a sentence that is both emphatic and semi-rhetorical. When these two particles are combined, yo always comes first:
その試験は大変でしたよね。Sono shiken wa taihen deshita yo ne
(That test was tough, huh!).
Japanese Particle: Ka か
Usage of KA Particle
1. To ask a question
When students are first learning Japanese, they will primarily learn ka as a question particle. Placing ka at the end of a statement will turn it into a question:
かわちゃんはピアノを弾けます。 Kawa-chan wa piano o hikemasu
(Kawa-chan can play piano).
かわちゃんはピアノを弾けますか？ Kawa-chan wa piano o hikemasu ka?
(Can Kawa-chan play piano?).
In written Japanese, questions do not necessarily need to be ended with a question mark if there is a question particle at the end of the sentence.
So “Can Kawa-chan play piano?” Could also be written かわちゃんはピアノを弾けますか。 with a period instead of a question mark. Sometimes questions also do not use a question particle, in which case they must use a question mark (or a rising tone of voice, if spoken): かわちゃんはピアノを弾けます？
2. To indicate choices
The second function of ka is to mean “or.” Ka can be placed between two nouns to create “A or B” sentences:
土曜日か日曜日に海に行く。Doyoubi ka nichiyoubi ni umi ni iku
(On Saturday or Sunday I will go to the beach).
3. To indicate uncertainty or indecision
A third function of ka is that it can be placed after phrases within larger sentences to indicate uncertainty or indecision:
明日は仕事を休むか決めていない。Ashita wa shigoto o yasumu ka kimeteinai
(I haven’t decided if I will take off of work tomorrow).
A final note:
Since ka can be used at the end of sentences, it is – of course – sometimes semi-rhetorical! For instance, そうか (souka, literally “is it so?”) is frequently used rather similarly to the English “I see” even though the ka in “souka” is technically a question particle.
That’s everything on no, yo, ne, and ka 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!