location particles

How to Differentiate Location Particles で(de), に(ni), and へ(e)

  • October 30, 2017 / Lily Cernak

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 “How to Use Japanese Particles の(no), よ(yo), ね(ne), and か(ka) in the Endings of Your Sentences, 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.

You might find these Japanese particles article useful: 

  1. What are Japanese Particles? Are They Important?
  2. What You Need to Know About Japanese Particles は(wa), が(ga), も(mo)
  3. Why You Need to Know About Japanese Particles を(wo), と(to) AND より(yori)
  4. How to Use Japanese Particles から(kara), まで(made), だけ(dake), and しか(shika) in Your Sentences

Japanese Particle De (で)

1. To indicate location

One of the first uses of で de that students of Japanese often learn is marking the location of a particular action. For example:



Toshokan de hon o yomimasu

I read books in the library.

2. to indicate tools or means

で 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.


Te de sawarimashita

I touched it with my hand.



Densha de ikimashita

I went by train.

3. to indicate “AND”

You will sometimes also see で 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.


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).


Kawa-chan wa majime de, mainichi benkyou shimasu

Kawa-chan is diligent, and studies every day.


However, be careful of using で 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 で de can be followed by another adjective or by a statement (as in the examples above), but you cannot use で 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)

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 に ni.

1. As “at”, “in”, “on” and “to”



Generally speaking, に 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 で de/に ni in seemingly the same way:


Tokyo ni sunde imasu

I am living in Tokyo.



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, で de tends to be used when the verb is an action, and に 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 に ni  after it.

2. As indication of time

に ni can be used with certain time words to indicate when something occurs. As a rule of thumb, に 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).


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 に ni rather than with the object particle を wo. Most verbs to do with motion (to go, to run, to return, etc) are paired with に ni, and most verbs that would be paired with words like “to” or “on” in English are paired with に 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 に ni. Below are a few examples.


Eki ni hashitte, densha ni norimashita

I ran to the station, and got on a train.



Isu ni suwatte, tomodachi ni denwa shimashita

I sat in a chair, and called my friend.



Kawa-chan wa tomodachi ni purezento o agemashita

Kawa-chan gave her friend a present.


Japanese Particle E (へ)

When used as a particle, (“he”) is pronounced (“e”). へ e is similar to に ni in that it is used with verbs of motion. However, it has a more poetic nuance to it than に ni does, and its use is very limited compared with に ni.

1. To indicate motion

Use with verbs of motion is only one of に ni many functions, but へ e is used with verbs of motion and little else. Most sentences with a verb of motion and に ni can use へ e instead with little change in the sentence’s essential meaning. However, while に ni is a rather utilitarian word, へ e has a more vague and/or expressive sound.




Tokyo ni ikimasu.



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],へ e can also be used as “to” as in “welcome to [place].”


Watashi no machi e youkoso!

Welcome to my town!

3. to indicate giving, conveying or toward a goal

Because of its somewhat poetic nuance, へ e is often used in the titles of songs, movies, comics, or novels. In titles, へ 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, へ e can also indicate figurative motion, such as toward a goal. For example, 花盛りの君たち hanazakari no Kimitachi e (For You in Full Blossom) and テラ… 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 で de, に ni, and へ 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!




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