What are Japanese Particles? Are They Important?
What are the Japanese Particles and why are they so important
Japanese has many particles, and these particles serve a variety of different functions. Particles are used for everything from marking parts of speech (e.g. differentiating a sentence’s subject from its object), to showing the direction of a motion (e.g. “to” rather than “from”), to expressing the possessive (e.g. mine, yours, Mr. Smith’s).
In the paragraphs below, we will introduce 16 of the most commonly used Japanese particles along with the ways in which you are most likely to see them used.
One of the most important things to keep in mind about particles is that they are also called “post-positions.” This is because particles should always be placed directly after the word they relate to.
For example, if I was saying “with my big sister,” the particle meaning “with” (と, “to”) should be placed immediately after “big sister” (お姉さんと, “onee-san to”).
When speaking informally, particles are sometimes dropped. However, one reason it can be important to use particles is that word order is not set in stone in many Japanese sentences.
For instance, sometimes the object of a sentence might come before the location the action is performed or vice versa; but because particles are always attached directly after the word they relate to regardless of the order of the words, it will still be clear what words are performing what functions in that sentence.
How to use the Japanese particles in context
は、が (Wa, ga)
These particles are used to mark your sentence’s subject. One of the primary differences between these two subject-marking particles is that は wa emphasizes what is being said about the subject, and が ga emphasizes the subject itself. For example,
Kuroi neko wa suki desu
it implies that you like black cats (as opposed to disliking them, or feeling neutrally about them),
Kuroi neko ga suki desu
it implies that you like black cats (as opposed to other colors of cat).
Note that in Japanese, when the sound “wa” is a particle, it is written with the character は, which is normally pronounced “ha.” In all other words that contain a “wa” sound (nouns, verbs, etc), “wa” is written with the “wa” kana (わ).
There are some sentence patterns which tend to favor は wa or が ga regardless of whether the commentary or subject itself is being emphasized, but generally speaking using は wa rather than が ga or vice-versa will not drastically change the meaning of your sentence.
One additional use for が ga is at the end of a sentence or phrase, where its meaning is similar to “but” or sometimes “and.” This end-of-phrase “but” meaning can be used as we use “but” in English, and can also be utilized when you wish to sound tentative. For example:
Eiga o mi ni ikitai n desu ga
I want to go see a movie, but…
In this sentence, ending with が gives whomever you are speaking to the opportunity to either agree with your suggested activity, or make a counter-suggestion.
This particle is used to express the location in which an action is performed, or to express the idea of completing an action using a particular means or tool. For example,
Uchi de hon o yonde imashita
I was reading a book at home.
Repo-to o pen de kakimashita
I wrote a report with/using a pen.
Chikatetsu de gakkou ni ikimasu
I go to school via/using the subway.
This is a highly multi-purpose particle that can be used to express “in,” “at,” “on,” “to,” “from,” and similar location- or direction-based ideas. For example,
San ji ni, tomodachi no uchi ni ikimasume
At 3:00, I will go to my friend’s house.
Ofuro ni hairimashita
I got in the bath.
Obasan ni purezento o moraimashita
I got a present from my aunt.
This particle is used to express “and” when listing two or more objects, to express performing an action with another person, or to quote someone or something. It can be used to quote something a person said, as well as one’s own thoughts. For example,
Tamagoyaki to mizu, onegai shimasu)
tamagoyaki and water, please.
Kawahara san to yuushoku o tabemashita
I ate dinner with Kawahara-san.
Kare wa “Daijoubu desu” to iimashita
he said ‘it’s alright.
Neko wa sugoku kawaii to omoimasu
I think cats are super cute.
This particle means “also.” For example,
Kinou mo kyou mo ame ga futte imashita
It was raining yesterday and also today.
This particle is one of the more limited particles, and is primarily used to express motion towards a location or idea. For example,
Tokyo e ikimasu
I’m going to/in the direction of Tokyo.
Note that “e” is written with the character へ, which is normally pronounced “he.”
This particle is used to mark your sentence’s object. Any item, whether physical or metaphysical, that is being acted directly upon in a sentence can be marked with を o. For example,
Ko-hi- o nomimasu
I drink coffee.
Uta o utaimasu
I sing a song.
Note that when “o” is a particle, it is written with the character を, which is technically “wo.” The “w” is frequently not pronounced, although sometimes it is (particularly in music). The particle “o” is never written with the true “o” character (お), and the character を (wo) is almost never used except as the particle “o.”
This particle is one of the most versatile. In formal and semi-formal Japanese, it is used primarily to express possession. In informal Japanese, it can also be placed at the end of a sentence to express a question or an explanation. For example,
Watashi no neko wa chiisakute shiroi desu
My cat is small and white.
Itsu nihon ni iku no?
When will you go to Japan?
Soto ni ame ga futte iru no
It’s raining outside and it implies that you are telling or explaining to the listener something they did not already know.
This particle can mean either “from,” “because,” or “after doing [verb]” depending on what type of words come directly before it. For example,
Watashi wa Kyoto kara hikkoshimashita
I moved from Kyoto.
Kyou wa nichiyoubi desu kara, gakkou ni ikimasen
Because today is Sunday, I will not go to school.
Eiga o mite kara, kafe ni ikimashita
After I saw the movie, I went to a cafe.
These meanings are very different from one another, but fortunately the words that come directly before the から kara will nearly always let you know which meaning applies. If the から kara comes directly after a noun, it most likely means “from.” If the から kara comes directly after an i-adjective, a verb, or です (desu) [or だ (da), the short form of です (desu)] it most likely means “because.” If the から kara comes directly after the te-form of a verb, it most likely means “after doing [verb].”
This particle means “until.” For example,
Tokyo kara Kyoto made, san jikan kakarimashita
From Tokyo until/to Kyoto, it took 3 hours.
If the additional particle に ni is added directly after まで made, the meaning changes to “by [the time of].” For example,
Ashita made ni kono repo-to o kakanai to ikenai
I have to write this report by tomorrow.
This is a particle that is used to make comparisons. It can be translated roughly as “more than.” When comparing two objects, it should be placed directly after the lesser object. For example,
Amerika yori, nihon no hou ga chiisai desu
Japan is smaller than America.
This is a sentence-ending particle that expresses a mild exclamation. Unlike other exclamatory particles such as ぞ (zo) (which tends to sound masculine), よ (yo) is a gender-neutral particle.
Daijoubu desu yo
that’s alright, and implies that you may be reassuring someone or emphasizing the fact that it is alright rather than making a general statement that it is alright.
This is a sentence-ending particle that expresses a (sometimes rhetorical) request for confirmation. Though ね (ne) frequently does not express a real desire for an answer, it is still polite to respond to someone’s ね (ne) sentence with a はい (hai), a そうですね (sou desu ne), or something similar.
Kyou wa sugoku samui desu ne
It’s cold today, huh?
Hon wa suki desu kedo, isogashikute amari yomimasen ne
I like books, but I don’t read them much [I suppose].
ね (ne) is also used occasionally at the beginning of a phrase to attract someone’s attention or to begin a train of thought. For example,
Nee nee, kore wa dou omou?
Look/Hey, what do you think of this?
This particle is similar to と to in that it links two or more items in a list. The primary difference is that や ya is more vague than と to. While と to implies that a list is concise or complete, や ya implies that the list may be incomplete, or that the things listed might be examples. For example,
Kare- ya su-pu o yoku tsukurimasu
I often make foods such as curry and soup.
When used at the end of a sentence, this particle turns a statement into a question. In formal or semi-formal Japanese, this is the most common way to turn a statement into a question. In formal or semi-formal Japanese, か ka is a gender-neutral question particle, but in informal Japanese it is used more by men than by women. When speaking informally, women often use の no instead of か ka to turn statements into questions. In addition, when used between nouns or phrases か ka can also mean “or,” and when used after “what” plus a counter word it can express an uncertain quantity. For example,
Ashita wa shigoto ni ikimasu ka?
Will you go to work tomorrow?” (semi-formal)
Ashita, shigoto ni iku ka?
Will you go to work tomorrow? (informal)
Yameru ka yamenai ka wakarimasen
I don’t know if I will quit or not.
Chairo ka kiiro, docchi o erabimasu ka?
Brown or yellow, which will you choose?
Omiyage o nanko ka kaimashita
I bought some gift souvenirs.
Many of these particles are multi-purpose, and you will come across other meanings and usages for some of them as you progress in your studies. However, we tried to cover the most common meanings and usages in this blog post. We hope that you found it to be helpful! Once you’re done here, you can also click over to our library tab and download our particle cheat sheet to use while reading or studying!
Are there any particles we didn’t cover that you’d like to know about? Have you come upon one of the particles we covered, but used in an unfamiliar-looking way? Leave us a comment, and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you have!