Learning Japanese Particles – “Wo”

2011 August 24
by PaulBenson

Welcome back! This is the fourth article in my series on Japanese language particles. Language learning is like most other pursuits – everything comes back to basics. Japanese is no different. Usually the particles are all off partying and doing their thing in language land and the language learner can sometimes struggle to keep up. Here, the goal is to take some time to have a good ‘ol one-on-one with the particles. Where usually you might get a very scientific, sterile and lengthy explanation of the particles, here we capture a few for study and release them back into the wild.

Note: no particles were harmed in the course of these articles.

This time, I want to focus on を wo. To give を a bit of personality, を is that guy in war movies with a radio calling down indirect fire. を attaches to a noun or noun-phrase and acts as a “spotter,” marking the direct object for the following verb. The following verb always acts on what を marks. を marks nouns and radios ahead to the verb, saying “hey, you do your thing to this.”

Let’s look at some examples:

木村は一番好きな本を読み返しています

kimura wa ichiban suki na hon wo yomikaeshite imasu.

Kimura is rereading her favorite book.

Here’s a simple を – it spots for the verb, 読み返す (to reread), marking 本 (book) as the target of the verb. Here, を hides in brush and radios ahead to読み返す, saying “OK, this is what Kimura is rereading.” Now for a more complicated example:

探偵は部下に「赤い車N1を運転していたV1N2を探せV2」と命令した。

tantei wa buka ni “akai kuruma wo unten shite ita hito wo sagase” to meirei shita.

The detective ordered his deputies to search for the person who drove the red car.

Here we have two を, but notice that the same rules above still apply – を is our reliable informant; it’s spotting for the following verb. The first を marks 車 (car) and spots for 運転する (to operate; to drive). The second を spots for the verb 探す (to search), marking 人 (person).

運転する: “What was being driven?”

を: “The red car.

探す: “What is the target of the search?”

を: “the person (who was driving the red car).”

Here’s a literary example from 不思議な夢 fushigi na yume (The Strange Dream) by famous science-fiction writer Hoshi Shin’ichi星真一

「昭一、そろそろ起きなければいけませんよ」と、母に声をかけられ、昭一は目をさました。

“Shōichi, sorosoro okinakereba ikemasenyo” to, haha ni koe ni kakerare, shōichi wa me wo samashita.

“Shoichi, you have to wake up soon!” Shoichi’s mother called out, waking him up.

Poor Shōichi. を works here just as it did in the above examples. The first を spots for the verb かける, marking 声 (voice). The second を spots for the verb 覚ます (to awaken; to clear up), marking 目 (eye). Both examples are unique cases as they’re both set phrases. In 声をかける, かける is similar to “do” or “put;” it’s used in several ways and has many meanings, but here it means to “extend” or “offer” the 声 (voice) [of Shōichi’s mother]. 目を覚ますis a standard idiom used since at least 800 CE. It means “to wake up” or “awaken,” where sleeper “wakes” his “eyes.” It is also used to say someone is “sobering up” or “coming to one’s senses.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article! Please join me next time when we visit another Japanese particle. As always, if you’re looking for own Japanese language spotter, look no further than Hills Learning in New York City, where you’re sure to get all the advance intelligence you’ll need.

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