Japanese Particles – The Secret to Using Them in Sentences

2015 May 4
by Dani A

Don’t be daunted by Particles! They are essential to sentence construction. This article will give an overview of the series of Japanese particles, and provide some helpful links.

This article is the second half of our Japanese Sentence Structure series. Click here for the first half.

Particles

What are particles?  They are absolutely essential to Japanese sentences. Particles tell you what something is, where it goes, what it does, how it does it, why it does it, etc. They are little “word-things” that attach themselves to words or phrases. They are used  to describe the relationship between one word or phrase to another. Even though there are apparently 8 types of particles, the particles most people refer to are は, が, も, を, に, へ, の, と, で, and か. Be aware that a lot of particles can have more than one meaning, and some particles can overlap with other particles when they translate to English. In Japanese though each particle has a place in the meaning of the sentence, so 頑張って!

は- topic particle: it tells you what the sentence is about. 山下さんは先生です = Ms/Mr. Yamashita is a teacher.

が – subject particle: this identifies something unidentified by the topic particle. (私は)チョコが好きです = (I) like chocolate.

* は and が are hard to translate into English because they seem similar. (Even after 5-6 years of studying Japanese, I still confuse the two in certain situations).

も –  ‘also’, ‘too’: this particle doubles as both the topic and ‘inclusive’ particle: 犬は動物です。猫も動物です = Dogs are animals. Cats are also animals.

を – direct object particle: the word or phrase that comes before を is the direct object of the verb. すしを食べる = (I) eat sushi.

に –  determines the location/time/destination/object: use に when you target something, like time, going to a place, or identifying the location of something.

友達に会う = Meet a friend.  私は木曜日に公演に行きます = I’m going to the park on Thursday.  鳥は外にいる = The bird is outside.

へ – directional particle: only use へ when motion is involved. コンビニへ行く = Go to the conbini (convenience store)

の – possessive particle: this is the equivalent of the English ‘s, as well as something being ‘of’ something.

こ れは誰の靴? = Whose shoes are these? 真理子ちゃんのだ = Mariko’s. メアリーさんはアメリカの大学生です = Mary is an American college student (college student of America)

と – inclusive and marker particle: this is the ‘and’ and ‘with’ particle, but it also marks when a quotation or thought ends.

今 日「となりのトトロ」と「アキラ」を見た = (I) watched ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ and ‘Akira’ today. 彼氏と話さなかった = I didn’t talk with my boyfriend. サメはかわいいと思う = I think sharks are cute.  お母さんは明日買い物に行こうと言った = Mom said ‘Let’s go shopping tomorrow’.

で – location and instrument particle: this one tells you the exact location of the action and with what object you completed the action.

日本人ははしで食べます = Japanese people eat with chopsticks.  図書館で勉強する = Study in the library.  毎日自転車で学校に行った = I went to school everyday by bike.

か –  question and choice particle: か indicates when a question is asked both within and at the end of a sentence, but it can also be used within a phrase to indicate choice.

泳げますか? = Can you swim?  いつか日本に来る? = When will you come to Japan?  今食べるかどうか分からない = I don’t know whether to eat now (or not).

 

Overview

Yay, you made it through this article!! Thanks for bearing with me. Let’s recap what you read. In the first article on Japanese Sentence Structure, I gave you some background information on languages, how some are genetically and structurally similar (genetic affiliation and language families), why Japanese seems and actually is so much harder than other languages (it’s an orphan).

The linguistics info in the beginning of the first article may seem a bit pointless, but as someone interested in languages you may want to know which ones could be relatively easy for you to learn and which ones could make you cry at night (*cough* Japanese *cough*). Actually, I’ve noticed that a lot of people who know that I speak Japanese ask me why I don’t also learn Mandarin or Korean since they’re so ‘similar’. But as we learned today, they’re nothing like each other, with the exception of Chinese characters (a lot of which aren’t actually the same when translating from Japanese kanji to Chinese hanzi).

In the second article, I talked about the oh so important Japanese particles, and how each placement of a particle helps determine meaning and the relationship of words to each other.

Please remember that languages are like the countries they’re from; some may be similar, others completely different from each other, but none are the same. Regardless of how similar your native language is to another, they’re actually different.

Helper Links!

For more on the linguistics you learned today, check out these books (or take a linguistics class):

The Languages of Japan – Shibatani Masayoshi

Japanese Linguistics, An Introduction – Yamaguchi Toshiko

Need some more help with particles? Look at these sites:

Introduction to Particles

Particles Used With Verbs

Noun-related Particles

Jim’s Japanese Grammar Summary

Some Notes on Japanese Grammar

 

Thanks for reading and 頑張ってください!

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