Complete introduction to Particles in Japanese

Author Anna Baffa Volpe for article 'Complete introduction to Particles in Japanese'

Anna Baffa Volpe

12 min reading time

Today we are introducing a part of the Japanese grammar that is fundamental to analyse and understand a text: the Particles.

Particles in Japanese language are called joshi (じょ)():

  • 助 means help, aid

  • 詞 represents the particle

They are also called postpositions because, unlike prepositions, they follow the noun or the element they are modifying

What are Particles

A particle in Japanese is a term that does not have a meaning in itself (like a noun or verb) but it's very important because it is necessary to specify the meaning of the sentence and the relationships among the various parts of the sentence.

Let's have a look at some simple examples:

ロンドンへ

To London

A simply expression where London represents the noun and へ (read e) the particle that indicates directions and destinations.

(とも)(だち)

With friends

The noun in this case is (とも)(だち), friend or friends, and the particle と (to) used to indicate the preposition with or together with.

Particles are a particular and specific concept in Japanese language, and do not exist in many other languages, in particular Western languages

In this post, we are going through the commonly used particles in the language, in the daily conversation, their peculiarities and their use.

The first particle we generally learn is (ha, which is read wa) representing the subject/theme of the sentence.

japaneseenglish
助詞-は-, the particle Wa

It is often used in conjunction with the verb 'be' or copula da.

(かれ)(せん)(しゅ)だ。

He is an athlete.

The concept expressed is as far as he is concerned or concerning him, but these expressions are not usually translated literally

は can be replaced by the particle も (mo) which we translate also, too.

(わたし)(せん)(しゅ)だ。

I'm also an athlete.

The particle は is used also to indicate the object or emphasise other parts of the sentence such as place and time expressions.

(こう)(えん)には(だれ)もいない。

There is nobody in the park.

には as we can see, goes to emphasize the place, in this case expressed by the park.

As we have just seen, the particle も (mo) meaning also, in addition, as well, can be used alone as a particle or combined with others.

ジョンはアメリカ(じん)です。リンダもアメリカ(じん)です。

John is American, Linda is American too.

We can connect the two sentences as the exemple:

ジョンもリンダもアメリカ(じん)です。

Both John and Linda are American.

ga as particle is associated with the subject of the sentence.

The concept of subject is particular and different in the various languages. Consider that very often what we consider subject in Japanese is omitted.

As you can read in the various sentences and examples in this post, the subject is often not expressed.

Japanese verb conjugations are independent of person, number and gender

We often use the first person in the translations, but since the subject is not being specified, you can also use the second or third person, at the singular or plural form.

The situation and the context are fundamental to understand the meaning and to make an accurate translation of the sentence.

is a particle that emphasises the element it refers to.

dreamscometrue
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(とも)(だち)(どう)()(わた)るのを()た。

I saw a friend crossing the street.

In the relative clauses, the particle が is used to indicate the subject.

(とも)(だち)()いてくれた()(がみ)

The letter that a friend wrote to me.

(あめ)()っているので()かけない。

I won't go out because it's raining.

The meaning is considering the fact that it's raining, I won't go out.

()(ども)はお()()()きだ。

Children love sweets.

The verbs to like, to love have a particular construction with the use of the two particles は and が: subject + は + the thing liked + が + ()きだ

We find が with the interrogative pronouns:

  • だれが Who? (confidential)

  • どなたが Who? (polite way to ask)

  • (なに)What?

  • どれが Which?

  • どこが Where?

(なに)(はじ)まるの?

What does it start?

どこが(いた)いですか。

Where does it hurt?

(no) expresses what we call the genitive case and emphasises the relationship between the term preceding and the term following it.

(れき)()(ほん)

A book of history

リンダの(おとうと)

Linda's younger brother

Possessive adjectives are expressed using the particle の

  • (わたし) の バッグ my bag

  • (かの)(じょ)()(まえ) her name

  • (わたし)(たち)(がっ)(こう) our school

japanesemangaandanime
Kimi no na wa, 君の名は, Japanese film written and directed by Makoto Shinkai

o follows a noun representing the object in the sentence with a transitive verb and answers the questions: who?, what?.

(ほん)()む。

I read a book.

What are intransitive verbs in many other foreign languages are instead transitive in Japanese, so the translation could be a little bit different

For example, the verbs of motion (ある)く (to walk), (はし)る (to run) or ()る (to go out) carry the particle を and are considered transitive verbs in Japanese.

(みち)(ある)

I walk down the street

(こう)(えん)(はし)る。

I run in the park

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(いえ)()る。

I get out of home

バスを()りる。

I get off the bus

The particle ni has several uses and meanings. Let's have a look at the main ones:

  • Expression of time, when?. It expresses the time at which an action is performed

レッスンは()(ぜん)()(はじ)まる。

The lesson starts at 8 a.m.

()()1()(しょく)()する。

We have lunch at 1 p.m.

  • To express place , where?. に is used particularly with what we call verbs of existence, ある and いる that we translate both as to be. Living things get いる (iru), and non-living things get ある (aru)

エフェル(とう)はどこにありますか。パリにあります。

Where is the Eiffel tower? It's in Paris.

(こう)(えん)()(ども)がいます。

There are children in the park.

(いぬ)もいます。

There is also a dog.

(はな)もあります。

There are also flowers.

(とう)(きょう)()く。

Get to Tokyo

どこに()くの?

Where are you going?

  • also indicates the person to whom one has given something or towards whom a person has performed the action.

(とも)(だち)(でん)()する。

We phone to our friends

(せん)(せい)(しつ)(もん)する。

I make a question to the teacher.

(せん)(せい)()められた。

I was praised by the teacher.

から-まで

The combination of particles から-まで expresses From (start point) ... to (finish point) in term of time and distance.

ロンドンから

From London

ロンドンからヨークまで

From London to York

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(おお)(さか)から(きょう)()まで

From Osaka to Kyoto

(いえ)から(がっ)(こう)まで(ある)いて15(ふん)かかる。

From home to school it takes 15 minutes walking.

どこから from where, どこまで to where

The most common way to ask someone in Japanese where they are from is with a sentence containing から.

どちらからですか。

Where are you from?

The adverb that translates where is どこ, but using only どこ in this expression would be too direct and not very kind.

It is preferred to use another form どちら which is more discreet and polite.

(げつ)(よう)()から(きん)(よう)()まで

from Monday to Friday

As we have seen above, the particle (he) is read e and has several uses.

Just like the particle に (ni), へ (e) is used to indicate destination or direction. They are translated as to in English and are often interchangeable.

()(ほん)へようこそ!

Welcome to Japan!

japanesemanga
Dayan the cat goes to Japan

(そと)()る。

I go outside.

(ふう)(とう)()れる。

Put (something) into an envelope.

へ is also used as a term to which we turn our actions.

(かあ)さんへプレゼントしてきた。

I gave my mother a present.

Also in this case it can be replaced by に.

(かあ)さんにプレゼントしてきた。

I gave my mother a present.

Among the various uses the particle で (de) has, we find the place where an action takes place.

()(しょ)(かん)(べん)(きょう)する。

I study at the library.

(ゆう)便(びん)(きょく)(はたら)く。

I work at the Post Office.

The means by which an action is completed. It could be a means of transport we use to move or a tool we use to do something.

(でん)(しゃ)(いえ)(かえ)る。

I get back home by train.

ナイフで()(さい)()る。

I cut vegetables with a knife.

コンピューターで()()ること。

Things you can do using the computer.

japaneseenglish
How to write a japanese mail in Japanese language 日本語で

で used also to say in what language

  • (えい)()in English

  • フランス()in French

The particle と (to) is used to connect two nouns in a sentence: we translate it as and. It cannot be used to connect phrases or clauses in the sentence.

(ぼく)(きみ)

Me and you

コーヒーとクッキー

Coffee and cookies

と can also be used to say with or together with.

(とも)(だち)()る。

I go out with some friends.

クラスメートと(しょく)()してきた。

I had lunch with my classmates.

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Use of に or と in the sam sentence

We have a sentence that uses に (ni) and と (to) and the meaning has a slight difference:

  • With に the direction of the action is one-way, from a person to another

  • With と we have an action shared by the persons, a mutual communication or we can say two-way


That's it! Now you have a more clear understanding of what a particle is and how they work. You also know the most frequent and used particles in the Japanese Language. ご苦労様!

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