Complete introduction to Particles in Japanese
Anna Baffa VolpeGet in touch with me
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 助詞:
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:
A simply expression where London represents the noun and へ (read
e) the particle that indicates directions and destinations.
The noun in this case is 友達,
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 は (
ha, which is read wa) representing the subject/theme of the sentence.
It is often used in conjunction with the verb 'be' or copula 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.
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.
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 (
as well, can be used alone as a particle or combined with others.
John is American, Linda is American too.
We can connect the two sentences as the exemple:
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.
が is a particle that emphasises the element it refers to.
I saw a friend crossing the street.
In the relative clauses, the particle が is used to indicate the subject.
The letter that a friend wrote to me.
I won't go out because it's raining.
The meaning is
considering the fact that it's raining, I won't go out.
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 + 好きだ
We find が with the interrogative pronouns:
Who?(polite way to ask)
What does it start?
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.
A book of history
Linda's younger brother
Possessive adjectives are expressed using the particle の
私 の バッグ
彼女 の 名前
私達 の 学校
o follows a noun representing the object in the sentence with a transitive verb and answers the questions:
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 歩く (
to walk), 走る (
to run) or 出る (
to go out) carry the particle を and are considered transitive verbs in Japanese.
I walk down the street
I run in the park
I get out of home
I get off the bus
The particle に
ni has several uses and meanings. Let's have a look at the main ones:
- Expression of time, when?. It expresses the
timeat which an action is performed
The lesson starts at 8 a.m.
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)
Where is the Eiffel tower? It's in Paris.
There are children in the park.
There is also a dog.
There are also flowers.
Get to Tokyo
Where are you going?
- に also indicates the person to whom one has given something or towards whom a person has performed the action.
We phone to our friends
I make a question to the teacher.
I was praised by the teacher.
The combination of particles から-まで expresses From (start point) ... to (finish point) in term of time and distance.
From London to York
From Osaka to Kyoto
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.
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.
from Monday to Friday
As we have seen above, the particle へ (
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.
Welcome to Japan!
I go outside.
Put (something) into an envelope.
へ is also used as a term to which we turn our actions.
I gave my mother a present.
Also in this case it can be replaced by に.
I gave my mother a present.
Among the various uses the particle で (
de) has, we find the place where an action takes place.
I study at the library.
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.
I get back home by train.
I cut vegetables with a knife.
Things you can do using the computer.
で used also to say
in what language
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.
Me and you
Coffee and cookies
と can also be used to say with or together with.
I go out with some friends.
I had lunch with my classmates.
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!