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What exactly is the Japanese particle? A quick search may tell you that particles are postpositions with no conjugations and come after other words to reflect defined grammatical relationships. Well, don’t be perplexed by this sequence of terms! Actually, learning Japanese particles can be pretty simple! This article aims to help you grasp Japanese particles in an easy-to-understand way. Bookmark it first if you want to learn later!
First, let’s clarify the fundamental logic of the particle. A particle is just like a nametag that indicates the grammar component of one or more words in a sentence. For example, You can compare a sentence to a kingdom, where the subject is the King, and が is the crown that’s always placed atop his head. Similarly, each grammar component has its own symbol to indicate its role.
Since each particle suggests a different “identity,” variations in particles can completely change a sentence’s meaning. Here is an interesting example for you to get a sense of what I mean 👇
私が 窓を 割った。
(watashiga madowo watta)
I broke the glass.
私を 窓が 割った。
(watashiwo madoga watta)
The glass broke me.
In this article, I’ll introduce you to the primary uses of the ten most common Japanese particles. If you can master the following content as a beginner, then that means you’re off to a great start with Japanese grammar! By the way, to follow along with this article, it’d be best to have a basic understanding of Japanese sentences.
は is the first particle that many Japanese learners encounter. Despite seeing it from the start, they never really comprehend its meaning. First of all, there is no preposition or other counterpart that corresponds to it in English. Secondly, as one of the fundamental particles in Japanese, the usage of は is impossible to summarize in a single sentence. But no worries, I’m only going to show you its two most crucial uses. If you master them well, you will be able to handle most applications.
Cue the topic, limiting the follow-up content
は serves to qualify the subject of a sentence. Many beginners mistake は for the particle that indicates the subject when that is actually が. Although there is no literal translation of は in English, we can tentatively think of it as “As for” to make it easier to understand. However, it’s significant to note that は appears much more frequently than “As for” in English and is more widely used.
(jeriha nihongo no sensei desu)
As for Jerry, (he) is a Japanese language teacher.
(jitsuha, watashimo shirimasen)
To be honest, I don’t know either.
Emphasis on contrast
As mentioned above, は serves to qualify the topic, not suggest the subject as many tend to think. Although it is used with the subject most of the time, it canalso function with other sentence components (e.g., object, gerund, etc.) to create contrast in some cases.
(tenisuha suki dehaarimasen)
As for tennis, (I) don’t like (it).
This sentence would normally be “テニスが好きではありません” but replacing が with は implies a contrast ー I don’t really like tennis (but I like basketball or something else).
ラビットは 野菜は 食べます。魚は 食べません。
(rabittoha yasaiha tabemasu. sakanaha tabemasen)
As for the rabbit, (they) eat vegetables, but (they) don’t eat fish.
Similarly, this sentence would have initially been “ラビットは野菜を 食べます. 魚を 食べません.” The particle は replaces を as the object, contrasting the vegetables with the fish.
As stated previously, が is used to suggest the subject, just like the king’s crown indicating whoever is the king (subject). Japanese learners always mix up が and は. Indeed, they both have overlapping uses and distinctly separate uses, which can be hard to differentiate.
It could be said that a serious comparison between が and は would be enough for a Japanese language researcher to complete a master’s thesis. Again, I will only introduce two of the most common uses of が.
Cue the subject
Although は often replaces this function of が as a subject, in many cases, が has an irreplaceable role.
象は 鼻が 長いです。
(zouha hanaga nagai desu)
As for the elephant, (its) nose is long.
In this sentence, は suggests the topic of the elephant, which means that the sentence is about something related to the elephant. The latter が suggests the subject. What is long? The nose（鼻が）! The following example may help you better understand the difference between は and が when they both act as subjects.
(watashiha jerii desu)
As for me, (my name) is Jerry.
(watashiga jerii desu)
I am Jerry.
Used in declarative sentences
Unlike は, which is often used in judgment sentences, が is used in declarative sentences. You may be wondering what the difference is between a declarative sentence and a judgment sentence. In a nutshell, a declarative sentence describes a thing someone sees or experiences without any modification. Meanwhile, a judgment sentence incorporates someone’s subjective judgment.
Declarative sentence：雪が 降ります。
(describing natural phenomena)
Judgment sentence：ラーメンは 美味しいです。
(only the speaker feels it delicious, others may not think so)
The above is one of the most common differences between が and は. But of course, as I noted before, there are more complications between が and は than that. The complexity of Japanese grammar nags at many people. After reaching a higher level, you will gradually unlock a better understanding.
What’s more, many newbies feel baffled between the particle “が” and the question marker “か.” In reality, the difference between them is more than just the two missing points.
The particle “か” is a question marker that follows the end of a sentence and transforms a declarative sentence into a question sentence. I think this rule is much simpler than the English one, don’t you?
Cherry blossoms have bloomed.
Have the cherry blossoms bloomed?
へ suggests the destination to which the subject is moving. Imagine that you want to fly from New York to Manchester and you need to buy a plane ticket (in case you don’t own a private plane). へ works just like this ticket, telling the flight attendant where you are going.
来週、私は 米国へ 行きます。
(raisyuu, watashiha beikokuhe ikimasu)
I will go to the U.S. next week.
(kinou, byouinhe ikimashita)
Yesterday, (I) went to the hospital.
で is probably the particle with the most uses. Although there are many, they are not difficult to understand because each usage has its own unique features. As a beginner, if you can understand a few of them, you will be able to use them in most situations
Indicates where the action takes place
教室で 手紙を 書きました。
(kyoushitsude tegamiwo kakimashita)
(I) wrote a letter in the classroom.
Indicates methods, tools, instruments
教室で 日本語で 手紙を 書きました。
(kyoushitsude nihongode tegamiwo kakimashita)
I wrote a letter in Japanese in the classroom.
In this sentence, two で appear – the first で suggests where writing the letter takes place, and the second で indicates the language (method) used to write the letter. After all, there are also two in’s in the English translation. However, this is not always the case, as in the following example.
電車で 東京へ 行きます。
(densyade toukyouhe ikimasu)
(I) will go to Tokyo by train.
The above で suggests the means of transportation to Tokyo. Recall that the prepositions used in English to suggest methods, tools, instruments are “in, by, through, as, with, etc.” Yet, the Japanese preposition で is an all-purpose card. Isn’t that easy?
Indicates the range (time, space)
ここは 日本で 一番美味しいレストランだ。
(kokoha nihonde ichiban oishii resutoranda)
This is the best restaurant in Japan.
(ichinen no nakade mottomo isogashii jiki)
The busiest time of the year.
Indicates the conditions
Different grammar books may subdivide the examples given below. But please think deeply about the fact that their meanings semantically come from one origin.
(sansatsude roppyakuen desu)
Three books cost 600 Yen.
（In the case of buying three books, it is $600, but it does not mean that buying one book must be $200. The three books here indicate a situation.）
クラスの皆で 一緒に 寿司を作ります。
(kurasunominade issyoni sushiwo tsukurimasu)
The class will make sushi together.
(In what context will sushi be made? Together with the class)
Many beginners tend to think of と as “and” in English, but this is only partially true. The use of と to express juxtaposition is far less widespread than “and.”
と is usually used only in juxtaposing a complete count. If you want to exemplify something, then や is appropriate for an incomplete count.
(kudamonoha, ichigoto bananaga sukidesu)
As for fruit, (I) like strawberries and bananas. (that’s all, nothing else)
(kudamonoha, ichigoya banananadoga sukidesu)
As for fruit, (I) like strawberries, bananas, etc. (examples only, maybe something else)
Also, when you want to express that a person and another person are doing something simultaneously, you need to be careful with the position of と.
私は 母と 一緒に 寿司を作った。
(watashiha hahato issyoni sushiwo tsukutta)
I made sushi with my mother.
を is also one of the essential particles in Japanese. Its most prominent use is to indicate the object. If you’ve ever played a shooting game, you must be familiar with the fact that the scope on a sniper rifle helps you aim at the prey or the enemy. を is like such a scope, aiming at the receptor (object) of an action.
晩ご飯は、 私が リンゴを 食べました。
(bangohanha, watashiga ringowo tabemashita)
As for the dinner, I ate an apple.
In this sentence, は is suggestive of the subject, telling us that what follows is related to dinner. が plays the crown, signifying the subject (私). Furthermore, “食べました” is the verb that acts as the predicate, like a gun that goes through the scope (を) and aims at the target (リンゴ). The following example is interesting and more intuitive.
キングが ラビットを 射殺した。
(kinguga rabittowo syasatsushita)
The king fired a shot at the rabbit.
This is also a Japanese particle that gives many beginners a headache. Again, many grammar books or articles will break it down into many uses. Still, you need to remember only one original meaning, which indicates someone or something’s belongings.
(watashi no senseiha yasashii desu)
My teacher is gentle.
(areha jeriisan no kutsu desu)
Those are Jerry’s shoes.
Additionally, の can also be used as a pronoun, equivalent to “one”. Especially when something has already been mentioned, の can be used to replace that item.
(akai sukaatoha doudesuka)
How about the red skirt?
ーこの白いのは より良いだと 思います。
(kono shiroinoha yoriyoidato omoimasu)
I prefer the white one.
に, like で, has many uses and is a model worker in the world of particles.
Indicates a place where some things exist in
First of all, に can be used to indicate a place, and such sentences are often translated as “There is/are…in…”. Perhaps you understand it simply as ”in“, but if you just mechanically memorize it like that, you will likely confuse it with で. Please note that で suggests the place where the action takes place, and に suggests the place where the object exists. Here is a set of examples.
遊園地に 子供が たくさん います。
(yuuenchini kodomoga takusan imasu)
There are many children in the amusement park.
遊園地で アイスクリームを 買いました。
(yuuenchide aisukuriimuwo kaimashita)
(I) bought an ice cream in the amusement.
The following example is similar to the one above. They are actually from the same origin and suggest an attachment point for something.
ここに 名前を 書いてください。
(kokoni namaewo kaitekudasai)
Please write your name here.
Indicates specific time
The third use of に is to indicate absolute time, which you can think of as “at.” Generally speaking, time concepts involving numbers, such as “May 2” and “7:50,” are indicated by に. In addition, it can sometimes be added to the days of the week.
I wake up at 7.
(mokuyoubini shikenga arimasu)
The exam will be on Wednesday.
The usage of も is straightforward – it has the role of が indicating the subject, and on top of that, it has the additional meaning of “also.” In English, it is equivalent to “also,” “as well,” or “either.”
(nikusonmo amerikajin desu)
Nickson is also American.
It can also be used with the negative form of verbs and adjectives to indicate complete negation.
（I don’t know anything）
Admittedly, Japanese particles are not a piece of cake. It would be best to practice them repeatedly based on a complete understanding in order to master them. This is why an efficient and professional tool will be essential for your study.
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