16 Most Common Japanese Particles | An Essential Guide for 2023
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!
What are particles in Japanese?
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 16 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 can also 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。
(rabittoha yasaiwo tabemasu. sakanawo tabemasen)
As for the rabbit, (they) eat vegetables, but (they) don’t eat fish.
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.
Many newbies feel baffled between the particle “が (ga)” and the question marker “か (ka).” 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。
(denshade 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.
一年の中で もっとも 忙しい時期。
(ichinen no nakade mottomo isogashiijiki.)
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)
Indicates raw materials
In the previous section, we discussed that から can be used to cue raw materials. で can also be used to indicate raw materials. The difference between them is that the raw materials suggested by で are often directly observable to naked eyes.
この机は 木で 作ったのです。
(konotsukueha kide tsukuttanodesu.)
This desk was made of wood.
紙で 飛行機を 作ります。
(kamide hikoukiwo tsukurimasu.)
Make airplanes out of paper.
と (to) and や(ya)
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)
果物は、イチゴやバナナ ( など ) が 好きです。
(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.
Indicates direct object
を is also one of the essential particles in Japanese. Its most prominent use is to indicate the direct 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 (direct 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.
Just like に, を also has an essential fixed collocation with the verb 降りる (おりる, get off). I won’t expand on why it’s like this as it’s easier to just remember it as a collocation for now.
(I) get off the train.
The above sentence shows how to express “getting off the train” from the angle of this action’s subject. However, different perspectives require different particles. For example, if you are standing on the platform and see your wife getting off the train, you need to use the particle “から.”
妻は 電車から 降りる。
(tsumaha denshakara oriru.)
My wife gets off the train.
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 jeriisanno 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?
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.
Indirect object of an action
While を is used to cue a direct object, as we mentioned earlier. に can be used to cue the person who is the recipient of an action, aka, the indirect object as linguists put it. Meanwhile, the object or thing receiving an action from a transitive verb is called a direct object.
彼女に プレゼントを 贈りました。
(kanojoni purezentowo okurimashita.)
(I) gave my girlfriend a gift.
(I) meet the teacher.
subject of the action
As we mentioned in the previous section, the particles は and が can be used to cue the subject in active sentences. Nonetheless, in passive sentences, the subject of an action is indicated by に.
(I) praised by the teacher.
板野さんは 会長に 叱られました。
(itanosanha kaichoni shikararemashita.)
Itano-san was criticized by the boss.
Express a purpose
In Japanese, the most basic sentence structure to express purpose is verb stem form or noun +に + 行く. If you understand this, you can quickly master a series of expressions such as “I’m going to do sth”, “I went doing sth” and so on.
I am going fishing.
(I) went shopping.
Another use of に is to indicate means of transportation. You may come across the phrase “xx に 乗る (get on)” very often at early stages of Japanese learning. As you have guessed, here に is used to indicate means of transportation.
(I) get on the train.
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.”
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）
から is one of the few particles in Japanese that consists of two kana. It has several meanings and uses. At first glance, they seem very different. But a closer look shows an underlying logic: almost all of them are related to the meaning of “source.”
Indicate starting point
First, let’s learn two examples of how から is used to indicate the starting point of time. In such cases, they are always placed after time-related nouns like “いつ (itsu)”, “三時 (sanji)” and “何時 (nanji)”.
いつから 日本語を 勉強していますか。
(itsukara nihongowo benkyoushimashitaka.)
How long have you been studying Japanese?
会議は 三時から 始まります。
(kaigiha sanjikara hajimarimasu.)
The meeting will begin at three p.m.
Likewise, から can also indicate the starting point of space, which is similar to “from” in English.
Where did you come from?
I just came from Osaka.
In addition, から can also indicate the starting point of some abstract concepts. For example:
一番の学生から 順番に 発表します。
(ichibannogakuseikara junbanni happyoshimasu.)
The presentations will be made in order.
Indicates the subject of an action
Kara can also indicate an action’s subject, mainly in receiving and giving phrases – use から to indicate the giver if it’s an organization.
図書館から 本を もらいました。
(toshokankara honwo moraimashita.)
I received a book from the library.
If the giver is a person, then use に.
先生に 教えて もらいました。
(senseini oshiete moraimashita.)
My teacher taught me.
Indicates raw materials
Sometimes から indicates the raw material from which something is made. It’s important to note that unlike で, which suggests raw material has not gone through major changes before becoming the final product, から is often used in cases when a chemical change has occurred or when the raw material can’t be spotted by naked eyes. You can also refer to the differences between “made of” and “made from” in English.
ワイン は 葡萄から 作られています。
(wainha budoukara tsukuraretemasu.)
Wine is made from grapes.
ビール は 麦から 造られました。
(biiruha mugikara tsukuraremashita.)
Beer was made from wheat.
Quite unlike any of the uses above, から can also be used to express reasons like “because”, “since”, and “so”. The から part is mostly placed at the beginning of a sentence. Here are two examples
It’s a rule, so please follow it.
(kyouha amedakara sentakuwoshimasen.)
It’s raining today, so I won’t be doing laundry.
Indicates the end of time or space
As we have already mentioned, から can indicate the starting point of time or space. Conversely, まで indicates the ending point of time or space. まで is often combined with から together, and they appear simultaneously. Of course, they can also be used separately.
上海から 東京まで 飛行機で 行きます。
(shanhaikara toukyoumade hikoukide ikimasu.)
We will fly from Shanghai to Tokyo.
(I) work until nine o’clock.
Many beginners are confused about the difference between まで and までに. But it’s actually not that difficult to distinguish them.
まで refers to the end of continuous verbs. What is a continuous verb? It is an action that can be sustained for a while, such as “eating,” “sleeping,” “studying,” etc. In the above example, “働く(hataraku)” is a typical continuous verb, meaning working.
The word “までに” is mainly used to express a momentary verb that must be completed before a specific time. Momentary verbs are not sustainable, such as “come,” “go,” “submit,” etc.
三月五日までに 論文を 提出してください。
(sangatsuitsukamadeni ronbunwo teishutsushitekudasai.)
Papers must be submitted by March 5.
Don’t worry if you find this a bit difficult, as you will notice their differences gradually as you progress in Japanese with a comprehensive learning tool like LingoDeer.
ね (ne) and よ (yo)
ね and よ are two of the most common modal particles in Japanese with quite different usages. Although there are many nuances between them, as beginners, we only need to remember the following rules.
ね expresses agreement with the others based on a shared understanding of the issue or seeking the other’s approval for one’s inferences or judgments.
A：いい天気ですね。- It’s nice weather.
よ is used to emphasize one’s judgment or assertion, and to inform or remind others about something they may not have noticed, should know, or should do.
あの レストランは 美味しいですよ。
That restaurant is delicious.
The most typical use of the particle より is that it introduces comparison. In such a case, より can be translated to “than” in English.
北京は 東京より 寒いです。
(pekkinha toukyouyori samuidesu.)
Beijing is colder than Tokyo.
倉本より 中野のほうが 金持ちです。
(kuramotoyori nakanonohouga kanemochidesu.)
Nakano is richer than Kuramoto.
In the second example, “Noun 1 より Noun 2 のほうが Adj. or Noun” is a basic comparative sentence structure. meaning “Noun 2 is more xxx than Noun 1”.
Distinguish movement indicators へ, に, and を
Dear reader, you may be wondering – what is it for this part? OK, I‘m glad to explain—
All these three articles are related to movement, but there are subtle differences among their uses. Take a look at the image below to better understand them.
As you can see, the particle を suggests the displacement trajectory created during the climb, focusing on the route.
(yamawo nobotte, tomodachinoieni ikimasu.)
I went over a mountain to a friend’s home.
に emphasizes that “climbing” is an action, not a displacement trajectory. At the same time, に gives the impression that the goal is to reach the top of the mountain, while を places more emphasis on the process.
(tenkigaiikara, yamani noborimasho.)
It’s a lovely day! Let’s climb the mountain.
In the example example, the emphasis of the particle へ is on the journey (from home to the foot of the mountain). へ gives the impression of being on the way to a specific destination. What you will do (climbing or circling the mountain) when you arrive at the foot of the hill is not the sentence’s focus.
(kurumade yamahe ikimasu.)
We will drive to the mountain.
I know the above discussions are a bit difficult, and I am indeed being strict with my beginner friends. It’s okay if you don’t understand this part.
Dear reader, have you noticed that the special rules I have mentioned in the を and に section are not actually “special.” Last, let’s have a look at an easier example.
体育館へ 泳ぎに 行きます。
(taiikukanhe oyogini ikimasu.)
(I) go swimming at the gym.
In this example, “the gym” is not the purpose but only the place I’m going to. I’m actually up to “go swimming,” which is indicated by に。
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.
LingoDeer is an excellent online tool for learning Japanese particles and other Japanese language knowledge. The courses are organized scientifically and systematically, and they are also very interesting.
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I have been studying Japanese for 1 year. Japanese seems easy but it might also be confusing; each particle can have several different meanings and usages. Thank you for sharing!
So helpful! Thanks for sharing this about Japanese! Gotta keep pracitcing