Japanese Particles (and Similar Things)

Particles are probably the single most important aspect of Japanese grammar. They're also one of the more difficult parts to understand. Oddly enough, if you're trying to speak Japanese and care more about being understood than being correct, you may be better off leaving out particles if you're unsure of how to use them. You'll sound a lot like a little kid, and will be harder to understand than if you used particles correctly, but it's usually not that difficult for native speakers to fill in the conceptual blanks, and using a particle in the wrong place is generally worse. (Refer to just about anything Ayla or her contemporaries say in Chrono Trigger; try the Footprints! Pursuit!! chapter for some examples).

Although particles somewhat resemble prepositions in English, they have no meaning of their own. A particle simply affects the functions of words, phrases, and sentences, and the interrelations between them.

English words, such as prepositions, that have functions similar to particles usually come before what they modify. Japanese particles, on the other hand, always come after what they affect. Particles that mark words come after the word, those that mark phrases come after the phrase, and those that affect entire sentences come at the end of the sentence. Be careful that they're really affecting what you think they are.

 

In addition to many common (and some uncommon) particles, I have listed a number of things that are similar enough to particles to be confused. Actually, I'm not sure how you can tell (from a dictionary, anyway) exactly what is and isn't a particle, or even whether the distinction is clear anyway, but in any case, if it acts like a particle, this is where I'm putting it.

 

Entries on this page are sorted in Japanese dictionary order.



か (ka)

Marking questions:

This comes at the end of a sentence to form a question. It's all you need to turn a statement into a query, no rearranging required. Question marks are a relatively new concept in Japanese, and are not always used on questions, especially in more formal language.

On a sentence with a nonpast negative verb, it acts as an invitation:

Informal questions frequently drop か and, like English, tend to rely on a rising intonation (in speech) or a question mark (in writing) to indicate that it's a question.

Embedded questions:

A question phrase can be used as part of a larger sentence, as in English. Just put the question in short form, with か on the end, and plug it in.

The complication is that yes/no questions usually end in かどうか (ka dou ka), roughly equivalent to "whether or not" when used this way. It's not uncommon for people to use just か in conversation, however, even though using かどうか with questions that don't already have a question word is more correct, just as English speakers often use "if" where "whether" would be more proper.

Questions that would end in んですか (n desu ka) or an equivalent form use のか (no ka) at the end when used in a larger sentence.

Alternatives:

か can be used to express alternatives within a sentence. The かどうか construct mentioned above is an idiomatic example of this.

"Any" versions of question words:

か frequently pairs with question words such as 誰 (dare, who) and 何 (nani, what), and longer question phrases, to create something like the "existential quantifier" in logic (∃), which basically means that the statement applies to at least one possible answer to the question, or that some accurate answer exists. Using 誰か (dare ka) means the statement applies to someone, but probably not everyone. When used like this, other particles used normally come after か.

いつの間にか (itsu no ma ni ka), a common phrase using this, translates directly to "during some period of time". However, the whole point of using the phrase is that you don't know when this period of time was, because it happened without your noticing. Consequently, it often translates more cleanly to "before I knew it".

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が (ga)

Marking subjects:

This may be simpler to understand than the topic particle は (wa), in as much as English already has grammatical subjects. The subject is just the noun the performs the action (or non-action, in some cases) indicated by the verb. Although the usage can get a bit odd with certain verbs and adjectives, that's probably more a complication in translating the verbs and adjectives than an oddity of が.

[person]は [attribute] [description] ([person] wa [attribute] ga [description]) normally appears when referring to a person's attributes (such as height, eyes, hair), rather than the [person]の [attribute]は [description] ([person] no [attribute] wa [description]) phrasing that English speakers tend to expect. Ownership, similarly, is usually [person]は [object] ある ([person] wa [object] ga aru) or [person]に [object] ある ([person] ni [object] ga aru), using the existence verb. Refer to the entry for は (wa) for a longer discussion of both cases.

Subordinate clauses in a sentence (those that aren't the main clause) will normally use が and not は (wa):

When a phrase modifies a noun, the particle の (no) may mark the subject of the phrase, instead of が.

In one case that deserves special mention, a verb in potential form will frequently attach が to the noun that would otherwise take the を (wo) object particle. The change appears to be optional for most verbs, but almost always occurs when the verb is 出来る (dekiru).

Contrast:

Add が to the end of a phrase X and follow it with another phrase Y to get one sentence essentially meaning "X, but Y". You can also attach が to the end of a sentence to make it more tentative (probably with an implied "but maybe not" nuance), or to seek a follow-up reply in a conversation.

This usage may also appear at the beginning of a sentence, as with "but" in English. So can だが (da ga), which combines the copula だ (da) with が. Here, だ effectively stands for something that is implied or has already been mentioned, and doesn't need to be repeated.

One variant of this that deserves special mention is when used after a volitional form verb. In this case, it's used to indicate that it doesn't matter which way the preceding phrase turns out. Think of this as like an "X may [happen/be], but" usage, if that helps. For an example, take 誰だろう (dare darou ga), roughly "it doesn't matter who [you/he/she/they] [is/are]" or "[you/he/she/they] could be anyone, but". Sometimes this appears with both positive and (literary) negative volitional forms, which makes it something like "whether or not", as in 行こう行くまい (ikou ga ikumai ga) meaning "whether [you/he/she/it/they/etc.] [go/goes] or not".

Possession (archaic):

In archaic language, the particle が may indicate possession much as の (no) does in the modern language. This usage of が does not appear in modern Japanese except in certain idioms, and occasionally in writing. It's fairly popular in fictional spell incantations, with phrases such as 汝力 (nanji ga chikara), which equates to "thy power".

This may be related to the overlap between が and の to mark subjects in descriptive phrases.

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かい (kai)

This elongated alternate form of か (ka) is more often used by males, and, oddly enough, in casual speech, where か itself is often left out. Unlike か, this will only appear at the end of a sentence.

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から (kara)

Origin:

Indicates the starting point of a movement, literal or figurative. Similar to "from" or "out of" in English.

Reasons:

Used at the end of a clause to indicate that it's a cause or reason for something else. When the cause phrase is part of the same sentence as the result phrase, the verb in the cause phrase usually stays in short form even in formal usage, though, of course, using long form anyway sounds more polite. Using it in a separate sentence is grammatical and even common in Japanese, although it tends to come out as an unsightly sentence fragment in a typical direct English translation. This usage is conceptually similar to the above one, since the reason is, in a sense, the origin of the other action.

After, or Ever Since:

A -te form verb followed by から and another phrase has two possible meanings. If what follows is an action, it means that the first phrase happens, and then the second does. In other words, the second phrase happens after the first. If what follows is a state or condition, it means that the condition has been true since the first phrase happened.

Commonly found in:

The "because of" sense of から is used in the standalone "word" だから (da kara), which combines the copula だ (da) with から. The だ there basically represents something that is implied or has already been mentioned, and doesn't need repeating. だから… resembles "because that is so...", or "therefore..." in meaning.

いいから (ii kara) literally means "because it's good", but it has a more idiomatic meaning. It tends to come up in directives, and seems to mean something more like "never mind the explanation, just do it already". An example dialog should help, even if it's fairly meaningless... maybe zombies are attacking or something, I don't know.

「ドアを閉めろ!」 (DOA wo shimero!) → "Shut the door!"

「ドアを? なんで?」 (DOA wo? Nan de?) → "The door? Why?"

いいから、はやく!」 (Ii kara, hayaku!) → "Just hurry up and do it!"

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から…まで (kara ... made)

Beginning and end:

A common combination often used to express start and end times, and occasionally other things like the start and end points of travel. Stick the beginning time before から and the ending time before まで, and that's all there is to it.

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くらい (kurai) and ぐらい (gurai)

Approximate figures:

Used with amounts to indicate approximations. Sometimes used in the sense of "at least enough to", even with things that aren't quantities. くらい and ぐらい seem to be completely interchangable.

くらい and ぐらい can also function in the sense of "as much as," similarly to 程 (hodo).

XはYくらい (or ぐらい), a more figurative usage, roughly means "just about the only X is/are Y".

I'd sooner ... than ... (-kurai nara):

XくらいならY (X kurai nara Y) roughly translates to "might as well Y as X", or "would rather Y than X" if Y is a statement of want or preference, or more generally to: "If the outcome is going to be, or would otherwise be, X, then Y instead." The implication, especially when contrasting with an unpleasant alternative, is that X is highly undesirable. As above, くらい and ぐらい are largely interchangable.

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けど (kedo), けれど (keredo)

Contrast:

Similar to "although". A sentence XけどY says that X is true, and goes on to add Y, though you might expect X to rule Y out. Unlike のに (no ni), けど can be used to connect phrases that aren't statements or questions, such as requests or suggestions.

Like が (ga), けど can also come at the end of a sentence in conversation to prompt for a response.

This is sometimes comparable to adding "why" to a question.

Variants:

けれど (keredo) is a more formal equivalent of けど. Either of these, but especially けれど, may be followed by も (mo) to increase the emphasis on the contrast.

Commonly found in:

けど is used in the standalone "word" だけど (da kedo), which combines the copula だ with けど. だ effectively stands for something that is implied or has already been mentioned, and doesn't need to be repeated. だけど… is similar in meaning to "although that is the case...", or "however...".

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こそ (koso)

Puts emphasis on the preceding word. Think of it as a verbal underline if that helps. Although more common in archaic Japanese, it remains in use in the modern language, but tends to be reserved for when something of a dramatic flair is desired.

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さ (sa)

Emphasis, or, uh, something:

See also よ (yo), ね (ne), な (na), わ (wa), ぜ (ze), and ぞ (zo), which all resemble it to some degree. さ is even more of a pain to explain than these similar particles. It can be used for emphasis, or to lighten a statement, or a few other ways. Maybe it adds something of a more flippant or offhand quality? Unfortunately, it's probably easier to pick it up through usage than trying to figure out from an explanation, even though I hate saying that.

Since I haven't been able to come up with any better way to explain it, here's a translation of various shades of meaning and examples as seen in the goo dictionary:

(at the end of a sentence)

(in the middle of a sentence)

Not to be confused with:

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さえ (sae)

さえ directly follows nouns. When used with a verb, さえ follows either the verb stem or -te form and is followed by a form of する (suru).

Even:

さえ resembles も (mo), but typically appears more often with negative conjugations to indicate a failure to reach an expected minimum. Like も, it tends to replace が (ga), は (wa), and を (wo).

Conversely, in the infrequent case that さえ appears with a positive conjugation, it suggests that this goes beyond all normal expectations.

さえ may also combine with も (mo), as さえも (sae mo), for further emphasis.

(If) only:

In conditional statements, さえ has more of an "if only" meaning. It denotes that no more than this is needed for the intended outcome. This may be used either in the sense of something that isn't the case, to indicate how much it would change things if it were, or in the sense of something that is the case, to indicate how much it would change things if it weren't.

See also:

すら (sura), functionally equivalent to さえ (sae), comes up much less often in normal usage.

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し (shi)

Multiple reasons:

This resembles から (kara) and ので (node), except that it indicates multiple reasons, some of which may be left unstated. The usage works just like から, with the addition that the reasons for a situation typically go either before the situation in the same sentence or after it in their own sentence.

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しか (shika)

Nothing but:

Indicates that an amount is all that there is, and that it's not much. Can also indicate that there are no other options. It's used with negative forms.

Compare with だけ (dake), which has a similar function, but pairs with positive forms and doesn't express dissatisfaction.

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じゃ (ja)

Contraction:

Though just a contraction of では (de wa), じゃ (ja) appears often enough to deserve its own entry. The most frequent use is in sentences of the form XはYじゃない / じゃありません (X wa Y ja nai / ja arimasen), meaning "X is not Y". Naturally, では itself can function the same way, and it typically does so in more formal usage.

Other uses typically function the same as the で (de) particle, with the は (wa) particle elevating the phrase to topic status.

Related:

Not to be confused with:

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すら (sura)

Even:

Another particle that highlights an exceptional example like も (mo). The usage and meaning are similar, though すら sounds much more bookish or archaic.

When used, this particle (normally) replaces the が (ga), は (wa), and を (wo) particles, and appears after all others except も.

すら may also be combined with も, as すらも (sura mo) for further emphasis.

Though functionally equivalent to さえ (sae), すら appears much less often in normal usage.

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ぜ (ze)

Variant emphasis:

Tacks onto the end of sentences and affects the tone. Although casual sentences often drop the copula だ (da) after nouns and -na adjectives, it usually remains when used with ぜ.

Generally a masculine particle, ぜ makes a sentence more assertive, and often adds a connotation of talking down to someone. Hotheaded characters use this all the time.

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ぞ (zo), ぞい (zoi)

Variant emphasis:

Both of these tack onto the end of sentences and affect the tone. Although casual sentences often drop the copula だ (da) after nouns and -na adjectives, it usually remains when used with either of these.

Generally a masculine particle, ぞ (zo) makes a sentence more assertive and confident. I've also noticed some female characters using it, but they generally have a tomboyish personality, a no-nonsense commanding attitude, or both. ぞ also tends to have a calmer tone than ぜ (ze), which otherwise resembles it to a fair degree.

If the example sentence above used ぜ instead, it would come across as more of a mocking boast or taunt, but the ぞ gives it something closer to an air of calm certainty.

ぞい (zoi), a variant, tends to go with quirky older men, at least in fiction. goo tells me it's also somewhat milder than ぞ.

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だい (dai)

Not really a particle, but related to かい (kai). In casual questions that would end in the copula だ (da), it sometimes gets exaggerated to だい (dai). This is generally a masculine usage and may be more common in certain dialects.

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だけ (dake)

General usage notes:

だけ attaches directly to nouns, verbs, and -i adjectives, but you must add な (na) when using it after a -na adjective. When a phrase ending in だけ modifies a noun, follow it with の (no).

Using だけ with nouns can get trickier. If you're making a statement about the noun, then it's [noun]だけ. On the other hand, if you're making the noun a descriptive word by talking about something else as being merely a [noun], then it's [noun]なだけ instead:

Only:

Indicates that the amount or thing indicated is all there is, similar to "only" or "just", but (at least in the case of amounts) that no more is required. Can be used with the meaning that there's enough for the task at hand, whether or not it's actually very much.

Compare with しか (shika), which has a similar meaning, but goes with negative forms and expresses more of a sense of dissatisfaction.

To that extent:

だけ can also express an extent, or how far something goes, much like 程 (hodo). This sense often pairs with a doubled verb or adjective, with the second in normal form and the first in provisional form (or add なら (nara) for -na adjectives) and the second in nonpast tense, or the first in conditional form and the second in past tense.

だけ also goes with potential form verbs to indicate doing something to the greatest extent possible.

Reason enough:

When used in the form だけあって (dake atte), or だけに (dake ni) to join two phrases, it indicates that the first phrase is sufficient to conclude or explain the second. だけのことはある (dake no koto wa aru) may also appear, and generally comes at the end of a separate sentence when it does.

Not to be confused with:

See けど (kedo) for the unrelated phrase だけど (da kedo).

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つー (tsuu)

Not truly a particle, this slurring of と言う (to iu) sometimes comes up in casual speech when the speaker doesn't bother to enunciate. For example, つーわけで (tsuu wake de) is just と言うわけで (to iu wake de).

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って (tte)

Verb ending:

If you see a って in Japanese text, first check to see whether it's part of the -te form of a verb ending with る (ru), う (u), or つ (tsu). This is almost definitely the case in formal Japanese, and is often so in casual as well.

Casual quotations:

って may also be a variant of the particle と (to), an abbreviation of といっている (to itte iru, "says...") or といっているもの (to itte iru mono, "person/thing called...") or various similar phrases, or a casual form of そうです (sou desu, "I hear that...").

Even:

Probably not a particle here, but adding って to a short past affirmative verb means roughly "even if [verb]". This equates to -te form + も (mo), but seems to add somewhat more emphasis.

This also works with nonpast negative verbs, which replace the final ~ない (-nai) with ~なくたって (-nakutatte). -i adjectives similarly replace the ~い (-i) with ~くたって (-kutatte).

The copula behaves somewhat differently. Instead of って appending to the past affirmative だった (datta), it fuses directly with the basic form だ (da) to result in だって (datte). This is fairly often used like も to "all-ify" question phrases, so, for example, 誰だって (dare datte) = 誰でも (dare de mo) = everyone.

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つつ (tsutsu)

PつつQ equates to "Q (even) while P". It resembles ながら (nagara), but with a more literary or archaic bent. つつ attaches to the verb stem.

~つつある (-tsutsu aru) means that something is in the process of happening.

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で (de)

Location:

Indicates where an action occurs, assuming a single location. This resembles "at" or "in". It can also work in some cases to indicate time.

Circumstances:

Indicates the conditions under which an action occurs. This can overlap with location/time in some cases.

This function of で appears in the phrase であります (de arimasu) that the copula です (desu) derives from. To be painfully literal, it would translate to something along the lines of "these are the circumstances under which things exist."

Means:

Indicates the means used to perform an action. This resembles "by", "with", or "using".

Marginally related:

で also functions as the -te form of the copula です (desu), possibly since the copula itself is abbreviated from である (de aru).

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でも (de mo)

Xでも equates to "X or something" and comes after other particles. Despite the impression that the simple English equivalent may give, this is not restricted to casual usage, and may appear in a formal context.

Be careful:

This looks just like another でも, the -te form of the copula, で (de), plus the particle も (mo), but the usage and meaning differ.

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と (to)

Togetherness:

と commonly connects two or more nouns with a meaning similar to "and" or "with".

Listing things with と as in the last example implies that there is nothing else to list. In this example, the indication is that books and pens are the only things on the desk. When giving examples from a potentially longer list, use や (ya) or とか (to ka) instead of と.

One, possibly less obvious, use of this is in the phrase Xと同じ (X to onaji) or Xと同じく (X to onajiku), which mean "the same as X" or "just like X". 同じ (onaji) is a rentaishi, a special type of adjective that doesn't conjugate, while 同じく (onajiku) is an adverb.

Conditionals:

When used after a phrase in short form and followed by another phrase, it means that the second phrase is so whenever the first is.

This usage will sometimes appear at the end of a sentence as a shortening of といけない (to ikenai) after a negative verb. いけない literally means "can't go", but is used with a generic "not good" meaning. The doubled negative basically says that not doing whatever is not okay (therefore it must be done). Refer to the related ~なくてはいけない (-nakute wa ikenai) construct for further details.

Quotations:

と also marks quotations and similar references, such as "he said ...", "I think that ...", "... is called ..." and so forth, whether the reference is a direct quote or a paraphrase or summary. The referenced phrase must be in short form.

This sense of と often appears after "sound effect words" to show that an action occurs with or as if with that sound.

Arguably, this may have to do with the adverbial conjugation of classical ~たる adjectives instead, but let's not worry about that.

Naming things and people:

Much like the quotation usage, XというY means a Y called or named X.

The usage XというX also exists. In this case, it either emphasizes X, much like the こそ (koso) particle, or means "each and every X".

Variant forms for quotations and naming:

In casual speech, the quotational と may become って (tte). Related phrases such as という (to iu), といっている (to itte iru), というもの (to iu mono), and というのは (to iu no wa) also sometimes abbreviate to って (tte).

Adverbing classical ~たる (-taru) adjectives:

When used with -taru adjectives, which rarely appear in modern Japanese, と causes them to act as adverbs.

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とか (to ka)

Example items:

Links nouns like "and" does, much as と (to) does, but indicates that the things mentioned make up only part of a longer list, possibly because the か (ka) adds vagueness.

As demonstrated above, the connective particle の (no) follows とか when the list as a whole modifies a noun, but does not do so within the list itself.

Marginally related:

とか also occurs as a combination of the naming/quotational と (to) and questioning か (ka) particles, usually to name someone or something while indicating uncertainty that the name is correct, or similarly to quote with uncertainty.

Don't confuse a と followed by か with a か followed by と. The と marks a quotation or similar reference either way, but if the か comes first, it belongs to what's being quoted.

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な (na)

See also よ (yo), ね (ne), さ (sa), and わ (wa), all of which resemble it to some degree.

Verb and adjective uses:

Since these are covered in more detail elsewhere, I'll just link to the main entries.

Impressions and musings:

な at the end of a sentence gives it sort of a tone of idle musing. It tends to appear when making observations with no sense of urgency.

な occasionally appears after よ (yo) in the same sentence. However, it won't (as far as I know) combine with ね or さ, and appears to only barely work with わ and even then only when よ comes between them.

な is often elongated (when spoken or as if spoken), so don't be thrown off if it's written as なあ (naa), for example. This happens particularly often when there's absent-minded musing going on.

Vocal pauses:

な may also appear in the middle of a sentence, usually when the speaker wants to throw extra pauses into the conversation, maybe to stall for time, maybe to make sure the listener is actually listening, and maybe just because. This is, like, similar to, like, English sentences that, you know, have "like" thrown in all over. Or, you know, other largely meaningless, like, phrases, like "you know".

This normally occurs only in more casual conversaion, and my impression is that this is a primarily masculine usage. It also seems to be more restricted in when it can be used than さ (sa), which can have a similar effect but seems to have a wider range of usability. Feminine usage tends to prefer ね (ne) instead.

Interaction with だ:

Although casual sentences often drop the copula だ (da) after nouns and -na adjectives, it usually remains when used with な.

The だ may still be omitted after -i adjectives, but nouns and -na adjectives pretty much need it to avoid confusion with the な of -na adjectives.

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ながら (nagara)

While:

PながらQ equates to "Q (even) while P". When used with a verb, it attaches to the verb stem. The particle も (mo) may follow ながら when used in a contrasting sense.

Refer to the Concurrent events section on the verb auxiliaries page for more information on using ながら with verbs.

Objective comments on subjective situations:

我ながら (ware nagara), a common semi-idiomatic usage and one of a few phrases in which the archaic first-person pronoun 我 (ware) survives in the modern language, resembles "even if I do say so myself" in English. The phrase is used when commenting on something that, as the person involved, you can't remain objective about. This applies both when speaking of the virtues of one's own actions or ideas, and also when begrudgingly admitting one's own failings. Nouns other than 我 may be used when the speaker is connected to the topic for some other reason than being the person involved, such as when speaking about family, friends, peer groups, etc.

Miscellaneous uses:

ながら has at least two other uses. One equates to "same as ever" or "as when," and the other to "each of" or "all of."

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など (nado)

And so on:

This is the Japanese equivalent of "et cetera". Occassionally written in kanji as 等, but usually seen in kana.

など may also conclude an indefinite list where や (ya) separates the other items.

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なら (nara), ならば (naraba)

Restriction:

These have at least two uses, both of which resemble "if" in English.

In the first, なら comes after a noun. This indicates that the following phrase applies specifically to the noun, and possibly to nothing else. This usually means singling out one member of a category of things, so it tends to have an "only if" implication. When used like this, なら replaces the が (ga), は (wa), and を (wo) particles. Other particles may be dropped or may be kept for clarity as needed. If another particle is kept, なら comes after it.

In the other, なら comes between two phrases. Similar to the above case, it indicates that the second phrase applies on the condition that the first phrase is true. This usage resembles the provisional verb form, though with some differences in nuance. For instance, I don't think the provisional form can function in the sense demonstrated below, with the condition as more of an assumption and the conclusion as something that should or must be done if it's accurate:

ならば (naraba), a more formal variant of なら, ends in a ば (ba) that highlights the similarity to the provisional verb form. If we feel like getting technical, it is a provisional form, coming from an archaic conjugation of the verb 成る (naru, to become).

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なんか (nanka)

Etc. with more disdain:

Similar to など (nado), but more derogatory. Though it doesn't necessarily have to be rude, it's always less formal.

Not to be confused with:

なんか may be used colloquially as a shortened form of 何か (nani ka), meaning "something" or "anything", or of 何だか (nan da ka), meaning "somewhat" or "somehow".

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に (ni)

Target:

Indicates the recipient of an action, or, much like へ (e), a destination. に seems more common than へ in modern Japanese to indicate destinations. Using it to indicate the recipient of an action functions much like using an indirect object in English.

に and へ are generally interchangable in this function, but I get the impression that に is more appropriate for indicating a specific destination, while へ works better for indicating a more general course or direction of movement.

Additionally, に fits better when getting on a vehicle or other object rather than moving to a location as such.

You could use へ instead of に in the above sentence, but it would sound somewhat awkward.

Result:

For verbs that involve a change of some sort, or a decision, に indicates the state resulting from the change, sort of a conceptual destination.

Adverbing adjectives:

When used with a -na adjective, に causes it to act as an adverb.

Purpose of travel:

When used after a verb stem, に indicates the reason for a journey.

Time and Frequency:

Indicates when an action occurs, when used with absolute times such as 火曜日 (kayoubi, Tuesday), 一月七日 (ichigatsu nanoka, January 7), and 午前六時半 (gozen rokuji han, 6:30 AM). Relative times such as 明日 (ashita, tomorrow) or 朝 (asa, morning) don't usually take particles.

Similarly, [event]に indicates that the action occurs during the event. Time intervals also work in place of more specific events, which allows this to help express how often something occurs in a given span of time.

Location:

に, rather than で (de), marks location when using certain "state of being" verbs, such as ある (aru, to exist) and 住む (sumu, to reside). I would guess this has something to do with how no real action is taking place.

Passive voice:

In passive sentences, に indicates the performer of the action, much like "by" in English. Be careful, since other uses of に may still appear in the same sentence.

Similarly, in a causitive-passive sentence, に marks the one forcing an action upon someone else.

Intended purpose:

Indicates the role that something is to fill, similar to "as" in English.

In order to...

XにY, where X and Y are both actions, means to do Y in order to accomplish X. は (wa) often accompanies に in this usage to make the goal the topic of the sentence.

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ね (ne)

Harmonizing effect:

It's sort of like the opposite of よ (yo), but not exactly. It's a pain to explain well... basically, ね at the end of a sentence is used for one of the following things:

This particle doesn't translate well, since, like よ, the difference in equivalent English sentences usually only comes in tone of voice or body language.

ね occasionally follows よ (yo) in the same sentence, though not especially often, and more often when underscoring the obvious than anything else.

ね may be elongated (when spoken or as if spoken), so don't be thrown off if it's written as ねえ, for example.

Vocal pauses:

ね may also appear in the middle of a sentence, usually when the speaker wants to throw extra pauses into the conversation, maybe to stall for time, maybe to make sure the listener is actually listening, and maybe just because. This is, like, similar to, like, English sentences that, you know, have "like" thrown in all over. Or, you know, other largely meaningless, like, phrases, like "you know".

This normally occurs only in more casual conversaion, and my impression is that this is a primarily feminine usage. Men and less girlish women seem more likely to use さ (sa) or sometimes な (na) instead.

Simlarly, ね (often ねえ in this case) can be used by itself or at the beginning of a sentence to make sure you have someone's attention. な can function similarly, but さ cannot.

Interaction with だ:

Although casual sentences often drop the copula だ (da) after nouns and -na adjectives, it usually remains when used with ね.

The だ may still be omitted, especially in feminine speech, but this is somewhat uncommon.

Not to be confused with:

This is not the same as the verb ending ~ねー (-nee, also written ねぇ and ねェ), a "macho" variant of the ~ない (-nai) negative ending.

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の (no)

The の particle may be written in kanji as 乃, but this very rarely happens in normal usage outside of certain proper nouns.

Nouns modifying nouns:

This one is used frequently, and doesn't have a single simple English equivalent to help with understanding. Fortunately, it's not all that complicated. の connects two nouns in a way that makes the first noun describe the second, and the resulting phrase acts like one big noun. Most cases of 「XY」 are similar in meaning to either "X's Y" or "Y of X". It can get more complicated, but the important point is that the first noun identifies, classifies, or otherwise describes the second.

Let's take some examples from Ranma 1/2...

Akane likes saying 「乱馬バカ!」 (Ranma no BAKA!), so let's look at that. 乱馬 (Ranma) is clearly Ranma, and バカ (baka) means idiot (or insensitive jerk, basically an idiot about people). の connects them so that Ranma describes idiot. This sounds rather odd, but basically it means she's calling him an idiot, and leaving "Ranma" as extra information, apparently just so it's obvious who she's talking to. Phrases of the form [person]の[insult] occur frequently in anime, incidentally.

One of the lines in the first closing theme is 「あなた私を見る」 (Anata no me no naka no watashi wo miru). あなた is one term for "you", 目 is "eye(s)", 中 means "inside" (or "middle", or any of various other similar concepts), and 私 is one term for "me". The big long series of nouns connected with の acts like one big noun. No subject is mentioned, and there's no context to indicate otherwise, so it's "I" unless there's a good reason to think otherwise. Putting things together in Japanese generally works best working backwards from the end of the sentence, since that's where the most important parts tend to be.

  1. 「私を見る」 = "I see me." But there's extra description tacked onto "me", so it's more complicated than that.
  2. 「中私を見る」 = "I see me who is inside." But there's more description.
  3. 「目私を見る」 = "I see me who is inside of eyes". There's still more description to go.
  4. 「あなた私を見る」 = "I see me who is inside of your eyes."

That sounds like a poetic way of saying "I see myself [reflected] in your eyes." It can be a bit confusing, but it's not really that difficult once you get the hang of it.

Nouning verbs:

Put の on the end of a short form verb, and the result acts as a gerund, just a noun formed from a verb.

Note that English uses uses '-ing' not only for gerunds, but also for the progressive form (actions in progress, like "I am eating."). The closest Japanese equivalent to the English progressive tense, -te form + iru, has no connection to this usage.

Abbreviating understood nouns:

Another use of の (really more a pronoun than a particle, but I'm not sure where else to put it) is similar to "one" in English in phrases like "I bought a white shirt and a blue one". It replaces the noun after an adjective, but only when it's clear what it's referring to.

Linking two nouns using の as a connective particle complicates the rules for this slightly. If the second noun would be replaced, it may simply be dropped instead.

However, when the descriptive first noun is to be replaced, の appears twice.

Subjects in descriptive clauses:

In phrases that describe nouns, の may mark the subject in place of が (ga). Both are correct, and choosing one over the other has no effect on meaning, though one may flow better than the other.

In this case, I think the second variant sounds better, but both are fine.

Variant of んだ:

When found at the end of a sentence (particularly questions or in feminine speech), の is most likely a variant of the explanatory んだ (n da). The meaning doesn't summarize well, so follow the link to get the full description.

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ので (no de)

Explanations:

ので (no de) marks the "cause" clause in a sentence of the form "because [cause], [result]" much like から (kara) does. The main differences are that ので is slightly more formal and won't come at the end of a sentence (except when the sentence is left hanging as though incomplete). ので follows the short form, except that だ (da) after nouns and -na adjectives changes to な (na), as with the related んです (n desu) sentence ending.

An alternate way of thinking of it, at least in some cases, is as a combination of の (no) to noun a verb and で (de) to indicate a means.

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のに (no ni)

Even though:

A sentence in the form XのにY, it says that X is true, and you'd probably expect Y to be false when X is true, but Y is true anyway. In short, Y despite X. Both X and Y must be statements, not requests, suggestions, or so on (though Y, or really, the sentence as a whole, may be a question), and X normally uses short form. If のに follows a noun or -na adjective, drop the copula だ (da) and put な (na) before のに.

Sentences may also end in のに. In that case, it's leaving unsaid something contrasting that is probably obvious in context.

In order to:

If a verb comes before のに, the の (no) may be "nouning" the verb. In this case, a sentence XのにY means Y to do X.

Usually, it's fairly clear from context which way のに is being used.

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のみ (nomi)

Only:

Another restrictive particle like だけ (dake), with similar usage and meaning, but a more bookish or archaic tone.

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は (wa)

Marking topics:

The topic is one of the most important parts of Japanese grammar. Unfortunately, it's also one of the hardest concepts for native English speakers to understand, and is frequently explained poorly or incorrectly, or at least oversimplified.

First and most basic, the は particle is pronounced wa, not ha, even though it uses the ha kana. It's the topic particle that's in 今日 (konnichiwa) and 今晩 (konbanwa).

Basically, the topic particle indicates the focus of a sentence or phrase. The closest English equivalent to "[noun]" would be something like "about [noun]", "in reference to [noun]", or "on the topic of [noun]". This isn't quite the same thing as the subject. Among other differences, the subject of a sentence actually carries out the action described. However, the topic, while it often does, could as easily be the location, the time, the object of the action, or something else entirely.

In a sentence like 「今日私食べます。」 (Kyou watashi wa tabemasu. "About me, eats today," or, more naturally, "I eat today"), the topic 私 (watashi, I) is also the subject. But in the sentence 「今日食べます。」 (Kyou wa tabemasu. "About today, eats," or, more naturally, "Today, I eat"), the topic 今日 (kyou, today) is not the subject. Although the two sentences have the same literal meaning, the effect is somewhat different. The first sentence focuses on me, the second on today.

I've found it can help with understanding to think of the topic as sort of a "heading" for the sentence, like what might appear on a slideshow summary or the title of a list. Alternately, in more standard writing, this is something like pulling the topic out and putting it at the beginning followed by a colon. To use the examples from the previous paragraph, 「今日私食べます。」 would become "Me: Eats today" and 「今日食べます。」 would be "Today: I eat."

Common sentences with topics that aren't subjects:

When referring to a person's attributes, such as hair, eyes, height, and so on, English speakers are likely to expect the usage [person]の [attribute]は [description]. The more common phrasing is actually [person] [attribute]が [description]. As an example, take 「あゆ目が大きい。」 (Ayu wa me ga ookii.), which translates to "About Ayu, eyes are big," or "Ayu's eyes are big" to use more natural English, or "Ayu: Big eyes" to use the heading method. Without the topic, the sentence says "eyes are big," but the topic あゆ makes the sentence about Ayu, so the meaning is "Ayu's eyes are big," even without any possessives in the sentence. While you could leave out the topic particle and use an explicit possessive, like 「あゆの目が大きい。」 (Ayu no me ga ookii. "Ayu's eyes are big"), it's less common for a Japanese speaker to actually do so.

Similarly, saying that someone owns something is often handed like so: 「シャンプー自転車がある。」 (SHANPUU wa jitensha ga aru.), which translates to "About Shampoo, there is a bicycle," or "Shampoo has a bicycle" in natural English, or "Shampoo: There is a bicycle" in the heading method. Similarly to the previous example, makes the sentence about Shampoo, so it comes out meaning that Shampoo has a bicycle. If the bicycle is present or already being talked about, of course, it makes more sense to just say 「あれシャンプーの自転車。」 (Are wa SHANPUU no jitensha.), for "That's Shampoo's bicycle". Incidentally, to say Shampoo has a bicycle without making her the topic, use 「シャンプーに自転車がある。」 (SHANPUU ni jitensha ga aru.), or 「シャンプーに自転車ある。」 (SHANPUU ni jitensha wa aru.) to make the bicycle the topic. The sentence 「シャンプーに自転車がある。」 (SHANPUU ni wa jitensha ga aru.) is also perfectly valid (note the extra に), though putting this emphasis on Shampoo tends to imply some sort of contrast (perhaps having a bicycle is somehow special, or the speaker doesn't have one).

Interaction with other particles:

When a noun that would normally already have a particle is used as a topic, は replaces が (ga) and を (wo), and normally appears alongside all other particles (though sometimes they can be omitted, as the Shampoo's bicycle examples above demonstrate). As an example of appearing with another particle, take 「東京に沢山の人がいます。」 (Toukyou ni wa takusan no hito ga imasu.), which is "When speaking of Tokyo, there are many people," or "In Tokyo, there are many people" in more natural usage, or "Tokyo: There are many people" in the heading method. Also note the subtle difference from 「東京に沢山の人がいます。」 (Toukyou ni takusan no hito ga imasu. "There are many people in Tokyo."), since the first sentence is specifically about Tokyo, while the second is as much about the people. は can appear with virtually any particle, but generally only affects where the focus of the sentence lands.

This again demonstrates the distinction between topic and subject. Note that the first example above has "Tokyo" as the topic, but "people" as the subject.

Implied contrast through topic status:

Elevating a word or phrase to topic status by adding the topic particle where not grammatically required tends to add a sense of contrast or emphasis. Making the sentence about this particular case implies some kind of difference from others in its category. Reusing the examples from above, saying 「シャンプーに自転車がある」 instead of 「シャンプーに自転車がある」 suggests that it's somehow significant that Shampoo in particular has a bicycle, as opposed to certain other people who might not. Similarly, 「東京に沢山の人がいます」 instead of 「東京に沢山の人がいます。」 makes a point of how Tokyo specifically, not some other city, has a lot of people.

Here's another example: 「負けしない」 (make wa shinai). The plain version without は would be 「負けない」 (makenai), which simply means "[I] won't lose" (or give in, give up, etc.) The version with は implies that I may end up being bruised, beaten, exhausted, and barely able to stand on my own two feet, if that—but losing is one thing I refuse to do.

Implied topics:

Most (all?) sentences have a topic, but it may be implied by context. For example, someone might say, 「メアリーさん学生です。アメリカ人です。」 (MEARII-san wa gakusei desu. AMERIKAjin desu.), which translates to "Mary: Is a student. Is an American." or "Mary is a student. She is an American." in more natural English. It wouldn't be wrong for the second sentence to also include メアリーさん (MEARII-san wa), but doing so would be unnecessary and even a bit awkward, since it's already obvious who the sentence is talking about. Of course, normally these would be combined into a single sentence like 「メアリーさんアメリカ人の学生です。」 (MEARII-san wa AMERIKAjin no gakusei desu.), "Mary is an American student."

は and question words:

は does not combine with question words, such as 誰 (dare, who) and 何 (nani, what). After all, it doesn't make sense to say that a sentence is about "who" or "what". Conversely, the subject particle が (ga) combines with them just fine, especially in questions.

Negative sentences:

は will sometimes appear out of nowhere in a negative sentence, usually in place of が (ga) or を (wo). Sometimes it even shows up where no particle would otherwise appear at all. It's far from a certainty, but negative sentences generally have at least one は. Don't throw は into a sentence just because it's negative, but be aware that it happens, even in the middle of idioms.

This, incidentally, is why the copula です (desu), a contration of であります (de arimasu), typically uses as its negative form not でありません (de arimasen) but じゃありません (ja arimasen), with じゃ (ja) as a contraction of で (de wa). The same applies for the equivalent forms across all formality levels, such as じゃない (ja nai) coming from である (de aru).

Another fairly common occurance is in double negatives, which do make a positive:

Contractions:

は often gets squashed together with other sounds, especially in colloquial language. Common contractions include:

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ばかり (bakari)

Nothing but:

The particle ばかり (bakari) follows nouns, short nonpast affirmative verbs, -te form verbs, and both -i and -na adjectives. It gives the impression of something being overwhelmingly common or frequent. Unlike だけ (dake), it doesn't necessarily mean that this is literally the only thing there is, just that it feels that way. It tends to have a somewhat negative connotation, with an implication that more variation would improve things. ばかり acts like a noun when connecting to whatever follows it.

The longer phrases ばかりでなく (bakari de naku) and ばかりか (bakari ka), variants on the particle, translate to "not just... but also", with ばかりでなく the more formal of the two. Again, they seem to be used mostly in a negative way.

For a more neutral or positive "not just... but also", try the phrase だけじゃなくて (dake ja nakute), using the だけ (dake) particle.

About to happen:

ばかり may also be used after a short nonpast affirmative verb or archaic volitional verb to indicate that an event is or appears to be just about to happen. This seems to be related to the "as if to do" meaning of ばかりに (bakari ni).

Modern Japanese tends to favor ところ (tokoro) over ばかり when someone is just about to take a deliberate action, and the ~そう (-sou) verb ending when something seems as though it's about to happen at any moment.

Not to be confused with:

After a short past affirmative verb, ばかり (bakari) indicates that an action has just happened.

There are two different meanings for the phrase ばかりに (bakari ni). One is roughly "just because" and usually comes after a short past affirmative verb. The other roughly means "as if to do" and usually appears in phrases such as 言わんばかりに (iwan bakari ni).

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へ (e)

Destination:

Used mostly with movement verbs like 行く (iku, to go), this indicates the destination, direction, or target of an action. It also appears when addressing notes and letters (Xへ equates with "to X").

The heading isn't a typo; the へ particle is pronounced e even though it uses the he kana.

Compared to に:

The に (ni) particle can nearly always be used in place of the へ particle, but it has a wide variety of other uses as well, so sticking with へ may help a bit with clarity. Additionally, へ may combine with the の (no) particle to add a targeted descriptive phrase to a noun, which I'm fairly certain に cannot do.

I also get the impression that へ works better for indicating a more general course or direction of movement, while に is more appropriate for indicating a specific destination.

Additionally, に fits better when getting on a vehicle or other object rather than moving to a location as such.

You could use へ instead of に in the above sentence, but it would sound somewhat awkward.

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ほど (hodo)

Extent:

This probably shouldn't be counted as a particle, but here it is anyway. ほど (also written 程) typically indicates the extent (how far, how much, etc.) to which an action or concept goes, or an upper limit. The usage sometimes overlaps with くらい (kurai).

One common usage comes after a doubled verb or -i adjective, with the second in normal form and the first in provisional form. Alternately, -na adjectives or nouns also fit here by using であれば (de areba, the provisional form of the copula) or なら (nara) with the second one. This equates to "the more [condition], the more [result]", and resembles one of the uses of だけ (dake).

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まで (made)

Until:

Indicates a state reached, similar to "as far as" or "until" in English. Using まで instead of に (ni) or へ (e) implies that this is a stop along the way and not the final destination, or that a concept applies up until a certain point and no further.

In addition to times (how long) and places (how far), まで also works with other concepts that have some form of extent associated with them (how much, how many, how pervasive, and so on).

See also:

One of the more common expressions まで appears in is までもない (made mo nai).

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までに (made ni)

No later than:

XまでにY indicates the completion of action Y by time or event X.

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も (mo)

When used, this particle (usually) replaces the が (ga), は (wa), and を (wo) particles, and appears after all others. I have, however, seen sentences with をも, probably to clarify that the noun affected is a grammatical object.

Common traits:

も most often indicates commonality, much like the English words "too" and "also" (or "not ... either" in negative sentences). Though the words or phrases involved typically use parallel phrasing, the contexts need not be identical, just similar.

The above example use も with parallel phrases, either by establishing one and adding another to it, or by listing several together. Sometimes, も will instead appear in a sentence without any parallel information. In this situation, it usually means that the sentence applies to this in addition to what you might normally expect. This usage is similar to "even" in English.

Also refer to さえ (sae), which has a similar function but tends to be reserved for more exceptional situations.

Even if, even though:

Append も to a phrase ending in a -te form verb to mean even if, even though, or even when [phrase]. This is explained in further detail under the -te form + も (mo) section of the verb auxiliaries page. って (tte) can perform a similar function, but uses different grammar and adds more emphasis.

Unexpectedly large amounts:

When used after an amount, も emphisizes it as being (at least as the speaker perceives it) remarkably large.

Not even a small amount:

Probably related to indicating unusually large amounts, using も after an amount (most often one) in a negative phrase means not even that amount.

This meaning only works when the verb (or adjective) is in the negative form. If the verb is positive, it comes to mean that even that amount is sufficient. This is generally used with a conditional statement.

"All" versions of question words:

も frequently pairs with question words such as 誰 (dare, who) and 何 (nani, what), or longer question phrases, to create something like the "universal quantifier" in logic (∀), which basically means that the statement applies to every possible answer to the question, in other words, that it applies universally. For example, using 誰も (dare mo) means that the statement applies to everyone. In this usage, が (ga) and を (wo) may come after も but are usually omitted, while any other particles come between the question word and も.

For whatever reason, 何も (nani mo) only appears with negative conjugations. Positive phrases where you might expect 何も often use 全部 (zenbu, entire), 全て (subete, all), 何でも (nan de mo), or the more emphatic 何もかも (nani mo ka mo). Likewise, 誰も (dare mo) normally pairs with negatives, and 皆 (minna or mina, everyone) usually appears in its place with positive conjugations.

だって (datte) functions similarly, but seems to be more emphatic.

Not to be confused with:

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ものの (mono no)

Contrast:

Though rather more bookish, ものの otherwise equates to けれども (keredo mo), expressing a similar idea to "even though." という (to iu) or とはいう (to wa iu) often come before ものの, especially after nouns.

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や (ya)

Samples from a list:

Links nouns like "and", much like と (to), but indicates that the things mentioned are only examples from a longer list.

This example indicates that there are other things on the desk, and that books and pens are just samples. To imply that the list includes everything, use と instead of や.

Indefinite lists that use や as a separator may also end with a など (nado).

Immediately after:

When connecting two phrases, や says that the second happens immediately after the first, or even before the first has finished. Compare to English "no sooner did... than..." The longer や否や (ya ina ya) does the same.

See also と思うと (to omou to), which has much the same usage and seems to be more common.

Emotional injection:

When following a command, request, or desire, や indicates the speaker's hope that it will happen, somewhat similar to how よ (yo) adds emphasis. More archaic or poetic language may also use や as general emphasis.

When used with a simple statement, it acts as more of an indifferent offhand dismissal.

Not to be confused with:

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やら (yara)

Uncertainty:

やら functions similarly to the か (ka) particle, but indicates more of a vague uncertainty than an outright question.

One common usage pairs with と (to) as とやら (to yara) to give the name of a person, object, or context when not sure of having remembered the name correctly. This may also indicate that the speaker is dubious that a term used is actually legitimate.

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よ (yo)

Emphasis:

This is used at the end of a statement to emphasize it. It's commonly used when giving information that the speaker expects the listener to find new or useful. I doubt that a simple translation is possible, since if two English sentences that are equivalent to a Japanese one with よ and one without it, they usually have identical wording and differ only in tone of voice or body language. It's a pain to explain well... but the general idea is something like that the speaker is projecting the information to the listener, as sort of a "you ought to know this" kind of thing.

Invocation:

よ may also function, especially in archaic language or in poetry or song, to emphasize a person (for instance) being addressed or invoked.

Interaction with だ:

Although casual sentences often drop the copula だ (da) after nouns and -na adjectives, it usually remains when used with よ. The だ may be omitted in feminine speech, but this is reportedly growing increasingly uncommon.

Not to be confused with...

よ (often よう) as an interjection equates to "Hi!" or "Hey there!". Maybe this is where "Yo!" in English came from... or maybe it's the other way around. I'm not sure and haven't bothered to investigate.

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より (yori)

Less so:

In a comparison, it marks one thing as being less of whatever the property being compared is. The direct translation, assuming I'm doing it right, is unnatural (but comprehensible) in English, so I'm including more natural English versions that diverge from a direct literal translation.

Refer also to the related phrase 方がいい (hou ga ii).

A simple but fairly common combination of the より (yori) and も (mo) particles, Xよりも just means "even more than X". The exception is that if X is a question word or phrase, も performs the "all-ifying" role that it normally does in such a case. 何よりも (nani yori mo) and 誰よりも (dare yori mo) occur fairly often, meaning "more than anything" and "more than anyone", respectively.

それより (sore yori), another common phrase, changes the subject, especially when getting sidetracked, with the implication that the new (or original) subject matters more than the current one, or at least needs to be dealt with more immediately.

Source:

Although the above meaning seems to be more common, より can also indicate a place or time that a movement, change, or state of being comes from, begins in, or moves out of, much like から (kara). However, it tends to have a more bookish feel to it.

より also functions as "from" when writing a letter, while へ (e) functions as "to".

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わ (wa)

Emotion:

Tacks onto the end of sentences and affects the tone. わ occurs more often in female speech, in which it generally softens what the speaker is saying or makes it sound more cultured. It can also be used (by anyone) to express surprise, admiration, disgust, or generally being emotionally moved. Overuse of わ makes speech sound unnaturally affected.

Although casual sentences often drop the copula だ (da) after nouns and -na adjectives, it usually remains when used with わ.

よ (yo) and ね (ne) can follow わ, with their usual functions. I've even seen sentences end with わよね.

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わい (wai)

There are at least two of these.

At the end of a sentence, わい is a variant of わ (wa), though possibly more on the masculine side. As わ does, it adds an emotional kick to the statement.

As an exclamation, わい! (wai!) shows up a lot in the more high-energy silly type of anime, and is just a shout of excitement (like "yay!" or "whee!"). Of course, this usage is an interjection rather than a particle, but I couldn't just ignore it...

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を (wo)

Marking direct objects:

Like the subject marker が (ga), this relates to a familiar English concept. The points to remember about を are that the character isn't used in any normal words (so を in a sentence is always this particle, unless the writing is trying to give the impression of an unusual accent), and that many nouns can act as verbs by adding を (though it can be dropped) and the irregular verb する (suru, to do).

Places passed through:

When used with a movement verb, を indicates a location, area, or condition passed through along the way.

Common phrases:

を appears in the following, somewhat idiomatic, common phrases:

[noun]を by itself can mean any of the above or something else entirely, depending on context.

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をば (woba)

Emphatic direct object:

Grammatically, this functions just like the direct object marker を (wo), but adds more emphasis. As this is an archaic particle, you won't see it in normal usage any more. That's not to say it won't ever appear, but it's comparable to using "wherefore art thou" in modern English, and seems to have never been especially common in the first place.

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