Our guide to when to use which particle, with examples.
Japanese particles are characters that are linked with the words they follow. They are essential for understanding and forming sentences in Japanese. If you use the wrong particle, the entire meaning of the sentence can change. Particles may seem simple, after all, how hard can just a few characters be? Actually, many learners find them confusing and difficult to master, and for good reason.
In this blog post, we will explain when to use each particle in Japanese, and provide some examples to help you practice.
What are Japanese Particles?
Particles are suffixes that attach to nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, or phrases. They can indicate the role of the word in the sentence, such as subject, object, topic, location, direction, time, manner, reason, or purpose. They can also modify the meaning of the word, such as adding emphasis, contrast, doubt, or politeness.
Here are the main particles you will use in Japanese:
- は (wa): marks the topic of the sentence
- が (ga): marks the subject of the sentence
- を (wo): marks the direct object of the sentence
- に (ni): marks the indirect object, location, direction, time, or purpose of the sentence
- で (de): marks the means, manner, place, or reason of the sentence
- と (to): marks the quotation, companion, or enumeration of the sentence
- も (mo): replaces は, が, or を and adds the meaning of “also” or “too”
- か (ka): marks a question or a choice
- よ (yo): adds emphasis or certainty to the sentence
- ね (ne): adds agreement or confirmation to the sentence
How to Use Japanese Particles
The position and function of each particle depends on the word it follows and the context of the sentence. Here are some general rules and examples for using each particle:
は (wa) is used to mark the topic of the sentence. The topic is what the speaker wants to talk about or focus on. It is usually something that is already known or shared by both the speaker and the listener. は (wa) can also be used to contrast two topics or express a negative statement.
- 私は学生です。 (Watashi wa gakusei desu.) I am a student. (The topic is “I”.)
- これは本です。 (Kore wa hon desu.) This is a book. (The topic is “this”.)
- 彼は先生ですか？ (Kare wa sensei desu ka?) Is he a teacher? (The topic is “he”.)
- 私は猫が好きですが、彼は犬が好きです。 (Watashi wa neko ga suki desu ga, kare wa inu ga suki desu.) I like cats, but he likes dogs. (The topics are “I” and “he”.)
- 彼は来ませんでした。 (Kare wa kimasen deshita.) He did not come. (The topic is “he” and the statement is negative.)
が (ga) is used to mark the subject of the sentence. The subject is what performs the action or state of being in the sentence. It is usually something that is new or unknown to the listener. が (ga) can also be used to emphasize the subject or express a preference.
- 誰が来ましたか？ (Dare ga kimashita ka?) Who came? (The subject is unknown.)
- 彼が来ました。 (Kare ga kimashita.) He came. (The subject is emphasized.)
- 私がやります。 (Watashi ga yarimasu.) I will do it. (The subject is emphasized.)
- 猫が好きです。 (Neko ga suki desu.) I like cats. (The preference is expressed by using が instead of は.)
を (wo read as o)
を (wo) is used to mark the direct object of the sentence. The direct object is what receives the action of the verb in the sentence.
- パンを食べます。 (Pan wo tabemasu.) I eat bread. (The direct object is “bread”.)
- 本を読みます。 (Hon wo yomimasu.) I read a book. (The direct object is “a book”.)
- 彼に手紙を書きます。 (Kare ni tegami wo kakimasu.) I write a letter to him. (The direct object is “a letter”.)
に (ni) is used to mark various functions in the sentence, such as:
- the indirect object: what receives the benefit or effect of the action of the verb
- the location: where something exists or happens
- the direction: where something moves or goes
- the time: when something happens
- the purpose: why something is done
- 彼にプレゼントをあげます。 (Kare ni purezento wo agemasu.) I give a present to him. (The indirect object is “him”.)
- 学校に行きます。 (Gakkou ni ikimasu.) I go to school. (The location is “school”.)
- 日本に行きたいです。 (Nihon ni ikitai desu.) I want to go to Japan. (The direction is “Japan”.)
- 七時に起きます。 (Shichi ji ni okimasu.) I wake up at seven o’clock. (The time is “seven o’clock”.)
- 勉強に励みます。 (Benkyou ni hagemimasu.) I work hard for studying. (The purpose is “studying”.)
で (de) is used to mark various functions in the sentence, such as:
- the means: how something is done
- the manner: in what way something is done
- the place: where something is done
- the reason: why something is done
- 電車で行きます。 (Densha de ikimasu.) I go by train. (The means is “train”.)
- 早くで走ります。 (Hayaku de hashirimasu.) I run fast. (The manner is “fast”.)
- 公園で遊びます。 (Kouen de asobimasu.) I play in the park. (The place is “park”.)
- 風邪で休みます。 (Kaze de yasumimasu.) I rest because of a cold. (The reason is “a cold”.)
と (to) is used to mark various functions in the sentence, such as:
- the quotation: what someone says or thinks
- the companion: who someone does something with
- the enumeration: what items are listed or counted
- 彼は「ありがとう」と言いました。 (Kare wa “arigatou” to iimashita.) He said “thank you”. (The quotation is “thank you”.)
- 友達と映画を見ます。 (Tomodachi to eiga wo mimasu.) I watch a movie with my friend. (The companion is “my friend”.)
- リンゴとバナナとオレンジを買いました。 (Ringo to banana to orenji wo kaimashita.) I bought an apple, a banana, and an orange. (The enumeration is “an apple, a banana, and an orange”.)
も (mo) is used to replace は, が, or を and add the meaning of “also” or “too” to the sentence. It can also be used to express inclusion or agreement.
- 私も学生です。 (Watashi mo gakusei desu.) I am also a student. (も replaces は and adds “also”.)
- 彼も来ました。 (Kare mo kimashita.) He also came. (も replaces が and adds “also”.)
- パンも食べます。 (Pan mo tabemasu.) I also eat bread. (も replaces を and adds “also”.)
- これも本です。 (Kore mo hon desu.) This is also a book. (も expresses inclusion.)
- そうですね。 (Sou desu ne.) That’s right, isn’t it? (も expresses agreement.)
か (ka) is used to mark a question or a choice in the sentence. It can also be used to express doubt or uncertainty.
- 名前は何ですか？ (Namae wa nan desu ka?) What is your name? (か marks a question.)
- コーヒーか紅茶かどちらがいいですか？(Kouhii ka koucha ka dochira ga ii desu ka?) Which do you prefer, coffee or tea? (か marks a choice.)
- 彼は学生ですか？(Kare wa gakusei desu ka?) Is he a student? (か marks a question.)
- 彼は学生かもしれませんか。(Kare wa gakusei kamo shiremasen ka) He might be a student. (か expresses doubt.)
よ (yo) is used to add emphasis or certainty to the sentence. It can also be used to inform or remind the listener of something they may not know or have forgotten.
- これは本ですよ。 (Kore wa hon desu yo.) This is a book, you know. (よ informs the listener.)
- 彼は先生ですよ。 (Kare wa sensei desu yo.) He is a teacher, for sure. (よ emphasizes the statement.)
- 明日は休みですよ。 (Ashita wa yasumi desu yo.) Tomorrow is a holiday, remember. (よ reminds the listener.)
ね (ne) is used to add agreement or confirmation to the sentence. It can also be used to seek the listener’s opinion or response.
- これは本ですね。 (Kore wa hon desu ne.) This is a book, right? (ね seeks confirmation.)
- 彼は先生ですね。 (Kare wa sensei desu ne.) He is a teacher, isn’t he? (ね seeks agreement.)
- 明日は休みですね。 (Ashita wa yasumi desu ne.) Tomorrow is a holiday, isn’t it? (ね seeks response.)
Japanese particles are small but powerful words that can change the meaning and function of a sentence. They are essential for communicating in Japanese, but they can also be challenging to master. The best way to learn them is to practice using them in different contexts and situations. If you are taking the JLPT N5 to N1, you will definitely need to study particles, as they will come up on the exam and it is common practice to try and trick test takers with particles.
If you feel like you need help from a teacher to feel confident with particles, TLS has got you covered.