Japanese Particles – Your easy guide in forming sentences

Japanese particles — can’t live with em’, can’t live without em’. It’s important to know about them when you want to learn the Japanese language. Japanese particles will make their way into every single sentence you’ll ever make in Japanese (unless you’re a Japanese slang master.) Sometimes it’s just one particle… Sometimes it’s 12.

Some Japanese particles are only used by men, while some are only used by women. Some particles are extremely rare, while others are used every day. Japanese particles can be found after the subject, in the middle, or at the end of a sentence. What we’re saying is there’s a whole world of particles out there!

Japanese Particles

When I was a university student, the head lady of my Japanese department (Kawashima Sensei) wrote an entire book dedicated to Japanese particles alone. It was a best seller. Getting a full grasp of the proper usage of Japanese particles can be challenging, even for those more experienced Japanese students.

Thus, we’ve put together a usage guide for the most popular and useful Japanese particles for Japanese speakers in hopes of bringing some clarity to the subject.

Japanese Particles

Japanese particles are called じょし (joshi). They are also known as てにをは (tenioha).

Particles are important in learning the Japanese language. They are words that serve as markers and connectors in sentences. They serve as markers to help us identify the role of a word, whether it’s the subject or object of the sentence.

Japanese particles also serve as connectors in sentences to help words have a smooth transition and add clarity to the thought of the sentence. We have another lesson on Japanese Sentence Structure. You can learn that next if you haven’t yet.

Japanese Particles List

There are a lot of Japanese particles, but as you’re beginning to learn the Japanese language, you only need to know the most common particles to get you to speak the language.

Here is a Japanese particles list that contains the main particles that we’ll be reviewing in this article:

  • は(wa)
  • が(ga)
  • を(o)
  • の(no)
  • で(de)
  • と(to)
  • も(mo)
  • に(ni)
  • か(ka)
  • へ(e)
  • や(ya)
  • など(nado)
  • から(kara)

Keep in mind that it’s nigh impossible to cover all the particles in one article alone, so this list of common Japanese particles is not exhaustive. That being said, these are the heaviest hitters and will require mastering. Now, time to learn Japanese particles.

Japanese Particles Chart

In this section, you’ll have the Japanese particle chart that has the list of particles along with their functions.

Japanese ParticleFunction
は(wa)topic marker
が(ga)subject marker
を(o)object marker
の(no)marker of possession
で(de)location marker
と(to)marker of accompaniment
も(mo)inclusive marker
に(ni)movement marker
か(ka)question marker
choice marker
へ(e)movement marker

は (wa) Particle

The は (wa) particle uses the Japanese character for は, which is always pronounced as “ha.” However, when used as a particle, it is pronounced as “wa.”

The は (wa) particle is used as a topic marker. It indicates the topic of a sentence.

は (wa) is one of the most common Japanese particles. This “topic” is often the grammatical subject but can also include objects:

I am a teacher.私 は 先生 です。わたしはせんせいです。watashi wa sensei desu.
He is an author.彼は作家です。かれはさっかです。kare wa sakka desu.
Yesterday there was snow.昨日は雪が降った。きのうはゆきがふった。kinou wa yuki ga futta.

が (ga) Particle

The Japanese particle が (ga) functions as a subject marker. It’s used to mark the subject of the sentence and is often used as an emphatic particle

The Japanese particles が (ga) and は (wa) invite much confusion for native English speakers – and it’s understandable why. The main difference between the two particles is that が (ga) is a grammatical case while は (wa) is the non-grammatical focus of a sentence.

Below are some examples incorporating both of these particles.

In this sentence structure, the focus is the shoes since they precede the particle が. The particle は simply marks the topic that is committed to the subject. In other words, the shoes themselves take the emphasis.

She likes red shoes.彼女は赤い靴 が 好き です。かのじょはあかいくつがすきです。kanojo wa akai kutsu ga suki desu.

Here’s the exact same example, with the Japanese words あかいくつ(akai kutsu | 赤い靴) and かのじょ(kanojo | 彼女) flipped. In this sentence, the emphasis is now placed on the girl instead of the shoes.

The red shoes like her.赤い靴は彼女 が 好き です。あかいくつはかのじょがすきです。akai kutsu wa kanojo ga suki desu.

We know this example is kind of wacky, but that should make remembering the significance of the sentence structure easier! It also shows how important it is to learn Japanese grammar and Japanese particles.

Here’s another example of how to use it while emphasizing something.

I love Harry Potter.ハリーポッターが大好きです。ハリーポッターがだいすきです。hari- potta ga daisuki desu.

が (ga) and not は (wa) is also used when asking a question where the question word (who, what, or which) is or is part of the subject itself:

Who came yesterday?昨日誰が来ましたか。きのうだれがきましたか。kinou dare ga kimashita ka?
My best friend came.親友が来ました。しんゆうがきました。shinyuu ga kimashita.

が can also be used before the potential form of verbs. Here are a few more examples:

You can eat that.それが食べれます。それがたべれます。sore ga taberemasu.
The dog can swim.犬が泳げる。いぬがおよげる。inu ga oyogeru.

を (wo) Particle

The を (wo) particle functions as an object marker. It’s the direct object particle which is also known as a direct object marker.

This means it will come right after whatever it is you’re doing or thing that is taking action. You’ll usually find this particle directly preceding the verb of a sentence.

While the English sentence structure follows the subject-verb-object agreement, the Japanese sentence structure follows the subject-object-verb agreement, and you’re likely to see を near the end of the sentence too.

My friend is reading a book.私の友達は本を読んでいます。わたしのともだちはほんをよんでいます。watashi no tomodachi wa hon o yonde imasu.

When using the particle, the sentence is usually answerable by what or who. The answer is found before the particle を(o). Let’s take the sentence above as an example. Who is reading? My friend. What did my friend read? A book. Another example:

That man is looking at the train.あの男が電車を見て います。あのおとこがでんしゃをみています。ano otoko ga densha o mite imasu.

Note: the usage of the particle が (ga) here is meant to emphasize that that man is indeed looking at the train. If instead the particle は (wa) had been used, the sentence would take the same meaning except for the emphasis.

の (no) Particle

The の (no) particle functions as a marker of possession in a sentence. In English translation, it’s basically the [apostrophe + s] of the English language:

My hair is long.私の髪が長いです。わたしのかみがながいです。watashi no kami ga nagai desu.
The book’s title is interesting.この本のタイトルは面白いだよ。このほんのタイトルはおもしろいだよ。kono hon no taitoru wa omoshiroi dayo.

Note: だ(da) is the short form of です(desu). よ(yo) is a particle used at the end of a word or sentence to emphasize its deliverance. We’ll talk about よ(yo) later.

も (mo) Particle

The particle も (mo) functions as an inclusive marker. It is used to say “too”, “also”, “either” etc.

It’s also used for negative inclusion, equating to words like “neither” and “nor” at times. Lastly, it’s used to mean “both”. When used, it replaces the Japanese particles が (ga)、は (wa) 、and を (o) – Take a look:

He studies English. He also studies Chinese.彼は英語を勉強します。中国語も勉強します。かれはえいごをべんきょうします。ちゅうごくごもべんきょうします。kare wa eigo o benkyoushimasu. Chuugokugo mo benkyoushimashimasu.
He likes dogs. I like dogs too.彼は犬が好きです。私も犬が好きです。かれはいぬがすきです。 わたしもいぬがすきです。kare wa inu ga suki desu. Watashi mo inu ga suki desu.

Note: you can also just say わたしも (watashi mo) when you want to say “me too” to avoid sounding like a robot. It would still mean the same – that you like dogs too. But be careful in using this as it can mean both formal and informal depending on the situation you’re in.

I don’t like the hot weather. My little sister doesn’t like it either.私 は 熱い天気が好きじゃないです。妹も好きじゃないです。わたしはあついてんきがすきじゃないです。いもうともすきじゃないですよ。watashi wa atsui tenki ga sukijanai desu. Imouto mo sukijanai desu.

When you’re given two choices and you want to pick both:

Which is more fun, Japan or South Korea?日本と韓国と、どちらが楽しいですか。にほんとかんこくと、どちらがたのしいですか。nihon to kankoku to, dochira ga tanoshii desu ka?
That’s a hard one. Both Japan and Korea are fun!難しいな~。日本も韓国も楽しいです!むずかしいな~。にほんもかんこくもたのしいです!Muzukashii na~. Nihon mo kankoku mo tanoshiidesu!

Note: The particle も (mo) and the word もう(mou) are not the same. もう(mou) is used to say “already”, “anymore”, “again”,”another” etc. Example:

I already ate.私 は もう食べました。わたしはもうたべました。watashi wa mou tabemashita.

The question marker

か (ka) Particle

The particle か (ka) can be used in two ways. It can be used as a question marker or a choice marker.

The first usage of か (ka) is a question marker. The particle is placed at the very end of a sentence turning a statement into a question. In fact, it’s the only true way to form sentences in Japanese, although intonation alone is often used in its place.

When asking questions, you usually start with question words – what, who, where, when, then end them with か (ka). Like this:

Did you hear the news?ニュースを聞いましたか。にゅうすをきいましたか。nyuusu o kiimashita ka?
Where is the cat?猫はどこですか。ねこはどこですか。neko wa doko desu ka?
Do you want to eat rice for dinner?夕食にご飯を食べたいですか。ゆうしょくにごはんをたべたいですか。Yuushoku ni gohan o tabetai desu ka?

Note: You don’t need to put a question mark at the end of the sentence if it ends with か(ka). You can just end the sentence with the Japanese period because か(ka) already indicates it’s a question.

Most question sentences use falling intonation. Rising intonation is used with questions that are answerable by yes or no.

The second usage of か (ka) is a choice marker. It is used to list out options. These options should be specific and determinate. You can think of this か (ka) as an approximate equivalent to the English “or”:

Which is more fun, Japan or Korea?日本か韓国か、どっちのほうが楽しいですか。にほんかかんこくか、どちらのほうがたのしいですか。nihon ka kankoku ka, dochira no hou ga tanoshii desu ka?
Will you go or not?行くか行かないか。いくかいかないか。iku ka ikanai ka?

と (to) Particle

The Japanese particle と (to) serves as a marker of accompaniment. It has two major uses. The first use is to attach two nouns or more. This usage is a close representation of the English “and”:

Cats and birds are cool.猫と鳥がかっこいいです。ねこととりがかっこいです。neko to tori ga kakkoii desu.

と (to) is used to show whom or what something is done with – that’s the keyword here:

We are watching TV with the family.私達は家族とテレビを見ています。わたしたちかぞくとテレビをみています。kazoku to terebi o mite imasu.
I am writing a letter with a pencil.私 は 鉛筆と手紙を書いています。私はえんぴつとてがみをかいています。watashi wa enpitsu to tegami o kaite imasu.

で (de) Particle

The で (de) particle functions as a location marker. This is the particle you’ll need to say where something is located or is taking place. This marker does not qualify movement (we’ll cover that one next) but simply denotes a static location. Check it out:

There are textbooks at the library.図書館で教科書あります。としょかんできょうかしょあります。toshokan de kyoukasho ga arimasu.
We were studying together at school.私達学校で一緒に勉強していました。わたしたちはがっこうでいっしょにべんきょうしていました。watashi tachi wa gakkou de issho ni benkyoushite imashita.

Note: This particle cannot be used with the verbs いる (iru) or ある (aru) – both means “to be”.

The marker of movement

に (ni) Particle

The に (ni) particle is a movement marker.  This particle is used when there is an action of movement between people or objects. There are some Japanese verbs that must take the particle に (ni), which aren’t related to movement, but those are special cases. This particle usually comes right after the location is stated:

Where do you want to go?どこに行きたい です か。どこにいきたい です か。doko ni ikitai desu ka?

Here’s an example of how to use に (ni) when directing an action/motion onto or toward an object:

Please walk over there.あそこに歩いてください。あそこにあるいてくださいasoko ni aruite kudasai.
He hung the jacket in the closet.彼は上着をクローゼットに掛けました。かれはうわぎをくろうせっとにかけました。kare wa uwagi o kurouzetto ni kakemashita.

It’s also used to mark the indirect object in a sentence. Here’s an example:

My father gave me a book.父は私に本を呉れました。ちちはわたしにほんをくれました。chichi wa watashi ni hon o kuremashita.

This particle is also commonly used when speaking about a specific time, such as a day, hour, year, etc. In such cases, it can be seen to translate as “on”, “at”, or “in”:

I ate lunch at 11 o’clock.十一時に昼ご飯を食べた。じゅういちじにひるごはんをたべました。juuichiji ni hiru gohan o tabemashita.
On Wednesday of this week, I will meet my friend who lives in the countryside.今週の水曜日に田舎に住んでいる友達に会います。こんしゅうのすいようびにいなかにすんでいるともだちにあいます。konshuu no suiyoubi ni inaka ni sundeiru tomodachi ni aimasu.

へ (e) Particle

The へ (e) particle uses a character that is often pronounced as “he” but when used as a particle,  へ is pronounced as “e.”

This is another movement marker similar to に (ni) particle. Both particles specify movement onto, into, or toward something else.

The major difference is that へ (e) carries the nuance of going toward another place rather than going to another place. Take a look:

I went to Germany.ドイツへ行きました。どいつへいきました。doitsu e ikimashita.

に (ni) could be used in place of へ (e) in this sentence, and it would still mean “I went to Germany.” Using へ (e) sounds more like “I went to/toward Germany,” implying that perhaps you never made it to your destination. It leaves more room for narrative coloration.

Unlike に (ni), へ (e) can also precede the particle の (no), which then enables a noun to follow the “moving toward.” Here’s an example:

A presentation for a friend友達へのプレセント。ともだちへのぷれせんと。tomodachi e no puresento.

Note: It is possible to use only the particle の (no) in this sentence, but doing so leaves room for ambiguity. It could mean the presentation is for your friend or that is simply your friend’s presentation. Adding the particle へ (e) specifies that the movement is for (goes toward) your friend.

The other movement marker

Other Popular Japanese Particles

We know there are a whole lot of other particles out there, but here are other commonly used Japanese particles.

For confirmation: ね (ne)

When this particle is used at the end of a sentence with a rising intonation, it indicates confirmation. It’s like saying “right?” “isn’t it?” in English.

The sushi is delicious, isn't it?寿司は美味しいですね。すしはおいしいですね。sushi wa oishii desu ne.

For extra emphasis: よ (yo)

It’s kind of like saying the English expression “you know.” It shows strong conviction, so it’s often referred to as the “spoken exclamation mark.” You may often hear this in an anime confession (lol):

Sakura, I really like you!さくらちゃん、大好きだよ!さくらちゃん、 だいすきだよ!sakura-chan, daisuki da yo!

The other option marker: や (ya)

This particle is similar to the particle と (to) -both are used to connect and list multiple items. や (ya) is used when describing a non-exhaustive list rather than a specific list like と (to). In English, this would sound like “such as A and B and C”:

My dad often makes things such as bread and cake.私の父はパンやケーキがよく作ります。わたしのちちはパンやケーキがよくつくります。watashi no chichi wa pan ya keiki ga yoku tsukurimasu.
There are things like bears and deer in the forest.森でクマやシカがいます。もりでくまやしかがいます。mori de kuma ya shika ga imasu.

Note: や (ya) can be used with the formation “A や B” as well as “A や B や”

や (ya) is a fairly simple and important particle for beginners to study. In reality, や (ya) is only really ever used in this way in formal writing. If you want to express this same sentiment when speaking, you’d use another particle, which is the next Japanese particle we’ll talk about.

Saying “etc”: など (nado)

These particles are both ways of saying “etc.” or “and the like.” など (nado) is actually often used alongside や (ya) as a finishing “etc.” to a non-exhaustive list. Other times, it’s used on its own (especially when speaking.) Here are some simple examples of など (nado):

I want a new guitar, drums, etc.私 は 新しいギターやドラムなどが欲しいです。わたしはあたらしいターやドラムなどがほしいです。watashi wa atarashii gitaa ya doramu nado hoshii desu.
I don’t want to return to that house (or the things related to it).あの家など戻りたくない!あのいえなどもどりたくない!ano ie nado modoritakunai!

Saying “from” with から (kara)

Next, the beloved kara. から (kara) indicates the starting point of a time or place. It can be thought of as the English “from.”

This bag is from your grandmother.この鞄はあなたのおばあさんからです。このかばんはあなたのおばあさんからです。kono kaban wa anata no obaasan kara desu.

Saying “until” with まで (made)

This Japanese particle is often used in tandem with から (kara). It marks the end of a point in time. Meaning “until” or “up to” in English.

I will work from 1 o’clock to 4 o’clock.私 は 一時から四時まで仕事をします。わたしはいちじからよじまでしごとをします。watashi wa ichiji kara yoji made shigoto o shimasu.

We weren’t able to cover all in this article, but you’ll bump into the other particles as you continue to learn Japanese. Remember, it’s important to learn Japanese particles when you want to make Japanese sentences! This lesson might be a little hard, but you can do it!

How about beginning to incorporate these particles into phrases? Even small steps can lead to progress.

がんばってください (ganbatte kudasai)! ^^

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