Let’s get started with an important part of the Japanese language. That’s right, I’m talking about ‘particles’, and not the microscopic kind that float in the air and make you allergic..nope! I’m referring to the kind of particles that are used to make sense of a sentence.
The concept of particles can be challenging to many, especially the commonly used particles “wa” and “ga” which undoubtedly are the most difficult particles for learners of the language to grasp (We will cover these two particles in depth later on).
First, Let’s go step by step and make sense of Japanese particles.
1. So, what exactly are Particles?
Think of a particle as the glue which holds a sentence together & gives structure to the sentence. Japanese particles have no meaning on their own, instead their function is to show the relationship of a word, phrase or clause to the rest of the sentence. If it weren’t for particles then Japanese sentences would be a jumbled mess consisting of words with no relation to one another, like this:
watashi neko suki.
Now look what happens when we add particles, like so:
(As for) me, Cats (which are the subject of this sentence) are liked.
The different uses of Particles:
Some particles indicate grammatical function such as (subject, object, indirect object, etc.) For example the particle “ga” which is used to indicate what the subject of the sentence is.
Sushi ga suki desu.
I like sushi.
(Here our subject is “sushi” as indicated by the particle”ga”)
Other particles are used to indicate location or direction. For example the particle ‘ni’ which is used to indicate location. ‘ni’ is used similarly to the English “to” or “at”
watashi wa tokyou ni ikitai desu.
I want to go to Tokyo.
(Here, the particle ‘ni’ is indicating that the location or direction of going is “Tokyo”)
Placement of Japanese particles
Particles always come after the word or group of words they mark. This makes it easy for learners to identify what word the particle is trying to assign a function or purpose to in the sentence.
Iam Amy.(In this example sentence we used the particle “wa” which is a topic marking particle. We can tell which word the particle is trying to single out and assign a function to since it’s always the word that comes before the particle. In this case, the word that the particle ‘wa’ is marking as the topic of the sentence is “watashi“.)
(Let’s practice some more!)
ga is a subject marking particle. It marks the subject of the sentence.
Can you guess what the subject of this sentence is?
- dare ga kimashita ka.
Click for answer
(‘dare‘ is the subject of the sentence since it is the word that comes before the particle ‘ga’.)
Omission of Japanese particles.
Although particles play an important role in making sense of a sentence in Japanese, there are some particles which are often omitted in spoken Japanese. The concept of dropping particles is an unfamiliar one since particles are never dropped in the English language. Before looking at examples of this, let’s first establish which particles can be omitted.
- が (ka)
- を (wo)
- に (ni)
- へ (e)
All other particles cannot be omitted.
As always, there are exceptions to the rule and so you will come across particle behaviors that have no particular logic or reasoning. While some particles more or less follow certain rules regarding use, others do not and must be learned and memorized as you go. Don’t try to pull your hairs out trying to find a logical clear reason why particles exist and why they behave the way they do..just become familiar with them through good old fashion “memorization”. Here is the upside, it’s okay if you happen to make a mistake concerning the correct placement/usage of a particle, especially as a beginner since 9 times out of 10 a native Japanese speaker will understand what you’re trying saying since Japanese is less complicated and rigid when it comes to correct particle usage compared to the English language. The more you listen to the Japanese language the more you will get accustomed to hearing them and getting a feel for where particles belong in a sentence.
Using Japanese particles correctly will make your Japanese conversational skills more fluid. So let’s learn to love and accept particles, instead of seeing them as road blocks to learning the Japanese language.
- Click to buy: All About Particles: A Handbook of Japanese Function Words (NipponCat’s pick for best book explaining Japanese particles.)
Click to skip to particle
dai ( だい )
Definition: marks wh-question (who, what, where, when, why)
‘dai‘ is an interrogative sentence-ending particle used in informal male speech for wh-questions (i.e. who, what, when, where, why), as well as “how”. It transforms a regular declarative sentence into a question, and should be pronounced with a rising intonation.
Who is it?
nani suru n dai?
What are you doing?
doushite sonna ni iya na kao suru n dai?
Why are you making such an awful face?
kaigi wa itsu dai?
When is the meeting?
Please keep in mind that “dai” cannot be used for yes-no questions, in other words you cannot answer to a question ending in “dai” with a “yes” or “no” since it requires a detailed or specific answer. However when a sentence ends in ‘kai’ you can respond with a “yes” or “no”. “kai” has the same function as “dai”, there are two differences between them though:
1. “dai” cannot be used for yes-no questions, while “kai” can.
2. “dai” can only be used with wh-questions, while “kai” is used with nouns/adjectives.
When “dai” is used with verbs, always use the informal (a.k.a plain) form of verbs. Do not use the formal form of verbs with “dai” or “kai”
Definition: only; just; merely; simply; no more than; nothing but;
‘dake’ is used after nouns,verbs or adjectives to express limit or exclusiveness. Think of it as ‘only’ or ‘just’.
1. miteru dake desu. = I’m just looking.
2. hoshii no wa kimi dake desu. = The only thing I want is you.
3. kimi dake wo omotteru = I’m thinking only of you.
4. jibun no tame dake ni ikitai. = I want to live only for myself.
5. sore dake desu. = That’s all.
This expression is usually written in hiragana only.
When used with ‘dekiru = can / be able to do ‘ it becomes an adverb meaning “as … as possible”.
dekiru dake hayaku hashitta.
I ran as fast as possible.
yomeru dake yonda.
I read as much as I could read.
“dake” is commonly found in such compounds as “koredake” (“this much”/”all this”), soredake/aredake (“that much“/”all that”), and “doredake” (“how much”).
Definition: (1. at, in(location) / 2. by(means)/ 3.with, from, out of(material, ingredient) / 4.because of, due to(cause,reason)
‘de’ is a particle with many meanings. It means (at, in, on, by, with, from, because of, for). Though the basic function of the particle ‘de’ is to mark the location or means of an action. Let’s look at examples for all the usages!
Usage 1: [Indicating location of an action] (at, in, on)
‘de’ is used after a noun to point out the place where an action occurs or will occur. When used in this manner it takes on the meaning of (at, in, on ) ex> [gakkou de = at school] ex>[kouen de = in the park / at the park]
[ Place] + [de] + [verb/noun]
1.kyou tomodachi no uchi de benkyou shimasu. (I’m going to study at a friend’s house today.)
2.karera wa paatii de atta. (They met at a party.)
3. kouen de kagi wo nakushita. (I lost the keys in the park.)
4. koko de matte kudasai. = Please wait here. (lit: here-at-wait-please)
5. kippu wa doko de kaemasu ka? = Where can I buy tickets? (lit: tickets-where-at-can I buy-?)
6. yane de nanika oto ga suru. = I hear a sound on the roof.
7. konban wa soto de tabemasu. = I’m going to eat out tonight.
Usage 2: Describing means used to go to a place or to do something (by,with,in,using)
When ‘de’ is used to describe the means of transportation the meaning is “by”(see#1-5). When ‘de’ is used to describe the tool with which one does an action, the meaning changes to “with”(see#6). However when ‘de’ is used to describe the method or instrument which one uses to communicate with, the meaning changes to “in, using” (see #7-9)
[noun] + [de]
1. hikouki de kimashita. = I came by plane. [ by means of an airplane]
2. kuruma de ikimashou ka? = Shall we go by car? [by means of a car]
3. aruite de ikimasu. = I’ll go by foot. [by means of walking]
4. koukuubin de okuritai no desu. = I want to send it by airmail.
5. funabin de nannichi gurai kakarimasu ka? = How many days will it take by seamail?
6. hashi de gohan wo taberu. = eat with chopsticks
7. eigo de itte kudasai. = Please say it in English. [sense: Say it using the method of English]
8. sukaipu de hanashimashita. = We talked using skype.
9. tomodachi to eigo de hanasu. = I talk to my friend in English.
10. jibun de tsukurimashita. = I made it myself.
Usage 3: (to indicate reason) (because of, due to, for )
‘de’ is also used to give the listener a reason for an action or reason for a state of being.
1. kaori wa kaze de yasunde imasu. = Kaori is absent due to a cold. / Kaori is absent because of a cold.
2. kare no okaasan wa gan de nakunarimashita. = His mother died of cancer.
3. seijitsu na hitogara de shirareru. = He is known for his sincere personality. (sense: due to his sincere personality)
4. otousan ga byouki de byouin ni iku you ni narimashita. = My father was sick, so I wound up going to the hospital.
Usage 4: (describing material or composition) (with, from, out of)
When ‘de’ is used to describe what type of material or indredient something is made from, then the meaning changes to (from, out of , by using)
1. sake wa kome de tsukurareru. = Sake is made from rice. / Sake is made out of rice.
2. watashi wa kami de bara wo tsukirimashita. = I made a rose out of paper.
3. kono soosu wa yooguruto de tsukurimashita. = This sauce is made by using yogurt. / This sauce is made out of yogurt.
Don’t confuse the the location indicator ‘de’ with the ‘de’ found in the negative ‘-naide kudasai’ form which means (please don’t X).
koko de tabako wo suwanaide kudasai. (lit: here-in-tabako-don’t smoke please.)
Please don’t smoke here.
Don’t confuse ‘de’ with the ‘de’ derived from the copula ‘da’ which has a totally different usage.
Definition: (1. but / 2. any / 3. even / 4. or something)
Usage 1: ‘demo’ acts as a conjunction meaning ‘but’ or ‘however’.
Usage 2: (Any)
When ‘demo’ is used with question words like the ones below, the meaning changes to ‘any’ :
- nan [what]
- itsu [when]
- dare [who]
- doko [where]
- dou [how]
- nandemo = anything
- itsudemo = anytime
- daredemo = anyone / anybody
- dokodemo = anywhere
- doudemo = anyway
- dochirademo = eitherway /whichever way (dochira demo ii desu = Either way is okay.)
Usage 3: (even)
The third meaning is “even”. Take a look at the examples below for a clearer idea of how it’s used.
1. sensei demo wakaranai deshou. = Even the teacher probably won’t be able to understand it.
2. iya demo yaranakereba naranai. = I have to do it, even if I hate it.
3. kodomo demo dekimasu. = Even a child can do it.
4. ima demo anata ga suki. = Even now, I love you.
5. nichiyoubi demo benkyou shinakereba naranai. = I have to study even on sundays.
———————-Usage 4: (or something/or somewhere)
1. koohii demo ikaga desu ka? = Would you like some coffee (or something)?
2. anata wa amerika kara demo kimashita ka? = Did you come from Amerika or somewhere?
Definition: destination indicator
‘e’ is a destination indicator. It’s used to indicate that the noun that comes before it is the destination towards which the verb will be directed. It can mean “to/towards/in/into/on/onto”
[Place noun] + [e] + [verb]
1. gakkou e ikimasu. = I go to school.
2. nihon e ikitai = I want to go to Japan.
3. itsu amerika e ikimasu ka? = When are you going to America?
4. kinou eigakan e ikimashita. = I went to the movie theather yesterday.
5. nihon e itta koto ga arimasu ka? = Have you ever been to Japan?
6. mishi e mukatte kudasai. = Please face towards the west. [lit: west-to-go towards-please]
Definition: 1. subject marker
2. subject emphasizer, distinguisher
ga is a subject marker. It’s placed after a noun to indicate that it’s the subject of the sentence. Ga is used in neutral descriptions of observable actions or situations(see ex#1,2). The second usage of “ga” is to show special emphasis in order to distinguish a particular person or thing from all others(see ex#3,4,5).
tegami ga kimashita.
The mail came.
ame ga futte imasu.
watashi ga shimashita.
I did it.
toukyou ga ookii desu.
Tokyo is big.
- nani ga omoshiroi desu ka?
What is interesting?
(In the above sentence “ga” is placed after “nani” to emphasize “what thing (in specific)”.
Usage 2: (Subject emphasizer / distinguisher)
“ga” is used for emphasis, to distinguish a person or thing from all others. If a topic is marked with “wa,” the comment is the most important part of the sentence. On the other hand, if a subject is marked with “ga,” the subject is the most important part of the sentence. In English, these differences are sometimes expressed in tone of voice. Compare these two sentences.
noriko wa toshokan ni ikimashita.
Noriko went to the library.
noriko ga toshokan ni ikimashita.
Noriko (is the one who) went to the library.
kutsu ga hoshii desu. = I want shoes (it is shoes that I want)
When a question word such as “who” and “what” is the subject of a sentence, it is always followed by “ga,” never by “wa.” To answer the question, it also has to be followed by “ga.”
dare ga kimasu ka.
Who is coming?
miu ga kimasu.
Miu is coming.
ga in a Special Circumstance
The object of the sentence is usually marked by the particle “wo,” but some verbs and adjectives (expressing like/dislike, desire, potential, necessity, fear, envy etc.) take “ga” instead of “wo.”
kuruma ga hoshii desu. (never “kuruma wo hoshii.”)
I want a car.
nihongo ga wakarimasu.
I understand Japanese.
gurai / kurai
Definition: about / approximately
‘gurai’ also pronounced (kurai) is used to indicate that the quantity given is approximate or an estimate. ‘kurai’ is always placed after the quantity or extent that it estimates.
dono gurai jikan ga kakarimasu ka?
How many hours will it/you take?
kyou san juu peeji kurai yonda.
I read about 30 pages today.
osaka made wa nanpun gurai kakarimasu ka.
(about) How many minutes will it take to Osaka?
kanji wa dono gurai yomemasu ka.
How many kanji can you read?
kinou no paatii ni nijuunin gurai ga kimasita.
(About) twenty people came (to) yesterday’s party.
Definition: Question marker (?)
‘ka’ is the equivalent of the English question mark[?]. It’s placed at the end of a statement to turn it into a question. You can turn any sentence in Japanese into a question by placing ‘ka’ at the end. Yes, It’s that simple!
Simply place at the end of a sentence to turn it into question form.
a)okiniwa ni atsui desu. = It’s hot in Okinawa.
b)okinawa ni atsui desu ka = Is it hot in Okiniwa?
a) ano hito wa sayuri desu.
That person over there is Sayuri.
b) ano hito wa sayuri desu ka.
Is that person over there Sayuri?
extra sentence examples:
1. wakaru ka? = Do you understand? (formal form is “wakarimasu ka?”)
2. nan-sai desu ka? = How old are you?
‘ka’ has another usage. It’s placed in after each noun in the sentence to express choices or options the speaker or listener may have.
1. densha ka basu ka de ikimasu.
I will go either by train or by bus.
2. nani wo nomitai desu ka? koohii ka juusu ka ?
What do you want to drink? Coffee or juice?
3. docchi no hou ga ii? banira ka chokoreeto ka ?
Which is better? vanilla or chocolate?
nanika is most commonly used to mean “something”
ex: nanika choudai.
Give me something.
‘kke’ is another sentence ending particle that acts as a question marker, but this grammar is used only in conversation and is used when asking a question in order to confirm/affirm something. (i.e something you have forgotten)
nan da kke. = What was it (again) ?
dare da kke. = Who is it (again)?
There are other ways of asking a questions, but they are considered informal. Go to “kai” “dai” to learn these informal question forms.
kana / kashira
Definition: (I wonder)
“kana” and it’s feminine counterpart “kashira” are both sentence ending particles used by the speaker to express his/her uncertainty or doubt about something. It can be used as a question to onself or as a request to the listener.Think of it as “I wonder..?” or “could it be..?” in English.
Always placed after plain forms but never used together with ‘da’ [da is always omitted)
1. doushite hitori de dekaketa no kana. = I wonder why he/she went out alone?
2. kore de ii kana.
I wonder if it’s okay.
3. nakamaru san wa eigo ga dekiru kana. = I wonder if Mr. Nakamaru can speak English.
4. ashita wa ame kana.
I wonder if it will rain tomorrow.
5. kare wa sensei datta kashira.
I wonder if he was a teacher? (Could he have been a teacher?)
6. watashi no ki no sei kashira?
Could it be my imagination?
a) When spoken, the last [a] in ‘kana’ is elongated –> [kanaa]b) kashira is the formal form of expressing uncertainty.
c) kana is considered masculine speech so it’s used mostly by males, while “kashira” is considered as feminine speech therefor it’s used only by women. (although sometimes a female speaker might use”kana”, but you won’t hear a male speaker using “kashira”.)
Definition: 1. from[point in space or time] 2. because, since[reason or cause]
‘kara’ is placed after the origin/source from which an action or an object came. It can refer to a beginning point in space (from) or a beginning point in time(since). In this usage ‘kara’ will always come after a noun.
1. watashi wa sapporo kara kimashita. = I came from Sapporo.
2. tomodachi kara tegami wo moraimashita. = I got a letter from a friend.
3. koko kara. = From here / From here on
4. umareta toki kara koko ni sunde imasu. = I’ve been living here since I was born. [lit: from when born-here I living]
5. konban hachiji kara benkyou suru koto ga dekimasu ka? = Can you study from 8:00 tonight?
Usage2: *for second usage of kara click here to go to the conjugations page to see how kara works as a conjunction.
a)kara and made are often used together to mean “from something to something” or “from some time to sometime”
1. koko kara osaka made dono gurai desu ka? = How long does it take from here to Osaka?
3. nanji kara nanji made nemasu ka? = From what time to what time do you sleep?
4. niji-han kara yonji made bdenkyou shimasu. = I will study from 2:30 to 4:00.
5. yuugure kara yoake made = From dusk till dawn.
but ofcourse each one can be used independently from eachother.
b) do not confuse “kara” with the conjunction “-te kara”. When you see the particle ‘kara’ placed after the -te form of a verb the meaning of ‘kara’ changes to “after”.
shokuji shite kara terebi wo mimashita. = I watched television after having my meal.
Definition: but, however,although
keredomo is a particle that joins two clauses while showing a sense of contrast or opposition between them. Think of it as “but, however, although, even though”.
Although Clause 1 is X , Clause 2 is X .
1. shigoto wa kibishii keredo, yarigai ga aru . = The work is hard , but it’s rewarding .
2. depaato wa takai keredo, benri. = Department stores are expensive, but convenient.
3. tsukareteiru keredomo, mousukoshi ganbarimasu. = Although I’m tired, I’ll go on a bit longer.
4. kaneko san ni denwa wo kaketa keredomo, rusu deshita. = I called Kaneko, but she was out.
5. watashi wa nihongo wo hanasu keredomo, heta desu. = I speak Japanese, but I’m not good at it.
6. hiragana wa yasashii kedo, kanji wa muzukashii desu. = Hiragana is easy, but Kanji is difficult.
7. kuruma ga arimasen keredomo, unten dekimasu. = I don’t have a car, but I can drive.
8. kare wa wakai keredo, kangae no shikkari shita hito desu. = Although he’s young, he’s a sound thinking person.
kedo , keredo , kedomo are colloquial variants.