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Japanese particles are teeny tiny bits of grammar, but they made a big impact on the clarity of your sentences. Learn Japanese particles, and you’ll have a solid foundation for Japanese grammar.
But particles can seem so confusing to Japanese language learners. Why do we need them? What is their purpose? How do you know when to use は (wa) and が (ga)? The list of questions goes on.
Japanese particles are the “glue” that holds sentences together in Japanese.
Basically, Japanese particles define what you’re talking about in a sentence. They tell you how a noun, object, or verb relate to one another. Similar to English articles “the”, “a”, and “an” and preposition words like “to”, “in”, and “on”.
So, let this be your guide to Japanese particles!
We’ll answer all your questions about Japanese sentences and when to use particles, and teach you the most “must-know” particles as you get started with Japanese.
勉強しましょう！ (Benkyou shimashou, “Let’s study!”)
What are Japanese Particles? (A Brief Introduction to Japanese Sentence Structure)
First, let’s talk about Japanese sentences and their structure. Japanese sentence structure is different from English sentence structure. In English, our sentences look like this:
Subject → Verb → Object
For example: “I ate cake.”
In Japanese, sentences look like this:
Subject → Object → Verb
This means that verbs come at the end of a sentence. Take the same example:
私はケーキ―を食べた (watashi wa ke-ki- wo tabeta)
Watashi is “I”, ke-ki is “cake”, and tabeta is “ate”. So the verb is last. But notice those two extra words in that sentence: は (wa) and を (wo).
Those are particles.
Japanese sentences don’t use spaces, so particles are crucial.
The sentence means exactly the same thing as in English, but it needs those two tiny particles so it makes sense. は tells us what the subject of the sentence is. を tells us who or what is receiving the action.
Particles are especially crucial to Japanese because Japanese sentences don’t use spaces. So, when you’re reading a longer sentence, those particles help tell you where a word begins and ends, and what it’s role is in the sentence.
Let’s take a look at a longer example:
昨日の夜は勉強しながらテレビを見ていたので、あまり集中していませんでした。 (Kinou no yoru wa benkyou shinagara terebi wo mite ita node, amari shuuchuu shite imasen deshita.) “I was watching TV while studying last night, so I wasn’t very focused.”
When you look at a long sentence like that, at first glance, it appears to run together a bit. That’s why you need to look for the particles. I’ve highlighted them below:
Besides some grammar patterns in there that also distinguish what’s what, the particles are essential to understanding that sentence and making it readable.
Okay, now you know Japanese sentence structure and the importance of particles within them. Now, let’s learn when to use Japanese particles.
When to Use Japanese Particles
Japanese grammar particles are used whenever you need to connect to words together. Each particle has its own meaning, and we’ll get to that in a moment.
In English, we say “my dog.” In Japanese, there is no “my” there is only “I + possessive particle”
My dog 私の犬 (watashi no inu)
Without the particle の (no), it would read as “I dog.” Sounds like Tarzan-speak for saying you’ve become a dog, right?
の clarifies that the noun has become possessive.
All particles play this kind of role. You have subject markers, object markers, possessive particles, directional and location particles, time particles and more.
Want to know if you need a particle? Break down the sentence and see if it sounds like “Tarzan speak”.
More often than not, you need a particle between nouns and other nouns, nouns and verbs, and objects and verbs. Sometimes you’ll also need particles between adjectives and adverbs or to end sentences.
If you’re not sure if you need a particle, break down the sentence. If it sounds like Tarzan-speech by translating it directly, you most likely need to add a particle for clarification.
If this seems confusing, don’t worry. You already do this in English! We just call them prepositions, usually. We go to the store or ask for something. So you’ll get used to it in Japanese, too.
Particles get a bit nuanced as you progress because casual Japanese drops particles an awful lot. To understand which particles can be dropped and which ones can’t, you have to have a good understanding of how particles function. So, don’t worry about that for now. Just know you may hear others drop particles on occasion, but as a learner, you should still keep using them.
All The Japanese Particles You Need to Know: Japanese Particles with Examples
There are a lot of Japanese particles — 188, in fact.
Japanese has 188 particles in total — but you don’t need to know all of them as a beginner!
So many, that all the Japanese particles and their uses would be a whole textbook in and of itself. So, I won’t be covering all 188 of them here, but I will be covering all the ones you must know to start speaking Japanese now.
Japanese Subject Marker Particles: は (wa) and が (ga)
In English, we have only a “subject” as the main focus of the sentence. In Japanese, they divide it by subject and topic. This gets confusing when trying to translate into English because English doesn’t differentiate the two. This makes it extremely difficult for English speakers to know when to use は (wa) and when to use が (*ga).
One of the best breakdowns of this I’ve ever seen is in this post from FluentU about particles. They explain it like this: in English, we only see oranges. In Japanese, they see tangerines and mandarins. That’s so perfectly put.
How to Use は (wa)
Let’s look at は (wa) first. は is actually the hiragana character read as “ha.” But as a particle, it’s read as “wa.” Keep that in mind.
は is actually the topic maker particle in Japanese, but we would more associate it as a subject marking particle in English. That’s because, in Japanese, the subject is almost always dropped.
For instance, “I like sushi” is 私は寿司が好きです (watashi wa sushi ga suki desu). But if you’re talking to someone, and they ask “Do you like sushi?”, well, the subject is already known. They know your answer is about you. So you would just say うん、寿司がすきです (un, sushi ga suki desu, “Yes, (I) like sushi”). You don’t need “I”.
は can also be used as a contrasting particle, to put emphasis on the noun or topic you prefer over something else. But that’s a topic for later because it can become quite confusing to a beginner trying to learn the difference between は and が.
How to Use が (ga)
が (ga) is also a subject-marking particle, but it’s almost never dropped. It’s important for many reasons.
In the sentence we just used as an example, you may have noticed that が was also present! Let’s look at it again:
(私は)寿司が好きです。 ([watasahi wa]) sushi ga suki desu)
Since we don’t need watashi wa because it’s clear I’m talking about myself, then sushi actually becomes the subject of this sentence. We use が here to emphasize that sushi is the thing we like.
If you’re going to use it with a verb, the verb needs to be in dictionary/infinite form and you need to add の (no). Here’s what that looks like:
運動するのが好きです。 (undou suru no ga suki desu.) “I like exercising.”
の functions as a normalizer for the verb, turning “exercising” into a noun. が still plays its role of letting us know that exercising is what we like to do.
が also connects sentences to mean “but” or “also”.
食べ過ぎたが、まだ甘いものがほしいです。 (tabesugita ga, mada amaimono ga hoshii desu.) “I ate too much, but I still want something sweet.”
Here, we have two が particles, but they play different roles. The first が connects two thoughts: “I ate too much. I still want something sweet.” It makes it sound more natural by adding “but” to connect them. The second が is the subject marker. It lets us know that what we want (hoshii) is something sweet to eat (amaimono).
Lastly, が is used to emphasize or correct who the subject of a sentence is. For instance, if someone asked my friend, “Are you Caitlin?”, I could correct them with が. Take a look:
知らない人（友達へ): ケイトリンですか。(Shiranaihito (tomodachi e): Keitorin desu ka) 私: 私がケイトリンです。(Watashi: Watashi ga Keitorin desu)
Stranger (to my friend): “Are you Caitlin?” Me: “I’m Caitlin.”
が is one of the most versatile particles, but these are its main functions you’ll come across often.
Japanese Question Marker Particle: か (ka)
か (ka) is so simple. In Japanese, it works as the ? at the end of a sentence. So you can change any sentence to a question by adding か to the end.
映画に行きます。行きたいですか。 (Eiga ni ikimasu. Ikitai desu ka.) “I’m going to a movie. Would you like to go?”
In spoken Japanese, you raise the intonation at the end of the sentence to make it a question like you would in English. When speaking formally, you always use か at the end. But when speaking to a friend, you can drop か and only use a higher intonation to mark it as a question.
In writing, it’s becoming more common to drop か and use ？ when writing casually. But if you’re writing formally, you’ll still use か as the question mark and end with the Japanese period 。
Japanese Direct Object Marking Particle: を (wo)
を is romanized as wo but is actually said as “o”. It’s used to mark the direct object of the sentence, the object that receives the action of the verb. Like all particles, it comes after the word it’s marking.
晩ご飯を食べた。 (Bangohan wo tabeta) “I ate dinner.”
Here, を is marking 晩ご飯 (bangohan, “dinner”) as the thing we ate (tabeta).
Japanese Possessive Particle: の (no)
We already talked about this one a bit, but let’s review it more in-depth.
の (no) is the possessive particle. It turns pronouns into their possessive form.
私の本 (watashi no hon) “My book”
さくらちゃんの猫 (Sakura-chan no neko) “Sakura’s cat”
But の is also used to connect to related nouns. For example, if you want to say you’re a student of Tokyo University, you’d use の like this:
東京大学の学生です。 (Toukyou daigaku no gakusei desu) “I’m a student at Tokyo University.”
In Japanese, you’re a student belonging to Tokyo University. Since the university is where you belong (where you attend), it gets the possessive particle の to show the connection.
の can also be used to drop a redundant word that’s already been clearly stated. Like so:
友達: 誰の本ですか。(Tomodachi: Dare no hon desu ka) 私: さくらちゃんの。 (Watashi: Sakura-chan no)
Friend: “Whose book is this?” Me: “Sakura’s.”
の is often used to replace the name of the noun, and just mean “it” or “this”.
私: ねえ、別のカップが必要です。一つの渡してください. (Watashi: Nee, betsu no kappu ga hitsuyo desu. Hitotsu no watashite kudasai) お姉ちゃん: どれの？ (Oneechan: Dore no?) 私: 赤いの。(Watashi: Akai no.)
Me: Hey, I need another cup. Please pass me one. Older sister: Which one? Me: The red one.
You can see here that の is used several times as “one”. We already know that I need a cup, so instead of repeating カップ (kappu) over and over, we use の instead.
There are so many uses for this particle as well, and if you’d like a more in-depth explanation, check out this lesson from Tae Kim.
Japanese Movement and Time Marking Particle: に (ni)
に (ni) can mean “to”, “at”, “for”, and typically marks movement toward a location, the time, or an indirect object.
Let’s say you’re setting a time to meet up with a friend. You would use に to mark the time you want to meet.
十時半ぐらいに会いましょうね。 Juujihan gurai ni aimashou ne. “Let’s meet around 10:30.”
The に particle comes after the time, in this case, “around 10:30” (juujihan gurai). You can use this for any time, such as months, years, etc. Not just hours of the day.
に is also used as the particle to express a location to which you’re going.
学校に行っています。 Gakkou ni itte imasu. “I’m going to school.”
As you can see, this time に is marking “school” (gakkou) as the place we’re headed to (itte imasu). You can also use it with the verb “to come” which is 来る (kuru), and other travel-related verbs.
学校に来ます。 Gakkou ni kimasu. “Come to school.”
日本に旅行するつもりです。 Nippon ni ryokou suru tsumori desu. “I plan to travel to Japan.”
The above examples are probably the most common uses of に. But you’ll also see it marking the indirect object of a sentence.
(私は) さくらちゃんにプレセントを上げました。 (Watashi wa) Sakura-chan ni puresento wo agemashita. “I gave Sakura-chan a present.”
We use に here because Sakura is the indirect object. The present received the action from the verb, so it’s marked with を (wo). I’m the one doing the action, marked by は (wa). But Sakura received the present from me, so she’s marked by に (ni).
Japanese Directional Particle: へ (e)
へ (e) also marks movement and direction, and translate as “to” as well. In fact, へ and に are used almost interchangeably when talking about going “to” a place.
The biggest difference is that へ is a bit more formal, like saying “I’m going towards a place” instead of “I’m going to a place.”
学校へ行っています。 Gakkou e itte imasu. “I’m going to/toward school.”
Plus, へ combined with の is used talk about metaphorical movement.
最後に正しい方向への向かっています。 Saigo ni tadashii houkou he no mukatte imasu. “Finally, I’m heading in the right direction (in life/career/etc.).”
“Also” or “Too” Particle in Japanese: も (mo)
も (mo) is used to say “also”, “too”, or “both”. You’ll often swap out another particle for this one.
私もスターウォーズが大好きです。 Watashi mo suta-wozu ga daisuki desu. “I also love Star Wars.” or “I love Star Wars, too.”
友達: ハリーポッターまたはスターウォーズが好きですか？ (Tomodachi: Hari- potta- mata wa suta-wozu ga suki desu ka?) 私: ええええ？ どうすれば選ぶ？！ハリーポッターもスターウォーズも大好きだよ。(Watashi: Eeeeeh? Dou sureba erabu?! Hari- potta- mo suta-wozu mo daisuki da yo.)
Friend: Do you like Harry Potter or Star Wars? Me: Whaaaaat?? How could I choose?! I love both Harry Potter AND Star Wars.
In this case, you use も after both things.
Particle for “And” in Japanese: と (to) or や (ya)
When talking about two objects, you use the particle と (to).
犬と猫がかわいいね。 Inu to neko ga kawaii ne. “Dogs and cats are cute, aren’t they.”
But if you want to talk about many things, especially listing a few things from a long list, you’d use や (ya). This particle lets the listener know you’re listing some things, but not all of them, so it’s an incomplete list.
犬や猫やうさぎがかわいいね。 Inu ya neko ya usagi ga kawaii ne. “Dogs, cats, and rabbits (among others) are cute, aren’t they.” (Kind of nuanced here like: “Fluffy animals such as dogs, cats, and rabbits are cute.”)
Particle for “But” in Japanese: でも (demo)
There are actually several ways to say “but” depending on context and meaning.
We already talked about how が (ga) can be used as a particle to connect sentences with “but.”
Many times though, you’ll hear でも as “but”. This “but” though is a bit stronger, and more used to emphasize what comes next, rather than to connect to sentences.
昨日は夕食が本当に好きでした。でも、この食事は最高です！ Kinou wa yuushoku ga hontou ni suki deshita. Demo, kono shokuji wa saikou desu! “I really liked dinner yesterday. But, THIS meal is incredible!!”
Particle for “Or” in Japanese: または or か+それとも
または (mata wa) means “or” and you place it between two objects in a sentence to give an option.
コーヒーまたはお茶を飲みたい？ Ko-hi- mata wa ocha wo nomitai? “Want to have coffee or tea?”
That said, the particle か (ka) can be used to say “this or that”.
これかあれ？ (kore ka are?) “This one or that one?”
か (ka) + それとも (soretomo) is usually used to say “this or that” by connecting two questions together.
買い物に行くべきですか、それとも家に帰って勉強するべきですか。 Kaimono ni iku beki desu ka, soretomo ie ni kaette bekyou suru beki desu ka. “Should I go shopping or go home to study?”
Japanese Particles Cheatsheet: List of all Japanese Particles Mentioned Here
Finally, here’s a handy cheatsheet to summarize what you’ve learned and help you figure out which particle you need to use.
|は (wa)||Topic marker||Marks the person expressing their thoughts or doing the action.||私は寿司が好きです。||Watashi wa suki desu.|
|が (ga)||Subject marker, emphasis, or “but”||Marks the subject of the sentence, adds emphasis or corrects a statement, or connect two sentences with “but”||食べ過ぎたが、まだ甘いものがほしいです。||Tabesugita ga, mada amaimono ga hoshii desu.|
|か (ka)||Question particle||Is used in place of the ? in English.||映画に行きます。行きたいですか。||Eiga ni ikimasu. Ikitai desu ka.|
|を (wo)||Direct object particle||Marks the direct object that receives the action from the verb.||晩ご飯を食べた。||Bangohan wo tabeta.|
|の (no)||Possessive particle||Turns a pronoun into a possessive form, “belonging to”, or generic noun “this one”||さくらちゃんの猫。||Sakura-chan no neko.|
|に (ni)||Movement, time and indirect object particle||Means “to”, “at”, or “for”||学校に行っています。||Gakkou ni itte imasu.|
|へ (he)||Directional particle||Meaning “to” or “towards”||学校へ行っています。||Gakkou he itte imasu.|
|も (mo)||Inclusive particle||Means “also”, “too” or “both”||私もスターウォーズが大好きです。||Watashi mo suta-wozu ga daisuki desu.|
|と (to)||Connecting two objects||Used as “and”||犬と猫がかわいいね。||Inu to neko ga kawaii ne.|
|や (ya)||Connecting two or more objects from an incomplete list||Used as “and” for an incomplete list of examples||犬や猫やうさぎがかわいいね。||Inu ya neko ya usagi ga kawaii ne.|
|でも (demo)||“But”||Stronger than が, and used for emphasis||昨日は夕食が本当に好きでした。でも、この食事は最高です！||Kinou wa yuushoku ga hontou ni suki deshita. Demo, kono shokuji wa saikou desu!|
|または (mata wa)||“Or”||Used to give a selection between two nouns||コーヒーまたはお茶を飲みたい？||Ko-hi- mata wa ocha wo nomitai?|
|か (ka) + それとも (*soretomo*)||“This or that”||Used to ask “this or that” by connecting two questions||買い物に行くべきですか、それとも家に帰って勉強するべきですか。||Kaimono ni iku beki desu ka, soretomo ie ni kaette bekyou suru beki desu ka.|
Ditch Tarzan-Speak and Start Speaking Real Japanese Like a Native
It all starts with Japanese particles. These seemingly small words make or break how your Japanese comes across, so master these on this list, and you’re well ahead of the game.
Now that you’ve learned about particles, what’s your next Japanese focus? Will you learn more about Japanese culture? Focus on the basics of Japanese grammar conjugation? Or have some fun with Japanese slang and onomatopeoia? The Japanese language world is your oyster.