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11. Introduction to Particles

Oni's picture

Particles may seem a little foreign to you at first, but for the most part, they aren't too difficult to grasp.

These particles are placed after a word (or phrase) and show its relationship (grammatical function) to the rest of the sentence.

In other words, the particle itself isn't really translatable, but it tells you a lot about the function of the word it follows.

The best way to learn to use them is to memorize useful examples and try them out for size!

wa - overall topic particle

shows the main topic of the conversation. It may be helpful to think of it as "As for..."

It is a hiragana は ha but pronounced as "wa"

あなた は やさしい。

  • anata wa yasashii.
  • You are nice.

Makes "you" the main topic: "As for YOU, you are nice."

ga - the subject particle

sometimes the difference between wa and ga is hard to tell. Sometimes they can be used interchangeably with only a slight change in meaning. See next entry for more on this.

ねこ が へん。

  • neko ga hen.
  • The cat is strange.

Makes the "cat" the subject

Comparing は and が (by Paul_b)

The topic particle は can easily be confused with the subject particle が. That is because は overrides が, in other words, in a sentence something can very easily be both the topic and the subject of that sentence. In such cases the が "disappears" and it looks like the は is acting as a subject marker.

Take this simple sentence.


  • watashi wa kurei desu.
  • I am Clay.

"I" (that is the speaker, Clay) is the topic and now this is known, it won't be repeated unless the topic changes.

What is the subject of the sentence? That's right - "I" watashi is. But because "I" is also the topic only the topic marker は is used. Now we'll let Clay continue and say another sentence ...


  • neko ga suki desu.
  • (I) like cats.

"cats" is the subject here. "I" is still the topic. He could have said "watashi wa neko ga suki desu." but that is unnecessary because he has already said "watashi wa" establishing the topic in the previous sentence.

if both are in a sentence, the wa is first.
o - The Direct Object particle

本 を よみました。

  • hon o yomimashita.
  • (I) read a book.

it makes "book" the object. If we were to say "I" it would be watashi wa at the beginning.

ni - usually shows movement (to)

日本 に いきましょう!

  • nihon ni ikimashou!
  • Let's go to Japan!

There is movement going to Japan or shows time (at)

6時 に いきましょう!

  • roku ji ni ikimashou!
  • Let's go at 6.
de - Shows location (at, in)

日本 で 遊びましょう!

  • nihon de asobimashou!
  • Let's play (have fun) in Japan!

Notice there is no movement

See the "Particles and Conjunctions" guide for more on this.


Do you have an iPhone/iPod Touch?

You may be interested in this iPhone App for mastering Japanese Particles. It is produced by TJP's good friends over at JapanNewbie.com. It covers the basic particles plus those found on the JLPT N5 and N4 tests. Use the Study Mode and Quiz to test yourself. Click here to jump to the iTunes Japanese 101: Particles page

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like if i wanted to say:
i am in the car. can i say it like this:
watashi was kuruma de desu.

Live to eat , don't eat to live :€

ananya chatterjee's picture

watashi wa kuruma de arimasu

watashi wa kuruma de imasu

micahcowan's picture

watashi wa kuruma ni imasu

You'd want to use "ni" with imasu, not "de".

Mnemonic links

A newbie to Japanese. Wanted to share these mnemonic links for learning Hiragana and Katakana.
and http://japanese.gatech.edu/WebCTVista/JAPN1001/contents/Lesson02/katakan...

A word of caution though! Some mnemonics appear forced but I personally consider them helpful if it helps me remember atleast 60% of the alphabets.

phreadom's picture

Thanks for the links! It

Thanks for the links! It looks like they have a lot of interesting mnemonic images that could be helpful. :)


thnx a lot...... cudnt hav

thnx a lot...... cudnt hav been easier

Live to eat , don't eat to live :€

tuber97's picture

Topic/Subject Difference

First: What's the topic? If you say 僕はパイを食べた then 僕 is the subject because it performs the verb, 食べる. But if は defines the topic and usually the subject too, but が only defines the subject, then what's the difference?

Second: In 猫が好きです it was said that 猫 is the subject. But wouldn't the implied "I" be the subject, for it performs the verb, "好き” and the cat be the direct object, because the verb is being done to it?

Please help, because I am thoroughly confuzzled!



It's exactly the same problem that I have. I don't understand.


if i were too say lets go home id say
homu ni ikimashou
home is the subject
and lets go is the verb????
is there a lesson on the ni?

Knights who say 'Ni'

Ni most closely resembles the English word 'to' in the directional sense of the word.

Uchi ni ikimashou! (Let's go home!) would be literally translated as "to home, we should go"


Sushiya ni ikou ka? (Should we go to a sushi restaurant?) "to a sushi restaurant, should we go?"

It can also be used as a directional indicator in the sense of relative positioning like:

Ue ni (Above/On) would be close to "To the top of"

lets go home

Forgive me if i'm wrong, but i don't think ni is needed for lets go home.

ni particle is normally used when your going to say your doing something at a particular time.

I think if you want to say lets go home:
uchi he kaerimashou
うち へ かえりましょう

kaerimashou-lets return
he- particle used to announce a direction (to, towards)

I hope that's correct, it should be. :D hope that helps

got dang it

i need help with memorizing them
(besides writing them out)
i wuld remember them
then go to school and forget
but b4 i touch the cmputer ill remember
any tricks?
jya mata

get it tattooed ....

get it tattooed .... hehe......jaya mata

Live to eat , don't eat to live :€



I know how you feel I find it difficult to memorise harder words and such.

Ive been learning at my own pace for about 4 years and I'm still not fluent lol.
Some things that ive tried that you may find useful:
1- Write particles in hiragana/katakana on individual post it notes and put them around your room, then each time you look at them pronounce them and describe to yourself what they do.
2- (This may be weird but.) Each time i greet my friends i speak in Japanese so good morning, good night, hello etc. Just the little things really.
3- Personally i watch lots of Anime in Japanese and listen to alot of Japanese music. I don't have a clue what they are saying most of the time but as you learn you will gradually pick up random words and its a great way to learn pronounciation.

Thats just a couple of tips but im sure other people use different methods.

Personally I learn by muscle memory so I write my notes over and over again pronoucing them as I go and thats effective for me.

Hope that helps a little

arisu94's picture


im slowly trying to get the wa and ga but it just is not working out. im still kinda lost in those. but, i get the rest of the particles.
oh yeah, i was wondering if i have to learn kanji and katakana?



wa and ga

I find it tricky too.
From what I know about about が Its used with Verbs and adjectives that describe preference, ability, possession and that you like.

sooo some sentences that use が are:
わたし は イタリア りょうり が すきです - I like Italian Cuisine(Food)
(I dont use Romaji because I dont like it, so this will be in Hiragana/Katakana)

わたし は くるま が あります - I have a car

わたし は 日本語 が わかります - I understand japanese

Hope that kinda gives you a better idea on how it is used.

About your learning Kanji and Katakana. Personally I think you HAVE to learn hiragana and katakana first. Then as you learn the language bit by bit start replacing the Hiragana for Kanji, but only on words you are confident that you know. No point running before you can walk lol and you'll remember it better.
Hope I could help :D


If you know hiragana then start on katakana. Kanji will come later. The first 80 kanji are always the same. It is fun but it is endless. Note the similar hiragana and katakana and learn them first.

Jeison Tonpuson's picture

De or Ni ???

SO to say "I am in the living room" I would say:

"watashi wa ima de imasu" instead of "watashi wa ima ni imasu"?

By the way, I am not sure whether I should be putting the "no nake" in there...


[Jathon Jet]

Valatunda's picture

No, で indicates location, but

No, で indicates location, but not location of existence.

imasu or arimasu

looking at the end of the sentence too, います
thats usually used for animate objects so if you want to say im in the living room would あります not be used instead?? i would have thought living room would be classed as an inanimate object.

not too sure about this one. Any thoughts people???


The living room is indeed an inanimate object and so, if we were saying where that was, あります would be used. However, the living room in this sentence is the place the object is located in, rather than the object we are discussing the location of, and as わたし, the object we are discussing the location of, is certainly an animate object, います is used.

To put it another way, it's whether the object followed by は or が is an animate object that counts, the location is irrelevant in deciding whether あります or います is used.


great that makes sense, thanks thats made it alot clearer for me


Why don't you use desu when you say the cat is strange?

clay's picture

In casual speech, "desu" is

In casual speech, "desu" is often dropped.

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Puzzling Particles

It seems one can ask:  
学生は誰?or 誰が学生?
but not 誰は学生?
Why is this so?

Although so basic, the は and が particles
still puzzle me (sigh).

Is there a link error here?

I click on "for more on this" and it takes me to "fun four letter (kanji) words". Is that an error or an I missing something here?

Anyway, thanks for giving such a clear introduction to particles. Now if only I can get to "more on this"... :)

clay's picture

Thanks! Fixed the wrong

Thanks! Fixed the wrong link.

TheJapanShop.com- Japanese language learning materials
Checkout our iPhone apps: TheJapanesePage.com/iPhone

You da man!

Thanks, Clay! I was half-wondering if you'd be too busy to notice my comment :)
Bless ya!

clay's picture

hehe--I can pretend to be

hehe--I can pretend to be :)

But, I do try to check the comments once a day. I do miss things, but I'm glad I caught your correction. Let me know if you find anything else.

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Kansha's picture

ni vs e

Nihon ni ikimasho (Let's go to Japan) This can also be Nihon e ikimasho, right? is there a rule which particle to use between these 2?


Gambarimasho! :D

he ni

I think they can both be used. I have two books and one uses ni and the other he (e)

ni and he

Im not too sure with this, the description at the top says to use に.
But to me, に is used when you going to do something at a particular time. so if you want to say lets go to Japan next week, you would use に particle as it depicts a particular time.

Then if you want to say, lets go to Japan へ would be used as all you are trying to say is lets to go (towards/in the direction of) Japan.

Anyone else know which is best to use? i dont think you could use both, as the particles do different jobs.

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