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Expressing and/or in Japanese

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  • (particle) a particle which lists things exhaustively

This particle is used to connect nouns in a way similar to the use of English's and. However, unlike in English where and doesn't give any connotations to the inclusiveness of the set listed, と gives a noun list that is completely inclusive (i.e. there is nothing other than what is listed). Here's an example to demonstrate this:

A:What did you buy at the supermarket?

B:I bought vegetables and milk.

In this case, B bought vegetables, milk, and nothing else. If B did buy other things at the store, they would use や instead.

When talking about a list of 3 or more items, the particle と must go between each noun. So if you were to say "A, B, C, and D" in English, you must say 「AとBとCとD」 in Japanese (although an optional と can come just after the last noun as well). This listing of nouns is a noun phrase, and can be used anywhere where a noun could be used.

It is important to note that と can only connect nouns; you can't connect sentences together with it like you can use and for in English. For instance, the following English sentence is grammatical, whereas the Japanese one is NOT:

C:I will go do outside and listen to music.
C:そとくと音楽おんがくく。 (incorrect)

See also: Particles :: と
See also: Conditionals

  • (particle) a particle which marks an alternative

The か that will be discussed here is not the sentence ending particle which makes a sentence a question, despite using the same character. This particle is similar to the English or. When connecting nouns, か is used just like と. Additionally, か can be used to connect sentences in an "either ~ or ~" fashion. Here's a quick example of how to connect nouns:

A:Do you want water or tea?

If you want to connect two sentences, use the following structure: S1 か S2 か どちらか ~ (spaces are added for clarity)

S1 and S2 are two sentences in short form. The ~ indicates that the entire construction can be treated as a noun phrase. Here's a couple examples to demonstrate this:

B:Either writing a letter or making a phone call are fine if you want to contact me.

C:Decide on either eating or talking.

  • (conjuction) a coordinate conjunction that is used to list two or more items (nouns or noun phrases) in an inexhaustive fashion

If you were to use or in an English sentence and were looking for a Japanese equivalent, や would be a good candidate. It takes a list of nouns and connects them in a way that implies the existance of other items outside of what is explicitly mentioned. Using the example from と:

A:What did you buy at the supermarket?

B:I bought vegetables, milk, and other things.

Here, the listing of vegetables and milk is by no means exhaustive, and so there must be other items bought that weren't explicitly named. The usage of や is the same as と with one exception: there is never a trailing や at the end of the noun listing. Also, just like と, this conjuction can't be used to connect sentences; it is just limited to connecting nouns and noun phrases.

や is similar to とか, but cannot in general be freely interchanged with it. This distinction is elaborated on in the とか section coming up.

See also: Particles :: や


  • (conjunction) a conjunction that lists two or more items, actions or states as inexhaustive examples

This conjunction can be used to connect nouns, and entire sentences together. When used for connecting nouns, the grammatical usage of it is identical to that of や. However, there is a definate difference in meanings between the two. とか is used when you want a general, inexhaustive listing, whereas や must be used with a listing of items related to a specific time and place. An example is in good order here:

A:Could you give me some examples of what kind of sports you like?

B:ええと…サッカーやバスケットボールです。 (incorrect)
B:Let's see... I like soccer and basketball (among others ones).

や can't be used here because the listing of sports is quite general in nature. The next example shows a case where it is instead ungrammatical to use とか:

C:What did you eat last weekend at that restaurant?

D:寿司すしとかそばをべました。 (incorrect)
D:I ate sushi and soba (among other things).

Here it would be ungrammatical to use とか because the listing of items here pertain to a specific time and place, namely, the restaurant that D ate at last weekend.

Like previously mentioned, とか can be used to connect sentences as well as nouns; a trait different from both と and や. Here's an example to show this:

E:If you have free time, you should clean the house and study (among other things).

The form of this construction is: S1 とか S2 とか する (spaces are added for clarity)

S1 and S2 are two different sentences, with the verb in short form. The verb of the whole sentence is する (to do). Much like the difference between とか and や for nouns, there is another counterpart to とか, namely たり, and the distinction between the two is an important one.

See also: Particles :: とか


  • (phrase) a phrase which expresses an inexhaustive listing of actions or states

To use this form, you use the following structure: S1 たり S2 たり する (spaces are added for clarity)

S1 and S2 are two different sentences. The verb in each S must be conjugated to the short, past tense form, with a trailing り added (e.g. くる→きたり). Don't let the fact that the form you conjugate the verbs to is the past tense confuse you; it is just a mere conjugation. The tense, formality, and so on is carried by the sentence final する verb. Let's give a couple examples here of how it's used before clarifying its meaning (note that more than 2 sentences phrases can be connected by ~たり if desired, but these examples only use 2):

A:We did things like swimming and running.

B:This town is sometimes bustling, sometimes calm.

C:Because Mr Tanaka sometimes comes, and sometimes doesn't come, it is definately okay not to wait for him.

Notice how in all 3 of these example sentences, the actions described in the clauses preceeding ~たり are related? This is not an accident. とか is used when referring to something in general, and can't be used when a statement refers to something specific, whereas ~たり can be used in both general and specific statements (unlike や, which can only be used in the specific case).


  • て-form

The て-form of verbs an uncountable number of uses in Japanese. The one use we'll focus on, and probably most common, is that て-forms can be used to connect sentences. Here's a quick example:

A:I ate breakfast, then went to school.

When you use the て-form to connect sentences, the listing is exhaustive. So, while ~たり lists this as exemplars, what is listed with the て-form is all there is. Also, the て-form lists actions in the order which they occur, whereas ~たり doesn't imply any particular temporal ordering of the actions. Compare the following sentences:

B:I walked around town, then played the piano.

C:I did things like walking around town, and playing the piano.

See also: Making the て form

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