Japanese Grammar – Introduction to Particles

Hello Everyone,

Today we will start to look at one of the most useful elements of the Japanese grammar: particles.

Particles

First, let’s have a look at what particles are: In Japanese, particles are elements used to give a grammatical function to the words in a sentence, thus making understanding the sentence more accurate.

This may seem a bit coinfusing, but everything will get limpid with a simple example:

あなた わたし ほん よんでいます。

Romaji

[anata watashi hon yondeimasu.]

[collapse]
/ you/me/book/to be reading /

Also this sentence could be understood – particles are not a compulsory thing – its meaning is not obvious when out of context; For instance the sentence above could be understood as “You and me are reading a book”, or “You are reading a book to me.”, and many more.

The particles are here to remove the ambiguity:

あなた  わたし  ほん  よんで います。

Romaji

[anata wa watashi no hon o yonde imasu.]

[collapse]
/ you{topic}/me{relation}book/{object}/to be reading /

As you can see, with the addition of the particles は (pronounced [wa] and not [ha]) which indicates the topic of the sentence, の which indicates a relation between two elements, and を (pronounced [o] and not [wo]) which indicates the object complement of the sentence, we can without any hesitation determine the meaning of the sentence:

“You are reading my book.”

Most Japanese particles come after the set of words they apply to: “あなた は” indicates that あなた is the topic of the sentence; “わたし の” indicates that what follows is related to わたし.

But there also exists a certain hierrachy between the particles. For instance, in our example, the particle を is related to “わたし の ほん”, and not only to “ほん”, and it indicates that this set of word is object complement of the sentence. There also exist some other particles which relate to an whole predicate (group of words composed of a subject, a verb and a complement) or at the end of a sentence.

Finally, you also have to be aware that the function indicated by some particles may vary according to the content of the sentence; for instance の can be used to indicate the indirect relation between elements, but also to recall an element from a previous sentence – somehow like the use of “one” in English as for instance: “I really liked the psychology books you advised to me. And I particularly liked the one dealing with self-teaching.”, where “one” is a recall for “psychology book”.

Notation

Since particles present in Japanese sentences indicate functions which have no representation in our Western languages (for instance in the sentence “I love books.” you have no word indicating that book is the object complement of the sentence, you deduce it from analyzing the sentence), I will use the following notation to make the function appearing in transcriptions:

{function}

This is the notation I used in the example above, as for instance:
の: {relation}, indicates that what follows is related to the proposition that precedes.
は: {topic}, indicates that what precedes is the topic of the sentence.

Reference

The table below presents the list of the particles available in Japanese with links to artciles on WonderLang.xyz when available.

Particle Function Desritpion Reference
{topic} Indicates the topic of the sentence.
{focus} Indicates the key element of a sentence.
{relation} Indicates that the element that follows the particle is related to the one that precedes it.
{recall} Recalls an element from a previous sentence or predicate.
{object} Indicates the object complement of the predicate.

I will complete the table along time, when I will present new particles. If you are eager to discover all the particles, you will find many articles related to the subject on the Internet by simply typing “Japanese particles” in your favourite search engine.

Stéphane

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *