Particles in Japanese are suffixes or short words that immediately follow the modified noun, verb, adjective, or sentence. They are used to mark the role of a particular word or phrase, create relationships between the words or clauses of a sentence, to give quality to actions or attributes, or sometimes to just add emotional context.
The most important things to know about Japanese particles:
Below are only a handful of the most common particles. They are divided into several categories, which generally define how and when they are used.
Please also note that this section involves a lot of example sentences, although I won't get into how to make clauses and sentences here.
Case markers mark the case of a noun! What does that mean, though?
A case is the role that the noun plays in an action. For example, is the one performing the action? The one being acted on? The place it takes place? English rarely marks case. Instead, we rely on a strict word order to tell what the role of a noun is. For example, the subject always comes first. However, we do have remnants of case marking still in our language. Think about the difference between "I" and "me" and "they" and "them."
In Japanese, word order is flexible. If you want the object to come first, or even leave out the subject entirely, that's okay! The case marker will let us know that it is the object, not the subject.
The "ga" marker marks the subject performing the action or being described. Since the actor of a verb can be, and is often left out of the sentence, this particle tends to only be used when emphasizing the subject or using "dare" (who).
The "o" marker marks the object being acted upon. This is one of a few particles that is written differently than pronounced. Note that the direct object for a verb in Japanese does not always translate as such in English. For example, the direct object for "matsu" (to wait) is who you are waiting on.
The "ni" marker marks the recipient of the action, including locations. Only some verbs can use "ni" for location: specifically, verbs that involve the action being directed and attached to the location. For example, "iru"/"aru" (to exist), "sumu" (to live), "iku" (to go), and "kakureru" (to hide).
This particle is also commonly used when English would use the preposition "for," as it "For me, it's too spicy." or "It's good for cats."
When using passive tense, the に marker marks the passive agent—that is, the person causing the action, which usually translates to "by" in English.
The "de" marker marks the location or time of the action. It can only be used with certain time-nouns. It is not used with days, dates, or specific times.
One of the most common questions whether to use に or で for a location. The important question if the location recieves the action:
The "e" marker marks the direction of the action. This is one of a few particles that is written differently than pronounced. Almost any time this particle can be used, "ni" or "made" are prefered. However, it is still useful to remember this particle.
The "kara" marker marks the starting location, time, or the starting point in a range. It can only be used with time or numbers when the verb is "hajimaru" (to begin).
The "made" marker marks the ending location, time, or the ending point in a range. Although it can sometimes be interchangeable with へ and に, it is preferred for a certain set of verbs, like "aruku" (to walk), "hashiru" (to run), and "okiru" (to send).
まで can be followed by に turn the time into a constraint.
"de" is also used to mark the tool (physical or not) used to perform the action. It is not only used for vehicles and utensils, but things like how much you paid for something.
The "to" marker marks the accomplice to the action, willing or unwilling. Note that this is the particle that is used to compare two objects as being the same ("onaji") or different ("chigau").
The "yori" marker marks the object that is "lesser" than the actor, where the predicate is the trait being compared.
"ni" is also used to turn nouns and relative clauses into adverbial clauses, which describe the action, such as when or why. You can learn more about relative clauses on the Clause Page, and see more examples of に clauses (which I call relative-adverbial clauses) on the Sentences Page.
に can be used with the i-form of a verb, followed by "iku" (to go) or "kuru" (to come) to explain your reason for going or coming.
に can also be used with the verb "suru" to indicate that the actor is making the direct object take on the quality of the adverb.
Causitive tense is when someone lets or forces someone else to perform the action. This is not the same as passive tense. When using causitive tense, the roles of certain case markers change:
Parallel markers are similar to case markers in that they follow nouns. However, these markers are used to create a connection between two+ nouns, and are typically followed directly by a another noun.
The "no" particle allows the first noun to modify the second, much like an adjective in most cases. This can mean a lot of things and it is often called the possession marker, but it is way more useful than just that because it can be used for any noun, including nouns of composition, number, origin, and association.
Traditionally, 日本人 would have a の, but commonly used phrases like this often drop the の.
The と marker can be combined with the parallel marker の to describe a noun as being with someone or something.
The "to" marker works a lot like the case marker version. It marks a complete list of noun. The case marker that comes after the last noun in the list sets the role for the entire list.
Although the particle is traditionally used between every noun, you can use in similarly to English, where a comma or pause separates all but the last noun.
The "ya" marker marks an incomplete list of nouns. Although the particle is traditionally used between every noun, you can use in similarly to English, where a comma or pause separates all but the last noun.
The "ka" marker marks an alternative list of nouns. Although the particle is traditionally used between every noun, you can use in similarly to English, where a comma or pause separates all but the last noun.
Binding particles represent a part-of-speech as the point-of-view of a clause. Take, for example, the sentence "I mostly write Japanese." This sentence can mean a few different things: are we saying that when we practice Japanese, it's mostly writing—or that when we write, it's mostly in Japanese? By using the topic marker "wa" (は) after the word "Japanese" (日本語), we know it's the former, but if it's after the gerund "writing" (書くの), it means the latter.
Note that binding particles are used after any case markers—unless the case marker is ga or o (を), in which case it replaces the case marker entirely. If the topic is not directly related to the action (no case markers would apply), or is not a noun, then you use the binding particle alone.
The particle "wa" marks the overall topic of the sentence. This is one of a few particles that is written differently than pronounced. It it also commonly followed by a comma, especially when the subject is longer than a couple words. This particle cannot be used with interrogatives (like "what" or "who").
This is probably the most common question in Japanese. The short answer is that, assuming you are speaking about the actor of the action, the only difference is that が emphasizes who the actor is. You should also remember that は is about a point-of-view, so you should not use は in any relative or noun clauses.
あなたが美しい would suggest that you specifically are beautiful, and not someone else.
は can be excluded in this sentence, but then the translation would be closer to "The hot days continue in Tokyo."
は can be excluded in this sentence, but then the translation would be closer to "I went to the movie theater today."
The particle "koso" emphasizes a phrase or clause.
The particle "mo" marks an object that is also relevant to what has been said.
Notice that も is coming after 日本に, and not 私. This means it is in addition to another place.
"mo" can also be used to turn interrogatives into universal indefinite pronouns. For example, "dare mo" means "everyone" (with a positive verb) or "no one" (with a negative verb).
The "sae" marker is much like "mo," but puts a positive emphasis on the object. For extra emphasis, it can be followed by "mo." Note that it can also be written as でさえ ("de sae").
さえ can be used with a conditional clause to convey "if only."
The "sura" marker is much like "mo," but puts a negative emphasis on the object. The predicate is always negative.
The "shika" particle marks an object as being an exclusive exception. The predicate is always negative.
By using the しか particle after a clause and following it simply by the adjectival verb ない, you can convey the idea that "there is no choice but to..."
A phrasal particle modifies a phrase and adds some quality to it. All of the particles listed below cover all the ways you would translate a noun clause from English to Japanese. Noun clauses are covered in more detail on the Clauses Page.
The "no" particle is really quite special. Not only does it turn nouns into adjectives, but it also turns a clause into a noun, which is called a "gerund." This noun clause can then be used just like any other noun. This means, of course, it must be followed by a marker.
Take special note that の is the only particle that uses the attributive form of verbs. This means that you cannot use polite form right before it. This also means that all nouns (na-adjectives or not) would be predicated with "na."
の can be combined with the copula だ or です to nominalize an entire sentence. This is just like in English, when we invert word order to emphasize the state of something, rather than the action (compare the first example with "I put my watch here."). This is used especially to provide explanation or to make questions unimposing. Note that の is often abbreviated to ん, and the copula may be left out.
The most simple way to describe "to" is that it directly or indirectly turns a particular word, phrase, or clause into a quote. It is often abbreviated to って ("tte"). Like か, it does not technically nominalize the clause, so no marker is used after it. Traditionally, you should not use polite verbs in front of と.
と can be used with the o-form of a verb, followed by "suru" (to do) or "omou" (to think) to convey "to try" and "to consider."
と can also be used with the ta-form of a verb, followed by "suru" to convey "supposing if."
The "ka" particle indicates the phrase or clause has an uncertainty or variable. When at the end of a sentence, it turns it into a question. When within a sentence, it turns the clause into a "subordinate interrogative clause," which should not use polite verbs. More detail on the Clauses Page. It technically does not nominalize the clause, so no marker is needed after it.
If we used 彼は, it would sound like he wanted to see if he could swim.
An assertive indefinite is when you know there is an object, but it is vague, so you just call it "something" or "someone." As the uncertainty particle, か does exactly this when following a noun or counter.
と and か can be combined to suggest that you are not very sure about something.
These behave like adverbs, describing the clause or words they follow, such as when or to what extent something was done. Their meaning changes depending on the part of speech that they follow. Grammatically, these particles are treated much like a noun: they cannot be preceded by polite tense and they must always be followed by either a marker, or the copula:
In English, "just" has two common meanings: that's all you do and you recently finished something. What's cool is that the particle "bakari" can mean both!
By adding "de naku" after だけ, you can change the meaning into something like "not only..."
The "nado" particle works basically exactly like "etc." in English.
A conjunctive particle conjoins clauses and defines their relationship, so they must directly follow a verb. Despite the name, most conjunctive sentences in Japanese do not use conjunctions. I will only be listing a small number of conjunctive particles here because "conjunctive sentences" has its own section on the Sentences Page.
Note that some of these conjoin coordinating clauses (two or more independent clauses), while some conjoin subordinating clauses (at least one of the clauses is dependent). Coordinating sentences must use the same politeness in both clauses. Subordinating sentences should not use polite tense in the dependent clause. To learn more, please check out the Sentences Page.
Remember that the particles modify the clause they follow. In Japanese, the the order of clauses is not as flexible as English: the modified clause always comes before the main clause.
"ga" and "ke(re)do(mo)" both mean the same thing, but "ga" is preferred for written language while "ke(re)de(mo)" is preferred for spoken.
The "kara" conjunctive particle has a similar meaning to the case particle: "since," but in this case it means "because."
Interjections add additional context to a clause or sentence. The most common is the particle "ka," which can turn a statement into a question, but there are also many that only add an emotional context or "personality" to the sentence. Be careful when using the more assertive ones, as they may not always be appropriate!