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Part 6: Particles and Basic Grammar

Now that you know a little about the Japanese writing system, verbs, adjectives, and some nouns, let's start learning about actual sentences! ^_^


Before I start explaining particles, I think I should first talk about the Japanese word "desu" and its informal equivalent "da." Anyone at least a little familiar with Japanese has probably heard "desu." It's usually called the "to be" verb, but there isn't really an exact English translation for it. It usually occurs at the end of the sentence and makes it a complete statement. Like verbs and adjectives, "desu" and "da" conjugate:

Present: Watashi wa bengoshi desu/da.
I am a lawyer.

Past: Watashi wa bengoshi deshita/datta.
I was a lawyer.

Negative Present: Watashi wa bengoshi de wa arimasen/de wa nai.
I am not a lawyer.
*("ja" could be used instead of "de wa")

Negative Past: Watashi wa bengoshi de wa arimasen deshita/de wa nakatta.
I was not a lawyer.
*("ja" could be used instead of "de wa")

"Desu" could also follow adjectives, or verbs in their plain form. This raises the level of speech to normal-polite.

Watashi wa anime ga suki.
I like anime.(informal)

Watashi wa anime ga suki desu.
I like anime.(normal-polite)

There's a lot more to say about "desu," but learning when to use it isn't really that hard once you get familiar with Japanese. The particles coming up are a lot more difficult...


Particles in Japanese sentences are what connects nouns, verbs, and adjectives together. They're what make up the grammar of Japanese and are a very important part of the language. But unfortunately, they're also very difficult for most foreigners to master. Despite the fact that all particles are written in hiragana and not kanji, it's very easy to get them mixed up. So first I'm going to talk about some of the basic Japanese particles, and also give examples of each. And again, since this guide is just an introduction to Japanese, I don't discuss every single particle there is, just the most common ones that will help you make simple sentences.

wa: "wa" is the particle that marks the topic of the sentence. Although it's usually translated as "is," it more specifically means "as for..." It introduces what the sentence is going to be about. Although it's pronounced "wa," when used as a particle, it's written with the hiragana symbol for "ha."

Example: Hiroshi-san wa gakusei desu.
Hiroshi is a student
As for Hiroshi, he's a student.

It's not always necessary to say what the topic is if it's already understood. For example, if someone asks you what you're doing today, you could say "eiga ni ikimasu"(I'm going to the movies.) Since it's already understood that you are the topic of the sentence, you don't have to say "watashi wa..."(I am...)

ga: While "wa" marks the topic of the sentence, "ga" marks the subject of the sentence. It's pretty easy to get these two mixed up so let's look at an example.

Example: Keiko-san wa sushi ga suki desu.
Keiko likes sushi.

First the topic, "Keiko-san," followed by "wa," is introduced. This indicates that what follows is going to be concerning Keiko. Then the subject, "sushi," marked by "ga" indicates what the verb or adjective is acting upon. In this case, the adjective "suki"(likable) is describing where the topic(Keiko) stands as far as the subject(sushi) is concerned. Translated very literally, this sentence would mean "As for Keiko, sushi is likable." And again, if "Keiko" is already understood as the topic under discussion, you don't have to keep saying "Keiko-san wa..." over and over.

ni: "ni" is the indirect action particle; it indicates direction towards which the verb is heading. It comes before a "movement" verb, such as "iku"(to go) and "kuru"(to come), and after the destination to which these verbs are headed. It usually translates as "to."

Example: Yamamoto-san wa chuugoku ni ikimashita.
Yamamoto went to China.

The verb "ikimashita," the -masu form past tense of "iku"(to go), is a movement verb. So "ni" following "chuugoku"(China) indicates that it's the place of destination for the verb.

In some cases, when describing location, "ni" can also mean "in" or "on."

Example: Teburu no ue ni shinbun ga arimasu.
There's a newspaper on the table.
*"teburu no ue"(top of the table), "shinbun"(newspaper), "arimasu" is the -masu form of "aru"(to be/exist)

e: When "ni" is used with the verb "iku"(to go) to indicate direction, it is usually interchangeable with "e." For example, in the sentence pattern "(place) ni iku(to go)," "e" could replace "ni." Although it's pronounced "e," when used as a particle, it's written with the hiragana symbol for "he."

de: While "ni" indicates direction towards a place or person, "de" indicates where the action verb is taking place. Just be careful not to get it mixed up with the TE-form of "desu/da" which is also "de." The particle "de" usually translates as "at."

Example: (Watashi wa) toshokan de machimasu.
I will wait at the library.

"Machimasu," the -masu form of "matsu"(to wait), is the verb. "de" follows "toshokan"(library) indicating that it's the place where the action of waiting is or will take place. So "ni" indicates where a verb is headed; "de" indicates where a verb's action is taking place.

"de" also has another meaning. It could also mean "by" or "by means of..." In this case, it describes how the verb was accomplished.

Example: (Watashi wa) basu de paatii ni kimashita.
I came to the party by bus.
*"kimashita" is the -masu past tense of "kuru"(to come)

o: "o" is the direct object indicater. It comes before an action verb and after the thing to which the action is being done. Although it's usually pronounced "o," when used as a particle, it's written with the hiragana symbol for "wo."

Example: Takeshi-san wa resutoran de piza o tabeta.
Takeshi ate pizza at a restaurant.

"Tabeta" is the plain paste tense of "taberu"(to eat.) Eating is the action, so the direct object which has the action being done to it is the food "piza"(pizza.) Here's one more example:

Example: Hon o yonda.
I read a book.

Again "yonda," the plain past tense of "yomu"(to read) is the action, and "hon"(book) is the direct object that this action is acting upon.

to: One meaning for "to" is "and" when talking about more than one noun.

Example: Watashi to Akira-san wa daigakusei desu.
Akira and I are college students.
*"daigakusei"(college student)

"to" can only be used to list nouns. It cannont be used for verbs and adjectives. For example, you could not use it to say "he's nice and handsome" or "he went to school and a friend's house." For these, you would have to use the TE-form of the verbs and adjectives.

"to" can also mean "with."

Example: Watashi wa tomodachi to shukudai o shita.
I did homework with my friend.
*"tomodachi"(friend), "shukudai"(homework), "shita" is the past tense of "suru"(to do)

And "to" is also automatically used with certain verbs, like "omou"(think) and "iu"(say)

Example: Nihon wa kirei na kuni da to omoimasu.
I think Japan is a pretty country.

"Nihon wa kirei na kuni desu." means "Japan is a pretty country." "to omoimasu" at the end of a sentence means "I think..." Usually when other verbs come after "desu" or a verb in its -masu form, as in this sentence and the following one, all verbs but the last are changed to their plain form.

Example: Asako-san wa gakkou ni iku to iimashita.
Asako said she will go to school.

no: "no" is the possession particle. It acts a lot like the " apostrophe 's'" in English. It comes before the noun that is in possession, and after the noun that is the "possessor."

Example: Sore wa Saki-san no kuruma desu.
That's Saki's car.

"no" can also mean "of" or "from" when describing how one noun relates to another.

Example: Kono uta wa Nihon no uta desu.
This is a Japanese song.
This is a song from Japan.

Example: Kore wa suugaku no hon desu.
This is a math book.
This is a book for math.

kara: "kara" usually translates as "from" in terms of "where." It indicates where something comes from or a place or point in time where something starts.

Example: Watashi wa Amerika kara kimashita.
I came from America.

Example: Koko kara ikimashou.
Let's go from here.
*"koko"(here), "ikimashou"(let's go); volitional -masu form of "iku"

"kara" can also mean "from" in terms of giving and receiving. In this case, it's sometimes interchangable with "ni."

Example: Ane kara/ni rajio o moraimashita.
I received a radio from my older sister.
*"ane"(older sister), "moraimashita" - from "morau"(to receive)

made: While "kara" means "from" a certain place, person, or time, "made" means "until" a certain place, person, or time. It indicates where or up until what point the subject's action stops. It's usually used in sentences along with "kara."

Example: Gakkou kara uchi made arukimashita.
I walked from school to my house.
*"uchi"(house), "arukimashita" - from "aruku"(to walk)

Example: Watashi no shigoto wa kuji kara rokuji made desu.
My work is from 9 until 6.
*"shigoto"(work, job), "kuji"(9 'o clock), "rokuji"(6 'o clock)

ka: "ka" is the quesion particle. It pretty much acts like a question mark in English. However there's no need to change the original sentence like in English - just putting "ka" at the end makes it a question.

Example: Kinou terebi o mimashita ka.
Did you watch TV yesterday?
*"kinou"(yesterday), "mimashita" - from "miru"(to see or watch)

Taking the "ka" away simply changes the sentence to a statement, "kinou terebi o mimashita"(I/he/she watched TV yesterday.)

Well, I think that about covers the most common and important particles. If you've studied this page as well as the previous pages of this guide, you should know enough Japanese to be able to make your own simple sentences ^_^ Here are some more sentences to help reinforce the grammar and vocabulary I've discussed.

1) Pen de tegami o kakimashita.
I wrote the letter with a pen.

2) Watashi wa inu ga imasu.
I have a dog.

3) Watashi wa tokyo daigaku no gakusei desu.
I am a Tokyo University student.

4) Kinou tomodachi to eiga ni ikimashita.
Yesterday I went to the movies with my friend.

5) Watashi wa kanada ni sunde imasu.
I live in Canada.

6) Nanji desu ka.
What time is it?

7) Ashita no paatii ni dare ga kimasu ka.
Who's coming to tomorrow's party?

8) Watashi no chichi wa isha desu.
My father is a doctor.

9) Mainichi nihongo no benkyou o shimasu.
I study Japanese everyday.

10) Watashi wa manga ga daisuki desu.
I like manga a lot.

11) Ima nani o shite imasu ka.
What are you doing now?

12) Sushi o tabetai desu.
I want to eat sushi.

13) Atarashii kuruma ga hoshii desu.
I want a new car.

14) Hachiji kara goji made nemashita.
I slept from 8 til 5.

15) Watashi no ie wa ao desu.
My house is blue.

16) Ashita toshokan de aimashou ka.
Shall we meet at the library tomorrow?

17) Doshite nihongo o naratte imasu ka.
Why are you learning Japanese?

18) Sono hon wa omoshirokatta desu.
That book was interesting.

19) Natsu yasumi wa nani o shimasu ka.
What are doing on summer vacation?

20) Umi wa dou deshita ka.
How was the beach?

Onto Part 7: Other Important Aspects of Japanese

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