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11. Introduction to Particles

Particles may seem a foreign concept at first, but with a few major exceptions, Japanese particles aren’t too difficult to grasp.

These particles are placed after a word (or phrase) to 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 or phrase it follows.

The best way to learn to use them is to memorize useful examples and use them.

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 (usually)

  • Sometimes the difference between wa and ga is hard to tell.
  • Sometimes the two 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 that 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” and has established 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.


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