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Step-14: Japanese Particles Redux: Space, Time & Movement

Posted by J. Pierre on October 5, 2011

What can we now say about the mysterious force known as “Japanese particles”? We know for certain that they reveal information; they can point to a subject as well as include someone or something else as a subject. We also know that they can distinguish one subject out from a crowd of many others.

We saw all this in the latest article: “Japanese Particles” Discovered. But what else can particles do?? What are else are they good for? The truth is that Japanese particles can take a conversation through space, time and to intriguing and exotic locations!

Let’s go over them quickly. First we have the “の” or the “no” particle. It simply makes something possessive. Here are two examples to illustrate:

Japanese: 私車 (Romaji: “Watashi kuruma”)
Literally: Me car.

Japanese: 私車 (Romaji: “Watashi-no kuruma”)
Literally: My car

The first example doesn’t make any sense in Japanese — and it certainly doesn’t make any sense in English either! If you attach the “の” particle to a noun, that noun becomes a possessing entity. Let’s try a second pair of examples to illustrate. This time I’ll use full sentences:
Japanese: 私日本車は赤いです。(Romaji: “Watashi-no Nihon-no kuruma-wa akai desu.”)

Literally: My Japanese car[-of which I speak] red is.
English: My Japanese car is red.

Click HERE for Pronunciation of the “の” Particle

Second we have the “を” particle, which is used to point out the direct object. However it is ONLY used, if the speaker is directly involved or responsible. Here are two examples to illustrate:

Japanese: 飲んでいます (Romaji: “Mizu nondeimasu”)
Literally: Water drinking.
English:  Water is being drunk.

The first example doesn’t make sense in Japanese, because some information is missing.  However the second example will make sense in Japanese, and it will also have many different possible translations in English.
When translating from Japanese to another language, the correct translation is always based on context.

Japanese: 飲んでいます (Romaji: “Mizu-o nondeimasu”)
Literally: Water drinking.
English: (I’m) drinking water.

Click HERE for Pronunciation of the “を” Particle

Third is the “に” particle, which shows what an action is directed at. It also shows us destination, direction, places and times. It doesn’t matter if you’re moving through space or through time; as long as you’re moving, you use the “に” particle.

Japanese: いつカナダ行きますか?(Romaji: “Itsu Kanada ikimasu-ka?”)
Literally:  When Canada come?

Once again the sentence doesn’t make sense in either English or Japanese. However when we add the “に” particle . .

Japanese: いつカナダに行きますか?(Romaji: “Itsu Kanada-ni ikimasu-ka?”)
Literally: When Canada to come?
English: When are you coming to Canada?

Click HERE for Pronunciation of the “に” Particle

Next is the “で” particle. Very simply, it can be translated to mean “by way of”. For instance your friend might ask you: “How will you get here?“, to which you could reply: “By way of bus“. Let’s see how that looks in Japanese . .

1. Japanese
友達: どちらから来ますか?(Tomodachi: Dochira kara kimasu-ka?)
あなた: バス来ます。(Anata: Basu-de kimasu.)

2. Literally
Friend:  In what way come?
You: Bus[-by way of] .

3. English
Friend: How will you come?
You: I’ll come by [way of] bus.

Click HERE for Pronunciation of the “で” Particle

Finally we have the “へ” particle. It acts very much like the “に” particle, however it can translated as “heading towards”. For example your friend could ask: “Where are you going?”, to which you could reply “I’m going to school”. Let’s look at this in more detail . .

1. Japanese
友達: どこへ行きますか?(Tomodachi: Doko-e ikimasu-ka?)
あなた: 大学へ行きます。(Anata: Daigaku-e ikimasu.)

2. Literally
Friend: Where[-heading towards] going?
You: University[-heading towards] going.

3. English
Friend: Where are you going?
You: I’m on my way to university.

Click HERE for Pronunciation of the “へ” Particle

 Other Particles

In Japanese there are many other particles. Here is a quick summary. Bellow I’ve included 2 distinct yet effective ways to help you remember them all and incorporate them into your learning process smoothly and efficiently.

All four of the next particles are pronounced exactly as they sound in the kana chart.

    • か is a question marker. For example in English we change the tone of our voice and — when writing — we add the symbol “?”. However in Japanese they don’t just change the tone of their voice when asking a question; they also add the sound “か” at the end of the sentence.
      Japanese: これは何です (Kore-wa nan desu-ka?)
      Literally: That[-of which I speak] what is?
      English: What’s that?
    • と is used to mean “and” when listing nouns, much like the word “and”. However in English the word “and” comes after the second-last noun in a sentence (for example: “apples, bananas and pears“). In Japanese the particle comes after the second noun in the sentence (literally: “apples and bananas, pears“).
      Japanese: りんごバナナ、梨
      Literally: Apple and banada, pear
      English: Apples, bananas and pears
    • ね is much like the word “eh” in English at the end of a sentence, which seeks agreement (for example: “Those are nice flowers, eh!?“. However beware if you’re a guy, since using it can make you seem more feminine.
      Japanese: それは美しい花です
      Literally: Those[-of which I speak] beautiful flowers eh!
      English: Those are beautiful flowers, eh!?
    • よ adds emphasis at the end of a sentence. However beware if you’re a girl, as using this kind of particle at the end of your sentences is perceived as more masculine.  Also note that it can’t be used if the word before it is a “i” adjective. More on that later . . .
      Japanese: “本当にばかだ!” (Hontouni baka yo!)
      Literally: “Really stupid !”
      English: “Really stupid, man!

I’ll agree that this is a lot of information to take in. In fact I’m very much against overloading people with so much knowledge all at once. For that reason I have 2 effective ways to help you remember and learn the particles by heart.

Method #1: Use Anki to memorize the particles as used in the sentences provided. As always, I’ll mention quickly here that the Anki software is 100% free, but requires more work on your part than method #2.
Click HERE to go to the Anki website

Method #2: Use the Pimsleur program. I highly recommend it for getting an extremely intuitive grasp of both grammar such as particles as well as the Japanese language in general! The other benefit is that the price is nice and low; less than $10 for 30 hours of audio lessons!
Click HERE to go to the Pimsleur website

Comment if you enjoyed this article! :)

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